Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Education Lite

“The difficulty is not that children don’t learn to read, write and do arithmetic very well – it is that kids don’t learn at all the way schools insist on teaching.” – J. T. Gatto

Parents are dissatisfied with the schools today because the schools do not offer what parents want. In fact, the system’s purpose is the opposite of what parents want for their kids. It's called Education Lite, or Dumbing Down, and the process includes parents and the public, not just teachers and children.

First is the annual concern about low scores on the standardized tests. Every year, the number of children who pass the Mastery reading and math combined is about thirty percent statewide. That’s a seventy percent failure rate. And what (joke) are we told every year? “CT schools are doing well.” Mastery tests are not about mastery. They should be called Mediocrity tests. Last year, CT’s Ed. Commissioner was unhappy with the results, so she returned the tests to be re-scored -- twice. Is the system even honest?

If the schools were interested in having students learn basic skills, they could teach them -- all the children, not just some. There are reading and math methods that work; homeschoolers know and use them, as do private schools, but public schools use methods that are certain to fail a majority of students. Why is this so? Because the system is designed to turn out a mass of dependent employees, soldiers and predictable consumers, not independent creative-thinking individuals. If we want education, we must find out how to acquire it; but if we want mediocrity, it’s all paid for and it’s right down the street. It’s Education Lite; it may feel good, but it’s less filling.

There’s a saying: If the children didn’t learn, the school didn’t teach. In my town, Guilford CT, the students have been doing poorly academically for years. Why? Time spent on the basic subjects is low compared to state averages, and they are generally poorly taught. The schools use student musical performances as marketing while neglecting the teaching of basic skills.

If the schools had the goal of teaching reading correctly, they could, and all the children would learn to read well by third grade. The simple method is called phonics. With it, many children learn to read well in a week. But the schools refuse to use the method that works. Test scores reveal it.

Math expert, Dr. Bill Quirk ( analyses a commonly used math program, Everyday Math, and describes it as “fuzzy math” and adds, “It devalues classroom learning and learning from books.” Quirk calls it "math appreciation" because it doesn’t teach the basics on which advanced math depends. In other words, it simply wastes time. I would add that if the purpose is merely appreciation, it’s not education; it’s therapy. How many can enter a trade or profession or even balance a checkbook without knowing the simple facts of arithmetic? How can they learn advanced subjects if they don’t know how to read and calculate well? How can they make informed choices or lead productive lives without those tools?

The quality of teachers is also declining. Here’s the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Sandy Feldman: “You have in the schools, among the teachers who are retiring, very smart people…but we’re not getting in now the same kinds of people.” She admits that many of her union members are not “very smart people.” Add to that the words of Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom from their 2003 book, No Excuses, “[The] structure and culture of public education drive away those who might serve young kids best.”

Most statements by school employees and officials include the message that they are working “for the children.” However, more and more, it looks to many people as though the schools are organized for the benefit and convenience of the employees, not the children at all. Education Lite is what the government schools serve today. Can citizens do anything about it? The survival of our country depends on the answer.

Ned Vare is an architectural designer, former private school teacher, farmer/rancher, golf pro, ski instructor, contractor, politician, businessman, artist, craftsman, author. He is a homeschooling advocate.
His articles appear online at
His book, Smarting Us Up, written with Luz Shosie, is available from them directly.

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1 comment:

Karen said...

Don't usually spout my political preferences, however, this is what our schools are all about. Check out Ron Paul's record concerning education and parental rights.
One of departments he has said has to go is the Dept. of Education.