The chief reason schools are failing is that people don’t know what the problem is. And the reason they don’t know what the problem is is because the educational establishment is telling us that it is something other than what it is. We need more technology; we need more tests; we need to pay teachers more; we need to spend more money on schools; etc., etc., etc.
But the chief problem with our schools is that, thanks to the wonderful people who are in charge of educational policy, they have fundamentally changed their purpose–and parents haven’t caught on. Schools are now so preoccupied with things like technology and multiculturalism and various fads and gimmicks that they have almost literally rendered themselves incapable of doing what schools are meant to do.
So what are schools meant to do?
The chief thing they’re meant to do is to pass on Western civilization. But if you said this in a meeting of modern professional educators you would be hooted out of the room–or perhaps rather patted on the head and thanked for your input. And definitely don’t bring it up in the education department of you local state university (or, for that matter, any teacher training program).
This is attempted in various places and from time to time. E. D. Hirsch Jr.’s “Core Knowledge” program is implemented at this or that public school–if the school is fortunate enough to have someone there to defend it against its detractors, of which, in the educational establishment, there are many. It is, in fact, a measure of the plight of education in our country that a program such as Hirsch’s–in which the simple transmission of cultural knowledge is seen as important–should be so controversial.
Instead of passing on our culture, schools now see themselves as in the business of either adapting children to the current culture through vocationalism or trying to change culture through Political Correctness. These goals are justified on the grounds that our current society and the modern economy demands something fundamentally different from what was demanded in previous times. This, of course, is complete nonsense.
The needs now are the same as they have always been: people who are functionally literate in reading, writing and mathematics, who know history and literature, and who know how to think. Period. But our educational policy is dictated by people who are largely opposed to proven methods of reading instruction, who think that serious instruction in grammar is counterproductive to writing, who promote touchy-feely approaches to math instruction, and who are members of university departments (by which I mean education departments). They talk a good game on “critical thinking skills”, but wouldn’t know a good specimen of logic if it had a sign on it.
Frank Furedi, author of Wasted: Why Education Isn’t Educating, seems to understand at least part of the problem:
In virtually every Western society, education is in trouble. Unfortunately, however, policymakers tend to obsess only about the symptoms of the problem – unsatisfactory standards in core subjects, growth of a cohort of poorly schooled underachievers or erosion of classroom discipline – and not the cause.
Yet the main reason education often is not educating is because it finds it difficult to give meaning to human experience. Time and again, curriculum specialists inform us that because we live in a world of rapid change, the conventions and practices of the past have become outmoded, outdated or irrelevant. Present educational fads are based on the premise that because we live in a new, digitally driven society, the intellectual legacy of the past and the experience of grown-ups have little significance for the schooling of children.
The implicit assumption that adults have little to teach children is rarely made explicit. But there is a growing tendency to flatter children through suggesting that their values are more enlightened than those of their elders because they are more tuned in to the present. So children are often represented as digital natives who are way ahead of their text-bound and backward-looking parents…
Read the rest here.