Sunday, August 30, 2020

Being an old complaint, doesn't make it less valid, or less dangerous - Education or School Systems pt 4

If you complain about our school systems' failures, one common response that you're likely to get, is:
"Oh, that's such an old complaint, people have always been saying the schools are failing, every generation repeats it."
, which has some truth to it, but like the crack that 'It's not paranoia if people really are out to get you', if you look at the history of the school systems since we instituted them, they actually have been getting measurably worse and worse (by their own criteria) at delivering the Education they promised from the very start, and while progressively delivering less and less of the quality they promised, they've been doing more and more of what they weren't supposed to be doing unto us at all. That those failures have been occurring consistently, nationwide, over successive decades, is an indication that the problems with our school systems have far less to do with the incompetence or bad intentions (though, some of that surely exists, see previous post) of particular localities, administrators, teachers, students, or parents, than it has to do with the fundamental changes to why, what with, and how, we've expected our school systems to 'educate' our students.

Because the problem is systemic in nature, it can't be solved by trying to treat the endless series of bad effects it spawns as if they were isolated bugs to be fixed & forgotten. A consequence of not seeing that our school systems problems are inherent in its very design - in both theory and structure - is that we enable those fundamental flaws to hide safely behind the far more visibly distracting effects of 'we've gotta improve our reading and math scores!', and each such 'fix' leads to still worse problems, each inviting still further fixes, and all serving to make the system which actually caused them, to grow ever more stronger and entrenched. We've taken up that invitation and we've travelled so far down that path, that the actual problems have become more hidden, harder to identify, and easier to mistake as being problems of policy only - hence the ever growing number of gilded Band-Aids we've applied to the arterial bleeds in the quality of We The People's education.

To be fair, it wouldn't be easy to compare our traditional system of education, to the 'progressive' school systems that replaced it, even if we tried - and oh, we have tried. On this one issue, the problem doesn't come from the 'Progressive Education' side of the comparison, as they've always favored having as much of a uniform, centralized, common set of 'standards' as they could possibly get away with - that's their selling point, there's little to no difficulty finding schools that are representative of 'progressive' practices, to compare to the practices of traditional education. The problem comes from trying to find even a single representative example from the side of traditional education, that you'd compare it to. Even in those aspects you'd expect to be fairly easy to compare, in their books and so forth, what would you compare a Common Core 'Social Studies' textbook to....Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnesian War"? de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America"? Even the textbook histories of the 1904 (I've got my Grandpa's school textbooks - here's a link to a later edition of the American History, and English History, which are already showing the 'progressive' factoid'izing of history, but are still vastly superior to what we have today ), were vastly different in form and quality and are not very comparable. And if we skipped over comparing the actual materials used, and tried comparing a measure of their respective results, such as with this often meme'd quiz from Salina, Kansas, in 1895 , that comparison would also leave you with a false impression (more on that in a moment).
Is it just about the questions?

One of the problems is that even if you could find the graded quizzes used in that particular school, or even a list of the materials and lessons used in getting them, it was very likely not what was used in the next school down the road, let alone in the next town or state. And before you decide to score that as a point for the 'Progressive Education' side, it is extremely important to point out that that was not a bug, but a feature of the traditional system of education, and one of its most important and valuable features, at that. In each location, the individual parents and trusted advisers, in conjunction with the teachers they hired, decided upon what materials would be used, to what extent, and what results were expected of them, and that varied as much from location to location as the people in them did.

If that traditional feature still seems buggy to you, consider the cases of (picking a few names out of a very stuffed hat)... George Wythe, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Frederic Douglass... hugely well educated Americans such as these, came from wildly differing educations, which were drawn from widely varying materials and means, which were selected by their parents, or advisers (living or authored), as it seemed would be best suited to help them to achieve a common goal of becoming educated. Do you recall from a few years back when Finland was all the rage in 'how to do school!' circles (I touched on what usually went unsaid on that in this post, pay especial attention to the comments)? Funny thing about that, if you bothered to look past the meaningless distractions of giving teachers a 'professional salary', insurance, etc., and looked at what the teachers themselves said they actually did which made a difference in educating their students, they attributed it to teachers having full control over their classrooms, beginning with the material they chose to teach from (they had general cultural targets they had to prepare their students for, but weren't told what materials to use or how to get there), the only classroom tests they used were those they themselves devised, if and when they saw a need for it, and they had close one-on-one relationships with the student's parents, and the teacher had final say on who was disciplined, why and how, and who remained in their classes.

IOW, with at least some participation and consent from parents, their teachers were given the power to Teach by those with the proper power to give it to them, and their students, if they were willing, were able to learn. Predictably, shortly after the international spotlight fell upon them, and the proponents of centralization began to realize that a feature such as that was most definitely a bug in their systems, those conditions in Finland began to degrade. Similarly, go ask a teacher in your nearest school (public and even private) how free they are to select the materials, methods, tests & policies they'd prefer to teach to their students with (Hint: Not very).

While the material that was used by traditional educational methods could include classical texts, and/or various 'Primer's, and/or the Bible, and/or Shakespeare and/or a myriad of other options, the students who could and would learn to read and think through them, would learn through them to recognize what was admirable and what was tragic or despicable, as well as how to recognize what scenarios were more easily resolved with mathematical solutions and how to reach them and how to recognize the difference. By various non-standard means and materials, traditional schools gave students a familiarity with, and an interest in pursuing on their own, what Thomas Jefferson referred to as,
"...the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c..."
, which informed their understanding of their nation's history, culture, and government. They were able to do that because they weren't told through a rigid chain of command - of legislators, regulators, administrators - that micro-managed teachers & students on what to 'think' with, and how. Simply having the important goal to become educated, and not confusing that goal with meaningless distractions such as getting high test scores (a very recent, and poor, innovation of progressive school systems) or developing workforce or social 'skills', they - parents, teachers, students - were able to decide on the most effective means of reaching it. And as acquiring the basic elements of the Three R's ('reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic') were necessary, they were quickly gotten out of the way with simple, proven methods, so that the primary goal could be reached. The fact that our school systems fail so miserably at even imparting the basic abilities of the Three R's today - despite a century of their 'Top Men' devoting ludicrous amounts of time and resources to over-thinking how to remake the wheel into glitteringly dysfunctional blocks (see 'See & Say') - and even after making that secondary skill into a primary objective, our colleges routinely have to provide remedial classes in those basic skills to incoming students before they can begin any of their other classes.

That an endless series of 'school reform!'s have consistently failed to ensure that even college bound students have rudimentary abilities in basic skills (let alone the level of education those skills should have led them into), is telling you a lot about our school systems today - how closely are you listening?

And here we begin to see what is comparable between these two systems of education, and that is their approach to education. But before getting into those comparisons, first there's another matter we need to flesh out, which is what I hope you're wondering right now: "what do you mean by 'educated'?" I can't

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Educational Sleight of Hand Inflaming America - Education or School Systems pt 3

So I've given my unpopular opinion over the last two posts, that our situation with the schools being closed has been the best thing that's happened in 2020, and that if we know what's best for us, we should see to it that they stay closed. Why? So we can begin correcting the century old educational error that has led to the chaotic society we are living in today, and start getting back to providing students with educations that are good in more meaningful ways than just a GPA.

Three reasons I've gone into (so far) for how our schools have loosed the chaos:
  1. America and its school systems are incompatible. America was founded upon the discovery of timeless and self-evident truths, and abstract principles of individual rights, property and the Rule of Law, to secure Liberty for all; while the 'Progressive' experiment in reforming our school systems was driven by Pragmatic tenets (one of Pragmatism's key founders was 'Progressive' education reformer, John Dewey) which dismiss 'Truth' in favor of what seems to work, and rejects abstract principles for guiding right action, in favor of trying whatever seems will have the power to 'work' for the 'greater good' (at the moment). In their founding ideals, America and its school systems are fundamentally opposed to each other.
  2. The Pro-Regressive repurposing of education as a means to 'getting a good job', has always carried with it the belief that 'the masses' are unfit to receive the same education as 'their leaders', and should instead forego that in favor of being trained to perform ''specific difficult manual tasks'' - at the opening of the 20th century that meant helping to support the economy by preparing 'the masses' to operate machinery in factories, and here in the 21st Century it means preparing 'the masses' to support the economy by developing their STEM and computer skills.
  3. Our school systems were designed to assure that govt experts (themselves) would have more power to control what students learn, than their parents. Seeing their surprising success as early as 1909, one designer delighted that "... Each year the child is coming to belong more to the State and less and less to the parent...", and in 2020, amidst the virtual classes & Covid-19 lockdowns, they're still very much concerned to maintain their power to 'teach' "...the messy work of destabilizing a kids racism or homophobia or transphobia..." in their classes, free from parents overhearing or interfering with them even in their homes.
It is with that in mind, and a great deal more, that I listen to the reactions of those who, shocked at my unpopular opinion, typically reply to me that:
"Surely what they're missing out on, outweighs whatever harm they might be exposed to?!"
I try not to show how shocked I am to hear what seems like such a willful exercise in denial, which otherwise responsible people seem to think expresses a 'reasonable' concern. My guess is that, like an audience caught up in the spectacle of a magic show, they fall for the magician's misdirection and fail to see the hand that's making their valuables disappear from sight. Answering that question, requires focusing upon at least two of those points that we're meant to miss.

To take the least obvious point first, to the extent that some good material might make it into what is taught within our school systems, I remind you that all those 'good lessons' will be conveyed and refracted through the pragmatic lens (at best) of a long line of textbook developers, superintendents, curriculum writers, testing algorithms, administrators, and finally at the end of that line, teachers, to present what is by that time a distorted - at best - picture of reality as the background for those 'good lessons' to be conveyed to the students. Also worth noting, those who will be most affected by the distorted views in these lessons, will be those students who're conscientiously making a serious effort to earn good grades. What good can that do?

What distortions? Examples abound for those interested in looking, but there happens to be an

Sunday, August 16, 2020

'Democratic education' for the humane enslavement of the people - Education or School Systems pt 2

In the previous post, I gave my unpopular opinion that Schools are closed: Why undo the only bright spot in 2020?, and pointed out that the nature of the 'Progressive' redesign of our school systems over a century ago, was systemically in conflict with the nature of the principles which had made America an exceptional nation. With the nature of that experimental system they put in place, it shouldn't be surprising that many graduates of our school systems have lacked a reverence for this nation, or that many of them can be found in many American cities tonight, rioting in the the streets. What should be a little more surprising though, is that 'Progressives', then and now, have enjoyed a degree of popularity with those they termed 'the masses'.

The Progressives in general though, and John Dewey in particular, were adept at making their ideas sound appealing to the 'democratic' public, yet while fans and foes of their ideas still debate the merits and dangers of what was actually meant by some of those theories, Dewey's fellow leaders in 'Progressive' education mostly agreed about how best to put those ideas into practice, and they consistently revealed a shared disdain for 'the masses' of the public they supposedly thought and cared so much about.

For instance, Woodrow Wilson, when still president of Princeton University in 1909, advised the Federation of High School Teachers as being an critical purpose to their teaching:
"...We want one class of persons to have a liberal education and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks..."
, a view which was also echoed by James E. Russell, head of Columbia University Teachers College, who gave a speech there in 1905 called "The Trend in American Education", where he expressed his equally 'pragmatic' concern that:
"...How can a nation endure that deliberately seeks to rouse ambitions and aspirations in the oncoming generations which in the nature of events cannot possibly be fulfilled ? If the chief object of government be to promote civil order and social stability , how can we justify our practice in schooling the masses in precisely the same manner as we do those who are to be our leaders?..."
Such sentiments, recently hinted at with 'the soft bigotry of lower expectations', were commonplace amongst the 'Progressives' writings and speeches of the time (and which is still alive and well in our time), and in case you missed the relevance of their intentions to you today, the information age equivalent of fitting 'the masses' to perform 'specific difficult manual tasks', is exactly what is behind the current rage to train 'the masses' in STEM skills, and not in that understanding which our Founder's generation formed themselves, and our nation, through - how could 'the masses' possibly understand Aristotle and Cicero, etc... (as those of the Founder's raised and taught them by their Mother's in the backwoods did - see George Wythe), for the Pro-Regressive's, such a thing was inconceivable.

Where such contradictory ideas as those would be a problem for a traditional American's principled thinking - civil war not being out of the question for how to resolve them - it's not at all problematic for the pragmatist (see previous post). For the pragmatist who upholds no principles, and values only doing what empirically 'works' for their own 'expert' purposes, promoting 'Democracy!' to the masses, while using political power to see to it that those masses are trained so as to be easier to be controlled by 'their leaders', was (and is) not a problem for them at all - after all, as they'd tell you: it works.

What I'm hoping is becoming unavoidably clear to you, is that this 'Progressive' understanding was exceedingly common to those who designed the components of our 'modern' school system's, and their theories shaped its districts, buildings, schedules, curriculum, textbooks, tests and standardized tests... which we still 'enjoy' today. That understanding drove our school districts so far from Jefferson's hopes

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Schools are closed: Why undo the only bright spot in 2020? - Education or School Systems pt 1

Back to school time? Really?! Don't get me wrong, there are few things more important to our lives and society than getting a good education, and conversely, few things that are more harmful to our lives and society than having a bad education. Yes... there's a 'but' coming, but it has nothing to do with the Coronavirus/Covid19, lockdowns or masks, and everything to do with an abundance of evidence that our school systems, even by their own criteria, have been producing progressively more students who are badly educated, in both rich & poor schools across the nation, and are doing so despite ever expanding systems and rising funding for them. What this indicates is that this issue is not solely a fault of particular parties, administrators, programs, teachers or parents, but is something that is systemic to our school systems as a whole - and that's traceable back to an error we made over a century ago. Mindful that people 'are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable' and will ignore such facts and their consequences for as long as they are able to, I hereby declare my unpopular opinion:
Schools being closed has been the best & brightest spot of 2020 - why on earth would you want to reverse that?
If my opinion shocks you more than the facts that gave rise to it, it seems to me that should shock you about yourself even more, for given the importance of an education, isn't it foolish to expect good education to come from an inherently bad educational system, and even worse to persist in ignoring and promoting it? Whatever feelings you may have on the matter, I strongly suggest that you take this time to give careful consideration to the nature of our nation's school systems, and to whether or not they are fit to send either students or teachers back into, and why.

Assuming that what you mean by Education, is something more than getting a 'skilz certificate' for the job market, what's more important to a good education than test grades, is that it conveys an essential body of knowledge and general understanding which aims that student towards living a life worth living, and equips them with the intellectual means for living it well (does your school do that? These closures have seen alternatives to private and home school springing up across the nation and perhaps involving teachers you already know and trust in the form of Micro-Schools, and more, which can do that). A bad education, OTOH, requires only that students be led to misidentify a handful of good ideas as being inconsequential or even bad, or that bad ideas be misidentified as being good, to aim them towards preferences which conflict with or contradict important general truths. Do only that, and no matter how many good grades, test scores and degrees they get, the arrow of those student's lives will, over time, veer further and further from their proper target (does your school (hello '1619 Project', Common Core, etc...) do that?).

Of course I recognize that the unexpected closure of our school systems is without doubt posing a great disturbance and inconvenience to most, yet it's nevertheless a rare and great opportunity to correct the mistaken experiment that We The People instituted into our school systems over a century ago, and as the opportunities to correct errors such as that are so very rare, we should take advantage of it now, while the current crop of experimenter's ambitions are surprisingly (and temporarily) aligned with our own best interests - keep our students and teachers out of the schools!

The mistake I'm referring to here, was a spectacularly costly one we made in altering the nature of our school systems at the opening of the 20th Century. The fact that we chose to do so - with the very best of intentions - doesn't alter the fact that what we chose, has subjected generations of our students to an unwise experiment; one which the Pied Piper of Progressivism, John Dewey, termed an experiment in a more 'progressive education',
"...The school is often called an experimental school, and in one sense that is the proper name. I do not like to use it too much, for fear parents will think we are experimenting upon the children, and that they naturally object to. But it is an experimental school—at least I hope so—with reference to education and educational problems...."
, and the high school and college graduates and in many cases even teachers, who are currently burning up our cities and tearing down our statues, should be evidence enough that the experiment has gone horribly wrong, and so we should take this opportunity to end it and, repeat after me: keep the schools closed!

Though those particular effects may have been unintended, what Dewey and his fellow 'Progressives' (and he was only the most recognizable face of a large movement) intended their experiment to accomplish, was - flowery language and aspirations aside - to de-emphasize (read: progressively phase out) the methods, memories, habits and ideals that Western Civilization in general, and America in particular had developed from, from the minds of those currently living in that same civilization and under its finest system of government. Well, in case you're curious, what a person is like once they've