Thursday, August 20, 2009

Modern Education: A Trojan Horse

In America, we’ve accepted a Trojan Horse into our midst: mainstream modern education. It has a nice appearance, but within carries an element of destruction.

We want to believe that it produces students who, upon graduating from high school, are competent (or better) at reading, writing, math, history and science.

We believe high school graduates should possess the math skills they need to make change, balance a checkbook, finance a car, invest in savings instruments, and understand science. They should possess the political and historical background knowledge they need to make intelligent, considered decisions when voting. They should understand science so they can contend with issues of “global warming,” technology, health, and medicine. They should be able to write logical, developed prose for everything from work, to letters to friends and family, to testimony in courts of law.

It is clear that, regardless of whatever else it may accomplish, the primary role of education should be the systematic, conceptual training of the young by teaching them the general knowledge and thinking skills needed for adult life.

But we are seeing few students graduating with such training today. Education, like a Trojan Horse, might look good on the outside, but inside it is dumbed down, it is about non-conceptual “social activities.” This is necessitated by the major theoretical underpinnings of mainstream modern education: the philosophy of John Dewey.

John Dewey said, in “My Pedagogic Creed,” that:

“the true center of correlation on the school subjects is not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child’s own social activities;”

“ fundamentally and primarily a social instrument. ... When treated simply as a way of getting individual loses its social motive and end;”

“there is, therefore, no succession of studies in the ideal school curriculum;”

“education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform.”

This is a clear call -- one that has been put into practice -- to de-emphasize and neglect the conceptual training, the general knowledge, and the thinking skills students need.

Group work, activity/experiential learning, class discussion, and social promotion might appear innocuous on the outside -- in a proper school the first few could be beneficial -- but their inner purpose is to de-emphasize the grasp of particular facts, to inculcate “group think,” and to stifle individual, objective thought. Most students graduate knowing nothing in particular, and not knowing how or why anything is true.

John Dewey’s ideas are found, implicit and explicit, in teachers’ magazines, educators’ required reading lists, professors’ research and writings, curricula of Colleges of Education, and most local schools, both public and private.

The Columbia Encyclopedia says “The principles and practices of progressive education gained wide acceptance in American school systems during the first half of the 20th cent. .... [M]any hold that by the late 1950s the movement had collapsed. By that time, however, the progressive movement had effected a permanent transformation in the character of the American school....”

Dr. A. G. Rud, Professor in Purdue University’s College of Education, said “The American philosopher and educator John Dewey (1859-1952) is central to current philosophy of education and the development of progressive educational theory and practice. ...[H]is thought is enjoying a resurgence of interest today among philosophers and educators.”

And the results are clear. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, one-fourth of high school graduates are functioning at a “below basic” level in most subjects; about one-third are functioning at a “below basic” level in science and about one-third at “basic;” and over one-half are “below basic” in history and about one-third at “basic.” “Below basic” means unable to understand even short, simple texts and documents, and unable to do any math beyond some simple addition. “Basic” is not much better; the student can understand only simple readings, and can perform only one-step arithmetic -- when the operation is specified or obvious.

High school graduates’ poor education is also evidenced by post-college tests. In “Is College Worth It?,” Walter Williams, Professor of Economics and nationally syndicated columnist, writes: “According to a 2006 Pew Charitable Trusts study, 50 percent of college seniors failed a test that required them to interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, and compare credit card offers. About 20 percent of college seniors did not have the quantitative skills to estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station. According a recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, the percentage of college graduates proficient in prose literacy has declined from 40 percent to 31 percent within the past decade. Employers report that many college graduates lack the basic skills of critical thinking, writing and problem-solving.”

Regarding science, the physicist and educator David Harriman, in “High Schools Flunk Science,” says “the vast majority of high school graduates never take a course in physics and know almost nothing about the role of the scientific revolution in creating the modern world. While this alone constitutes criminal negligence by educators, there is an even worse crime of which they are guilty: the students who do take physics are indoctrinated with a fundamentally false view of science.”

High school graduates are ignorant of induction -- ask children you know, even adults, what induction is; ask if they can give you three examples from the history of physics. High school grads do not know how to engage in induction, the soul of scientific reasoning, and therefore have not been equipped to make sense of or properly evaluate claims about “global warming,” health, diet, and medicine.

Mainstream educators might claim they are teaching math, reading, science -- but the anti-thought and anti-conceptual nature of John Dewey’s influence is demonstrable and measurable. There is a disconnect between educators’ words and students’ reality.

Mainstream modern education is a Trojan Horse that has unleashed attacks upon the minds and thoughts of students, our children. It needs to be driven from our midst and replaced with a more fitting Greek image: that of the Greek goddess of wisdom. We need in education the image of Athena -- and the intellect of Aristotle.

Michael Gold, B.S. Mathematics and B.A. Philosophy, is owner of, a math tutoring service. He has been involved in education for over fifteen years, earning his Teacher’s Credentials and teaching in public and charter schools before starting his own private tutoring service.

(c) 2009 Michael Gold