Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What Dewey Wrought

"Even the best education cannot stop a brilliant mind." - My College Professor, quoting the scientist Enrico Fermi

The previous column's declaration that 'the focus of education should be learning' might be considered a declaration of the obvious. Isn't that what education has been about all along? Alas, no, and the point of it's necessity is to highlight that education has gone wrong at the level of root causes. If it were so, that is, if the purposes of education and its methods were more properly aligned to what they should be, we wouldn't be under a 'constant crisis' in education.

The constant crisis in education exists because the methods and goals of education as actually practiced fail to achieve ends of learning. The lack of learning then shows up in statistics on "Why Johnny Can't Read" or our failure to do better than Bulgaria on learning outcomes, and the public and educational professionals wring their hands. The result is invariably some 'reforms' that fail because they don't radically alter the failed configuration of education.

The root cause of the failure is this: Progressive Education has been wrong for 100 years and has dumbed down education in a 'progressive' sequence of de-learning throughout. "John Dewey invented progressive education a hundred years ago. It was wrong then and hasn’t gotten better." says Williamson M. Evers. This failure is a failure of American progressive education, and it is so pervasive that 'educational reform' is not real reform, but a deepening of existing failed trends.

We need to understand that the de-focus on real learning, real content (derided as 'mere facts and memorization'), real individualism (derided as antithetical to socialization), and excellence (derided as anti-egalitarian) are not accidental, but a deliberate, rooted in the views of John Dewey:
John Dewey, in his long life, wrote dozens of books and hundreds of articles. A lot of it is murky and ambiguous. Whatever you wish to promote, you can find support from Dewey. But in the interest of speed, let me summarize: he and his buddies were Socialists. They were sick of individualism, the pioneer spirit, free enterprise, and people doing their own thing. John Dewey wanted you to be a happy member of a group. You didn’t need that much literacy or knowledge. Dewey actually saw these as impediments. He calls, especially in the early grades, for sharply curtailing the study of literature, history, math, science, geography and such, in order to make room for social activities, specifically, “cooking, sewing, manual training, etc.” (his words). So here, tragically and pathologically, John Dewey, Educator, metamorphosed into that most unexpected of things: John Dewey, Anti-Educator. To advance his sociopolitical visions, Dewey was eager to dilute content and diminish learning.
Consider this. If the goal of education was socialization, then learning that took any individual above their station in life was of no use. The policy is dumb by design:
The policy of dumb by design, to the extent our educators can slip it past parents and politicians, guides them to this day. Isn’t it fair to say that not one educational reform crafted by educators actually leads to better education? My impression is that none of these reforms is truly intended to lead to better education. The self-esteem movement. New Math. Fuzzy math. Whole language as a way of learning to read. Bilingualism. Ebonics. Outcome Based Education. Numerous campaigns against testing, homework, standards, or discipline. All seek a lower common denominator.
The author Bruce Price has quotes to explain further 'the agenda':
Counts, 1932: "Historic capitalism, with its deification of the principle of selfishness, its reliance upon the forces of competition, its place of property above human rights, and its exaltation of the profit motive, will either have to be displaced altogether, or so radically changed in form and spirit that its identity will be completely lost."

Willard Givens, 1934: "We are convinced that we stand today at the verge of a great culture....But to achieve these things many drastic changes must be made. A dying laissez-faire must be completely destroyed, and all of us, including the owners, must be subjected to a large degree of social control."

Counts, 1934: "Cumulative evidence supports the conclusion that in the United States as in other countries, the age of individualism and laissez-faire in economy and government is closing and a new age of collectivism is emerging."

Counts, 1934: " [Our new magazine] assumes that the age of individualism in economy is closing and that an age marked by close integration of social life and by collective planning and control is opening. For weal or woe it accepts as irrevocable this deliverance of the historical process."

National Education Association Journal, 1936: "Let us not terms of specific facts or skills [that children should acquire] but rather in terms of growing."

NEA Journal, 1937: "The transition of society from the philosophy of individualism to the new emphasis on group goals and cooperative action produces vexing problems in secondary education....Only education which seeks the reconstruction of society is [valid]....Teachers should play an active part in securing acceptance by their communities of new social ideas and ideals."

NEA Journal, 1946: "In the struggle to establish an adequate world government, the teacher has many parts to play...He can do much to prepare the hearts and minds of children for global understanding and cooperation....At the very top of all the agencies which will assure the coming of world government must stand the school, the teacher, and the organized profession."
Bruce Price asks the question:
Our educators seemed intent not on educating children but on creating a new kind of children...But who asked our educators to embark on this project? Who voted? Who discussed?
Proposing that "Teachers should play an active part in securing acceptance by their communities of new social ideas" and asking teachers "to prepare the hearts and minds of children for global understanding" are examples of agenda-driven education, satisfying the ideological purposes of teachers and educational 'experts' while doing nothing for the children themselves. The call away from teaching facts, leaves the children sufficiently ignorant and malleable for other agendas. This cruelly

This gets us back to our original point. What Dewey wrought has been 100 years of educational malpractices that has watered down education and taken it away from its proper purpose. Any educational reform has to begin from proper premises and to fix education, we need to fix the purpose of education - it is to induce learning in the child, to open their mind to truth, creativity, and to build their knowledge and skills to be citizens, scholars and professionals when they grow up.

1 comment:

Sanford said...

The purpose of education must be understanding, not socialization. This is what I wrote in my book, Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better. The focus on socialization means lack of rationality. See the new book, Rational Thinking, Government Policies, Science, and Living. Rational thinking means starting from basic principles, applying logic, and checking with empirical verification. Our society is falling apart by sheer stupidity. E.g., the CRA law forcing banks to issue loans at rates which cause the bank to lose money.