Tennessee School Trashing Education

By Wayne Dunn

[September 3, 2002] Splayed across the front page of a recent edition of The Tennessean, a Nashville-based daily, was a photo of students duct-taping a classmate to a trash bin. No, this dumpster ditty was not a cruel prank but one of several opening-day "exercises" educators at a local high school concocted to promote "cooperation" among students.

Another such "team-builder" had kids pair up to lean on each other's outstretched arms, London-Bridge style, to keep from falling off beams. This brilliant piece of scholarship, dubbed "wild woosey," is supposed to induce a sense of trust. No wonder why so many kids emerge from public schools wild and woozy as opposed to civilized and alert.

Games can be good teaching tools. But none of the games described in the Tennessean piece involved grasping facts or developing thinking skills; instead they were aimed at "communication and cooperation."

Certainly, parents want their children to know how to communicate and cooperate with others, in other words, to be sociable. But that is not the purpose of education. Communication is valuable only if one possesses mental content worth communicating. Cooperation is valuable only if the one you're cooperating with is knowledgeable and rational. Thus, thinking skills and a command of facts, not group-worship and "trust-building," are the essentials of education. Otherwise, a student would be unable to distinguish the communications of a Ben Franklin from an Adolf Hitler, and would be as likely to cooperate with one as the other.

The shortage of factual content in public schools is no accident. It's a consequence of a doctrine of education teachers themselves learn in the universities, called "socialization."

The socialization approach, known by the innocuous title "Progressive education," has dominated the educational establishment ever since philosopher John Dewey ushered it in early last century. According to Dewey, the cardinal task of school is not to teach subject-matter, "not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography" but to encourage "the child's own social activities." "The mere absorbing of facts and truths," Dewey maintained, "is so exclusively individual an affair that it...tends toward selfishness. There is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere learning, there is no clear social gain in success thereat."

But sacrificing knowledge for the sake of "social motives" can produce only mindless conformists, not independent thinkers. Imagine if Galileo had spurned the "mere" truths of astronomy in order to bow to his era's social standard, Church dogma. Or if the Wright Brothers had forfeited aeronautical facts for the sake of a society that perhaps felt man wasn't meant to fly.

The Progessives can't be serious, you say? Listen to a prominent teacher at the 1992 National Reading Conference: "[We] would like to replace the desire for objective knowledge of reality and truth, the desire to be in touch with reality...with a desire for solidarity with the community."

This whole attitude, this dismissal of facts and truth, is reflected by the low academic standards in public schools across the country; and it's why the school's officials felt comfortable crowing about the "near-perfect passing rates last year…on the algebra and biology Gateway [state-mandated] exams." In fact, last fall's standard for passing the Gateway in biology was answering 22 of 62 questions correctly, 30 of 62 in algebra. What are the Gateway exams intended as a gateway to? To a lifetime of asking, "Would you like fries with that?"

From the poison pen of a philosopher last century to the inane words of a teacher last decade to the broken Gateway of Tennessee schools last year to the "wild woosey" in a rural county last week, the socialization-mongers are trampling kids' minds and sabotaging their futures.

The purpose of education is not to train kids to become experts at huddling in a group and "expressing themselves"; it's to teach them facts and how to think. Therefore, it's time we toss Progressive education in the dumpster, instead of paying "educators" to tape kids to one. 

© COPYRIGHT 2002 by Wayne Dunn


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