Has The Socialist Agenda Taken Over Our Schools?
Now that I've begun slipping down the other side of “The Hill”, having turned 51 in February, my friends and I often find ourselves caught up in conversations about the state of the world, our country, and of course, the obligatory discussion of how easy the “kids” have it these days, compared to when we were kids. Yeah, you know it; we all walked to school in 2 feet of snow with no shoes, a mere jacket for warmth, and the long trek to and from the institution of higher learning was always up hill...both ways.
A favorite topic of mine is the shambles representative of our education system. This topic is strictly prohibited by my friends and acquaintances who are school teachers, which would include my ex-in-laws. Their family members have been educators since before the Civil War, with one member having the honor of being one of the very first Senators in the newly formed state of West Virginia, established when the population of that area chose not to secede with their old state of Virginia.
To add to this grief, I come from a family where there has always been very much involvement with educational issues from the parental side of the issue. Members of my family have held officer positions in local PTA's, and when the PTA was done away with in my neck of the woods, I became a voice in the fledgling Parent-Teacher Organization or PTO, serving as Vice President, until I moved away.
During the early Reagan years, I took up the cause to fight how Reagan's block grants were to be applied to education in my home state of Pennsylvania. It was a travesty. Special Education monies were being lumped in with library, arts, and extra-curricular sports funds. Being from Central PA, we all understood what that would mean for the children with special needs, in addition to the music and art curriculum. There had already been a wave of pink slips with more to come. A huge percentage of the block grant was being ear-marked for sports teams rather than education. We spent many hours lobbying our state representatives and senators. We spent day after day, attending meetings of special interest groups such as the Association for the Blind, PA Association of Retarded Citizens, Cerebral Palsy Association, etc, as well as attending meetings with the Secretary of Education and his henchmen.
I had a two year old and a newborn at the time. Neither of them had any special needs, but besides the fact that one never knows how life may turn out down the road, it was simply the right thing to do. I became very familiar with how the game was played. At the age of 21, I became aware of the fact that no matter the issue at hand, politics will be involved, and when politics are involved, it's always about money.
Common sense would dictate that, well, of course it's about money. What I discovered at such a young age was the money issue wasn't really about the spending of money, even though that was exactly the manner in which it was presented. No, when money is mentioned, it's never really about cost, so much as it's about who stands to make the most money off of the end result. Our politician's will bemoan and belabor the cost of an issue in an attempt to scare people about the possible need for increased taxes, when truly, they are merely manipulating the taxpayers to vote in a manner consistent with earning a big pay off for the victor. We aren't privy to the private dealings and the sideline, under wraps agreements that go on in the shady world of politics.
My thoughts were going a mile a minute after a comment was made by a friend, who claimed that American education was spiraling ever downward, and it didn't seem to be possible to halt it. No one really seems to understand what is happening in our country when it comes to our education system. Everyone has their own personal opinion about who's to blame. In one corner, we've got the teachers crying about the terrible parenting that's causing their students to fail to make the grades. In another corner, we've got parents pointing fingers at teachers they believe are breaking the bank with little results to show for any supposed efforts made to teach. In yet another corner, we've got politicians blaming the lack of money required to provide a good education.
Everyone of those arguments are garbage, and while there is always some truth to all of them, these arguments only serve to cloud what has been going on for over a century, and is continuing unabated because we have all been duped into playing the blame game. To get a better understanding of what's been going on, let's take a walk into the past to the early years of the 1900's, and meet a man named William Heard Kilpatrick, the czar of progressive education. He, along with John Dewey, is most responsible for ending the traditional education our great-grandparents received.
John Dewey was an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer who contended that education and learning are social and interactive processes, therefore, a school is a social institution. As a social institution, he believed social reform could and should take place. He also believed that children will have a higher capacity for learning when they are placed in an environment where they are permitted to experience and interact with the curriculum.
Throughout his writings on education, Dewey discussed his ideas of democracy and social reform, presenting a strong case on the importance of educational institutions being more than a place to learn content knowledge, as it was also a place to learn how to live. He believed the realization of one's full potential was the true purpose of education, rather than simply learning a predetermined skills set.
Enter William Heard Kilpatrick. He was very taken with Dewey's ideas. After meeting him, first in 1898, and then again in 1907, Kilpatrick chose to make the philosophy of education his field of expertise. Leaving his career as a high school math teacher, he enrolled in every course Dewey offered. A relationship was built which lasted until Dewey's death in 1952. By the time Kilpatrick died in 1965, he was both heralded and criticized as the chief interpreter of John Dewey's educational theories.
Without going into the background of a lengthy career at Teacher's College, suffice it to say that William Kilpatrick gained a huge audience to his views on the best method for educating children. He believed children should be taught subjects based on their practical value to the individual student, or only if a student wanted to learn the subject. He proposed that the study of algebra and geometry be stopped “except as an intellectual luxury” because he believed that learning math was more harmful than helpful to those who would graduate to lead an ordinary life. Common people, blue collar workers, and the unskilled laborers didn't need to know mathematics, according to Kilpatrick.
Kilpatrick's opinion was that the teaching of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry should be highly restricted. Others followed his lead and according to another highly regarded professor, it was believed that those areas of study held no value for 90% of the male student population and 99% of the female. As chairman of a committee formed to study the problem of teaching math in high schools, Kilpatrick found a stage for giving voice to his beliefs, maintaining that nothing in mathematics should be taught unless its value could be shown. He recommended that only a select few should be taught mathematics in high school.
In the decades that followed, changing philosophies on the methods of educating students, waxed and waned. However, each decade caused even more damage than the one before it. By the 1940's when the US entered WWII, Army officials lamented over the fact that basic math skills had to be taught to recruits to give them the education they should have gained as students in high school. Even with such evidence that our children were not being sufficiently or properly educated, the Life Adjustment program was permitted to take root.
It was a program designed to pigeon hole students into specific future roles in society. Many esteemed educational leaders presumed that more than 60% of all public school students were lacking in the intellectual capacities required to go on to college or even for skilled occupations. The result was a curriculum of nothing more than teaching about consumer buying, insurance, home budgeting and taxation. Those placed in these courses of study would become unskilled laborers and their wives.
When Sputnik was launched by the USSR, a new interest in teaching academic subjects was the result. Advances in technology served to underscore the importance of mathematics and science. By 1960 the New Math movement was in full swing. It, too, failed, though there were minor successes during the period. The problem was that most parents, who hadn't received the benefit of more than the most rudimentary lessons of mathematics, were confused and unable to help their children. Additionally, many teachers weren't equipped to handle the demanding content. The movement died by 1970.
The call to a return to basics was challenged by the ever present progressivist view of educational purpose. A book called Summerhill, about an ultra progressive school in England, gave rise to renewed interest in the progressive ideology, now called Open Education. Modeled after Summerhill, “free schools” sprung up nationwide, where the students chose the subjects they would learn and when they would be learned.
The effects were not good, especially for children coming from homes with limited resources. Unless a child had access to supplemental education on the home front, or received basic skills tutoring outside of school, they were very limited in the amount of academic education they actually received. Those of less advantaged backgrounds completed high school with a minimum of knowledge gained.
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The ensuing educational wars of the last 30 years has been a hotly debated topic. There seems to be little understanding of how we got to this point. The two areas afforded so much attention has been about exactly what content should be taught, and then, how it should be taught. These two issues simply can't be addressed before going back to the beginning and rethinking the actual role of the educational institution.
John Dewey maintained that schools were social institutions where social reform should be taking place. His cohort, William Kilpatrick, fully believed that students should only be taught those subjects in keeping with what was viewed as their natural capacity for learning. In other words, schools were not necessarily viewed as places for children to discover and open new doors, so much as to reduce time “wasted” on attempting to teach those students that educators deemed lacking in the abilities to learn beyond a certain station in life.
To give Dewey his “due”, he recognized that some children may not have been reaching their full potential if only permitted to learn the rigid content presented by an authoritative person such as the teacher, standing in the front and giving dry lectures. Actively engaging the child in the learning process would certainly pique their interest and allow for some personal discovery and bonding with the knowledge being gained.
However, both Dewey and Kilpatrick were self-proclaimed democratic socialists. With this knowledge at hand, one has to wonder at their ability to gain such wide-spread acclaim to their ideas and beliefs. Socialism of any kind, advocates for an economic system where the means of production (factories, tools,offices, schools, etc.) are publicly owned and controlled cooperatively. The use of the “term” democratic is used for the purpose of defining intentions to mean proponents advocate public control of capital in a market economy as opposed to an authoritarian approach where one elected official retains the control.
When we look back at the scores of unskilled and under educated individuals populating the country as of 1980, we have to ask, was there an ulterior agenda for the destruction of an education system that actually taught its students the more advanced mathematics courses such as algebra, geometry and trigonometry? Was Dewey's assertion that educational institutions were social institutions meant for achieving social reform an attempt to utilize teachers as the tools for reshaping American society into a socialist nation?
I find myself questioning the inconsistencies between what Dewey presented as a method for helping students to achieve full potential, and the manner in which Kilpatrick interpreted Dewey's methods. It would seem to even the most dimwitted person, that decreasing and even removing subjects like math and science from the curriculum would only serve to limit how far an individual might advance in their understanding of the world in which they find themselves living. If a student isn't introduced to such subjects, given ample time to learn and understand the mechanics of the knowledge, how will they possibly ever choose on their own to learn about them?
Kilpatrick maintained that most students are not suited to learning about advanced mathematics and science. Reading between the lines, it would seem that he was being quite prejudiced in his assumptions. Parents who worked jobs as unskilled laborers saw education as the ticket to a better livelihood for their children. Kilpatrick's methods would prohibit such children from gaining the knowledge necessary to advance to a higher class of society. It would seem he might have been more interested in keeping the classes of American society in tact as they were at that time, than working to realize a democratic socialist America.
Irregardless of whether there were hidden motives or not, the results remain. It's been almost 100 years since John Dewey and William Kilpatrick introduced their ideas toward such radical changes in the education system. Why has it taken so long for us to realize a return to the basics as taught and practiced prior to these two men, is what is necessary to start repairing the damages done? The key is not to believe we can circumnavigate the time necessary to repair a century of damage, but to realize consistently and methodically moving toward reinstatement of old tried and true methods will bring back some level of competency in our graduating students.
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