Ignorance Is Bliss:
The Deprivation within the American Education System
Presented by Beverly Tucker
To the Raleigh Tavern Philosophical Society
This report on the decline of American education is not all encompassing (clearly I have bit off more than I can chew). With so much data and statistics, as well as, conjecture and conclusions at my disposal, I feel overwhelmed. (I use the term “feel” with tongue in cheek since so much of what I have read about education focuses on “feelings” versus knowledge). The problems that exist within and stem from our deprived education system are numerous and multifaceted. Not only do my sources offer a staggering amount of detail regarding government and academic ideologies, policies and methods, there are unlimited tales of injustices committed in public schools at every level (regarding higher education, that would be public and private). Because of this I have mainly focused my efforts on only three areas where problems exist: the primary and secondary schools; teachers unions and government; and the colleges of Education. Unfortunately I am not articulate and concise enough to properly cover all of the problems plaguing the American education system in a mere twenty-plus pages. It’s not possible.
As with any contemporary topic under study it is important to reflect on its history; therefore, I will very briefly discuss the roots and background of American education. American educational and intellectual foundations have roots which run deep into the European past. With the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, an intellectual and social stagnation began in Europe, that is, until the Renaissance. The Renaissance replaced a religious point of view with a secular one, making man rather than God the focal point. With the Reformation, however, religion again became the dominant intellectual interest of man. Thus, religious instruction became the principal motive and theme of education in the English colonies. Throughout this period, the family was the most important institution of socialization and education. While educational institutions varied considerably within the colonies, religion dominated both the conduct of the institutions and the curriculum. Almost all colonial institutions of higher learning had been private and church related. Colonists copied educational institutions that they were most familiar with in an attempt to preserve the European civilization
Although science was still suspect when the American colonies were founded, it helped to lay a foundation for the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. By the time of the Revolution new disciplines had been added to some of the curriculums. It was determined that “difficult subjects,” such as the sciences, mathematics and literature were to be taught for their value as a “discipline” in order to exercise the faculties of the mind. By piquing students curiosity and stimulating their analytical and critical abilities, American public education was an effective and benign means of transferring knowledge from one generation to the next. One man of this time period, Thomas Jefferson, saw education as having two purposes: 1. To act as a sorting machine with which “the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually” to form an “aristocracy of worth and genius,” as opposed to the aristocracies of blood that afflicted Europe; and 2. all citizens’ “minds must be improved to a certain degree” so they can protect the nation from the “germ of corruption.” Unfortuantely, the traditional goal of developing well-rounded, broadly educated citizens has since been replaced with a need to prepare students to get jobs and to provide skilled laborers. While most people throughout history have had a difficult time agreeing on the purpose of education, it has only been in the twentieth century that vocational goals have become important. Even Ben Franklin did not support vocational training--he supported flexibility.
In the early 1800s, kindergartens and high schools were introduced into the American public education system. They were slow to catch on in the nineteenth century, but by 1900 there were several thousand of each. The European influence helped to shape the purpose of these new institutions and had a significant impact through the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau distrusted books and standard pedagogical techniques of his day and promoted emotional, intellectual and educational freedom for children. Although he had only an indirect bearing on American schools in the 1800s, he had a direct lasting impact on psychologist and philosopher John Dewey and the progressive educators of the early 1900s. While Dewey would later regret the academic deficiencies in progressive education, he was instrumental in promoting the concept of teaching “the whole child” with the emphasis on self-esteem and non-academic studies. Author Thomas Toch reports that academic subjects declined between 1910 and 1930. In 1910 approximately two-thirds of the average high school’s curriculum consisted of academic subjects, but in 1930 only one-third were academic subjects. As early as the 1890s, the National Education Association (NEA) began a push for broadening the purpose of schools so that by 1918 subjects such as “health, family life, vocation, citizenship and the worthy use of leisure time” was added to the “fundamental processes like reading and writing.” This is where the nightmare begins.
During this same time period a trend toward the centralization of school control emerged, diminishing local authority. Self-proclaimed libertarian Milton Friedman noted that in the early years of the American education system schools were controlled by the local community. Beginning in 1794 with the state of New York, states began creating their own departments of education along with laws that defined the control and finance of public education in each state. Although final authority did reside with state governments, the dominant American tradition was one of decentralized administration, with the local school districts wielding the most educational authority.
That all changed in the 1900s when centralization eroded local control through consolidation: In 1900 more than 100,000 school districts existed in the U.S.; in 1960 there were 40,000 school districts; and in the mid-1980s there were less than 16,000. In addition to this, the rapid growth of teachers’ union in the 1960s and ‘70s, state regulations, and federal legislation (i.e., Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 created vocational programs in high schools) and supreme court rulings that were considered in the national interest have encouraged centralization. Friedman notes that since decentralization has crumbled and fallen prey to government control and massive teachers unions “education in this country [has become] woefully inept.” His solution to the problem is to
provide competition in the school system by enabling parents
to choose the schools their children go to . . .the parent who
doesn’t want to send his child to a government school should
be able to get a rebate of the taxes he’s paid to support it . . .
there’s no activity government engages in that private enterprise
can’t do for half the cost.
He calls the primary and secondary school system in America a “government monopoly” and “the largest socialized enterprise in the United States (other than perhaps the military) . . . that teaches the wrong values . . . socialist values.”
Many in the 1980s agreed with this analysis. After “new math” and the reform curricula of the 1960s failed, an anti-school feeling developed in 1970 that sent many into a frenzy looking for solutions. By the early 1980s a new diagnosis of what was ailing American schools appeared, and a new prescription was advanced. The problem was the federal government. A National Commission on Excellence in Education was established in 1983. President Reagan’s advisors recommended improving education and training of teacher candidates and abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. Additionally, tuition tax credits and vouchers were recommended for parents, allowing them to choose the school for their children. The theory was that, in the free-market environment that would develop in education, good schools would succeed and bad schools would go out of business. Previous to Reagan’s administration, educational decline had always led to increased federal involvement. In the ‘80s it was actually viewed as part of the problem.
In his book, Inside American Education: The Decline, The Deception, The Dogmas, Thomas Sowell states that the purpose of education is
to give the student the intellectual tools to analyze, whether
verbally or numerically, and to reach conclusions based on
logic and evidence . . . The conveying of knowledge, and of
the intellectual skills and discipline which give it meaning, is
ultimately what teaching consists of. If these things are
conveyed from one mind to another, then the teaching has
So if this is what teaching is, and this is the purpose of education, how are we doing?
I digress. On the many highways and byways across America there are thousands of business-related vehicles (work trucks, vans, “big rigs” and the like) that exhibit a sign on the back reading “How’s my driving?” along with an 800 number you can call if their driving is poor. This can put bad drivers on the spot and probably get them fired from their job, since they would be an obvious liability to the company. So, if politically correct indoctrinaires/amateur psychologists are providing your child with an education that has turned him into a “confident incompetent,” who are you going to call? There is no 800 number you can dial to complain and have a teacher fired or curriculum changed.
In a recent Life magazine article entitled “How Good Are Our Schools?” a 1999 public poll was conducted, with the recent data compared to that of a similar poll conducted in 1950. It revealed that, compared to 1950 results, current teachers are perceived as inadequately trained and less effective than educators were twenty years ago. While the Life poll discerned that “there are a few excellent schools and too many horrendous ones, but most are somewhere in between,” they proposed that the real solution for better schools is “more active parents.” Life’s statement that “the more involved parents get in education--their own children’s and the nation’s-- the better our schools will become” seems to insinuate that most parents do not want to involve themselves in their own children’s educational needs and have not even been trying very hard to do so. Thomas Sowell, Diane Ravitch and others have dispelled this myth about most parents with their own research. What has been discovered is that, today more than ever, many parents are gravely concerned with the information being fed into their children’s heads at school and, in fact, do want to have more influence on the school curriculum. The problem is (if you can define “is”) that it’s many of the administrators and educators who don’t want parents involved and will go to great, deceptive lengths to keep parents uninformed. When it comes to courses or teaching materials that administrators think may be controversial, some are heard using such phrases as: “keep the lid on,” “do not want controversy,” and they are concerned about “flack from the community.” If the solution to the decline of education in America is parent involvement and input, then the problem is not so much the lack of parent interest. The problem is lack of parent awareness.
While obviously not all parents are equally dedicated to their children’s education, some of them, who have been made aware of the non-academic emphasis placed in curriculums, are attempting to change it. However, most are either frustrated and disillusioned with the process, intimidated by the more arrogant educators and administrators and/or suckered in by the deceptive course titles. Ultimately, these parents and the general public capitulate to academia’s self-proclaimed “experts.” Since the 1960s a more liberal agenda has assumed control of many public school curriculums and, of late, has successfully kept the parents ignorant of the ideological coursework and teaching methods being applied in classrooms.
With many of the non-academic/psychological-conditioning programs, the presumed purpose oftentimes does not reflect what actually happens in the classroom. The essence of these courses is to re-shape the values, attitudes and emotions of students. Sowell refers to this as “classroom brainwashing,” and he goes on to say that “instead of educating the intellect, these special curriculum programs condition the emotions.” For example, biological and medical information are rarely the basis of “sex education” courses and “health” classes. In the late 1980s, a Kansas sixth-grade “health” class, conducted by the school nurse, was shown a film. Parents were given the impression that their children would be watching a film on vitamins. A parent who saw the film testified that:
The first three minutes of the footage was the actual birth of a baby.
It started out with a lady with her legs up and apart, and her feet in
stirrups or something like that, with a doctor. It was very graphic
and very detailed. The children in the 6th grade witnessed three actual
births. I sensed a state of shock in the little boys and girls that it was
all new to see a man doing what a doctor does to deliver a baby.
Even though two-thirds of the movie did deal with vitamins, the bewildered parent “did not see any correlation between the live births and the vitamins” and complained to the nurse. While the nurse shrugged it off, she must have known it would be a problem with the parents, otherwise, why would the film be promoted as one on vitamins? Thus, the deceit.
In another “health” class at a high school in Tucson, Arizona students were asked: “How many of you hate your parents?” In a third-grade class in Oregon the children were asked: “How many of you ever wanted to beat up your parents?” A Colorado class was asked: “What is the one thing your mom and dad do to you that is unfair?” These questions are all part of a “values clarification” curriculum that focuses on the feelings of each person instead of intellectual analysis, and it has become quite popular in some public schools. In many of the textbooks, in particular the “health” and “sex education” texts, parents are characterized in negative terms, as those from an older generation with hang ups about sex. These are not isolated incidents. There are similar examples nationwide from California to Georgia to New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania. According to a Tucson parent who testified in hearings before the U.S. Department of Education, these classroom activities “erode the parent-child relationship by inserting a wedge of doubt, distrust and disrespect.” Sowell asserts that the “undermining of parents’ moral authority” is an important aspect of the brainwashing technique. This type of “brainwashing” is only prevalent in states where the primary control is with the state, not school districts. In Texas, for instance, many school districts where teachers and administrators are of a higher quality, this type of activity is practically non-existent.
Still not convinced there’s a problem? Okay, let’s review a program that has become a boondoggle in schools all around the country. Bilingual education has become an important aspect of the multicultural movement in schools. Bilinguilism is supposed to assist children in their school subjects by allowing them to use their non-English native tongue in all classes except English class. Initially the target market of this program was the Spanish community, but it has expanded to include Asians, Middle Easterners, Armenians, Navajos and many others. The agenda is not, it turns out, to focus on the best situation for the children to acquire English-language skills, but to push foreign language as part of the curriculum (increasing the “need,” thus, enrollments) and promote the anti-American/anti-Western civilization philosophy that some American and foreign activist groups espouse. Their argument is that the “societal power structure of white, Anglo-Saxon, English-speaking Americans handicaps non-English-speaking children.”
The facts show that many children around the country are being placed in these programs inappropriately. In San Francsico, for example, hundreds of children speaking a foreign language were placed in bilingual classes in a different foreign language. Some Chinese immigrants were assigned to Spanish language classes, while some Spanish-speaking children were put in Chinese language classes. A study in Texas revealed that most students participating in bilingual programs spoke fluent English. Even American-born, English-speaking students are targeted just because they have Spanish surnames. Bilingualism has been referred to by some as “a jobs program for Spanish-speaking teachers.” What ultimately happens is that the students end up mastering neither English nor Spanish, and the majority of their parents are actually opposed to teaching Spanish at the expense of English. Most schoolteachers recognize the detrimental outcome of bilingual studies as well, and in Los Angeles, they have fought it vehemently, but without success. These opponents of the bilingual programs, or any multicultural program for that matter, are usually the victims of intimidation and name calling--“insensitive,” “elitist” or worse yet “racist.” Strangely, these shallow and, what should be, meaningless tactics effectively hide the program’s failure, even though academic research and investigative reporting have revealed over and over again the “fraudulence of their claims.” It doesn’t matter when a reasonable case is made with supporting facts, the program promoters don’t have to respond to reason because they have effectively demonized their opponents. As Thomas Sowell so clearly points out, “Education at all levels is vulnerable to promoters of their own ideological or financial interests in the name of some group for whom they claim to speak.”
Ideological indoctrination is not a new trend in education, however, in the immortal words of Emeril Lagasse, it has been “bumped up a notch . . . BAM!” Some of the curriculum to which I refer is revealed in the program of the 1991 annual meeting of the National Education Association (NEA), America’s largest teacher’s union. Focus of the NEA at this meeting seemed to drift away from education and toward recommended studies concerning “personal lifestyle and general worldsaving.” Suggestions included immigration, nuclear weapons, racial and ethnic studies, environmentalism, housing, highways, and the “development of renewable energy resources,” just to name a few. Authors Thomas Toch and Diane Ravitch separately revealed that while laymen are the ones usually pressing for “more academic rigor” and getting “back to basics” in public schools, it is the educators themselves who press for inclusion of non-academic “personal concerns,” such as, nutrition, hygiene, “life adjustment,” sex education, death education, and the occult. This is happening at the primary and secondary levels, as well as, in the universities.
It is not just conservatives, disgruntled parents, high-quality teachers and fed-up students who are aghast at the “prostitution of education for ideological ends.” Some on the left of the political spectrum have also revealed their disgust. In February 1991, for example, the New Republic claimed that multiculturalism was “neither multi nor cultural [but an attempt to impose] a unanimity of thought on campus.” In reference to “nuclear education” in the classroom, the Washington Post was critical of a “widely-used curriculum guide” complaining that it “is not education, it is political indoctrination.” As reported in the New Republic, neo-Marxist scholar Eugene Genovese called this politicization of education “the new wave of campus barbarism.”
Additionally, some on the left are coming to the realization that many of their theories with respect to teaching methods are not valid. One of these theories emphasizes the child’s self-esteem over his actual academic achievement, with the belief that once the child’s self-esteem is raised, performance will improve. Not only have findings from conservative research denounced this theory, so have the more liberal findings. In 1998 the New York Times reported on the research of Albert Bandura, professor of psychology at Stanford, that “self-esteem affects neither personal goals nor performance.” Even in The Social Importance of Self-Esteem, a 1989 book published by staunch supporters of the self-esteem movement, it is grudgingly revealed that “one of the disappointing aspects of [their findings]. . . is how low the associations between self-esteem and its consequences are in research to date.” While the facts cannot be denied, there are still some who cling to the self-esteem theory. As reported in the Times, one professor said of the theory, “It will come back.”
Almost forty-five years after its conception (35 years since publication), Richard Weaver’s Visions of Order:The Cultural Crisis of Our Time is a remarkably accurate account of the crisis that exists in our culture today. Weaver’s portrayal of the American education system of the 1950’s sounds eerily familiar, as he described the “progressive educationalists” as those who were “romantic enthusiasts, political fanatics, and unreflective acolytes of positive science” that “base everything upon psychology.” Those political ideologues of the 1950s bear a striking resemblance to those of today who support child-centered teaching that rejects authority and discipline, allowing for “democracy in the classroom” where everyone cooperates. Weaver referred to this progressive education as a “wholesale apostasy,” whereby the foundations of our culture have been deserted and supplanted with an illicit “conditioning [of] the young for political purposes.” Oddly, though, at the time that Weaver wrote this, he was under the impression that the “danger carried by progressivism [was] drawing to an end,” and he no longer considered the “Gnostics of education” as the “greatest single threat to our culture.” If Weaver were alive today, he would see how wrong he was about the expected turnaround in our education system and that there aren’t many “hopeful signs,” as he put it, on the horizon for positive change.
It is interesting to note that the Life poll taken in 1950 corroborates Weaver’s view of a turnaround, revealing that many Americans believed that our public schools were “not very good but getting better” [emphasis added]. Where this optimism for change was coming from is not entirely clear. However, Weaver does briefly mention space achievements in the 1950s, leading me to think that he was probably optimistic because federal support for the advancement of science and mathematics in the schools could upset the progressive agenda. Weaver provided further insight into his view when he spoke of the need for certain pressures to be a part of learning in order for students to excel--the pressures to concentrate, develop interest and hone the intellect. These pressures, he stated, were absent from the progressive techniques of education, because progressive educators believed that “learning is to be foregone in favor of the child’s spontaneous desires and unreflective thoughts.” Weaver seemed to believe that “pressures” of that time (like the Space Race between Russia and the U.S.) would create “far-reaching changes in the dominant American educational philosophy” and that the problems of American education would soon thereafter “be history.” Apparently Weaver gave too much credit to the progressive “experts” of that time, assuming that they would be willing to sacrifice their egos and personal agendas for the greater good.
While Americans in 1950 were more optimistic, those polled in 1999 believe that our schools are “not very good and [in fact] getting worse.” Most people (two-thirds of those polled) in 1950 believed that children were “being taught more worthwhile and useful things than children were 20 years [before],” while a majority (53% of those polled) in 1999 say that children are not being taught more worthwhile or useful things as 20 years before. What American parents are finding is that many teachers and administrators are pushing “feel good” tactics that “dumb down” their kids and politically correct courses that supplant real education. To be fair, not all teachers and administrators support these state and federally mandated programs--they aren’t all involved in these activities willingly. Nonetheless, these “non-academic intrusions” of political ideologies and psychological-conditioning programs have pushed out much of the traditional academic education that we as a society know is necessary to create an intelligent, competent populace.
One of the questions from the Life magazine poll reveals that many parents are recognizing that the problem does not begin in the primary and secondary schools, but in fact stems from the liberal indoctrination in colleges and universities whence the teachers come. The question posed in the poll asks: “Which one thing would you consider to be most important if you were hiring a teacher for high school?” The five choices given were ability to handle young people, education, experience, background, and religion. In 1950, 29% of the parents polled emphasized the teacher’s education as most important, while in 1999, 19% of the parents emphasized education. The liberal intellectual with a degree in Education does not seem to be in demand anymore, at least not as far as some parents are concerned. But that does not keep certain universities from mass producing them, as on an assembly line, and then supplying primary and secondary schools with indoctrinated “experts” to teach little Johnny about life. The concept of supply and demand is not balanced for most concerned parents--they are getting far less for little Johnny (and their tax dollars) than they bargained for. You have heard the phrase “more is less” . . . I think that applies here. As Thomas Sowell, Rita Kramer and Diane Ravitch point out, the deception runs deep.
Based on Rita Kramer’s 1988-89 study of Education Colleges around the country, the end goal of many colleges is not to create teachers that will help students attain skills by gaining mastery in language, symbol and abstract thought, but to create social workers who will nurture the child and “foster life adjustment.” During Kramer’s research at Teachers College (at Columbia University in NYC), a graduate class professor differentiated between “good” and bad teaching as lessons that focus on a “mature adaptation to life’s problems versus raising achievement test scores.” One of the perceived life “problems” at Teachers College is war. In their “Peace Studies” course a graduate student claimed that children must be indoctrinated early in public school. He states:
[Peace] should be the curriculum from first, second, third
grade on. It’s a lot easier the younger they are.
We have to educate this country for peace through
cooperative learning. We have to start young, even before
school. Now that most mothers are working, the kids go
off at two or three. [emphasis added]
Hmmm . . . interesting philosophy, but not original. First of all, the contention that the country is ignorant of the general concepts of war and peace is ridiculous. Additionally, the self-righteous, morally-superior attitude that they are the chosen ones to inculcate the (apparently) moronic masses, starting at the womb, rings of totalitarianism. This dictatorial attitude and its methods are alive, well and kicking within numerous education colleges, many teachers unions and, of course, our present federal government.
The institutions that Kramer visited in doing her research for her book, Ed School Follies: The Miseducation of America’s Teachers, are not backwoods, no-name, fly-by-night institutions with small enrollments. These schools are much like Teachers College in that they are well-known with impressive enrollments and images, in fact, some are down right prestigious. Teachers College of Columbia University, Peabody College, Michigan State University, UCLA, the University of Washington and the University of Texas are among the fifteen colleges and universities she studied. In all of these institutions, Kramer observed a doctrinal pattern of thinking that continued to baffle and unsettle her. Teacher-educators at these colleges and universities almost all believe that the role of schools is political, not instructional. In addition, understanding has been replaced by self-esteem as the goal of education, regardless of actual achievement. Individual performance is no longer important and, in fact, is discouraged.
With the goal to have everyone “feel good about themselves” and with politically-correct forces at work, individual achievement has been replaced by an emphasis on characteristics of certain racial or ethnic groups and their so-called “grievances.” The focus of interest and study is no longer on the common values and culture of America, but on special interest groups perceived as underdogs. This is where cooperative learning, multiculturalism, and globalism become the mainstay of some teacher training. These methods of learning reject our “individualistic democratic values and institutions,” demeaning the very groups they intend to uplift. The prospective teachers at some of these institutions are actually trained to become therapists and social workers who will empower the perceived underdogs and make everyone equal. It’s a beautiful thing. These future teachers seem legitimately eager and optimistic, and they are idealistic about the good deeds they will do to heal a broken society. They not only feel a certain moral obligation in what they espouse, but they feel a moral superiority over the “elitists” and “racists” who don’t agree with them. While there are a number of teachers who do not come out of education colleges under this morally superior spell, many others do. These are the very teachers who join the many teachers unions to promote their political agendas for a better and more equal world, without all of that repressive testing and personal achievement. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, they disdain traditional academic standards and then are startled to find incompetence in their midst.
Of the most significant teachers organizations in the United States, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the aforementioned NEA rank as the top two. Together they create a powerful lobby in Washington and the state capitols, representing most of the eleven million teachers in the country. Large contributions to various political campaigns have proven to be highly favorable to their causes. They have supported Carter, Mondale, Dukakis and Clinton to name just a few. For Clinton’s entire political career he has been in their pocket. In December of 1991 Clinton addressed the NEA by saying, “If I become President, you’ll be my partners. I won’t forget who brought me to the White House,” and at the 1996 NEA convention, where Clinton was the keynote speaker, 91% of the NEA delegates voted to endorse him for re-election. The NEA is, in fact, the largest lobby of the Democratic Party and, in the years between 1976 and 1996, it sent more delegates to each of the Democratic National Conventions than did any state. Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett has said of the NEA, “you are looking at the absolute heart and center of the Democratic Party.” The NEA’s political contributions and influence are extraordinary, rivaling the same of such powerful groups as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the major tobacco companies. While the NRA and tobacco lobbies are regularly castigated in the media for their attempts at financial influence on government policy, I don’t recall ever seeing the same for the powerful teachers’ lobby.
In reference to the politically powerful yet educationally destructive NEA, Forbes magazine has called the union “the worm in the American education apple.” Forbes reported that while nationwide teacher union memberships rose to around 80% in 1993, SAT scores were 80% lower than in 1963 when teacher union membership was less than 1%. In that thirty-year period, real spending per student has increased five-fold. And for what? . . . students who are less educated and more propagandized. What exactly is the NEA doing with its estimated annual union dues of $750 million? Well for starters, the NEA President and Executive Director have comfortable annual salaries of approximately $400,000 combined, and with an NEA staff of over 550 the dollars add up. This is peanuts, however, compared to the money they spend on pet projects and in the political arena. It has become clear that political power, not education, is their mantra. This was summed up on two different occasions, with the first in 1978 when Executive Director Terry Herndon claimed:
The ultimate goal of the NEA is to tap the legal, political
and economic powers of the U.S. Congress. We want leaders
and staff with sufficient clout that they may roam the halls of
Congress and collect votes to re-order the priorities of the
United States of America.
I didn’t hear anything about education in that comment. . . did you? The second was in 1982 when the then-President Mary Futrell said that “instruction and professional development have been on the back burner to us, compared to political action.”
The NEA doesn’t just do battle on behalf of their own agenda, they also spend mega lobbying and advertising dollars fighting off unwanted proposals of parents and other “evil” adversaries. A liberal amount of NEA funds (no pun intended) are spent on advertising, such as the 1995 T.V. ad that protested proposed education legislation saying: “Do you know what Congress is doing to our children? Congress is cutting basic skills.” Quite frankly, I think the union may have beat them to it. A proposal that keeps popping up at the state level around the country and is frequently met with disdainful malevolence by the NEA is school choice. In reference to California’s recent school-choice initiative, that state’s NEA- affiliated Teachers Association President D.A. Weber stated that “there are some proposals that are so evil that they should never even be presented to the voters.” Evil? What is so evil about parents having the option to give their children the best education possible without being in a financial stranglehold? Forbes referred to Weber’s remark as “frankly totalitarian.” But the battles for school choice wage on, from state to state.
While the NEA and many public school teachers believe that “public schools are as good as their private competitors” and, therefore, do not support school choice or school vouchers for the public, statistics tell a different story of their personal beliefs. According to 1990 census data reported in the Wall Street Journal, 17.1% of both public and private school teachers sent their children to private schools. The Journal report reveals that school teachers choose to send their kids to private schools more often than the general public does, particularly in urban areas; and the black public school teachers use private schools more than white teachers; and Hispanic teachers use them more than anyone else. Four years later, in 1994, the percentages escalated among NEA members, with 22% choosing to send their children to private schools. This is over double the national average. The Journal reports that “the most ardent opponents of private school vouchers are public school teachers,” and through their lobbying efforts, teachers are denying “to millions of low-income parents the very school choice that they exercise”. . . this lesson in hypocrisy is “a terrible lesson to teach.” But the battles for school choice wage on, from state to state.
After seven years as head of the NEA, Keith Geiger resigned his position in 1996 to go to work for the Clinton presidential campaign. Upon leaving the NEA, he declared that he had played an integral part in making the union a strong political organization, with his proudest achievement being to move it “into a mode where they’re receptive to talking about reform.” I have two problems with that statement. First of all, they and the federal government have been “talking” about reform for over thirty years, so clearly this is not a new concept, and it surely is not any great accomplishment. Which brings me to my second problem. After all those years of leading the NEA toward a “receptive” discussion of reform, all Geiger has to show for his efforts is an overall lowering of academic standards. There was nothing in their discussions about school choice, or competency testing of teachers, or decentralization, or merit pay, or competition, or the responsibility of the NEA to turn back the tide of destructive teaching ideas like inventive spelling and creative math. What has come out of the reform discussions is an emphasis on self-esteem, multiculturalism, cooperative learning, and continued liberal political activism.
The NEA has had many successes in regard to their influence inside the beltway. One of the more pronounced achievements came in 1990 when Congress was persuaded to authorize a $65 million environmental education project. While on the outset this may sound worthy, it has in fact produced more government bureaucracy and classrooms full of misguided environmental activists (who probably can’t read or write at their designated grade level). From this effort a new division of the EPA was established, the Office of Environmental Education. At least twenty-nine states now require public schools to offer environmental instruction, with many directing it to be part of the entire curriculum for all grade levels. It must be taught in history, geography, civics, health, English and math. Mathematics textbooks in Waukesha, Wisconsin middle schools have chapter sections titled “Save Planet Earth.” One section discusses the benefits of recycling aluminum. Another section examines what is being done to protect endangered species and how the student may be able to help. We’re talking about a math book. Some school board members tried to stop the $148,000 purchase of these math texts to no avail, complaining that “it’s more of a political comment than a lesson in mathematics.”
Not only is the process of environmental education offensive, but so is the content. There exists within the pages of the textbooks a disparaging view of all mankind, specifically Americans. The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute examined 65 textbooks’ portrayal of environmental issues and found that science, health and geography texts represent “human beings as evil, and blames the United States in particular and Western industrial society in general for every environment ill.” Dr. Michael Sanera, director of the Claremont Institute’s Center for Environmental Education, states that in America’s public schools “scare tactics predominate and scientifically sound information is largely missing” from environmental education. For example, Exploring a Changing World, a geography textbook published by Globe Book Company claims that China “ has a lot to show the developing world about producing food . . . They rely on human labor rather than expensive machines.” What they failed to mention is China’s use of political prisoners as slave labor. In a history text, The American Odyssey, published by Glencoe, the U.S. had been forewarned by environmentalists in the ‘70s that our “natural resources were being abused and destroyed by” . . . governmental support of “industrial growth and commercial development” and the “greed and unscrupulous actions of businesses that placed profit ahead of responsibility.” Gee, what do you think they’re selling here? What they don’t tell students is that, when adjusted for inflation, natural resources and energy prices have been level or have fallen for many years, which suggests abundance, not scarcity.
In addition to the offensive process and textbook content, most state environmental education laws actually push for activism. This is demonstrated in the wording of their laws, requiring schools to provide a “motivation for action,” or calling for “the commitment to act,” or proposing that students “contribute to decision-making processes.” Parents are legitimately concerned. Some teachers and their textbooks are teaching students how to become politically involved in supporting specific leftist issues through picketing and protesting, fundraising, boycotting products that pollute, writing to congressmen and lobbying for the ozone, overpopulation and the saving of trees. One of the most popular books being used in classrooms in the 1990s is 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. It tells children: “Kids have a lot of power. Whenever you say something, grownups have to listen . . . So if saving the Earth is important to you, then grown-ups will have to follow along.” (those poor kids are being built up just to be let down). Another book has a section titled “Tips for Successful Lobbying.” Aside from the indoctrinal propagandizing, there is another obvious aspect of this that offends parents. A student’s class time that is being spent on political activism, is time not being spent on basic education skills like reading, writing, math and science.
Many people wonder how the educrats get away with such blatant malfeasance. It’s all in the presentation (any first year business major knows that). The marketing strategies of the NEA and AFT are quite effective and are, in fact, ingenious. By creating feelings of guilt among the masses, referring to education as an “investment” in the future (of course they don’t tell you whose future you’re investing in), they gain public approval and financial support for the education establishment without giving away any of their trade secrets, i.e., teacher incompetence, political agendas, and brainwashing teaching methods. In some areas of the country, they have successfully created an image of themselves as undeniable “experts” which discourages too many questions from the masses about financial, administrative and instructional operations, making the general public feel intrusive and ignorant about the needs of their own children. Therefore, with the public shamed into depositing large sums of money into the school coffers and disinclined to intrude into the affairs of the schools with questions about expenditures, course content, and teacher competency, our system of education has become a wealthy cabal, left unchecked for the most part.
When some of the public does question politicians and the education establishment about spending habits and denounce the incompetency of some administrators and teachers, the attacks are almost always fended off with the battlecry ‘We need more parent involvement! It’s for the children . . . it’s for future generations!’ When the government tells you they need more parent involvement, watch your wallet, because it more accurately translates to: ‘We want more money!’ Anytime there is a deficiency pointed out, the excuse is that there is not enough money. This excuse is only effective, however, when combined with the guilt factor. This use of the guilt factor is nothing new to the political left. It has been an effective tool to gain public support for myriad government-controlled programs since the early years of this century. The guilt factor usually leaves the general public ashamed and oftentimes afraid of the consequences. A good example of this involves the recent proposed tax cut by Congress. Prior to his veto, President Clinton is reported as saying:
If the Republicans send me a bill that doesn’t live up to our
national commitment to education, I won’t hesitate to veto
it. . . . If it sends me a bill that turns its back on our children
and our future, I’ll send them back to the drawing board. I
won’t let Congress push through a budget that’s paid for at
the expense of our children and our future prosperity. . . .
[Congress plans to] pay for their pet projects at the expense
of our children’s education. [each emphasis added]
Pardon me, but, what a self-righteous load of crap. Pet projects? I’ve got your pet projects. The American education system has become one big experimental pet project, and that my friends is why the future of our children looks bleak. As Congressman J.C. Watts said, the current argument regarding American education is not about money, it is about control. He asserts that Clinton’s “Washington-knows-best solution” for education undermines parents and local control of institutions.
If bigger school budgets, which the education establishment is constantly campaigning for, equals better education, then why are there so many examples of good money being thrown after bad? I digress. In recent years professional sports has become the target of criticism for the excessive salaries paid to individual players and for the ridiculous price tags on season tickets. Basketball and baseball are among the worst. If money can buy you the best, why have the Dodgers, with the largest payroll in professional baseball at eighty-four million dollars, been ranked on more than one occasion this season as the worst team in that entire sport? The difference between the Dodgers and the public schools is, Dodger management will make the necessary adjustments to improve their team by discontinuing contracts of high-priced, non-performing players while schools will continue to pay for incompetent tenured teachers.
In 1995, a lead editorial in The Washington Post stated that the District of Columbia is ranked as #1 in the nation for “per-pupil expenditures,” spending more than $500 million a year on their public schools. Yet, in every category, student performance is ranked the lowest in the region. Additionally, there exists poorly supplied classrooms throughout DC and no effort has been made to improve the teaching work force. The problem is not a shortage of funds, it is poor usage of funds. Education dollars are being spent on bureaucrats, not on teaching children. In 1991, David Boaz revealed in his book, Liberating Schools, that between 1960 and 1984 the number of public school teachers grew by 57%, while principals and supervisors grew by 79% and staffers by 500%. Money is actually diverted away from hiring better quality teachers. A local Houston primary school teacher said of the money issue: “Where else can you get a college ‘professional’ for the bargain basement price of $19,000 a year--you get what you pay for.” And, as spending increased, test scores went down. Former Education Secretary William Bennett wrote in 1994 that, since 1960, primary and secondary education spending has increased 200% while SAT scores decreased by 73 points. In 1993 a liberal think tank, the Brookings Institution, published Making Schools Work which admitted that “funding is not related to school quality.”
Thomas Sowell refers to the American education system as a “tightly controlled monopoly” whereby the supply of both customers and labor are controlled almost entirely by the education establishment. The government assists this monopoly by enforcing compulsory attendance laws and by denying parents the right to better control their children’s’ education with school vouchers and school choice. The labor force is also controlled with required education (“Mickey Mouse”) courses to achieve permanent tenure. These requirements keep out any non-conforming, free-thinking prospective teachers who may disrupt the current education status-quo. Based on mental test scores (from ACT, SAT, GRE, vocabulary, reading comprehension tests) since the Progressive Age, data reveals that education majors typically score below the national average. These are the very people who go on to become college professors in the education field as well as teachers and administrators in our public schools. Sowell sums this up by saying:
Some of the least qualified students, taught by the least
qualified professors in the lowest quality courses supply
most American public school teachers. It is Darwinism
stood on its head, with the unfittest being most likely to
survive as public school teachers.
So, is this really for the children? Of course not. The children don’t benefit from an education that leaves them feeling good about being stupid. The benefactors are the people who ultimately gain financially and develop certain power: politicians and legislators with a common agenda; professors teaching the required education courses; public school administrators; tenured or “senior” teachers; the morally-superior idealists who are in it to “save the world”; program promoters (such as Quest International and Planned Parenthood) and psychologists; and textbook publishers-- one local primary school teacher refers to it as the “billion dollar textbook scam.” This is big business, folks.
Since I mentioned it, I would like to briefly speak to the issue of tenure. Tenure or seniority varies in the public school systems from state-to-state. The difficulty in removing an incompetent senior or tenured teacher from his job in most states cannot be overstated. Tenure is an important aspect of many teachers’ careers in both the public schools and on university campuses. The current tenure system’s over-devotion to teacher’s rights is rivaled only by the South’s over-devotion to state’s rights during the American Civil War. Tenure was first introduced to American university campuses in 1915 with the intent of protecting academic freedom. While a professor’s classroom conduct was to be fair and balanced whereby he would not indoctrinate students with personal views on an issue without first offering optional or opposing views, his conduct and beliefs outside of the classroom would be protected. Somewhere along the line the basis for the tenure system was turned on its head so that tenured professors are now protected to espouse any belief they may have inside of the classroom. This “faculty unaccountability” appears to have developed with the progressive educators of the 1920s (like John Dewey) but did not become so widely accepted and degenerated until the 1960s. As a student, I was personally subjected to blatant, unabashed displays of rabid political opinion by (easily) dozens of instructors. And almost all of them were tenured, at Stephen F.Austin, Sam Houston, and Kingwood College.
In the name of tolerance and political correctness injustices are committed regularly at schools and universities, trampling upon mission statements across the fruited plain. This hypocrisy has found its way into primary and secondary schools, major universities and community colleges. Many of these institutions hire instructors as full time faculty for the express purpose of appearing politically correct and “diverse.” The concern of the highest levels of some administrations is, in fact, not to hire the best candidates based on their merit and job skills, but to hire the candidates who can best make the institution appear more tolerant and, in the words of our illustrious U.S. president, Bill Clinton, “look like America.” It is a clear case of symbolism over substance. The public schools are influenced by specific state and federal hiring guidelines. When these schools submit to government audits, they are often cited for a shortage of minority hirings. So, who are the universities and colleges keeping up appearances for? Well, we know the research institutions are doing it for government funding purposes, but what would motivate a community college to be so politically correct? Many of them claim that it is demographics. They usually want to appeal to the broader populace in their district because it will help the college grow with the community, . . . and it’s the right thing to do. In reality they are appealing to a higher power--their own egos. They want the recognition and status among their peers for being a progressive institution that can offer the same qualified education to students as a major four-year university.
The good news in this degradation of our education system is hard to discern, but it is there if you look close enough. It is bureaucratic (and educratic) inefficiency. Milton Friedman notes:
If government were spending its money efficiently, there’d be
no hope for us to restore a free market. What killed the Russian
communists? It wasn’t the bankruptcy of their ideas that
brought down the Soviet Union; it was the inefficiency of their
bureaucrats. And while government disposes of half our income,
it does it so inefficiently that its actual control is much less.
Although our government has been growing in size and function at a rapid rate, moving away from free markets and freedom, toward centralized control, it cannot possibly continue at this pace with the increasing restlessness of the general public. With all of the school-choice and school-voucher initiatives out there on the horizon, with more and more parents protesting in cities like Chicago and New York City for their children to be taught “the basics,” and with no solid evidence that the liberal approach to education works (in fact data actually proves it doesn’t), the national mood is ripe for educational revolution. The saving grace will have to be “a wide-moving public opinion” which I believe will have to bring about far-reaching changes in the education colleges and in decentralized control, causing this nation to re-evaluate itself as a people.
Milton Friedman often claims that good ideas don’t have a chance of being accepted, much less adopted, until there is a crisis. Well, we’re there. While there are no quick fixes for this nation’s education problems, there are measures that can be taken that will provide positive results. The first and most important measure that must be taken immediately is to remove the intrusive meddling of the federal and some state governments, and return control of the schools to the local communities. Only when control of federal dollars are returned to the local level will we see any real positive changes. The best way to do this, as Reagan’s administration stated, is to dismantle the Education Department. School administrators and teachers should be responsible for student performance and achievement, not for time-consuming implementation of ineffectual federal regulations and filling out mounds of paperwork. In addition, school vouchers and/or school choice should be alternatives to the public school system, particularly for those parents who do not presently have the financial ability to take advantage of private schools.
Other important measures that need to be considered in the pursuit of an improved education system include several measures: implementation of merit pay at every level, so that teachers are free from having to conform to various political ideologies and may advance in their profession based on achievement; restructure teacher education by emphasizing academics, judging the graduates by “how much they know, not just how much they care”; and, finally, advance the original purpose of schools, which is to impart the culture, as well as, the knowledge and aptitude necessary to preserve it.
There are still good teachers out there making a difference. Sussex High School math teacher Adele Jones is one such example. Her students thought she was a difficult but outstanding teacher who inspired them to excel. One student sent her a note stating:
I’m proud of my 92 average! Why? Because I actually
earned it. Probably it’s the first time I had to earn a grade.
That is self-esteem “the old-fashioned way.” But the Sussex High principal, John McCarthy, didn’t see it that way. Jones was summarily dismissed by McCarthy in 1993 when she would not lower her academic standards--she had reported an excessive amount of D’s and F’s for her students. McCarthy viewed D’s and F’s as “negative grades,” undermining his goal to “use positive [emphasis added] reinforcement to improve the self-esteem of kids.” Not all of the good teachers receive such treatment. There are still many out there who are causing students to learn by challenging them intellectually. You know the type I’m talking about--like the one who inspired you--the one you so respected and were maybe even a little afraid of. You would complain about how that teacher required too much work from you and had standards too high, but it was a way of testing yourself. Only when we hold ourselves to high standards are we satisfied by our achievements.
What this research has done for me personally is remind me why I changed careers to become a teacher a few years ago. It’s not just “for the children.” It’s for the preservation of our culture. Political agendas that undermine our humanities and social sciences, and emotionally charged demagogues who decry lessons of western civilization as “Eurocentric” have successfully constructed a chasm between generations. The generation of students in public schools and colleges today are, in many cases, being denied the knowledge of their heritage. Instructors should be accountable. They are obligated to offer students a fair and balanced history of their culture while requiring them to work for their education, holding them to high standards and encouraging them to achieve. That is what teaching is about.