Some reasons for the current state of education

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Products of our education system – the Jade Goody sydrome

There are two themes running through this article:

1.  Orthodoxy and blasphemy.  There is a concept, in Christianity, in which “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven” and it has puzzled theologians for millennia.  Roughly put, it means that if you do the wrong thing, you can be forgiven – that’s a venal sin.  But there are mortal sins too, which can never be washed away and one of those is to “know the truth but to preach a falsehood”.

That falsehood is then taught as truth and becomes an orthodoxy, against which no one can argue, on pain of ordeal and ostracism.  You can put the IPCC under that heading and in education, it is also so in the historical roots of the dumbing down we now have.  More further down in the article.

2.  Education is only one manifestation of the state of society.  Paul Trout, in Student Anti-Intellectualism and the Dumbing Down of the University, 1996, put 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.

Those vast cultural forces now include global forces, swept into a home at the click of a mouse and the majority are harmful, especially in forming long term attitudes in children.

Why we are taught what we are taught

There’s a most unhealthy tendency for education to go from fad to fad, with educational publications and curriculum research institutes forever coming out with some new variation of flawed research.  Teachers are familiar with staff meetings which adopt a text, at parents’ expense, for next year but next year a different group of staff adopt a different text, at parents’ expense, for the following year and so on.

It’s not just the flightiness of educational theory which is the problem but the process of flawed bases on which teaching is done.  Historically, it has gone like this:

1.  An organization with obscene amounts of money wants a social outcome.  Therefore it pours cash into “research”, which by means of manipulating who carries out that research and who pays for it, produces recommendations which are then ignored or adopted as the facilitating body sees fit.

2.  Examples are produced of the efficacy, the success of the new method and they are written up in peer reviewed journals, the peers themselves affected by the “up to date” research.  The editors of those journals select which research goes in and which does not for the ed community to see.

3.  Slowly,  certain names, e.g. Piaget, [for/against] who carried out the outcome-predetermined research, in this case the misnamed child-centred learning, achieve mystical status and reach a point where they are taken as read and remain unchallenged, whilst old-fashionededucators are poo-pooed for being out of touch with the modern child.

4.  Old textbooks are discarded, the new is all that is found and people of this same mindset go through methodically and rewrite any extant texts in the new idiom.  Any attempt to revisit the old orthodoxy are frowned upon and even punished.

In the 70s, rote chanting of tables and cognitive learning became a dirty word, as did teaching grammar in isolation [which no good teacher did anyway].  No longer was subject-verb-predicate taught but now one learnt one’s grammar through writing, so children were encouraged to write and through writing, one learnt – never mind the lack of syntactical and grammatical foundation and errors.  Setting out, layout and a certain etiquette, e.g. in writing letters, went by the board, along with handwriting practice.

5.  Eventually, a new generation of educators and educators of the educators came in and the orthodoxy was now set in stone.  How could a callow 18 year old trainee challenge and confront what was, quite frankly, guff when hierarchical social forces were employed to enforce the orthodoxy and people’s personal reputations and salaries were on the line?

The story of how the wrong research was first commissioned, then foisted on the educational establishment, becoming the new “time honoured traditions” is covered here.  Stone and Clements, in 1998, wrote extensively on the problem, for example:

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.

They mention the Delphi consensus technique:

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.

One other confusion about the Delphi technique pertains to its use by the leader of a deliberative body. Delphi methodology can create the appearance of consensus where none exists–a problematic outcome of a deliberative process. Technically, the Delphi technique does not force a consensus; but as a practical matter, it is designed to produce a consensus and it puts substantial pressure on dissenters for conformity to the group.

When employed by the leadership of a deliberative group, it can turn what should be an open and fair-minded exchange of views into a power struggle. Minority viewpoints can be isolated and marginalized. The result is more mindless conformity than reasoned agreement. The conclusions reached by committees and policy-making bodies can easily be distorted by Delphi methodology.

They mention other research techniques such as qualitative and action research and the bottom line is that not empirical but “led” results tend to accrue.  In another area, common purpose, the notion of groupthink was touched on, under such headings as:

# Speaking in bureau-gobbledegook

# Cultivating an aura of exclusivity

# Identification with a common goal

# Collective mental position

# Bulleted, pre-packaged concept

# Polarizing diverse opinion

# Marginalizing dissent

# Neuro-linguistic programming

# Well-formed outcomes

A practical example of false methodology being institutionalized is in the field of evolution.  Anthropologist professor Ashley Montagu, in a debate with Dr. Duane Gish on April 12, 1980, at Princeton University, said of the concept of “recapitulation”:

The theory of recapitulation was destroyed in 1921 by Professor Walter Garstand in a famous paper, since when no respectable biologist has ever used the theory of recapitulation, because it was utterly unsound, created by a Nazi-like preacher named Haeckel.

Dr. Gish added:

Unfortunately, as Dr. Montagu has said, it is a thoroughly discredited theory, but it is still taught in most biology books and in most universities and schools as evidence for evolution.

There is a threefold set of negatives pertaining to all this which sees bad things perpetuated:

1.  The people originally commissioning and funding the original research/methodology/whatever are lost in the mists of time and only alternative histories, i.e. by definition, discredited by the orthodoxy, tend to mention it.  You have to delve a lot, almost as a private investigator, to uncover where, when, how and why.  For example, it was Rockefeller money which funded the Wundtian psychology which underpinned the Lincoln School and the social outcome, if such methods were adopted, was precisely what we have today.

2.  Specialists in any field, particularly in education, deal in reputations based on learning.  For an august educator in linguistics, over four decades or so, basking in her status as expert consultant, were to revisit and examine what she’d been basing her methodology on for so long, especially this misnomer “child-centred learning”, which is a catch-all for a bundle of theories which have become the orthodoxy according to the process outlined above – for her to repudiate this flies in the face of not only her own personal standing but also her own personal belief.

As education admits to its numbers only those who embrace the new ideology [I was asked if I was a humanist at university and answered that I was a humanitarian – they saw this as near enough] and as those in charge of admissions are a certain type and as those funding them are of a certain type and as the government is of a certain type, then no alternatives are ever met with by students.  This august educator never found anything to challenge her orthodoxy and one little blogpost by me is hardly likely to reverse decades of this political mindset.

To break this nexus, society itself has to change and demand new solutions to problems apparent to over 50% of people.  Now we are getting blogposts like Dick Puddlecote’s Educational Progress:

Reckon kids of that age in our much-vaunted state system could perform mental gymnastics such as this?  Actually, don’t answer that.

… or Karl Denninger:

No, it’s not that they don’t teach history – even though the rendition of “history” given in government (and private) schools is questionable at best (how many, for example are taught the underlying truths of Thanksgiving, and how all the colonists almost died under a nearly-pure socialist structure?)

No, it’s not that many of our schools start kindergarten with an exercise in socialism, even though they do – by asking the parents to buy all manner of supplies which are then, either in whole or part, aggregated – that is, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” – in the first hour of class.  Isn’t that sweet – straight out of Karl Marx’s mouth to your five-year old’s ears.

It’s not even that these same government schools in many cases will hand out “awards” at the end of the year, or the end of a student’s time there, in which literally everyone is considered “outstanding”, destroying the value of the word – and the motivation to excel.  After all, not everyone can be “outstanding”, right?  If everyone is, then nobody is – whatever that level of performance is, it’s “normal”.

No, it is that we fail mathematically.

… and so on.  Great that people from other fields are coming in and questioning what’s going on in schools.  From the “we are the experts, we are gods” mentality, again reported by Dick:

It’s long gone.  A headteacher has unlawfully fined the parents of pupils caught smoking in their school playground.  Margaret Peacock, head of Elliot School in Putney, wrongly claimed powers under the 2007 smoking ban to issue the £50 penalties.

Yes, she’s an arrogant empire building bastard, but that’s not the point I’m aiming at here.  The debate is no longer whether society exists or not. We’ve now got to ask ourselves if the British public can be bothered to protect it anymore.

… to the mindsets of people such as the one on the left below:


… great damage is being done.  At least, in Toynbee’s case, a substantial portion of the community realizes she is just so wrong in most of what she peddles.  The same is not the case in the halls of learning up and down the country.  In every staffroom, in every NHS planning meeting, in every decision making coming-together lurk these Toynees and their destructive, unsubstantiated and unsustainable theories.

At the Tory Conference, we were unfortunate enough to be at a session where someone called John Rentoul was coming out with absolute guff along the lines of everything being fine in Britain today and not only that, he was smiling at the absurdities he was saying, even as he was saying them.  Why would he do such a thing?  Where’s the percentage in spreading disinformation?

Well, there’s an ideological percentage, an ambition percentage and a mischief making percentage.  I’m not sure which it was with him.

Absolute conviction

The most unshakable aspect of this demise of education is that the people peddling it are completely convinced that they are the good people and any detractors are evil sods.  Hell, there’s nothing new in this – even the illuminati do that.  Svali:

They believe that basically, they are GOOD and doing a good work, even if the means are tough to endure at the time. They are weeding out the weak and unfit, and developing a supreme human being. I know it sounds like hog wash, but they truly, honestly believe this at a core level.

And it’s all done in some insane mix of do-goodedness, tolerance of the intolerable, values turned upside down, allowing people into schools to peddle their views in a way that no school would have permitted two decades ago and the teachers are hellbent on getting this through to children – to have sex early and we’ll provide condoms for you in the corridor to do so, to learning how to become homosexual in five easy steps, round table discussions of which drugs to use and where to get them, masquerading under “drug education” and so on and so on.

Completely convinced, they are, that they are doing right – venal sin – Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.  Or have they committed a mortal sin in that they know very well what they are doing, as people like Mandelson and Davignon know full well and still they do it?   How many GS and JPM execs are we going to meet in the flames of hell in ten to thirty years?

Work out the answers in ten seconds in your head

#  23 x 11?

#  Two angles in a triangle come to 120 degrees – what’s the third?

#  12 x 13?

#  Diameter 3cm – circumference closer to 9cm, 13cm or 15cm?

#  Missing letters?  Ed_c_t_ _ n.

By the way, I just did Dick Puddlecote’s Russian example above and got to 1.9 but didn’t have the energy to go the extra decimal place. The top line was easy, of course.

2 comments for “Some reasons for the current state of education

  1. lmda
    March 1, 2010 at 11:55

    This is a very interesting question. I think the kinds of moral blindness that you write about begin with the agent’s falling in love with the image of his own virtue, after that he never doubts his own good intentions, it never occurs to him that his own motives might need examining. I remember reading a jaw-dropping line in a letter by George Sand where she is setting out her (slight) hesitations about annexing Chopin, and says that – she has never in her life knowingly acted badly -. A statement that must pretty well set her apart from the rest of human kind, I thought when I read it, for surely we all do/say things we regret/ are ashamed of and harbour perfectly rational, non-neurotic sentiments of guilt. But now I think she was far from unique in this respect and in fact there is a rather alarming number of people who are always the unspotted heroes/heroines of the stories they tell themselves about themselves. Their own good intentions are enough and if their actions turn out ill, it must be that reality has been very badly organised and must be changed. (George Sand was a socialist. The more I read of her and by her, the more monstrous I find her but she would have been hilarious had she been a fictional character written, with no embellishment necessary, by a young Jane Austen).

    Such lack of self-knowledge is culpable but I don’t know if one could plead ignorance in mitigation when the ignorance was wilfully achieved for reasons of vanity…, Perhaps all that wrong-headed self-righteousness of a thousand teachers, social workers, commissars , politicians, executioners etc., could have been avoided had they all obeyed they Delphic instruction to – Know thyself –

    But a little self-knowledge is a depressing thing, only less depressing than a lot.

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