Education Activist Explains Why We Have "Failing Schools" and How We Fix Them Submitted by: Word-Wise Educational Services
(OPENPRESS) April 30, 2009 -- It's been a hot topic of discussion for 70 years: why are this country's public schools so mediocre?
We are the richest country on earth; we spend bigger bucks per student than anyone else. The more you ponder the failures of public education, the more deeply mysterious this topic becomes! Remember, in every city there are excellent private schools. It's not as if the templates aren't right there in front of everybody. So what is the problem?
All right, we've come to the moment of truth. I've been working on this mystery for many years. I believe I have deduced the answer. I'm now going to go out on a limb and solve this riddle for you in a very few words...I have, by the way, a more complete report on my site Improve-Education.org and a new book that explores the same themes; details at end.
Here quickly is what happened to American education:
1) Starting a century ago, our elite educators became obsessed with social engineering, and lost their focus on academics. In day-to-day practice, the schools stopped being interested primarily in reading, writing and arithmetic; instead they became obsessed with creating more cooperative children. Kids, that is, who play well in groups and have correct opinions.
2) The people who set up public education almost 200 years ago never imagined that public schools would stoop to this kind of manipulations. But that's what happened. Academics suffered because a lot of practices were introduced into the schools that were primarily inspired by psychological, sociological, and ideological goals. And we're still living with many of these things. That precisely is the problem.
3) Now, when we try to improve the public schools, our elite educators stall, dissemble, and in general try to obscure the fact that they are clinging to their collectivist schemes. There is an obvious conclusion: we can't make any progress until we clean away all the cobwebs from the past. There are a lot of counterproductive ideas in the schools; we need to get rid of them.
4) Keep in mind that all these methods are presented to the public as panaceas. They may be panaceas from a social engineering point of view. Judged educationally, however, they are usually counterproductive and should be trashed. Here are some of the major troublemakers:
WHOLE WORD (also known as Look-say, Dolch Words, Sight Words, etc.) makes sure that nobody becomes a fluent reader.
"NEW NEW MATH" (e.g., TERC, Connected Math, Everyday Mathematics, MathLand, and others) makes sure that nobody masters much math.
NO MEMORIZATION says that children should not be required to memorize anything. Children can "look it up." This rule ensures that nobody will ever know very much.
CONSTRUCTIVISM encourages students to invent (i.e., construct) their own answers in every situation. Results: everything in the school slows down while children figure out as if for the first time that 4 + 6 equals 10.
COOPERATIVE LEARNING dictates that every school activity must be a group activity. Children do not learn to think for themselves.
SELF ESTEEM offers an all-purpose excuse for not teaching anything. No matter what a teacher tries to teach, some children might not get it all, which will make them feel bad. Solution? Teach less.
FUZZY MATH, FUZZY ENGLISH, FUZZY ANYTHING. These are sarcastic names for the pedagogical concepts that guessing is good, wrong answers should get full credit, and precision is not a reasonable expectation.
HOSTILITY TO TESTS, GRADES, HOMEWORK, AND EXCELLENCE. Schools discourage standards and competition. Everything becomes slower and sloppier.
A DEVASTATING SYNERGY: The cumulative effects of these methods will wreck any school.
My main recommendation is that we systematically identify the bad ideas, deconstruct them, and discard them. The emphasis should always be on basics and academics, albeit taught in the most entertaining and creative ways.
For a more complete version of this article, please see "38: Saving Public Schools--A New Paradigm" on Improve-Education.org.
"THE EDUCATION ENIGMA--What Happened to American Education" is a short, lively book about the dark side of education. Available on Amazon.
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