The historical roots of the dumbing down

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.

It goes on:

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.

13 comments for “The historical roots of the dumbing down

  1. November 6, 2009 at 12:41

    25th March, 1947, John D Rockefeller presented a cheque to Trygve Lie, first Secretary-General of the UN, value $8,500,000, for the purchase of land on Manhattan Island, which would house the UN building.

    Through the CFR, the Rockefellers have been in the forefront of the drive for a world government which is being built on the principles of socialism and FEUDALISM.

    Nick Rockefeller predicted to Aaron Russo, just prior to 9/11, a “happening” that would result in a vast curtailment of personal freedom throughout the US, and war in Afghanistan, with US military searching in caves.

    ALL the major players in the current financial debacle are CFR.

    You think this current situation is not planned?

    If you do, I have a bridge I could sell you…..

  2. ivan
    November 6, 2009 at 12:42


    What you say is very true but, in the long run, might prove to be self defeating.

    If you dumb down education you produce people with lower IQs. Lower IQ has been shown to equate with violence, so unless the world ends up as depicted in the film Idiocracy we could be destined for a world war that might benefit ‘them’ in the short term but end their agenda in the long term.

    I left education nearly 40 years ago and the trend was in place then and I’m very surprised it isn’t worse than it is now..

  3. November 6, 2009 at 14:31


    One of “their” oft stated goals is global population reduction.

    The historical end-game to the current financial non-sense has been, and I’m betting, could very likely be, war.

    Hitlary Clinton, a CFR member visited China immediately after the Obarmy election. China is pushing for an IMF administered global currency, cashing in, if you will, on the global revulsion of everything USA, after the financial crash.
    Strauss Kahn, head of IMF is a communist, and a member of the European Council Foreign Relations.

    Google ECFR if you will, look at the members, and weep!

    A “One World Order” main aim is control of a global currency.

    She is also rumoured to have discussed “Eminent Domain” in relation to US freehold, in payment of international debts.

    Kissinger, a CFR member and rabid promoter of “One World Order”, sorted Obarmy’s first job. Kissinger also attended the recent wedding of current fiat car company head, after the previous boss met his maker, in very suspicious circumstances. Note the recent very surprising selection by Obarmy, of Fiat, to tie in with Chrysler, following Chrysler financial woes. Check out the history of new Fiat head!

    Everything is going according to plan.

    AAHH, Puke!

  4. November 6, 2009 at 14:37
  5. November 6, 2009 at 18:05

    Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
    — Frederic Bastiat

    “Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property.

    But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder.

    Now since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain — and since labor is pain in itself — it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work. History shows this quite clearly. And under these conditions, neither religion nor morality can stop it.

    When, then, does plunder stop? It stops when it becomes more painful and more dangerous than labor.

    It is evident, then, that the proper purpose of law is to use the power of its collective force to stop this fatal tendency to plunder instead of to work. All the measures of the law should protect property and punish plunder.

    But, generally, the law is made by one man or one class of men. And since law cannot operate without the sanction and support of a dominating force, this force must be entrusted to those who make the laws.

    This fact, combined with the fatal tendency that exists in the heart of man to satisfy his wants with the least possible effort, explains the almost universal perversion of the law. Thus it is easy to understand how law, instead of checking injustice, becomes the invincible weapon of injustice. It is easy to understand why the law is used by the legislator to destroy in varying degrees among the rest of the people, their personal independence by slavery, their liberty by oppression, and their property by plunder. This is done for the benefit of the person who makes the law, and in proportion to the power that he holds.”

  6. November 6, 2009 at 23:28

    “You’re not thinking ‘critically’ if you’re accepting the values that mommy and daddy taught you”

    I agree, bad as stated, but I expect what was meant was you are not thinking critically if you accept your parents’ values without question, which is valid.

    Do you want the kids of the Taliban to unquestioningly become Taliban? The kids of al Quaeda to unquestioningly become al Quaeda? The kids of criminals to unquestioningly become criminals? Or, indeed, the kids of socialists to unquestioningly become socialists? I suspect you only want unquestioning acceptance from a specific kind of parent, the kind you approve of. If only kids were less inclined to act just like their parents then many of the world’s problems would not be passing from generation to generation without any end in sight.

  7. November 6, 2009 at 23:42

    Zeroed in on one quote, Andrew, where there was some possibility of a counter-argument. To the rest there is not.

  8. November 6, 2009 at 23:51

    I think you misunderstand my motives James. I detest what so-called educationalists have done and are doing to education. Can’t stand them. I only “zero in” on what strikes me as needing zeroed in on.

  9. November 7, 2009 at 00:32

    And James, just to make my position absolutely clear, having been a lecturer (part-time, but regular) since 1981 and a parent watching two bright children survive their years at school, my considered and oft-stated opinion to anyone who will listen is that left wing trendy educationalists (or educationists as some prefer) with their false premises and invalid research have wrecked and continue to wreck what’s left of the entire fabric of our system of education, and if today’s youngsters succeed it is in large part despite rather than because of the education they have to endure.

  10. Fat Hen
    November 7, 2009 at 02:42

    I can see where you are going James and I agree to a large extend, but I also think that the actual problem begins right after birth.

    Children need a mom and ideally at least one granddad to minister to them 1-1, every day, all day (a dad would be too busy in most cases, granddads however have time, if you have the luxury of having one…)

    The kid should start to count and read around 3, and by the time they are 6 and enter school, they should be proficient in reading and counting for the most part — this is how I grew up, and many of my peers back then also had the same experience (ok, I should change my name to old fat hen I guess, heh).

    Mixing toddlers with other toddlers on a regular basis for as long and often as we do nowadays is a bad idea too — they are little savages and thus savage each other more than is good for them if left that long too often. Also, older children are great company too, something else that rarely happens nowadays.

    But if mom goes to work and parks the kid in the nursery they of course end up stunted(duh!), as you can see readily from the army of unsocialised retards who are education resistent. Not that they are ‘bad’ kids as such, but they are not what they could have been with proper nurture. I could bore you all with some physical facts about how kids brains’ grow, but y’all have google if you care to find out. Let’s just abbreviate that to the statement that the first 2 years are absolutely crucial here.

    And that is damage that can never be undone (also see the Jesuits’ approach to raising children here). But, if a kid had a proper early childhood, then they usually can withstand any disaster after the age of 6 and not take as much damage and still turn out decent people even if they go through hell for 12 years until they are adults and free to leave.

    As for the idea that people are not involved and it’s all down to the education establishments — that is wrong, because there is no need for a mother in the UK to go to work since the dole is enough to live on(not good but better than abandoning your child like a puppy every day), the reason, to be brutally frank, is that most women have been convinced into finding children tedious and boring(plus they pong and make your clothes dirty, eww), and are quite happy that there are nurseries, because it frees them to live an more interesting life (they think at least).

    And most of todays’ women were nursery victims themselves, and so they have no idea how to be a mother and housewife (since that is sooo boring and only dull women like it!) and so a vital skill is lost that took our culture over 1000 years to develop and hone.

    If women didn’t abandon their kids in this way, it would not matter what the school does (or tries to). Besides that, there is still the option of homeschooling.

    So, the people themselves have the option of refusing to mess up their kids in the name of progress, but because they rather have a career and want to ‘own’ an overpriced hovel, they don’t. Most women don’t even want a husband anymore (nor do men want a wife) — the skill of keeping a marriage working well also has been lost, as this generation didn’t have the benefit of growing up watching a working example in their childhood.

    So, maybe we deserve all the bad things we are getting showered with as of late… and all this self-hatred the leftards indulge in serially is spot on in a twisted kind of way.

    And I think that no education system, no matter how perfect it is would undo the problems that modern child-rearing (or shall we say, child-neglect) creates — and the current system could not do as much damage either if the kids they receive were properly raised — in fact, the brainwashers amongst the teachers would fear those kids, because those kind of kids are not easily bamboozled, they know who they are and what they want to be, and they dislike a fake and will find them out in no time… oops.

    Btw, Andrew, your reply is a perfect example of the malaise of dissing our heritage and how deep it has sunk into our thinking — you ask if we want the Taleban’s kids to be Taleban because it seems to be a bad thing to you to pass on our culture to our kids and choosing Taleban as an example seems to illustrate the point, after all, who’d want to be one?

    Speaking as a hen myself, I certainly want my children to be proper chicks that grow into stout hens and proud roosters, and I would be most stressed if I find bunnies (maybe Taleban rabbits? Eek!)in my nest instead, and in any case, I would not know what to do with buns either 😉

    Basically you deny kids their heritage with this thought pattern (and parents theirs and reduce them to being mere incubators), with the idea that the their culture is a bad thing and that they should change it to something else (not necessarily better as you know because deriving from first principles is damn hard to do…) — and in doing so, you fall into the very trap that has almost wiped out our own culture so far.

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