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Johnny Can't Think"
Editors note: What is going on in the USA is the
role model for most of the world and in particular our European
based civilization, though all parts of the world are not at the
same level. Country areas usually lag behind because the bureaucracy
is less efficient with small numbers. In a general way what is
happening to education is happening throughout the governing establishment
and this proves that it is not coincidental.
Until very recently, remarkably little was known about what actually
goes on in America's public schools. There were no reliable answers
to even the most obvious questions. How many children are taught
to read in overcrowded classrooms? How prevalent is rote learning
and how common are classroom discussions? Do most schools set off
gongs to mark the change of "periods"? Is it a common
practice to bark commands over public address systems in the manner
of army camps, prisons, and banana republics?
Public schooling provides the only intense experience of a public
realm that most Americans will ever know. [Don’t forget hospitals.
Ed.] Are school buildings designed with the dignity appropriate
to a great republican institution, or are most of them as crummy
looking as one's own? The darkness enveloping America's public
schools is truly extraordinary considering that 38.9 million students
attend them, that we spend nearly $134 billion a year on them,
and that foundations ladle out generous sums for the study of everything
about schooling—except what really occurs in the schools.
John I. Goodlad's eight- year investigation of a mere thirty-eight
of America's 80,000 public schools—the result of which, A
Place Called School, was published last year—is the most
comprehensive such study ever undertaken. Hailed as a "landmark
in American educational research," it was financed with great
difficulty. The darkness, it seems, has its guardians. Happily,
the example of Goodlad, a former dean of UCLA's Graduate School
of Education, has proven contagious. A flurry of new books sheds
considerable light on the practice of public education in America.
In The Good High School, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot offers vivid "portraits" of
six distinctive American secondary schools. In Horace's Compromise,
Theodore R. Sizer, a former dean of Harvard's Graduate School of
Education, reports on his two-year odyssey through public high
schools around the country. Even High School, a white paper issued
by Ernest L. Boyer and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement
of Teaching, is supported by a close investigation of the institutional
life of a number of schools.
Of the books under review, only "A Nation at Risk," the
report of the Reagan Administration's National Commission on Excellence
in Education, adheres to the established practice of crass special
pleading in the dark. Thanks to Goodlad et al., it is now clear
what the great educational darkness has so long concealed: the
depth and pervasiveness of political hypocrisy in the common schools
of the country.
The great ambition professed by public school managers is, of
course, education for citizenship and self-government, which harks
back to Jefferson's historic call for "general education to
enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger
his freedom." What the public schools practice with remorseless
proficiency, however, is the prevention of citizenship and the
stifling of self-government.
When 58 percent of the thirteen-year-olds tested by the National
Assessment for Educational Progress think it is against the law
to start a third party in America, we are dealing not with a sad
educational failure but with a remarkably subtle success. Passive,
Docile Students. Consider how effectively America's future citizens
are trained not to judge for themselves about anything. From the
first grade to the twelfth, from one coast to the other, instruction
in America's classrooms is almost entirely dogmatic. Answers are "right" and
answers are "wrong," but mostly answers are short.
"At all levels, [teacher-made] tests called almost exclusively
for short answers and recall of information," reports Goodlad.
In more than 1,000 classrooms visited by his researchers, "only
rarely" was there "evidence to suggest instruction likely
to go much beyond mere possession of information to a level of
understanding its implications.
" Goodlad goes on to note that "the intellectual terrain
is laid out by the teacher. The paths for walking through it are
largely predetermined by the teacher." The give-and-take of
genuine discussion is conspicuously absent. "Not even 1%" of
instructional time, he found, was devoted to discussions that "required
some kind of open response involving reasoning or perhaps an opinion
The extraordinary degree of student passivity stands out." Sizer's
research substantiates Goodlad's. "No more important finding
has emerged from the inquiries of our study than that the American
high school student, as student, is all too often docile, compliant,
and without initiative."
There is good reason for this. On the one hand, notes Sizer, there
are too few rewards for being inquisitive." On the other,
the heavy emphasis on "the right answer ... smothers the student's
efforts to become an effective intuitive thinker."
Yet smothered minds are looked on with the utmost complacency
by the educational establishment—by the Reagan Department
of Education, state boards of regents, university education departments,
local administrators, and even many so-called educational reformers.
Teachers are neither urged to combat the tyranny of the short right
answer nor trained to do so. "Most teachers simply do not
know how to reach for higher levels of thinking," says Goodlad.
Indeed, they are actively discouraged from trying to do so.
The discouragement can be quite subtle. In their orientation talks
to new, inexperienced teachers, for example, school administrators
often indicate that they do not much care what happens in class
so long as no noise can be heard in the hallway. This thinly veiled
threat virtually ensures the prevalence of short-answer drills,
workbook exercises, and the copying of long extracts from the blackboard.
These may smother young minds, but they keep the classroom Quiet.
Discouragement even calls itself reform. Consider the current
cry for greater use of standardized student tests to judge the "merit" of
teachers and raise "academic standards." If this fake
reform is foisted on the schools, dogma and docility will become
even more prevalent.
This point is well made by Linda Darling-Hammond of the Rand Corporation
in an essay in The Great School Debate. Where "important decisions
are based on test scores," she notes, "teachers are more
likely to teach to the tests" and less likely to bother with "non-tested
activities, such as writing, speaking, problem-solving or real
reading of real books."
The most influential promoter of standardized tests is the "excellence" brigade
in the Department of Education; so clearly one important meaning
of "educational excellence" is greater proficiency in
smothering students' efforts to think for themselves.
Probably the greatest single discouragement to better instruction
is the overcrowded classroom. The Carnegie report points out that
English teachers cannot teach their students how to write when
they must read and criticize the papers of as many as 175 students.
As Sizer observes, genuine discussion is possible only in small
seminars. In crowded classrooms, teachers have difficulty imparting
even the most basic intellectual skills, since they have no time
to give students personal attention.
The overcrowded classroom inevitably debases instruction, yet
it is the rule in America's public schools. In the first three
grades of elementary school, Goodlad notes, the average class has
twenty-seven students. High school classes range from twenty-five
to forty students, according to the Carnegie report.
What makes these conditions appalling is that they are quite unnecessary.
The public schools are top-heavy with administrators and rife with
sinecures. Large numbers of teachers scarcely ever set foot in
a classroom, being occupied instead as grade advisers, career counselors, "coordinators," and
supervisors. "Schools, if simply organized," Sizer writes, "can
have well-paid faculty and fewer than eighty students per teacher:
(16 students per class without increasing current per-pupil expenditure."
Yet no serious effort is being made to reduce class size. As Sizer
notes, "Reducing teacher load is, when all the negotiating
is over, a low agenda item for the unions and school boards." Overcrowded
classrooms virtually guarantee smothered minds, yet the subject
is not even mentioned in "A Nation at Risk," for all
its well-publicized braying about a "rising tide of mediocrity."
Do the nation's educators really want to teach almost 40 million
students how to "think critically," in the Carnegie report's
phrase, and "how to judge for themselves," in Jefferson's?
The answer is, if you can believe that you will believe anything.
The educational establishment is not even content to produce passive
minds. It seeks passive spirits as well. One effective agency for
producing these is the overly populous school. The larger schools
are, the more prison-like they tend to be. In such schools, guards
man the stairwells and exits. ID cards and "passes" are
examined at checkpoints. Bells set off spasms of anarchy and bells
quell the student mob. PA systems interrupt regularly with trivial
fiats and frivolous announcements.
This "malevolent intruder," in Sizer's apt phrase, is
truly ill willed, for the PA system is actually an educational
tool. It teaches the huge student mass to respect the authority
of disembodied voices and the rule of remote and invisible agencies.
Sixty-three percent of all high school students in America attend
schools with enrollments of 5,000 or more. The common excuse for
these mobbed schools is economy, but in fact they cannot be shown
to save taxpayers a penny.
Large schools "tend to create passive and compliant students," notes
Robert B. Hawkins Jr. in an essay in The Challenge to American
Schools. That is their chief reason for being. "How can the
relatively passive and docile roles of students prepare them to
participate as informed, active and questioning citizens?" asks
the Carnegie report, in discussing the "hidden curriculum" of
passivity in the schools. The answer is, they were not meant to.
Public schools introduce future citizens to the public world,
but no introduction could be more disheartening. Architecturally,
public school buildings range from drab to repellent. They are
often disfigured by demoralizing neglect--"cracked sidewalks,
a shabby lawn, and peeling paint on every window sash," to
quote the Carnegie report. Many big-city elementary schools have
numbers instead of names, making them as coldly dispiriting as
Stamping Out Republican Sentiment: Public schools stamp out republican
sentiment by habituating their students to unfairness, inequality,
and special privilege. These arise inevitably from the educational
establishment's longstanding policy (well described by Diane Ravitch
in The Troubled Crusade) of maintaining "the correlation between
social class and educational achievement."
In order to preserve that factitious "correlation," public
schooling is rigged to favor middle-class students and to ensure
that working-class students do poorly enough to convince them that
they fully merit the lowly station that will one day be theirs. "Our
goal is to get these kids to be like their parents," one teacher,
more candid than most, remarked to a Carnegie researcher.
For more than three decades, elementary schools across the country
practiced a "progressive," non-phonetic method of teaching
reading that had nothing much to recommend it save its inherent
social bias. According to Ravitch, this method favored "children
who were already motivated and prepared to begin reading" before
entering school, while making learning to read more difficult for
precisely those children whose parents were ill read or ignorant.
The advantages enjoyed by the well-bred were thus artificially
multiplied tenfold, and 23 million adult Americans are today "functional
illiterates." America's educators, notes Ravitch, have "never
actually accepted full responsibility for making all children literate." That
describes a malicious intent a trifle too mildly.
Reading is the key to everything else in school. Children who
struggle with it in the first grade will be "grouped" with
the slow readers in the second grade and will fall hopelessly behind
in all subjects by the sixth. The schools hasten this process of
failing behind, report Goodlad and others, by giving the best students
the best teachers and struggling students the worst ones. "It
is ironic," observes the Carnegie report, "that those
who need the most help get the least."
Such students are commonly diagnosed as "culturally deprived" and
so are blamed for the failures inflicted on them. Thus, they are
taught to despise themselves even as they are inured to their inferior
station. The whole system of unfairness, inequality, and privilege
comes to fruition in high school. There, some 15.7 million youngsters
are formally divided into the favored few and the ill-favored many
by the practice of "tracking."
About 35 percent of America's public secondary-school students
are enrolled in academic programs (often subdivided into "gifted" and "non-gifted" tracks);
the rest are relegated to some variety of non-academic schooling.
Thus the tracking system, as intended, reproduces the divisions
of the class system. "The honors programs," notes Sizer, "serve
the wealthier youngsters, and the general tracks (whatever their
titles) serve the working class.
Vocational programs are often a cruel social dumping ground." The
bottom- dogs are trained for jobs as auto mechanics, cosmeticians,
and institutional cooks, but they rarely get the jobs they are
trained for. Pumping gasoline, according to the Carnegie report,
is as close as an auto mechanics major is likely to get to repairing
a car. "Vocational education in the schools is virtually irrelevant
to job fate," asserts Goodlad. It is merely the final hoax
that the school bureaucracy plays on the neediest, one that the
federal government has been promoting for seventy years.
The tracking system makes privilege and inequality blatantly visible
to everyone. It creates under one roof "two worlds of schooling," to
quote Goodlad. Students in academic programs read Shakespeare's
plays. The commonality, notes the Carnegie report, are allowed
virtually no contact with serious literature. In their English
classes they practice filling out job applications. "Gifted" students
alone are encouraged to think for themselves. The rest are subjected
to sanctimonious wind, chiefly about "work habits" and "career
"If you are the child of low-income parents," reports
Sizer, "the chances are good that you will receive limited
and often careless attention from adults in your high school. If
you are the child of upper- middle-income parents, the chances
are good that you will receive substantial and careful attention."
In Brookline High School in Massachusetts, one of Lightfoot's "good" schools,
a few fortunate students enjoy special treatment in their Advanced
Placement classes. Meanwhile, students tracked into "career
education" learn about "institutional cooking and clean-up" in
a four-term Food Service course that requires them to mop up after
their betters in the school cafeteria. This wretched arrangement
expresses the true spirit of public education in America and discloses
the real aim of its hidden curriculum.
A favored few, pampered and smiled upon, are taught to cherish
privilege and despise the disfavored. The favorless many, who have
majored in failure for years, are taught to think ill of themselves.
Youthful spirits are broken to the world and every impulse of citizenship
is effectively stifled.
John Goodlad's judgment is severe but just: "There is in
the gap between our highly idealistic goals for schooling in our
society and the differentiated opportunities condoned and supported
in schools a monstrous hypocrisy." Phony Reforms The public
schools of America have not been corrupted for trivial reasons.
Much would be different in a republic composed of citizens who
could judge for themselves what secured or endangered their freedom.
Every wielder of illicit or undemocratic power, every possessor
of undue influence, every beneficiary of corrupt special privilege
would find his position and tenure at hazard. Republican education
is a menace to powerful, privileged, and influential people, and
they in turn are a menace to republican education. That is why
the generation that founded the public schools took care to place
them under the suffrage of local communities, and that is why the
corrupters of public education have virtually destroyed that suffrage.
In 1932 there were 127,531 school districts in America. Today
there are approximately 15,840 and they are virtually impotent,
their proper role having been usurped by state and federal authorities.
Curriculum and text. books, methods of instruction, the procedures
of the classroom, the organization of the school day, the cant,
the pettifogging, and the corruption are almost uniform from coast
To put down the menace of republican education, its shield of
local self-government had to be smashed, and smashed it was. The
public schools we have today are what the powerful and the considerable
have made of them. They will not be redeemed by trifling reforms.
Merit pay, a longer school year, more homework, special schools
for "the gifted," and more standardized tests will not
even begin to turn our public schools into nurseries of "informed,
active and questioning citizens." They are not meant to.
When the authors of A Nation at Risk call upon the schools to
create an "educated work force," they are merely sanctioning
the prevailing corruption, which consists precisely in the reduction
of citizens to credulous workers.
The education of a free people will not come from federal bureaucrats
crying up "excellence" for "economic growth," any
more than it came from their predecessors who cried up schooling
as a means to "get a better job." Only ordinary citizens
can rescue the schools from their stifling corruption, for nobody
else wants ordinary children to become questioning citizens at
If we wait for the mighty to teach America's youth what secures
or endangers their freedom, we will wait until the crack of doom.
------------------- This article is included for information purposes.
The Alliance does not necessarily endorse the views represented
MindWeb Editors Note: Well I think The Alliance should endorse
the views presented above. They may not be perfect but they better
reflect the truth of our growing social corruption and its source
than any public education statement I have otherwise read.