The first schools, the first great universities, were focused on knowledge: figuring out what it is, collecting and verifying it, and passing it on from teachers to students.
Our K-12 schools have drifted far away from this ideal. Knowledge itself is disparaged. The transmission of knowledge is sneered at. These shifts are huge and destructive, and they are by design.
Consider what any real school looks like: judo schools, medical schools, language schools, flight schools, bartending schools, flower-arranging schools. All possess a body of knowledge they strive to give to the next generation.
That's not what our public schools are focused on now.
It used to be well understood that the human race is divided into uneducated people (they don't know anything) and educated people (they know lots of information). Creating educated people takes work, by the school and the student. K-12 no longer believes in the importance of that work.
John Dewey and his socialist brotherhood, a hundred years ago, decided they would use the public schools to transform the entire society. They first had to seize control of what is taught in K-12 classrooms. Dewey and his successors settled on two major strategies for controlling what educators call "content."
First, they discarded as much of the traditional curriculum as possible – i.e., knowledge was thrown out the window by the boxload. Secondly, they invented many techniques for scrambling classroom instruction so that knowledge was no longer taught efficiently.
So we have here, across a wide front, a well organized war against knowledge and the transmission of knowledge. Dumbed down schools were created intentionally in order to create dumbed down students. That, my research suggests, is the horrible reality.
Consider for a moment how extraordinarily successful this campaign has been. Jay Leno used to go "Jaywalking" and find people who didn't know which ocean is to the west of California. That same tradition has been continued by Jesse Watters on Fox News and others. In this video, Watters asks people what country we fought against in the Revolutionary War. People say things like "the French?"
To repeat, this rising tide of ignorance is not an accident. It's too relentless to be anything but intentional. So how exactly do our social engineers achieve what Charlotte Iserbyt called "the deliberate dumbing down of America"?
First, they invent redundant, overlapping sophistries that mandate teaching less, always less. Multiculturalism says you can teach only about foreign cultures. Relevance says you can teach only about the child's own life. Readiness says you can teach only what children are ready to learn. Self-esteem says you can teach only information the child finds easy to learn. Constructivism says you can't teach directly – kids have to assemble knowledge for themselves. You can't expect children to actually know anything, therefore no memorization should be required. That's six separate gimmicks that guarantee, in toto, a scorched earth policy toward the acquisition of knowledge.
Secondly, you invent sophistical gimmicks that will jumble whatever little knowledge can still be taught. We see this, par excellence, in New Math circa 1962, where basic arithmetic was mixed up with complicated high school- and college-level material. Bingo: total confusion and kids learning little. In reading, you have bogus instruction known as Look-say, Whole Word, Dolch words, and so on. The schools spend years teaching children to read, but few students become fluent readers. (This is happening year after year. Don't we have to assume that schools are achieving the results they want?)
The schools always profess hostility to direct instruction, mastery of basics, memorization, traditional testing – in short, all the things that work. They teach as little as possible, and then they create a disconnect with what little they do teach. The result is probably the least educated general population we've had in a century.
One particularly striking result is that students have little sense of historical time. You can ask kids in college which came first, World War II, World War I, or the Civil War, and many won't know. Students aren't told to memorize dates, people, or places, so when American citizens are asked, on the 4th of July, what country did we break away from, they look at you in amazement: who knows stuff like that?
People should give credit where credit is due: our Education Establishment, in its war against knowledge, has been cunningly successful.
Where does all this go? The American people are increasingly like a big blob of jelly. They can't think critically because they don't know much. If leaders lie to them, who is going to realize this? If the media tell them only half of what's going on, how could they know the difference?
Thomas Jefferson said it long ago: you can be ignorant or free, not both.
Our professional education class, what I call the Education Establishment, is hopelessly incompetent (or deeply into subversion). Either way, Americans have to get much more involved in improving their local schools. Be sure that every kid can read by the end of the first grade. Make sure they learn basic arithmetic the old-fashioned way. And teach them lots of facts, one after the other.
It would probably be easy to teach children a new fact each hour, assuming that the fact was taught dramatically and repeated at intervals. But for the sake of discussion, let's settle on teaching one fact each day. Think what that would add up to in a few years. Our middle school students would know more than our college graduates do today.
Only one thing is required for this dramatic turnaround. Schools have to love knowledge.
At present, our public schools are having a squalid love affair with ignorance.
Bruce Deitrick Price explains theories and methods on his education sites Improve-Education.org. (For info on his four new novels, see his literary site Lit4u.com.)