In Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall Part 2” we heard, circa 1980, one of the most famous lines in all of rock ‘n roll: “We don’t need no education.” 

We Dont Need No EducationIt was a countercultural time. This was meant to be the angry voice of adolescent angst and rebellion.  

In fact, few teenagers ever articulate the extreme thought that they don’t need school. They may not like the teachers, the subjects, the way they are taught, oh, lots of things. But that’s not the same as saying they don’t want an education. Most teenagers know they need an education. If only the schools would provide one. 

 How strange the world has become. In the US, it’s not the kids crying out against education. It’s the people in charge of education crying out against education. This has to be one of the most remarkable role reversals in history. 

John Dewey is always credited with being the Father of American Education. Unfortunately, he is. Dewey was a collectivist, i.e., a leveler. His writings bristle with hostility to traditional academic pursuits. He said (1899): “The mere absorbing of facts and truths…tends very naturally to pass into selfishness. There is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere learning.” Mere? 

Dewey wrote: “I believe that this educational process has two sides — one psychological and one sociological.” Parse that all day and you won’t find any mention of the side where the kids actually learn something. 

Dewey drew up the blueprint for progressive (actually, regressive) education. Our so-called professors of education still follow it today. The entire message can be summarized in five words: “YOU don’t need no education!” 

That’s what our Education Establishment, in dozens of formulations and catchy jargon, is telling the children in public schools: “You don’t need no education!”  

Teachers make it clear that basic skills and knowledge are not worth bothering with. It’s a waste of time to memorize the multiplication tables or where countries are on a map. No, there’s nothing subtle about it. Students know what the school is preaching: “You don’t need no education!” 

Should children bother learning dates, facts, foundational information? Of course not. No one will be expected to memorize anything. Not only that, the teachers will not try to teach much of anything. Students will be encouraged to acquire such knowledge as they can “construct” for themselves. Perhaps the message was subtle 50 years ago. But now the schools are screaming it: “You don’t need no education!” 

The student are not dumb. They understand their marching orders from the first grade onward. Reading is taught in a way that can’t work (memorizing sight-words). Arithmetic is taught by a fuzzy, spiraling method that bounces from topic to topic. Children don’t master basic skills. Teachers go through the motions of teaching but the broader message fills the air: “You don’t need no education!” 

The system is designed to move students to a high school diploma and a place in college, even if they don’t know enough to be there. Assessments are “authentic,” i.e., tests are easy and answers can be fuzzy. Almost everyone gets an A. Cheating is overlooked and excused. Bad grammar and misspellings are considered trivial. There is nobody saying, “Work hard. You need to learn this material.” All the voices are saying the opposite: “You don’t need no education!” 

What an irony. The Education Establishment would be more properly called the Anti-Education Establishment. That’s what they do now. They seem to think it’s their job to dumb down the schools, the students, the culture, the entire society. As long as John Dewey’s collectivist philosophy controls education, education will be impoverished and inane. 

Common Core StandardsCommon Core Standards WebsiteCODA: This debate is especially important now when Common Core Curriculum is descending upon the country.  

If schools were run by people who really cared about education, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to give more control to the federal government. But Common Core Curriculum seems to be a euphemism for all the worst ideas from the past 50 years. The elite educators will make sure your kids learn close to nothing, even as everyone chatters on about 21st-century, student-centered learning, creativity, cooperation, and all the rest.  

But in practice children will reach the age of 20 not knowing where Alaska is on a map, what 7 x 8 is, and no clear picture of what goes around what when sun, moon and earth are discussed.  

Actions, they say, speak louder than words. Whatever the Education Establishment is saying, their actions are screaming: “You don’t need no education. And we don’t intend to give you one.”

Bruce Deitrick Price is an author and education reformer. His site explains theories and methods.