America’s Education System Isn’t Broken

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


waiting-for-supermanEveryone knows that America’s education system is broken. Committees are convened, grants are dispensed and new studies are rolled off the educational assembly line every few months that purport to change everything by showing that the entire process of educating children from medieval to modern times was completely wrong.

Education has come to be a science of its own with a jargon full of nebulous pseudo-scientific terminology impenetrable to the ordinary person. The majority of public school teachers now have master’s degrees because it takes more than some ignorant BA to tell Johnny to pay attention in class or he’ll never amount to anything in life.

Unfortunately the majority of teachers were also so busy getting their graduate degrees that they didn’t actually put in any classroom time. The students of tomorrow are being taught by other students who have an MA and papers on educational unleveling through cognitive disequilibrium across multiple modalities but very little actual experience with students.

Educational reform has become a ridiculously popular topic. Documentaries like “Waiting for Superman” have convinced everyone that they have what it takes to reform education. Everyone includes M. Night Shyamalan (the director of that movie where Bruce Willis was really dead all along) who has his own book out claiming to have the five strategies that can save education.

Only one of them involves ghosts and aliens.

But what if the surprise twist ending for education reform is that education doesn’t actually need reforming? What if it doesn’t require teachers with graduate degrees, a billion dollars worth of studies and helicopter reforms by liberal tycoons? What if the American educational system is doing about as well as can be expected considering the social conditions that it has to work with?

Most educational reformers would agree that’s a dangerous heresy right up there with not believing that the planet is about to go up in smoke because of cow flatulence. They point to how much better children in Japan or Finland are doing at math and warn that if we don’t spend billions more on studies that will tell us how to improve education, America will fall behind.

We’ll no longer be the country that invents things. Instead we’ll be ignorant savages fighting over scraps of raw meat in the back alley behind a Taco Bell. That is if we can’t put enough teachers with graduate degrees and mad text scaffolding skills into the classroom.

But after decades of warnings, America is still the country that invents things; even if one of those things is an obsession with turning the little schoolhouse into a nightmarish blend of experimental psychology, sociology experiment, diet club and TSA line at the airport.

It’s an article of faith that our schools are failing our children. But most dedicated educational reformers don’t mean that schools are failing their children. They mean that urban schools are failing minority children. Like gun violence, failing schools are largely an urban problem being passed off as a national crisis. And it’s not the schools that are failing. It’s the students.

The gap in test scores between America and other countries goes away when broken down by race. White American students top those of most European countries. Asian students come out ahead of them. It’s not that Asian students somehow have access to better schools. Often they go to the same urban multicultural schools that are “failing” everyone else.

The difference is that they are determined to succeed because their parents want them to.

Our schools are badly run and awash in ridiculous theories and worse budgets. But they aren’t failing our children. They are functioning about as well as any part of government can and they are for the most part doing their core job. Any student who makes it through twelve grades without achieving basic math and literacy skills hasn’t been failed by the school. He has made a choice not to learn. More often the choice has been made for him.

A school cannot take the place of the family. It isn’t meant to. Nor are educational theories the determinant of whether a child learns or doesn’t learn. Learning does not begin in the classroom. It begins at home. The first explorations of language and space take place in the nursery. And they determine more about the child’s future than all the synergistic educational strategies for 21st century learners.

The school is not the most vital element in education just as the government is not the most vital element in the economy. Systems don’t take the place of human relationships. Governments cannot replace families. Schools aren’t failing children in Detroit or Chicago. Families are failing their children and the schools by not holding together.

Children from single parent homes are at double the risk of dropping out. Children with never-married mothers score worse than children with divorced mothers. Across the world, regardless of race or creed, children living in a normal household with a father and mother performed better in school than their counterparts.

It doesn’t matter whether the MA’s in their twenties who have spent more time being students than doing anything else manage to agendize their dynamic action plans or not. It does matter whether there is a father in the house. And that father can’t be Uncle Sam.

It does not take a village or four administrators and three teachers, two school psychologists and an educational theorist to raise a child. It takes a family.

If the American school system is a mess, it’s because it has been reformed to death until it has stopped being a system for educating children and become a system for educating teachers and administrators about all the latest trends in educational theory. The classroom has become an ER where all the children are assumed to be coming in with fatal educational traumas and can only be saved by using the latest techniques developed by a study funded by Bill and Melinda Gates.

Like so much of the nonsense that bedevils America, educational reform is based on the progressive assumption that students are static objects and that government education is a dynamic system. With enough research, the code to teaching students will be cracked and every student in the country can then be educated to become a supergenius.

Progressive policies fail by ignoring human choices. They try to centrally plan everything and discover belatedly that they aren’t in control because their plans are undermined by individual choices.

Bill Gates has sunk a fortune into educational reform and yet he’s a college dropout who by his own admission barely did enough work in school to get by. Does Gates really believe that Harvard and his upscale prep school failed him? Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright Brothers invented the modern world as we know it. They have one other thing in common. None of them actually finished their schooling.

Big schools or small schools. Large class sizes or small class sizes. Recontextualize the paradigm or don’t. These things don’t matter very much.

Education is not a system. It is not a technique. It is a culture. American education is only as strong as American culture. Systematizing educational techniques cannot take the place of the family values that make for a healthy child and the national values that make for a healthy adult.

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  • semus

    The breakdown of the family is huge, but our education system K-12 and college is also broken. There are too many people like Bill Ayres involved with education.

  • truebearing

    The problem with too many teaching professionals is that they think that if they are well educated enough, the kids will learn by the magical force of their knowledge and degrees. What child could fail in the presence of all of that erudition? Lots of them, apparently. We don’t need teachers who want the kids to be impressed with their academic achievements. We need teachers who understand how to motivate children to want to learn.

    Motivation is the key to getting kids to perform well in school, but that motivation is strongest when a child identifies with their parents and wants to please them. What motivation is it to a child to have an over-educated teacher treating him like a lab monkey when his parents, or parent, don’t care if he does well at school, or worse, thinks doing well at school is being too white?

    Another problem with many of these highly credentialed teachers is that they have become arrogant, and instead of teaching kids how to think, they tell them what to think. That isn’t education. It’s indoctrination. How does indoctrination motivate anyone to succeed at anything other than getting the approval of an arrogant, power-mad ideologue?

    • camp7

      We had to spend extra time with the kids to help them understand what you so concisely expressed about “how to think”. The motivation part was already established by practical application – lol.

      Good post.

      • truebearing

        Thanks. Isn’t it amazing that educators think the fundamentals need to be presented by PhDs? How much education does a teacher need to teach 2 + 2 = 4?

        I think that a big part of the motivation for the over-education of teachers is that the teachers get paid more if they have more education. Hidden in that motivation is the Left’s clever method of incentivizing teacher education. As teachers are learning these complex new theories of education, they are subjected to further ideological indoctrination by leftist professors — the new theories being intertwined with Leftist theory. This gives the Left a taxpayer funded incentive for teachers to become ideological mouthpieces for the Left. The more over-education they get, the more the teacher’s unions extract from the taxpayers to reward them.

        • Daniel Greenfield

          Exactly right

          • Steve

            Agreed – I have a Ph.D. and really don’t think I know enough in my field. But some of my classmates were so brain dead I could hardly stand them – and that was 20 years ago. What we use to say about the education department is unrepeatable on line!

    • Mark

      They may be highly credentialled but most ‘teachers’ are barely educated because they themselves have been schooled rather than educated. Everytime I meet someone who says they are a teacher I want to say “aren’t you ashamed of telling people that.” Most of them are so dumb they don’t even understand my sarcism. Most of them are people who borrowed a lot of money from the government, but 50 years ago they would have been lucky to get a job stocking shelves at a local store.
      I despise most “educators.”

    • Diane

      You are so, so right. I’ve even met one who is writing a dissertation on a 17th century Italian topic who doesn’t know any Italian. All these people know is theory. Another one I know regrets borrow money for a master’s degree, owes a pile of money, but when she couldn’t find a job she liked went abroad where to the best of my knowledge she does next to nothing and thinks that somehow this is okay. She will not go to heaven.

  • camp7

    “Learning does not begin in the classroom. It begins at home.” So very, very true. The template espoused by statist (village) academia is the driver of textualized prova of socialistic reform, losing on the principle of it’s own inherent failures. The cultural omission, IMO, is the failure to subsume ‘meaning’ into the curriculum.

    Daniel, being a person of discretion and to some extent ambiguous, I want to thank you for your insightful contributions and hard work. We taught our kids to read and write before kindergarten, and in light of your notes, we all can appreciate the value of families.

    • A Z

      One of my children most definitely did not learn how to read at school.

      If there had been no parental involvement, he would have been held back at the very least.

      It involved sitting an hour every day after work and sounding out words with him.

      You do not need a government program for parents reading with their children after school except for dysfunctional adults you cannot read.

      But we already have reading programs extent in the country. We do not need more. If we have need reading programs now it means we failed as a society with immigration control or with our expectations of other citizens that they must read.

      • MarilynA

        The school wanted to hold back my child in the third grade. When we protested and asked in what subjects he needed remedial help we were told, “He is on a near genius level in math and science and there are two reading groups below him that are still passing, but he immature because he cries all the time. My child was small for his age. There was a big black boy who constantly rode him like a horse, knocked him down, and generally persecuted him and another child who was also small for his age all the time.. I had to take my child to school and sit in the car until he reached the schoolroom door to prevent this boy from jumping on his back or knocking him down. When I started monitoring his actions he turned his attention to the other kid. When I told the school principal, his teacher, and the counselor that they would cry too if they had that big old boy riding their backs and knocking them around like he did to my child and the other boy. when I named the other victim of this abuse all of them looked at each other. It seems the other boys parents agreed to his being held back because he too cried all the time. School officials told me that they couldn’t do anything about this boy abusing smaller kids because if they disciplined him his parents, the NAACP and the Justice Dept. threatened to take over and run the schools. Guess who I blame for the mess our schools are in.

        • A Z

          I don’t know about the NAACP or the Justice department. I suspect if they could air a new manufactured grievance and there was no chance of effective pushback they would try to roll the school and the school, while not wanting to be rolled , were ready to be rolled without complaint.

          Video to a TV station plus reaching out to national organization would have solve this.

          BUT it may have left you open to outright attacks by activists. They do it in Sweden to people, who have questioned the left about immigration anonymously on conservative websites.

          ANALYSIS: Stormtroopers descend on Sweden

          http://www.d-intl.com/2013/12/11/analysis-stormtroopers-descend-on-sweden/?lang=en

          Film Revolutionary Front Initmiadating Swedes SS style

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uRzQitmZVs&feature=youtu.be

        • A Z

          Where did you get your 43% start on the Lamar Alex story?

      • camp7

        It sure pays off. In the early years we read to our kids every day. My wife read to them almost every night. The few times she didn’t for disciplinary reasons they howled like coyotes from their bunks.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      Thank you. I learned to read at home myself. It’s strange to me that there are children who don’t.

  • kilfincelt

    Couldn’t agree more! Back in the late 60′s I read about a study that compared American students to Europeans. The results were that the Europeans did better than the Americans on tests; however, the Europeans were not as good as the Americans at actually using that knowledge. Use of knowledge is what counts,not how well one does on tests.

    For over 40 years I have believed that Schools of Education at colleges and universities were a waste of money. Educators come up with all these theories and then use our children as guinea pigs. Most of those theories turn out to be nonsense. The children who do best are those whose parents believe in the importance of education. As an example, Dr. Ben Carson came from a home where the father wasn’t present but the mother had learned through observation that reading was an essential skill for bettering ones lot in life. Her children succeeded well beyond normal expectations because she insisted that they read.

    Based on my observations, teachers should be taught how to impart knowledge to students who are visual learners, audio learners and those who learn by doing and stop using them as experimental subjects. All we are doing is screwing up education and not improving it. This also means that the federal Dept. of Education serves no useful purpose other than wasting taxpayer dollars and should be eliminated.

  • johnlac

    Thanks Dan for pointing out something that many conservatives don’t like but is true nonetheless. There are two parts/sides to a child learning. One half is the school: the teachers, the admin, and the government, state and federal. The other half is the child and his/her parents. My belief is that the child/parent half is a much bigger factor as to whether the child learns than the school half. Some kids are just not very bright.
    I’m all for improving schools where possible. But the idea that every public school is a bad school, and all you have to do for a child who is not doing well in a public school is to place that child in a private school is ridiculous. By the way, I’m a strong conservative and a product of Catholic schools grades 1-12.

    • WW4

      Excellent points, and I also thought it was a good article. I too was educated in Catholic school with my kids in public schools and one who went to Catholic, so I have comparative experience.

      What’s the difference? Curriculum-wise, not much. Catholic school had a language component (Spanish). Public grade school, no.

      At Catholic School’s parent night, all the kid’s parents showed up. At public school’s parent night, generally the same small group of parents showed up (the ones who usually showed up to everything).

      What does that tell you?

      Catholic school requires a monetary investment (and also what might be called ‘mandatory volunteerism’–you have to fundraise and help at events). It is self-selecting: the parents who choose it CARE about their kid’s education. Because of this–a self-selected group of supportive parents and the ability to discipline, the school is able to stick to one mission on a shoestring budget. Not a lot of special programs, not a lot of resources for special needs–but a good solid main program.

      Public school is not selective–it takes EVERYONE. Including kids whose parents can’t be bothered to make the effort to be there. Special needs kids. Kids whose only meal will be at school. It’s mission is much wider. It gets more money from the state. But because it has such a diverse population, discipline is a bigger issue. Disruption is a bigger issue. Teachers and principal were great, though–the equals of their Catholic counterparts.

    • Myrtle Linder

      Education is a three prong thing, with every prong taking the right approach is very necessary. The teacher and the parent must put forth great effort to get the child educated, they have to cooperate with each other and not fight against each other thinking that he or she is the kingpin. It does not work that way for sugcess.The child if he does not want to learn, and cannot be convinced that he must get an education, the progress will not be what would be desired. Many the paddle of education is needed, but by insanity has proven to be is illegal.

  • A Z

    If the media or the politicians say America’s schools are failing, it gives them an excuse to intervene and change the education system.

  • rbla

    The elephant in the room that we’re all tiptoeing around is the differences in IQ; and yes some of that is genetically determined.

    • Mo86

      Your comment has been reported.

      • Seek

        Are you the in-house fink here? Why is IQ somehow off-limits to discussion? It’s people like you that explain why we must tiptoe.

        • Robert Tulloch

          I think he was being sarcastic.

        • lyndaaquarius

          Thomas Sowell and Dr. Theodore Dalrymple have both written alot lately about black/white IQ. Fascinating stuff.Black IQ has dropped considerably in the U.S. since WW2 and white IQ has dropped alot in England since the growth of Socialism. Low income black IQ is higher than low income white IQ.

      • Drakken

        The truth often is an unpleasant thing, but something that is very necessary in todays world where the truth is suger coated. So I would highly suggest that you grow a thicker skin, or perhaps get some self esteem therapy.

    • Robert Tulloch

      The Bell Curve

  • http://www.clarespark.com/ Clare Spark

    Come on, guys. Not just any father will do, and the absent father complaint pervades our culture, with the assumption that male authority will solve all problems in education. See http://clarespark.com/2013/06/14/father-dear-father-come-home-with-me-now/. “Father, dear father, come home with me now.”

    • T-Rex

      Ms. Spark,
      I suspect the fact there are far fewer “stay at home” moms than there was two or three decades ago should also be considered. I agree with you, blaming “absentee fathers” only partially addresses the problem. This problem runs wide and deep and will not be adequately addressed by focusing on a consequence instead of a root problem. Perhaps we should step back and look at why “nuclear” families have such difficulty remaining nuclear.

  • johnlittle

    American educators live in a fictional world. They do not understand the problem which is central to the decline in American academic achievement. I refer here to the differences in student ability.

    Failure to measure ability results in the setting of an achievement bar that precludes success for low ability students, and discourages high ability students from seeking their inherited potential. Note here that ability differences are, largely, both gender and racially blind.

    Ability testing allows educators to place students in classes with others of like ability –an arrangement that allows for rigor and deferred gratification. American schools fall lower, world wide, proportionate to their failure to apply that which I have described here.

    Cordially, John Little, Sr.

    • T-Rex

      John, when I was in high school in the mid sixties our classes were divided along the lines you suggest. For example, the 8th grade had 8-1 through 8-6. These gradations were based on academic prowess. The 8-1 class were the high achievers, the 8-6, not so much. The curriculum was built to present material that allowed the “1′s” to exceed the material and the “6′s” were presented with material that did not overwhelm them.

      Alas, it has been determined this is detrimental to the “less than 1′s” and the system was “fixed” by integrating all the sub-sets under the ruse that the “6′s” would be inspired to learn in a sort of “keeping up with the Jones” mentality that would magically occur by eliminating this academic discrimination. (The same mindset brought us never striking out, getting a trophy for showing up, no more dodge-ball, etc.) The “1′s” I knew went on to be white collar workers, the “6′s” went on to be plumbers, mechanics and any number of professions that made a comfortable living servicing those who “pushed pencils”.

      What we have now is an education system/Dept of Ed that thinks every child is college material and is capable of being taught enough to participate in this “new, high tech” economy that requires these high level degrees which, incidentally, are now financed by the government.

      Bottom line, the progressive/politically correct machine has taken over the education system for power and profit. To them, these children are just numbers and the real issue, cultural apathy, is being ignored.

  • Mark McDonald

    yes, our “Education System Isn’t Broken’ our department of education
    supports work visa to bring people from out of the country to do the job,
    since they cannot provide the education needed.

  • T-Rex

    If I remember correctly, didn’t the move “To Sir, with love” have this theme? I also saw another not so popular movie/documentary that followed a couple inner-city youth, who had, essentially, no parental supervision as they sunk into drug use, casual sex and other forms of degeneration. At the end of this documentary the producers asked “what didn’t you see in this film?” The answer was; parents. For days and days these kids never went home, they never checked in and they had no impetus to account for themselves.

    Just as Mr. Greenfield’s concise article so rightly points out, this problem starts on day one and only gets worse as a child’s needs expand from food and diapers to more time consuming and expensive ones.

    What we now see is an industry, public education, and a government who exploits this disastrous cultural phenomenon by trying to come up with methods that completely ignore the fundamental problem. The government usurps more control and the teachers, and their unions, extract more money and the children continue to fail.

    Sidney Portier (Sir) had some measure of success by endearing his wayward students to himself by becoming a “substitute” parent. The subsequent documentary illustrated there are not enough “Sirs” anymore to address the problem that has become so commonplace in today’s nanny state.

  • Texas Fran

    Great, right on email. In families where education is not valued, learning rarely occurs.

  • bfancher

    If schools aren’t at least part of the problem, then how do you explain the fact that in places like Harlem in NYC, many charter schools, with student bodies with the exact same demographics as surrounding neighborhood schools, do a much better job of educating their students?

    • Daniel Greenfield

      Charter schools represent self-selecting student bodies.

      • bfancher

        That’s certainly part of it, but if that were true then charter schools in the same area would all show better results, while in fact the results vary from charter school to charter school. Some charter schools show yield very good results, while others are mediocre, indicating that the quality of the school has a lot to do with it.

        I’m not suggesting that families are unimportant, obviously they are. I’m just saying that the quality of the schools are important too. As difficult as the Teacher’s Unions make it to reform the schools, doing so is an appropriate and achievable political goal. “Reforming” families is something that has to come from communities, churches, individuals, etc., not from government.

        • Daniel Greenfield

          How a school is run obviously has some impact on grades, but even a badly run school will turn out students who are not illiterate assuming that they really do want to learn.

          I’m not really addressing whether the students will really master quadratic equations. That doesn’t really matter all that much.

          I’m talking about whether they have more basic skills, including fundamental literacy.

          • bfancher

            How well a school is run has a huge impact on how much a student learns. I’m not saying that students and families couldn’t do more to improve outcomes in the educational system as it exists today. The fact that at even the lousiest schools some students manage to learn enough to succeed in life proves that this is true.

            However, the title of your article is “America’s Education System Isn’t Broken”. Given that, for example, NYC spends about $24K per student per year, while producing mediocre results, and employees about 75,000 teachers, but only manages to fire about 10 of them a year (.001%), I’d argue that America’s educational system is clearly broken and needs to be reformed.

            I agree that the kinds of “reforms” that progressives support, such as shrinking class sizes, aren’t likely to produce any educational benefits, but reforms that give parents choices, such as charter schools, and hold teachers accountable for results, such as eliminating tenure and linking pay to performance, will and have produced results.

          • Daniel Greenfield

            NYC isn’t America. Schools do tend to be over-budgeted, I mentioned that in my article. But there are also limits to what they can accomplish with students whose backgrounds limit their interest and potential.

          • bfancher

            Yes, but if anything NYC’s school system is slightly better than most of urban America’s (you mentioned Chicago and Detroit, both of which have systems that I think compare unfavorably with NYC’s). Again, I agree with your points about families, etc., but I disagree strongly with the thesis expressed in the title of your article. America’s school system is badly broken and will remain so as long as the Teachers’ Unions maintain their grip on it.

          • Daniel Greenfield

            It’s more expensive. Which isn’t necessarily better. Any system with an entrenched teachers’ union that controls most of the politicians is going to be expensive.

            The NYC schools that are rated as good are just often the ones with good students. There is the occasional transformative principal who turns a bad school around, or claims to have, but it doesn’t last.

  • MarilynA

    You left out the major cause of our malfunctioning educational system. The curriculums in every subject have been dumbed down so that nobody is taught more than the dumbest ones can learn. It’s the latest step in achieving “Economic and Social Justice.” In 1895 the Supreme Court ruled that blacks were entitled to separate schools because they could not keep up with the white students. 50 years later they claimed they were not getting as good an education as white children got because their schools were neglected and inferior. The end result of total integration is that now everybody graduates from high school with an education equivalent to what black children got in the old preintegrated schools. , The common complaint of teachers is that non white students come to school to cut up and have a good time and every last one of them thinks he is a comedian.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      The curriculum has been dumbed down, but I’m talking about things like basic literacy. I don’t expect them to leave school being able to name the GDP of Argentina.

    • WW4

      I think that’s a fallacy about curriculum. Yes, certain minority populations have created problems, and standards may be lower in some cases. As the article points out–the culture has changed, no question. But my kids are doing more complicated algebra and more detailed reading assignments than I was when I was in Catholic school. And their schools are nothing special–their cousins in other states are doing the same stuff.

  • ML NJ

    Schools are little more than warehouses for children. Read John Taylor Gatto’s =Underground History of American Education=.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      Also true unfortunately.

  • Texas Patriot

    What Western Civilization is suffering from is a classic failure to understand the nature and purpose of education. Ultimately, education is not about information. It’s about identity. There has never been a greater access to information. Twenty years ago, Bill Gates was talking about “information at our fingertips”, but he was saying we weren’t there yet. We are there now. What is lacking in American education, and indeed in education throughout Western Civilization is a sense of who and what we are and what our role in this world, individually and together, should be. In that regard, we seem more clueless than ever before. Disinformation abounds, clarity is non-existent, and demagogues rule the day. It’s a classic case of a civilization that has lost its sense of direction, no longer has any sense of who or what it is, and therefore is in a continuing spiral of disintegration and decline by almost every recognizable measure.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      Indeed. Very true.

    • mmichlin

      Don’t agree at all! Identity belongs to family more than anything else! Identity is a complicated thing and has many parts. As a Jew I want my kids to have Jewish identity and as a Russian-speaking person I want them to be connected to the great Russian literature. My Greek Christian neighbours want their kids to keep their part. Our kids go to the same school and what should we expect from the school to do with their identity?! Even our common and most prevailing part of identity – the American one – shouldn’t be coming from the school in a deliberate and propagandistic manner. Just the fact that we are going to the school, recite the Pledge of Allegience, learn American history and talk about latest TV epizodes (along with a miryad other things) make us Americans.
      Ideally, the school should be just the place where you learn academic subjects and some necessary skills. Unfortunately, the schools (and I live in one of the better school districts) do work on the students’ identity and that’s usually not the identity you’d want them to have.

      • Taylor

        Yes! Patriotism and propaganda is rampant in the American school system. Of course it is, anyone who says different is blind to the inner workings of this country.

    • WW4

      Is it identity you’re talking about, or common shared values?

      I agree other countries do a much better job of this because their identity is monocultural to begin with. Our country was at least a European hodgepodge (OK, with black people in the background) up until probably 50 years ago. So through WWII it was “easier” to transmit those values.

      You have a country that went through more change in the last century, driven by advancement in industry and technology and immigration, than the world did in the previous five centuries. Yet to deal with this world, we are using an education model designed for children who helped out on the family farm at the turn of the 19th-20th century.

      • Texas Patriot

        WW4: “Is it identity you’re talking about, or common shared values?”

        They’re really more or less the same thing, and although they may vary in emphasis from nation to nation, most Western nations share a core of common values that creates among them a unity of cultural identity.

        Americans share certain common values and certain traditions that form our national identity, chief among these are individual freedom, human dignity and free market competition. Obviously these values are not without inherent inconsistencies and frictions in any given situation, and the harmony of these values into a coherent national symphony of Americans is essential to our survival as a nation. Therefore, an accurate historical understanding of the origins of each of these values, as well as well as a detailed comparative analysis of how these different theories can best be harmonized into a highly energetic, productive, and internationally competitive nation should be at the heart of every American’s education.

        Only then can the American people have any realistic hope of seeing through the demagoguery of various partisan and political organizations who seek special political and economic advantages by the disproportionate emphasis of one or more of these values over the others.

  • Richard Johnston

    Where to begin with all the non sequitirs?! A system that allows students to graduate without learning the things to which the author alludes is failing. I do not contest, but instead totally agree, with the assertions concerning the family breakdown. However, when the President of the United States would never condescend to send his own children to a public school, we get a very clear picture of the failure of the quasi-monopoly of our education system.(Unless of course we think the Obama and Clinton offspring have dysfunctional families.) A frequent refrain my my colleagues is that high school graduates come to college poorly prepared to do college level work. The tsunami of remedial programs, many unsucccessful, designed to get those students prepared speaks volumes about the size of the break in K-12 education. Yes, some students graduate prepared. If it isn’t broken we shouldn’t fix it. It’s broke but the fixes the educrats or the “educational experts” offer are too often a testimonty to the reality that intentions are not results. “Socialsim doesn’t work anywhere else; why would we expect it to work in education?”

    • WW4

      Here’s the deal:

      First of all, Mr. Greenfield’s article contains no “non-sequiturs.” Look up the definition.

      Second, show me the kid whose parents are involved who has failed to receive an education from a public school.

      It’s all the kids whose parents don’t know, don’t care, or who can’t be there for whatever reason who pull down the results. You think remedial programs don’t work because the teachers don’t know what they’re doing? Come on.

      You’re right–I don’t know why we have a Dept. of Ed anymore. Education is an industry with all sorts of parasitical and political exploitation. There’s all kinds of insanity associated with the enterprise of education. But Mr. Greenfield points all this out!

      • Richard Johnston

        I pulled my daughters out of third and fourth grade from the public school they were being bored to death in. Before doing so, we pushed them both ahead a grade to see if that would help. It didn’t. My crime? Asking the teacher “why my does my daughter have no homework?’ The response? “Because I believe in letting a kid be a kid.” As if 15 minutes of homework a night would permanently scar my children. After 4th grade my own parents pulled me out of private school. 5th grade in public school was a waste of my time. (I was the top student in the class.) I have no doubt lousy parenting impacts results. I have, to the disappointment of my liberal colleagues, frequently pointed out that liberal welfare programs such as “The Great Society Program” partially explain the breakdown of the family with the subsequent predictable negative consequences in education. Teachers have written to thank me when, being politically incorrect, I point out that unequal results are not just the fault of the teachers but also due to an absence of parenting. The “system” makes it incredibly costly to get better alternatives. It’s broken! I have no doubt the lack of competition seriously impacts results. As I point out to my own students, a person with a Ph,D, in Chemistry who has won the Nobel Prize and numerous teaching awards cannot teach chemistry in many public schools until they go through the joke of an education program to get “certified.” That certification involves all kinds of “progressive” approaches that do not work. It is way too easy to specify those stupid methods. My favorite? The open school concept. Brilliant! Let people who did too much acid come up with better, more natural ways to learn. Since I have been teaching for almost 30 years and have won many teaching awards, I know at least a little about teaching. Ever take any education courses? Most of those I took were a joke. If I had a penny for every cockamamie education idea that was tried and failed I’d pay off the national debt. How is keeping the Dept. of Education consistent with the assertion education is not broken? I think it is mind numbingly stupid for colleges to think that in three weeks over a summer or over two semesters they can make up for 13 years of bad schooling. Here in bankrupt Illinois another aspect of the broken nature of education has reared its ugly head. To understand what that is I’ll allow you to learn by doing your homework. The government controls K-12 education, to quote President Obama, “period!” There are good teachers and there are pathetically poor ones as well. Good luck trying to get rid of the lousy ones. But maybe that part of the system works well, right?!

      • Richard Johnston

        Interesting that so many public school teachers put their children in private schools! Why is that if they could get a good education in the local public school?! Why does Mayor Emmanuel send his kids to a private school? Is he a bad father?

        • Daniel Greenfield

          They’re safer and a higher end product. And a better feeder to good colleges. But much of this private-public school thing is happening in urban areas with toxic student populations.

          • Richard Johnston

            Thank you for your reply. I sincerely appreciate your columns. That people need to put out extra $$ to get this suggests the system is broken. I think your thesis is much stronger if prefaced by “given programs such as vouchers for all will not happen…” No need to respond to this.

          • Daniel Greenfield

            I think it’s a matter of quality. Rather than broken. Taco Bell isn’t broken. But it’s not a quality diet or a healthy one.

        • WW4

          It’s a good question, but “because he can” is probably the best answer. People who can afford to do so send their kids to private schools for all sorts of reasons. Not the least of which, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, is that the quality of peers is higher. They don’t have to take anybody and everybody. But for those that do have to take anybody and everybody…what do we do?

          I couldn’t agree more that qualified people shouldn’t have to jump through 80 hoops if they desire to teach. But somewhere people have to learn how to manage a class full of other people’s kids. Education classes are a bit of a joke, but private school teachers come from the same places public school teachers do.

          • Richard Johnston

            We introduce school vouchers good at any school. I think it is not accurate that all private schools require a teacher certification. I could be wrong and if so stand corrected. I do not question that the “quality of peers is higher” insomuch as parents putting out the extra money indicate some extra interest.

      • objectivefactsmatter

        I’d say that public schools are failing when the parents fail their children. There’s plenty of failure to go around.

      • ML NJ

        Depends what your definition of “education” is, doesn’t it? A century ago kids who didn’t finish eighth grade knew Latin and Greek. Now maybe they know how to put a condom on a cucumber.

  • NAHALKIDES

    Daniel makes a number of valid points, but we cannot completely exonerate American public schools either, which still have at the very least these problems:

    1. Lack of discipline due to fear of lawsuits. This leads to a bad learning environment. (MarilynA)

    2. Education profession controlled by the Left, resulting in indoctrination replacing education (semus). Not to mention third and fourth-rate intellects in charge.

    3. Faulty, usually anti-conceptual theories of learning (e.g. the “look-say” method instead of phonics).

    4. Low standards to avoid accountability.

    5. Lack of accountability in any case, just as we see wherever government is in control. Don’t like your children’s school? Tough – they’re getting your tax money anyway and there’s nothing you can do about it.

    6. Too much administration – also caused by government involvement, since there is no incentive to run the schools efficiently with less middle management.

  • AlexanderGofen

    WRONG! America’s Education System (the parenthood plus schools) IS near totally BROKEN – as PLANNED since the end of 19th century:

    “I have often said that the use of a university is to make young gentlemen as unlike their fathers as possible.” – Woodrow Wilson, Princeton University, 1914.

    “The purpose of a college education is to question your father’s values.” – James O. Freedman, Dartmouth College, 2002.

    Then comes all the crap of the never earned student’s self-esteem coupled with brutal humiliation of teachers esteem and dignity.

    Then comes elimination of the only absolute source of morality and life goals – the Bible, expelled and replaced with all possible progressive filth from promiscuity and sexual obsession, to abortion, to promotion of pederasty and perversions.

    Indeed, the state school system is guilty also in lowering the content and level of the middle and high school curriculum to the level worse than in 19th century Russia. Since the end of 19th century the state approved Russian curricula for middle and high schools (later inherited by the USSR) required:

    1) All parts of Physics since grade 6 and up in all higher grades;

    2) Chemistry since grade 6 and up;

    3) Physical and political Geography since grade 6 and up;

    4) Tones of good classic literature including poetry to be learn by heart.

    5) And yes, the Bible (prior to the Bolshevik coup in 1917)!

    6) And yes, the mathematics (with proofs) and Geometry by Euclid.

    This liberast nation has been turned into a nation of degenerates incapable even to approach the level of education in Russia of the end of the 19th beginning of the 20th century!

    • Daniel Greenfield

      19th century education was obviously better than today. But it was also limited to smaller groups. Some education has been dumbed down and obviously the literature that is being taught is mostly junk, but that’s a condition that exists across public and private school systems.

      • AlexanderGofen

        …That’s a condition that exists across public and private school systems which dumped down both natural science and Judeo-Christian values! That means that moral education system is broken and an immoral “uneducation” system has prevailed: All in a frame of the neo-Marxist take over of America and the West.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      And I thought all along that universities went by the principal that the best ideas should win.

  • kilfincelt

    Good analysis! To begin repairing the problem, we need to get rid of the federal Dept. of Education which is forcing schools to adhere to a one size fits all education. One size does not fit all.

  • alericKong

    Also in Poland and Hong Kong you can pop a kid in the mouth for talking back to you.

    When they run home crying, in the US, the parents and police arrest the adult. In other countries, the parents and police whip the kid some more for causing trouble.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      I think we can find a productive middle ground somewhere in there.

  • Boots

    Even if we can fix the family (poof… we now have two parent families) the education system is still run by liberals who have no idea how to teach children to compete and most think competing is evil. Fixing the family is a great start but won’t completely solve the problem.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      The education system has been run by liberals for a while, but children compete naturally. They don’t need to be taught to compete. At least boys don’t.

      • Boots

        While some/many/not sure about most compete naturally… and my three teenage daughters are all competitive… the educational system actively discourages competition. Just my opinion but collectivism is a goal of current education.

        Just an anecdotal story… my now 16 year old when in 7th grade went across the fence to the high school to take college prep math (CPM) trig with 10th through 12th grade students. As always I’d ask how she’s doing in the evening. After the second week she’s telling me that after a brief lecture they’d break into groups where they’d work to solve the problems together and that half the students were lost (not her thank God). After about a month she’s telling me the smart kids are doing all of the teaching and problem solving while those struggling are being taught to rely on the smart kids and they seem fine with it. Parent teacher night… I ask the teacher how she’s doing… he tells me she’s outstanding… I ask about the method of CPM… he tells me he’s a facilitator and that they are learning through collaboration. and teamwork… I asked if he’d share his paycheck with the smart kids since they’re doing his job… not the question he wanted.

        The highly motivated will do fine. For the average students we need educators to demand excellence and set standards that will prepare them to enter the work world.

        Appreciate you reading posts to your columns… not sucking up… even when I disagree with you I enjoy your work and have learned a lot.

        • Daniel Greenfield

          There is a little too much ‘collaborative-community’ language floating around these days. But I don’t think you can really restrain the natural instincts in a real environment.

      • Texas Patriot

        DG: “The education system has been run by liberals for a while, but children compete naturally. They don’t need to be taught to compete. At least boys don’t.”

        It is quite true that competitive instincts are woven into our DNA as a result of billions of years of evolutionary biology, and there is very little we can do or need to do about that. But the idea of competing without killing your competition is a relatively new phenomenon. And in that regard, there is plenty we can do to help children understand the necessity and purpose of competition in a civilized society.

        The legitimate object of competition is always to encourage excellence among all the players, and never to destroy the opposition. Bullies win by beating up on weaker players. Champions win by constantly improving their own performance. Bill Gates once said that he always expected his opponents to do an excellent job. And in that way he was forced to think of even better ways of doing things. Bill Russell, hall of fame center for the Boston Celtics, said he never got beat, but sometimes he ran out of time.

        Those kinds of ideas are the key to understanding how a competitive society is always the healthiest and best society, and those are the kinds of ideas we need to be teaching each other if we want to avoid being relegated to the billions of years of evolutionary biology that are necessarily driving us to kill one other.

  • Myrtle Linder

    The United States Education isn’t broken,it is totally smothered in the corruption led by the USA government. In some schools tis’ been said, they are taught how to perform homosexual sex and to hate our LORD GOD ALMIGHTY HIS SON JESUS CHRIST. They are not even allowed to wear clothing the word JESUS CHRIST written on them in most large schools. They can be expelled if they disobey and dare speak HIS name in some schools. If they get a little reading, writing and arithmetic, it can be said they have old time teachers. . I would not send my child to public school and if I had grandchildren of school age I would pay for them to be home schooled or to go to good private school, if I could scrape the money together. .

  • Marlin B. Newburn

    Chronic ignorance in students is the bread and butter and layer cake to the public education bureaucracy. School space-takers create an unending cash flow from state and federal tax coffers.

    Kids who fail don’t value education because it has no potential for scarcity.

    Toxic parents don’t fear for their children’s future because they believe the government has the responsibility to take care of them when and if they leave home.

    Today’s government will not disappoint when it comes to financing the perpetually ignorant and government-dependent. They’ll just take money from the future earnings of those students who have responsible parents, and who have learned a skill.

    Vote Democrat and keep the insanity alive.

  • fush

    I learned more from my parents, and their friends, and my older sisters and their friends and from books than I did at school.

    As a teacher at undergraduate level, one thing that I’ve found that helps “motivate” the lazy arse-students is explaining to them in no uncertain terms just how competative the job market is out there. Also, I don’t really care if they pass or fail – they are the ones who will have to live with the consequences. If you’re not interested in working, then don’t come to my class. No, you won’t learn anything without working.

  • luckycat76

    I truly appreciate this article, because I lived the hell that public schools have become with the breakdown of families.
    I spent 17 years as a elementary school speech pathologist in a smaller urban district in the Midwest. Most of our students were white, blue collar kids, with about 30% black and a smattering of Hispanic. When I started in 1992, it was a nice school — decent kids overall, with few discipline problems. We had an itinerant special education teacher, and I was also itinerant.
    When I left in 2009 we had multiple kids who even at the kindergarten level had been diagnosed with various behavioral disorders. We had gone from the single itinerant special ed teacher to two full-time overworked teachers. The principal once had gotten a call from a parent who was not associated with the school; the parent had assumed that because of the number of disordered kids the principal must be a behavioral expert.
    And nearly every one of those kids was a product of a dysfunctional single-parent home. Now nearly 40% of all children are born to unwed mothers. The prospect is ominous.
    I left in 2009 to subcontract with a private agency. I have never been more satisfied.

  • onecornpone

    As in our healthcare system, the lowest common denominator becomes the poster child of the Left, and we must throw our children into the gutter beside them to prove we aren’t racists, no matter the extent of our endeavor to rise above AVERAGE.

    So to extrapolate your point, like good health, ability to learn must be a product of good genes, with the occasional anomaly.

  • My nickname: “Teach”

    I’ve been a teacher for over 28 years. Here’s my core beliefs regarding education today:

    1) Schools in Chicago, Detroit, etc. are dictating the national discourse on education, much like the “low-skilled” students take up most of a teacher’s time and a school’s resources.

    2) The solution to the above dilemma is to micro-manage teachers and their day-to-day goings on. At my school alone there was nothing short of a revolution. Within one year, we made the following changes: Teachers of the same course must start a chapter on the same day, administer the same quizzes, same tests, graded in the same way, same rubric and weights, same course info sheet. And we are supposed to teach our daily classes in a very formulaic way (draconian in its implementation): warm up, then SHORT lecture, then activities (to “entertain” the students–admin’s words!), then a closure activity. If we deviate from that, we have to defend ourselves. And now we are supposed to present material in the same way. CONFORMITY is the prescription for the hypochondriac patient.

    Also, we are under extreme pressure to inflate grades. It is now part of our contract. Ingenious the way they do it: If a kid scores less than 75% on a test, we MUST allow endless re-takes. Also, we teachers are forbidden from giving zeros on work not done. Rather, the lowest we can give is 50%. (It is called, “0 = 50%.) All this is meant to send the message, as well as create definite measures, to inflate grades. Schools all across the nation are seeing grades go up, while colleges and universities bemoan the lower and lower skills with which kids are entering college.

    3) I am all for testing. We need some way to measure ourselves and our students. BUT NOT THE WAY IT CURRENTLY IS BEING RUN. Students have no stake in it! Schools get funding based on test results. Teachers jobs on the line, but absolutely no consequences for students. What a sham! This is just a scheme created by the Republicans that the Democrats stole and are now running with. Of course, the wall-streeters, the Bill Gates’s, the Oprah Winfrey’s, the Warren Buffet’s are scheming to ruin the reputation of public schools and teachers so that they can privatize education. After all, there is more money in education than in defense!

    And what is more, the test we currently have–the STAR 9–rewards low-level teaching–rote regurgitation and low-skilled step-by-step work. Where is the ingenuity? And where, in today’s curriculum are we teaching kids the love of learning? –and how that discipline gathers information and processes that information, how the practitioner thinks, etc. All this is lost, NOT because the teacher cannot do it BUT BECAUSE OUR HANDS ARE BEING TIED MORE AND MORE EACH YEAR BY ADMIN who get their stuff from the schools of education. I say do away with all schools of education. They are doing more harm than good.

    Standardization and conformity lead to mediocrity. We need to go back to the “OLD SCHOOL” way of teaching. Create an environment in which all students can excel, but let the chips fall where they may. A student has a right to fail. Create incentives for families to support their children, even if we have to go with some sort of monetary reward for parents being a part of a child’s education. Stop inculcating kids. Teach both sides of every cultural and historical issue.

    Unless there is a radical 360, the trajectory is that public schools will fall into the hands of the profiteers and it will not be about educating to help our country, but, rather, about profit. I think the model is like what community colleges are today. No secure jobs for teachers, so teachers will just have to be a sycophant to the newest, latest trend. I see an awful future for our educational system. (I think my bias is showing through. That is to say, as a teacher myself, I believe teachers are part of the solution even though we are considered part of the problem. That is ludicrous. Our society must regard the educational process in high esteem and accord the same esteem to those providing that education–the teachers. Anything short of that and we are barking up the wrong tree.)

  • Nickname: “Teach”

    I’ve been a teacher for over 28 years. Here’s my core beliefs regarding education today:

    1) Schools in Chicago, Detroit, etc. are dictating the national discourse on education, much like the “low-skilled” students take up most of a teacher’s time and a school’s resources.

    2) The solution to the above dilemma is to micro-manage teachers and their day-to-day goings on. At my school alone there was nothing short of a revolution. Within one year, we made the following changes: Teachers of the same course must start a chapter on the same day, administer the same quizzes, same tests, graded in the same way, same rubric and weights, same course info sheet. And we are supposed to teach our daily classes in a very formulaic way (draconian in its implementation): warm up, then SHORT lecture, then activities (to “entertain” the students–admin’s words!), then a closure activity. If we deviate from that, we have to defend ourselves. And now we are supposed to present material in the same way. CONFORMITY is the prescription for the hypochondriac patient.

    Also, we are under extreme pressure to inflate grades. It is now part of our contract. Ingenious the way they do it: If a kid scores less than 75% on a test, we MUST allow endless re-takes. Also, we teachers are forbidden from giving zeros on work not done. Rather, the lowest we can give is 50%. (It is called, “0 = 50%.) All this is meant to send the message, as well as create definite measures, to inflate grades. Schools all across the nation are seeing grades go up, while colleges and universities bemoan the lower and lower skills with which kids are entering college.

    3) I am all for testing. We need some way to measure ourselves and our students. BUT NOT THE WAY IT CURRENTLY IS BEING RUN. Students have no stake in it! Schools get funding based on test results. Teachers jobs on the line, but absolutely no consequences for students. What a sham! This is just a scheme created by the Republicans that the Democrats stole and are now running with. Of course, the wall-streeters, the Bill Gates’s, the Oprah Winfrey’s, the Warren Buffet’s are scheming to ruin the reputation of public schools and teachers so that they can privatize education. After all, there is more money in education than in defense!

    And what is more, the test we currently have–the STAR 9–rewards low-level teaching–rote regurgitation and low-skilled step-by-step work. Where is the ingenuity? And where, in today’s curriculum are we teaching kids the love of learning? –and how that discipline gathers information and processes that information, how the practitioner thinks, etc. All this is lost, NOT because the teacher cannot do it BUT BECAUSE OUR HANDS ARE BEING TIED MORE AND MORE EACH YEAR BY ADMIN who get their stuff from the schools of education. I say do away with all schools of education. They are doing more harm than good.

    Standardization and conformity lead to mediocrity. We need to go back to the “OLD SCHOOL” way of teaching. Create an environment in which all students can excel, but let the chips fall where they may. A student has a right to fail. Create incentives for families to support their children, even if we have to go with some sort of monetary reward for parents being a part of a child’s education. Stop inculcating kids. Teach both sides of every cultural and historical issue.

    Unless there is a radical 360, the trajectory is that public schools will fall into the hands of the profiteers and it will not be about educating to help our country, but, rather, about profit. I think the model is like what community colleges are today. No secure jobs for teachers, so teachers will just have to be a sycophant to the newest, latest trend. I see an awful future for our educational system. (I think my bias is showing through. That is to say, as a teacher myself, I believe teachers are part of the solution even though we are considered part of the problem. That is ludicrous. Our society must regard the educational process in high esteem and accord the same esteem to those providing that education–the teachers. Anything short of that and we are barking up the wrong tree.)

    • kilfincelt

      40 years ago I came to the conclusion that schools of education were a waste of time and said so to my uncle who held a chair in the school of education at a well known public university. He did not question my position. To be fair to him, his field was music education and he was considered to be one of the best music educators in the U.S.

  • geneww1938

    Of course it is not broke … it is doing exactly what the Educational Department wants.
    Yes it is the parents fault. If you love your kids, please investigate home schooling even if you decide to leave them in those institutions. At least you did your homework.
    Home schools have Co-Ops and families can team-up to share their expertise.

  • Cheryl

    I quite agree – when I went to Catholic grade school even the prinicpal taught a classroom full of kids – all day. Other than the principal there was a janitor and the lunchroom ladies. I got an excellent education without a lot of the frills and some of my teachers only had a year or two of college (I’m a baby boomer). While I went on to graduate school (which was a piece of cake for me and I’m nothing special) I think the best education I had was in those Catholic schools and one of my graduate professors who was tough but fair.

    I went home and cried after my first course in “Research Methodology” because I was so sorry I had not been taught that years before. And all this rubbish about families not being able to teach, etc. – well one of my parents was obviously bi-polar and the other one also had mental problems. But it didn’t stop me from reading and learning (my escape from the insanity of home) which led to my getting a Ph.D. Now I must compete with 44DDs, pretty faces, and nepotism in the job market, often people who have the piece of paper but know nothing (I mean NOTHING) – all because some do-gooders and the government got involved.

    There is NOTHING in the CONSTITUTION ABOUT EDUCATION _ this should be decided at the state level. The Dept. of Education was created by Jimmy Carter as a pay-off to the teachers’ unions. No wonder we are in trouble.

  • Jeff Ludwig

    I couldn’t agree more than I do with what Mr. Greenfield has to say in this article. An excellent book written from pretty much the same premise is Robert Weissberg’s Bad Students, Not Bad Schools.