by Fred Strine
Imagine the widespread panic if doctors nationwide abandoned genuine medical expertise labeling it old-fashioned, out of touch, and insufficient for treating patients. Suppose medical schools focused on patient psychology and beside manner instead of anatomy, diagnosis and prescription therapy. What if your family M.D. suddenly morphed into a wellness facilitator (W.F.) encouraging you to “discover” your own path to better health? Would you passively accept the change? Would you buy such blithe explanations as, “ We treat the patient, not the disease,” or “Our holistic approach to medicine more thoroughly meets the needs of 21st century patients”?
Before you dismiss the above as demented lunacy, please recognize this is no updated 1984 scenario. In reality we’re not talking about the medical profession of the future. We are talking about the education profession in America NOW. The parallels are frightening but all too true.
Most teachers certified in the last decade or so are teaching subjects they never majored in. Your children are in their classes. Parents expect subject mastery and expertise from today’s educators, but both are sadly missing. It’s outright deception on a massive scale. Education professors and their required courses brainwash future teachers into believing anyone schooled in child psychology and progressive education doctrine can facilitate learning anything in any discipline. This notion is recycled rubbish, fermented and fomented in the compost heap of American ed. philosophy. It’s been with us since before the turn of the 20th century, but it’s news to American parents.
The teaching profession in 2009 is populated with young teachers too inexperienced to know anything different, established teachers too in debt to risk job security, and endangered traditional teachers too rare and too ostracized to be taken seriously. Administrators and union officials entrenched in John Dewey progressive dogma salivate over anticipated government grants using your tax money. Meanwhile parents and traditionalists within the system are ignored and castigated.
Ideologues thoroughly proficient in “edu-speak” euphemisms run American public schools today. They’re public relations experts keeping parents happy but out of touch. I’d call their obfuscation a national swindle. “Child-centered” certainly passes a hoodwinked public’s apple-pie test. “Outcome-based” assures everyone of attainable goals. “Pathways” pacify parents concerned about directionless kids. “Constructivist” no doubt betokens a solid “back to basics” foundation.
But wait. These sound-good sound bites represent updates of a progressive ed. philosophy in high fashion way back in the late 1800s. Thoroughly discredited ever since, progressive ed. has reinvented itself every generation with new “edu-speak” jargon. Just ask any veteran teacher old enough to have survived the cycles.
These specious catch phrases reflect the views of well-intentioned but wrong-headed utopians who invariably thought socialism would save the world. Their adherents still reside in ivory-tower academia, bad mouthing America and willfully ignoring the horrific lessons of the Soviet Union, Communist China, and Cuba. Worst of all, these education Ph.D.’s are teaching our teachers and have been since the ‘60s.
The shocking truth is today’s public schools don’t even attempt to provide a solid academic foundation for ALL students. It’s what parents expect and what parents thought they were getting. Only students who opt for college prep courses get a shot at solid academics, and practically speaking even these classes have been systematically dumbed down during the 37 years since I began teaching.
Schools don’t promote independent thinking anymore. Even math problem solving routinely becomes a group project. Ninth graders, supposedly algebra ready, still cannot add, subtract, multiply or divide on paper. At 58, I managed simple math in my head before my students figured out which calculator keys to push. They thought I was a math whiz. The difference is 45 years ago I learned my times tables. Memorizing anything nowadays “ist verboten!” in progressive ed. America—has been for decades.
Today’s facilitators (edu-speak for teacher) think their job is merely helping kids learn on their own during group “discovery” sessions. In English, my chosen field, I was the only teacher in my department who failed to embrace the facilitator approach. Today’s facilitators have no clue about the expertise a traditional English teacher was expected to display “back in the day.” (Aside: Good thing my current M.D. memorized the location of my appendix. Glad he didn’t have to operate by the “discovery” method.)
Of my 28 colleagues in the English dept. only one other geezer and I know what a direct object is. My grammar diagnostic test routinely given to 7th graders in the 70s proved way too tough for my current high school TEACHER colleagues. Our Language Arts department has no Standard English textbooks. The facilitators wouldn’t use them anyway. “Besides, nobody cares about stuff like subject-verb agreement anymore,” I’ve been told. Meanwhile glaring errors such as, “Her and me feel the same,” pass muster with both students AND their facilitators.
With group work practically universal, cheating is rampant and registers little social stigma among students. Street-wise “players” within groups dump responsibility on the smart ones, hoping to slide by with the least effort possible. No longer does a high school diploma guarantee even basic subject expertise. Students are, however, well rehearsed in co-operative activities with their peers, and they do feel good about themselves.
If schools and young teachers committed to groupthink activities were truly honest, they’d start granting one group diploma on graduation day. That practice would certainly shorten ceremonies, but would Emily Spitzer, Group Diploma Recipient #247 who plans to become a neuro-surgeon, qualify for a 21st century med. school? Hope she finds some smart lab partners!
Wise up, America. By default public education has declared the earth flat again and fallen off the edge. Somebody please re-discover Pythagoras, and let’s get back to a truly well-rounded, grounded education for all.
Fred Strine recently retired after teaching for 36 years in the Seattle area.