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 you put it in the context 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 renaming 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 from 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 for all a child's needs and provide the basis for the social unity he craved. As stated by William Brooks, "[t]he 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 Rogèr 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 his "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.
It is interesting how the traditional education of our Founders produced a near-100% literacy rate, astounding visitors to our early nation like de Tocqueville (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 utilized in the federal government's initial intrusion into public education, the "reforms" since 1965 have been decidedly antithetical to our Founders vision for traditional education:
...the Founders proposed and strongly supported a system of general public education. As a practical matter, this meant establishing throughout the nation public or common schools at the state and local level, a process that had already begun in the New England states" (p147)[.]
Reform efforts guided from DC have produced categorically inferior results. If we are to rehabilitate our Republic, we must truly reform our public education system, returning not only to the Founder's vision for localized public education (p 250), but to the traditional methods shown to produce superior results.
Jenni White is an author of Common Core State Standards and Race to the Top - An Introduction to Marxism 101