As John Dewey revolutionized the US education system with Karl Marx’s ideas, dysfunction entered the system. Chalk up another failure at the hands of the Progressive revolution.
In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx demands: “Free education for all children in public schools.” Marx wanted to eliminate unfairness. Presumably, he intended working-class kids to have whatever upper-class children had. In effect, he intended for everyone to attend a good prep school. That is still something that hasn’t yet happened.
Enter the Edu-Swamp
What went wrong? Why has our Education Establishment betrayed Karl Marx? Rivers of money flow towards public schools. The results, however, suggest the money is wasted. The answer to those who would ask if somebody is playing games is arguably, yes.
Sometimes it seems America’s ruling elites don’t truly believe in education. Maybe they don’t think workers have a right to be educated. In fact, the plan seems to be to pretend to care about education while actually sabotaging it. We hate to think those elites could be so horribly cynical. However, I’ll argue that they are.
Out With The Old, In With The Junk
What we know for sure is public schools used to deploy an array of proven, traditional approaches which are the same ones used today in virtually all private schools. Dewey’s Progressives eliminated every one of them from American public schools. As a result, the last hundred years have seen a steady decline in American K-12 education.
Arguably, we had much better schools when traditional ideas dominated. Cursive. The 3 R’s. Phonics. Arithmetic with mastery. Facts, knowledge, and academics. Geography, History, and General Science. Literature and a second language. Homework, tests, grades, proper spelling, discipline, accuracy, and promptness. Teachers would teach directly; they were supported by the principal and community. In those days, schools tried to build character. Common sense instruction that was proven and intuitive.
The subversion of this classic educational framework started when the Progressives came up with their “enlightened” replacements. The subversion of this classic educational framework started when the Progressives came up with their “enlightened” replacements. These were weird little Frankensteins designed not to educate, but to sub-educate. For example, education professors claimed New Math (1962) was perfection. That was until everybody realized it was counterproductive. That’s the pattern we see again and again. Big claims for new approaches, but little substance. Cheap little forgeries sold to the public with hype and hypocrisy. Meanwhile, time-proven methods are trashed!
Enter The Tower-Of-Babel Approach
Decade after decade, Progressives found reasons for disparaging the teaching of spelling, grammar, and even the value of correct answers. They particularly disapproved of cursive writing and memorizing things such as multiplication tables, dates, and facts. Oddly enough, at the same time, Progressives crusaded for memorizing tens of thousands of English “sight-words”—an impossible task.
In addition, Progressives went all-in on three of the biggest gimmicks of the century: Cooperative Learning, Constructivism, and Self-esteem. Reform Math (12 varieties) dented the nation’s arithmetic abilities. Progressives tended to like loose and sloppy. For example they encouraged guessing, spiraling, disorder in the classroom, and a permissiveness about cheating. They complained constantly about the value of testing and grades, which they claimed harmed some students, and so they advocated “kinder” tests and evaluations.
Books are written on each of these topics. Explaining the details now is not necessary. It’s the pattern that matters. Progressives kept eliminating good ideas and introducing bad ideas in the school curriculum. At the same time, they were concocting a smothering fog of pretentious jargon, marketing terms, and in general creating a blockade of communication between one American and the next. How can two parents discuss what is happening to their children when everyone uses the words differently?
For example, the concept “Whole Word” was given at least 10 different names that mean the same thing. Instead of learning to sound out words (i.e., phonics), children have to memorize the shapes of words. Aliases for this include: look-say, sight-words memory method, Dolch words, Fry words, Zeno words, Whole Language, Balanced Literacy, and High-Frequency Words. Even as language from Babel made communication impossible, the media pretended not to notice.
Kill The Swamp; Bring Back Real Education!
Want to make schools better? Bring back the ideas proven to work. As for the dysfunctional ideas inserted in the system like malware in your computer, the good news is that we can throw this stuff in the trash.
It seems that Karl Marx really wanted excellent schools for all. But his vision ran into John Dewey’s practical priorities. Dewey needed enough power to secure his Progressive revolution. Additionally, Dewey scorned individual achievement. Dewey’s ideas have proved to be regressive rather than progressive.
It’s a sad and embarrassing reversal. Today’s socialists want a lot less for ordinary people than Karl Marx and his Communists did. How did such an ironic reversal occur? Marx, with all of his wild theorizing and dictatorial tendencies, probably thought he was a humanist at the core, especially with regard to education. I think he was. But he was no match for our Education Establishment, which is perhaps best described as our Mediocrity Establishment.
[Bruce Deitrick Price is a guest contributor for NRN. He’s an author, artist, and education reformer. Price explains education theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org. His new book is “Saving K-12 – What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them?”]