Two or three years ago, if I tried to tell people that the problems in the public schools should be blamed on the bosses at the top, that is, the Education Establishment, I might not get too far.
People would object, what about the unconcerned parents? The lazy kids? The unions? What about rock 'n roll, drugs, the internet, cell phones, and teenage hormones? Surely, the elite educators mean well. They just get caught up in fads. You can't suppose they let the schools get dumb on purpose. Well, that would mean a conspiracy; and that's crazy.
All my research, however, was pointing in the direction of intention and conspiracy. The fascinating questions became: why did they do it and how did they get away with it for so long?Throughout the last 100 years, the Education Establishment was (it seems to me) utterly brilliant at two things: A) creating an array of impressive-sounding methods that didn't work very well; and B) creating an array of alibis, coverups and sophistries so that the top educators themselves are never blamed for poor performance. Never.
These people stand at the apex of a huge pyramid. But somehow they don't actually have anything to do with the results. Odd. These top educators are surely one of history's most successful PR machines. Teachers would rather blame themselves. Parents denigrate each other, and their own kids. Everybody is guilty EXCEPT the people making the decisions.
But all this is changing now. I simply say, imagine people exactly like Barack Obama and his 50 czars in charge of the public schools for the past century. What would you get?
Vastly inflated bureaucracies and budgets? Check. Political and ideological meddling in what should be strictly educational decisions? Check. A relentless fondness for leveling, indoctrination, and political correctness? Check. More social engineering but less intellectual engineering? Of course!!!
People get it now, thanks to the Obama Administration.
Many people are becoming comfortable with the thought that Obama is among the most ideological presidents in our history. People have the sense that incompetence or accidents can explain only so much. At some point, you have to move to the thought that someone fully intends to do the very things he is, in fact, doing.This verdict about Obama runs exactly parallel to my summary of American education for the 20th century, ever since John Dewey. He and his group plotted to use the public schools to transform the country. Education as commonly understood by nearly all citizens became a second priority. Dewey's goal was to create cooperative children who would accept a transition to a socialist society. In short, ideology took charge.
The American people have rebelled against this sort of manipulation time and again. Indeed, when Dewey died in 1952, a full-fledged return to basics was beginning, in opposition to the "progressive" ideas promoted by Dewey. I hope there will be more and better counterattacks. This can happen. People see leftists making bad decisions in devotion to their ideological agenda. People know the agenda isn't inevitable, that it can be resisted. People see the competing forces more clearly now, thanks to Obama.Today, the Education Establishment is pushing Race to the Top, Authentic Assessment, 21st-Century Skills, National Standards--a new slew of impressive-sounding but ultimately destructive methods. Over the decades, parents and community have forced schools to be good, even excellent. But my sense is that the Education Establishment, to the degree these people can get away with it, will always finagle for mediocrity. Their collectivist ideology demands this. I'm afraid that's what these new ideas are ultimately intended to accomplish: more mediocrity.
If we want to improve the public schools, we have to remove ideology from the system, and kick the ideologues from power. This should be one of the goals people are voting for in November.
(Bruce Deitrick Price is an author, artist, and poet. He writes about education and culture on his site Improve-Education.org
. See the related "38: Saving Public Schools.")