The issue of “dumbing down” is emotive and a minefield of only partial knowledge bases behind many people’s reasoning. Paul Trout, in Student Anti-Intellectualism and the Dumbing Down of the University, 1996, puts it this way:
Sad to say, the problem of anti-intellectual students is … the result not only of misguided educational policies and practices K through 16, but of vast social and cultural forces well beyond the classroom.
These forces include family dysfunction and divorce, disengaged and permissive parenting, peer pressure to regard education derisively, youth-culture activities that militate against serious and sustained intellectual engagement, a widespread deligitimation of reading and print culture, and, an ambient popular culture that glorifies triviality, coarseness and mindlessness.
How is it possible to overhaul the entire system–from popular culture and family life to the educational establishment–simultaneously?
Business and industry have always bemoaned the quality of graduates and that’s behind businessmen setting up private universities to take care of the problem – it’s no new phenomenon. University lecturers have also bemoaned the quality of student’s minds and this can be read in literature, e.g. that of Evelyn Waugh. It’s a known known.
Yet how ignorant are students? I was told that the level of knowledge of Russian students was appalling, that it had fallen away and yet those girls I taught seemed most intellectual to me, the power of their investigative abilities alone putting me to shame. Sharp and asking awkward questions, I didn’t see too much dumbing-down there.
Perhaps it’s a matter of changed directions, of shifted focus. Students could tell you anything about music and anorexia and David Beckham but little about history.
And yet the phenomenon has been studied and the charges of anti-intellectualism continue and increase:
UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, which annually surveys the attitudes of high-school graduates entering college, found that record numbers of them were “increasingly disengaged from the academic experience” (Sax, Linda, et. al. eds. The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 1995. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, University of California, 1995.).
These students had spent less time studying or doing homework than ever before, and were more bored with school than any cohort that ever entered postsecondary education.
In Beyond the Classroom (1996), Laurence Steinberg, professor of psychology at Temple University, reports that “an extraordinarily high percentage” of high-school students are now “alienated and disengaged” from education.
Two decades ago, he observes, the average high-school classroom would have three or four disaffected students. But today, “nearly half of the students are uninterested. Across the country…students’ commitment to school is at an all-time low”.
According to Steinberg, [Steinberg, Laurence, et. al. Beyond the Classroom: Why School Reform Has Failed and What Parents Need to Do. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.], student anti-intellectualism is a problem with “with enormous implications and profound potential consequences.”
It is “potentially more harmful to the future well-being of American society” than any of the other problems now grabbing the headlines.”
Over here, we have anecdotal evidence and some studies of the phenomenon:
Universities are today accused of “dumbing down” language degrees in a desperate bid to attract new students, according to a report that reveals the beleaguered state of the discipline in English higher education.
Student numbers have dropped by 5% in the last five years, while a third of departments have closed in the last seven, the report finds.
The government is accused of neglecting languages by diverting funding to science, technology and engineering subjects and universities are accused of “betraying” the discipline by replacing language courses with “cultural studies,” and translating texts for students to interpret.
The findings are contained in a report by Michael Worton, the vice-provost of University College London, ordered by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) after a number of departments were forced to close through lack of interest from students and funding for research.
It concludes that student numbers have dropped since the government ended compulsory language lessons in schools post-14 and there are likely to be further falls in recruitment over the next few years. But the “greatest source of current anxiety” is the fall in funding for research, which means many departments are facing cuts.
Between 2003 and 2008, the proportion of all students in the UK on languages degrees dropped from 3.3% to 2.9%. In England it was even more acute, dropping from 3.2% of the total to just 2.7%. Over the same period, the total number of full-time language students dropped 5% compared with an 11% increase in student numbers overall.
Standards in GCSE science exams have been “dumbed down”, the Government’s own exams watchdog warns today.
In the most damning indictment ever delivered on the exam by a public body, Ofqual – the new exams regulatory body – says the standards of the examination give “serious cause for concern”.
Its verdict will be seen as a vindication of more than 200 independent schools that have ditched the exam in favour of the International GCSE – modelled along old O-level lines – because they believe the GCSE, particularly in science, is not providing a challenge for pupils.
Embarrassingly for Schools Secretary Ed Balls, Ofqual’s verdict comes just a fortnight after he tried to dismiss the independent schools’ move as a “marketing strategy” to convince parents they were offering tougher exams at a time when the recession meant they were struggling to attract students.
Ofqual’s concern is over a new GCSE syllabus introduced in 2006 with students awarded grades for the first time last summer.
Pause for one second and note that – Schools Secretary Ed Balls. A Bildberger and global socialist in charge of education. I feel faint.
Sadly for we conservatives, we can’t just sheet it home to the current day socialists – it’s been going on for a very long time. In the U.S., one of the culprits which has been singled out is the Lincoln School. Like much of what is now plaguing American society and to an extent, in consequence, the world’s, this comes out of the mists of time in the early 20th Century.
Students of that era note the great movement of labour and the rise of communism from the 1880s onwards, to the setting up of the Fed and the two world wars but not a lot has come down to us about educational roots. The Lincoln School was as influential there as Summerhill was over here. Funded by the Rockefellers, it was another in a long line of experiments:
In 1902 Gates gained the approval of Rockefeller Sr. and his son and a group of noted Southern educators to charter the General Education Board, for “the promotion of education within the United States without distinction of race, sex, or creed.” It was to be a philanthropic monopoly. In the words of Gates:
‘The object of this Association is to provide a vehicle through which capitalists of the North who sincerely desire to assist in the great work of Southern education may act with assurance that their money will be wisely used.’
Educational experimentation was all the rage, as it would be again in the 70s, with private money poured in to promote it:
Abraham Flexner’s other major contribution to the transformation of American education and society came in 1916, with his plan to create an experimental laboratory school, backed by Rockefeller money, which would be a showplace for the Progressive Education practices of Dewey and Thorndike.
Flexner wrote a short tract called “A Modern School.” [ Flexner, Abraham, “A Modern School,” Occasional Papers, No. 3 (New York: General Education Board, 1916)].
In it, Flexner attacked traditional American education and proposed a sharp break with workable educational practices. His experimental school would eliminate the study of Latin and Greek. Literature and history would not be completely abolished, but new methods would be instituted for teaching these subjects, classical literature would be ignored, and formal English grammar would be dropped.
Lionni says: ‘Flexner wasn’t just throwing out the baby with the bath water; he was blowing up the tub.’ For a deeper account of the broad general effects of this type of merger, see Schrag’s devastating Mind Control (New York: Pantheon, 1978).
Flexner’s proposals had the full weight of the Rockefeller millions behind them and despite spirited opposition in an editorial in The New York Times followed by other journals and debates in the Senate they prevailed.
After 1917 the takeover was rapid and thorough. Even before the opposition began to die down, Flexner and Teachers College went ahead with their plans for a laboratory school. Flexner had wanted to call it “The Modern School” (from the title of his booklet), but the phrase was so disliked that he decided to name it the Lincoln School.
The General Education Board funded the Lincoln School in midtown Manhattan and in 1920 built a new school near Teachers College. In 1926 Teachers College received massive endowment funding to run the Lincoln School.
Wundtian psychology and Rockefeller money were thus combined in an institution whose goal “was the construction of new curricula and the development of new methods.” Textbooks were created; standard teaching practices revised, and a course of study organized on the principles developed at Teachers College by Thorndike and Dewey.
More than a thousand educators visited this fully fledged prototype school during year 1923-1924. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., sent four of his five sons to study at the Lincoln School, with results that were predictable had he read the works of Thorndike and Dewey:
“… Laurance [Rockefeller] gives startling confirmation as to ‘Why Johnnie [sic] Can’t Read.’ He says that the Lincoln School did not teach him to read and write as he wishes he now could.
Nelson, today, admits that reading for him is a ‘slow and tortuous process’ that he does not enjoy doing but compells himself to do. This is significant evidence in the debate that has raged about modern educational techniques.”
The Lincoln School was really a failure and it was closed in 1946, and replaced by the Institute of School Experimentation, which carried on the task of remodelling American education.
All of this would hardly be consequential if its influence hadn’t been so great. Like Al Gore’s climate influence on worldwide policy, this became the model of “progressive” education which bounded ahead despite little research evidence to support its conclusions.
This post quotes studies on the history of research and research methods and comes to some disquietening conclusions, such as:
Educational innovations that are consistent with popular educational doctrines are often supported by such research. The controversial but widely used whole-language reading instruction (discussed below), for example, goes unquestioned by most educators because it fits hand-in-glove with learner-centered pedagogy.
It is supported primarily by favorable opinion among like-minded educators, not demonstrated experimental results.
A type of research that seems to produce empirical facts from opinion is a group-interaction process called the Delphi method (Eason, 1992; Strauss & Zeigler, 1975). However, instead of creating the appearance of empirically grounded fact from multiple reports of opinion (as does pseudoresearch), the * Delphi method creates facts about opinion.
Rand corporation is credited with developing the Delphi technique as a means of distilling a consensus of expert opinion. Sackman (1974) has summarized its primary shortcomings. The expert status of panelists is not scientifically verifiable and neither is the assumption that group opinion is superior to individual opinion.
Without getting bogged down in this – you can read it at the end of the above link – what it comes down to is that there is a very long process, stretching back into the mists of time, of basing an educational curricular and methodological policy on dodgy conclusions from years earlier, the research funded by interested parties who wish to see specific outcomes.
All empirical research to the contrary is marginalized and there is ample evidence of this happening, particularly in the U.S. Thus, a dodgy methodology is justified because of the august body of opinion of celebrated educators who themselves were basing their ideas on previous ideas which followed exactly the same incestuous pattern.
That’s why the educational methods are producing what they are and why the educators who slavishly follow these methods are so pigheaded about it and entrenched in delivering nonsubstantive outcomes based on a body of literature which was initiated by money, way back when.
And what exactly was the Rockefeller’s world view, going back to the beginning? Here are some fragments:
In 1959, “The Mid-Century Challenge to U.S. Foreign Policy” is published, sponsored by the Rockefeller Brothers’ Fund. It explains that the U.S. “cannot escape, and indeed should welcome…the task which history has imposed upon us. This is the task of helping to shape a new world order in all its dimensions – spiritual, economic, political, social.”
On August 10th, 1973 – David Rockefeller wrote an article for the “New York Times” describing his recent visit to Red China: “Whatever the price of the Chinese Revolution, it has obviously succeeded not only in producing a more efficient and dedicated administration, but also in fostering high morale and community purpose.”
In 1987, “The Secret Constitution and the Need for Constitutional Change” was sponsored in part by the Rockefeller Foundation. In it, author Arthur S. Miller said: “…a pervasive system of thought control exists in the United States…the citizenry is indoctrinated by employment of the mass media and the system of public education…people are told what to think about…a new vision is required to plan and manage the future, a global vision that will transcend national boundaries and eliminate the poison of nationalistic solutions…a new Constitution is necessary.”
He was referring to the “poison” of teaching heritage and evil notion that the family is the cornerstone of society – that sort of thing.
On April 2nd, 1987, Raymond English, Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told the National Advisory Council on Educational Research and Improvement that “critical thinking means not only learning how to think for oneself, but it also means learning how to subvert the traditional values in your society.
You’re not thinking ‘critically’ if you’re accepting the values that mommy and daddy taught you. That’s not ‘critical.’ “
So you can see the type of thought which dominates educational thinking at the curriculum research level and thus down to the schools and not just a trickle down effect but a prescribed curriculum. Is it any wonder that my world view is anathema and that I’d never be accepted into curriculum research for any length of time. I’d be told my ideas were flawed and that their own enormous body of material, based on false premises, is not only correct but sacrosanct and unassailable.
This is how the global socialists have done it whilst we all slept. This is why we’re in the mire we are today.
You’ll be quick to point out that the Rockefellers et al are capitalists, not socialists and that I’m getting my politics mixed up. Not a bit of it – these are the true global socialists, masquerading as capitalists and making killings in the markets, which everyone has observed in the past year.
This is what people really mean when they say Cameron is a Blair clone – it is rife on both sides of politics, this mindset – they have all bases covered.
These are the people who cause the political right to despair and the left to call for the bringing down of capitalism. They are not free marketeers in the least – they are monopolist members of a self-declared elite which sees the transformation of society through education. As a former Fabian, I can say that enormous time was devoted to consideration of the educational process.
This is the “Them” to whom I refer and they have the game sewn up, based on strategic misdirection and the incredulity of the average person who knows nothing of these things.
And yet a bit of reading would reveal them for what they are.