Everything Old is New Again

This was published on American Thinker under the title "The Failure of Education Reform", July 27th, 2011

Everything Old is New Again

Americans today are well aware of the failure of their public education system. From Arne Duncan to Jeb Bush, the cry for “Education Reform” has echoed across this country over and over again.

Since President Obama took office, we’ve been apprised that putting states on a strict diet of curriculum standards prescribed at the national level is the NEW way to reform public education and prepare every student in America for the new “global economy”. States may voluntarily adopt the Core Curriculum State Standards (CCSS) we’re told, and the administration has made 100 billion dollars of stimulus funds (ARRA) available for a competitive grant process with the reality show title of “Race to the Top” to help states with their implementation.

This all sounds fabulous until a review of the history of public education in America.

Since 1965 when Lyndon Johnson prescribed the first Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) based on an inaccurate assumption that poverty caused illiteracy, Democratic and Republican presidents alike have been re-naming and reauthorizing the ESEA, changing little of the original language while adding more and more federal regulation and handouts. This fact is especially easy to appreciate when comparing LBJ’s ESEA and George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. It is unfortunate then, that LBJ’s legislation was built upon so many of the tenets prescribed by John Dewey, the Father of Progressive Education.

Dewey, who studied with neo-Marxists at Johns Hopkins and was accepted by Marxists as one of their own, had radically different ideas about the education of children than the traditional, local methods favored and secured by the Founders of this country. LBJ instilled many of these within his ESEA. For example:

· The call for Universal Preschool. Dewey resented the changes in familial structure associated with the Industrial Revolution. He saw the changes in culture from rural/agrarian to urban/industrial as detrimental to the growth and development of children. Public schools, he reasoned, could supplant the instability of the family unit by providing all a child’s needs and provide the basis for the social unity he craved. As stated by William Brooks, “The school would affiliate itself with the life of the child and the community. It would become an embryonic socialist community. The new school communities would become incubators for peaceful social revolution.” Unfortunately, as noted by Rogรจr in his article, “Preschools Are Using a Marxists’s Theories to Manufacture Collectivists”, Dewey’s ideals are alive and well in pre-schools today thanks in part to every American president since LBJ.

· The need for teacher training and development. School was to cater to all the needs of the child and allow them the freedom to explore and experiment with the learning style that suited them best. It was important, therefore, to train teachers away from their roles as “authoritarian” taskmasters, and develop their role as “guides”. The rights of the child dictated the need for them to learn on their own by active play or creation of projects. It was important for teachers not to stifle this exploration through outmoded and antidemocratic ideas of drill, discipline, and didactic exercises. Teacher development courses today (now required as an employment condition) can help teachers transmit social or political ideologies within their classrooms through such offerings as ‘The Many Faces of Teddy Roosevelt’, or ‘A Heated Debate’.

· Education within the public school specifically for the handicapped and poor. Education must now be a civil right in order to move as many children as possible into the “incubators” for social change. Matthew Spalding explains (p 205) that separation of people (children in this case) into ‘groups’ (poor, religious, handicapped) promoted local communities with local ideas, preempting the promotion of the national ideals necessary to encourage national progress. This revelation was also consistent with Dewey’s belief in Humanism, which allowed him to conclude that rights are based on the needs and practical demands of various groups (poor, women, black). Instead of an individual having inherent rights ‘endowed by their Creator’, rights were ‘civil’ – applying equally to all persons across the constitutional process.

· Programs to provide counselors and psychologists to schools. In order to treat each child as an individual and because the scientific study of each pupil’s development was essential to direct social development within the community, the child must be studied in their ‘social’ circumstances – the classroom. It was also necessary to study the child from a psychological standpoint in order for the teacher to understand and assume the rights of the child, as these could not be as easily expressed or understood by the child as an adult. Education was ultimately about growth, Dewey argued, so it was important to create an environment responsive to the child's interests and needs to allow the child to flourish.

Though Section 604 of the first ESEA made it unlawful to ‘nationalize’ curriculum, states were unable to collect federal money if they did not first apply to the “Commissioner of Education” and then conform to the stipulations accorded in the grant. If the Commissioner deemed the state not to be producing the desired results, the Commissioner could remove granted funds. And so it was that Dr. John Dewey’s vision of Progressive/Experiential education for America was firmly cemented into place.

What outstanding means of education “reform” we have undertaken today as states submit Race to the Top grants to obtain federal funds to preserve the tenets found in LBJ’s first ESEA.

Interesting how the traditional education of our Founders produced a near 100% literacy rate, astounding visitors to our early nation like DeTocqueville (p 252), while Dewey’s Progressive method in use since 1965 has produced adults today of whom only 13% are proficient in reading prose.

No matter what term (Marxist, Progressive) we use to identify the methods personified in the federal government’s initial intrusion into public education since 1965, ‘reforms’ since have been not only decidedly un-American and antithetical to our Founders vision for traditional, state centered education available to all, but have produced categorically inferior results. If we are to rehabilitate our Republic, we must TRULY reform our public education system. We must return, not only to the Founder’s vision for localized public education, but to the traditional methods shown to produce superior methods over and over again.


The Complicit Accomplices of Education Reform

This post comes as a result of a posting to Jay P. Greene's blog for an article titled, "Gates Foundation Follies Part 2" (I would've used the French, deux in homage to the comedies of Leslie Nielson!).

Though I agree with Greene 100% when it comes to his thoughts on Bill Gates, I am constantly irritated by the reach-back to educational choice in nearly every one of his blogs - as though CHOICE is the ONLY manner of saving public education at this time. My favorite - total dismantling of the Federal Department of Education - is never mentioned unless to discuss the folly of such an idea as impossible.

While reading the Gates blog, I was stunned to see another man retorting to several of Greene's comments. Though I'm afraid he was talking over my head, this blogger definitely made my ears perk up with his last post.

What is irresistible about that? “Out with the old, in with the new,” is not exactly the best maxim to live by.

Besides my point, and I’m sorry if it wasn’t clear, was that the social and governing ideologies are “management” or “business” ideologies and these infect all organizations in some ways. Thus the original idea of unionization is still valid and necessary, more than ever, as a protection against the manipulations of wealth and power.

You point out the dwindling, and as you’re on this blog I assume you approve of such, as if it is somehow going to lead to some kind of prosperous future that has been “held back” due to the evils of cooperation and the integrity and dignity of communities of workers.

The Broadsides are clear in their intent as pieces of agitprop to serve the masters of wealth–your masters I assume. They will step on you too in the end, I fear, and you will have been complicit in every action.

After reading this, I couldn't help but respond with the comments below:

Interestingly, while I feel I can 'sense', if you will, a spirit of egalitarianism in Mr. Storm's postings which makes my brain bleed, I do actually see with true clarity the brilliance in his last sentence.

"They will step on you too in the end, I fear, and you will have been complicit in every action."

School Choice is NOT the answer to our current "we have big schools, spend lots of money, build huge bureaucracies all while teaching kids virtually nothing" education crisis. School choice is a ruse. School choice is the avenue for more federalized control over education through vouchers and tax credits, both of which will eventually render inert the only REAL choices in education right now - home schooling and private schooling.

Yes, it is true and even Coulson at CATO is beginning to sound the alarm over vouchers. My inherent distrust of all things federal government (I'm a firm believer in Reagan's thoughts on the issue - "I'm from the federal government and I'm here to help you"...) make me keenly aware that ANY avenue utilized to propel school choice is ostensibly to find avenues for the tentacles of the federal government through it's entrenched programming - such as the American's with Disabilities Act - into the lives of families and children who simply want nothing more than to have an UNREGULATED 'choice'.

That this idea is embraced by 'Republicans' or Conservatives - or whatever they're termed (opposite liberals, progressives or Democrats) makes them in fact complicit as Storm suggests - at least in jumping the conservative principles of 'personal freedom' and 'free market' for the 'trendy', 'shiny' education 'reform' ideas covering the dark chocolaty center of statism.

As an example; Jeb Bush jumped headlong into the education crisis fray with his Foundation for Excellence in Education. Since he is a Republican and his dad and brother were Republican presidents of these United States he MUST know much more about education than any of us, so Republicans and conservative education policy wonks follow him into this foray head first.

The Chiefs for Change portion of this organization has published their manifesto of what they want seen in the re-authorization of the ESEA. Please note how it is nearly exclusively dictating MORE federal control. A Republican dictating MORE federal control? In a down economy? When government has spent itself into oblivion? Isn't this statist - which is NOT Republican? I'm confused.

Maybe we should also point out that Jeb's dad signed America up for the UNESCO World Declaration on Education for All, globalizing education in America - also very Republican.

To this we could add that his brother G.W., took Clinton's ESEA re-authorization, "Improving America's Schools Act", amped up the AYP nonsense and simply re-labeled it "No Child Left Behind" - now arguably one of the greatest failures in education 'reform'. From Democrat president to Republican president, education 'reform' became 'reform' in fact because the name was changed.

Additionally, the younger Bush's Foundation for Excellence is embracing wholeheartedly the idea of 21st Century Skills. If you go to the p21.org website (Partnership for 21st Century Skills) you can download a 'white paper' there that details their mission and framework for their program. In it, you will find that p21 principles rest solely on the backs of Dewey, Vygotsky and Piaget - 3 of the most openly Socialist/Marxist members of education 'reform' at the turn of the last century. VERY Republican, yet no conservative/Republican seems to be very offended by this fact and in fact, many openly welcome this in the name of 'education reform'.

The Foundation for Excellence also embraces nearly every portion of the Core Curriculum State Standards initiative (including the onerous and very 1984 idea of collecting lots and lots of data on school children all in the name of getting them to graduate high school) excepting that of school choice.

I fear that those on the 'right' of the spectrum are most DEFINITELY being led into the category of useful idiots by those on the 'left' of the political spectrum who have controlled educational framework, access and rhetoric since before even Dewey. It appears that we are falling blind to what has been growing slowly before our eyes for nearly a century and even those who wish to be labeled 'education reformers' are now nothing more than accomplices to its demise.

ADDED 9/23/23: Andre Coulson's article has been moved and I only found it on the way back, so I'm posting it in its entirety:

April 8, 2006

Why Federal School Vouchers Are a Bad Idea

by Andrew J. Coulson

Andrew Coulson is Director of the Center for Educational Freedom, and author of Market Education: The Unknown History.

President Bush wants to help kids in failing public schools. That's good. He wants to do it by giving them federal vouchers to attend private schools. That's bad.

The president is right to favor parental choice and competition between schools. Educational freedom has a long and illustrious history reaching all the way back to ancient Athens – and the Athenians gave us democracy (albeit in a crude form) and most of Western culture.

That's not too shabby when you consider that the legacy of ancient Sparta, pioneer of state-run schooling, is, uh... a name for high-school football teams.

But if you study the subsequent 25 centuries of education history, you are driven to an inescapable conclusion: government funding of private schools brings with it government control – and the higher the level of government involved, the more serious the problem.

The Netherlands is a case in point. Back in 1917, the Dutch were at each others' political throats over the content of their government schools. Different religious and cultural factions couldn't agree on the official curriculum (sound familiar?).

Rather than spilling blood, they came up with a kinder, gentler idea: they'd fund any sort of school for which there was a demonstrable public demand. Catholics could get Catholic schools, Calvinists, Calvinist schools, and so on. It worked like a charm. Far from Balkanizing the public, as modern school choice critics fear, educational freedom and diversity dissipated the conflict that government schooling had caused.

So far so good. But with government funding came government control. Today, the Dutch government defines teacher accreditation requirements, fixes salary scales, curtails the firing of teachers, sets the core curriculum, says how much will be spent, makes it illegal to charge tuition over the voucher amount, and prohibits profit-making in voucher schools. In other words, Dutch "independent" voucher schools have lost their independence.

Indeed, like Puritans fleeing England's established Church, I know of several Dutch teachers who came to America to escape the suffocating pall of government intervention in their country's voucher schools.

There are ways to mitigate this regulatory encroachment.

Acting at the state rather than the national level, for instance, can harness the "laboratory" of federalism. States that went too far in curtailing the autonomy of voucher schools would likely drive away parents and businesses, engendering an economic backlash that would discourage regulatory excesses. The lack of this mitigating factor at the national level is a key reason for opposing the president's federal voucher proposal.

An even better solution to the regulatory problem is to avoid using government money entirely. There are two driving forces behind the public's desire to regulate government-funded schools: opposition to paying for instruction that violates our convictions, and a desire for accountability. State education tax credits address both concerns more effectively than either vouchers or the existing government monopoly.

America is in a perpetual culture war over the public school curriculum. Think "intelligent design," school prayer, sex education, textbook selection, etc. The Dutch voucher program eliminated much – but not all – of that conflict. At present, there is discomfort in some quarters of the generally liberal population over certain very conservative Islamic voucher schools – especially in the wake of the religiously-motivated murder of film director Theo van Gogh. But if access to Islamic voucher schools is curtailed, law-abiding Dutch Muslims will suffer. It's a lose-lose situation that is inherent in the government funding of education.

Tax credits avoid this zero-sum game. A complete education tax credit program has two parts: a credit for parents to use against their own expenses, and a credit for individuals and businesses who donate to private Scholarship-Granting Organizations (SGOs). The first part helps middle-income families pay for their own children's schooling, and the second part ensures that low-income families also have the resources they need to participate in the education marketplace.

Under this system, no one is compelled to fund anything to which they might object. The personal credits involve people spending their own money on themselves, and the donation credits allow taxpayers to choose the SGO that receives their donations. No government money is used.

Taxpayer accountability is also far greater under tax credits than either vouchers or government schooling. If you don't like the way a particular SGO is allocating your money, you can redirect your donations elsewhere. Try doing that with your tax payments.

So while the president is right to favor greater choice for parents and greater autonomy for educators, there are better ways to achieve those goals than a dangerous expansion of federal intervention in our schools. Let's leave educational authority to the states and the people – to whom the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment rightfully reserve it.

First Post

This is the first post for Restore Oklahoma Public Education.

While I try hard to make sure to get all our information and individual writings made public on our website at www.RestoreOkPublicEducation.com, it is sometimes good to have another, singular avenue for sharing.

Though I can in no way promise a DAILY blog post, I can promise I will do my best.

Do not ever hesitate to contact me about a post at jenni@RestoreOkPublicEducation.com.