Dewey’s Legacy: Soulless Schools

While clearly a sendup of English boarding schools, Pink Floyd’s The Wall strikes a chord with those of us who went through an assembly-line education.

Parents in the U.S. may recall school fondly or not, but most would be shocked to see the kind of indoctrination that goes on in pubic schools today, and the resulting climate of amorality. This Orwellian environment is not the product of sudden change, but of 120 years of experimentation in replacing fundamental values with novel ideas that don’t work (and aren’t intended to).

Widely recognized as the founding father of America’s “progressive” public education system, John Dewey was a man on an unprecedented religious mission. He used government-controlled education to spread a new gospel:

“There is no God and there is no soul. Hence, there are no needs for the props of traditional religion. With dogma and creed excluded, then immutable truth is also dead and buried. There is no room for fixed, natural law or moral absolutes.”

To Dewey, the mind is really not the property of the individual at all, but of “humanity” (the state). Children should learn how to behave, not how to think.

Dewey realized that such radical reform was not exactly what the American people wanted. He wrote:

“Change must come gradually. To force it unduly would compromise its final success by favoring a violent reaction.”

The most important of the reforms to be instituted was changing the way children were to be taught to read. Since it had been ordained by Dewey and his colleagues that literacy skills were to be drastically de-emphasized in favor of the development of social skills, a new teaching method that deliberately reduced literacy skills was needed.

The traditional school used the phonics or phonetic method. That is, children were first taught the alphabet, then the sounds the letters stand for, and in a short time they became independent readers. The new method—look-say or the word method—taught children to read English as if it were Chinese or Egyptian hieroglyphics.

A Disastrous Decade for Education

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent hundreds of millions of dollars to write Common Core, write tests and curriculum matching it, successfully lobby federal and state officials to make it mandatory (including former Gates Foundation staffers inside the Obama administration, in violation of Obama’s own ethics rules), and create a media and activism “echo chamber” that surrounded the entire process with paid promoters praising the effort.

Common Core was an initiative to create and implement new math and English language arts standards that would be used by all schools. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded their creation, and they were promoted by the Obama administration.

Then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan used a federal grant program, Race to the Top, to pressure states to adopt them — and the vast majority did during Obama’s first term. The Obama administration spent some $360 million for two multistate consortia to develop new Core-related standardized tests, with Duncan touting the new tests as “an absolute game-changer” in public education. They weren’t.

A decade later, scant evidence exists that Common Core produced any significant benefit. One federally funded evaluation actually estimates that the standards had a negative effect on student achievement in both reading and math. Fortunately, the overall impact is quite small.

Tom Loveless, Between The State And The Schoolhouse: Understanding The Failure of Common Core