02 September 2007

Is Dumbing Down Schools a Political Issue?

First of all, dumbing down the schools is not a "liberal" vs. "conservative" issue. Leftist (a more accurate term than "liberal") parents love the children they send to public school every bit as much as rightists who send their children to private or religious schools. If they sometimes push their children into poor learning environments, it is not out of a lack of love.

Next, what makes an issue a "political" issue? A political issue is one that is discussed in political campaigns, mentioned often in legislative sessions, and featured prominently in the speeches of elected officials. Political issues are frequently addressed in legislative bills and laws. In that sense of "political", school dumbing down barely moves the detector. While government schools have become mass producing meat grinders for the minds of the young, there are no government or political officials whose mention of government schools ever comes close to describing the problem.

Rather, it is a question of "raising test scores", "achieving higher levels of ethnic diversity", "increasing tolerance", "better orienting girls for careers in science and math", and other overly focused goals that fail to address the underlying problem of failure to prepare young minds for a tumultous future.

The dumbing down of schools in North America goes far beyond left-right politics. It goes to the heart of whether future generations will be able to confront the existential and near-existential threats they will meet. It is a large determinant of the survival of western civilisation. Minimising the importance of the widespread movement to dumb down education, is a form of denial which is equivalent to denying existential risk itself.

Whether dumbed down children are indoctrinated into leftist, rightist, centrist, or uppist or downist political points of view is irrelevant. The salient point is that the children's minds have been stunted--as if they had been chained inside a closet during their formative years and missed numerous developmental windows.

It is true that confirmed, activist leftists are far more likely to deny that there is any such problem as I have mentioned with government schools. Any problems that may exist can be easily solved by budgeting more money for the schools, by providing better financing to the intellectual architects of the present system. Do the same, only more of it. This advocacy by leftist activists, and the opposition to modern trends in government education by many in the center and on the religious right, may well lay the groundwork for this issue to become a public political issue, in campaigns and in legislative action.

But those political activists above are not usually addressing the key concern--the dumbing down, the stunting of minds, the age-isolation away from learning responsibility: leading to psychological neoteny. The abolition of the diversity of ideas--the only kind of diversity that matters in education--from the college and university environment that leads to academic lobotomy. Those issues remain beneath the radar for the most part. They are not political, unless the desire to see humans achieve the most that they can is political.

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Blogger Kobayashi Maru said...

"Whether dumbed down children are indoctrinated into leftist, rightist, centrist, or uppist or downist political points of view is irrelevant."

I must disagree. Several hallmarks of classically leftist thought make leftist control of public schools a major if not dominant component of the problem you describe. (And the left does exert far more control on public education than does the right, via the NEA. Surveys of who goes into education--at all levels tend to prove this out.) These hallmarks include:

- not calling things by their name in the pursuit of political correctness

- the elevation of multiculturalism over truth (I'm OK, you're OK and so is any idea anyone just happens to come up with)

- persistently clinging to modes of economic and social organization (i.e., communism) that have been proven by history to be not only unworkable but the font of true evil

- the self-esteem movement that has cut into competition, ranking, placement and other realities of the world that kids will have to face at graduation

- a socialist and self-serving (i.e., union) blind spot to the benefits that school choice (i.e., competition) has been demonstrated to offer where it has been tried

- bloating bureaucracy in public education as an increasing fraction of expenditures are diverted to administration rather than teaching (same things happens when big-government leftists get their hand on the tiller of government).

I could go on. The left lives in a fantasy world of their own making. To the degree that we trust them with the education of our children, they indoctrinate them into a world that does not exist and that cannot serve them (or us) well once they're out in the world.

Sunday, 02 September, 2007  
Blogger Kobayashi Maru said...


We may agree on this point: I do not want my kids "indoctrinated" into anything.

Today however, leftist-controlled educational institutions (meaning most of them--and trust me, I live in leftist-education central) are loathe to present even the tamest of views from the right. At my kids' (public) schools, far-left speakers such as Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky) are routinely trotted out to share their views with school-wide assemblies. Attempts by parents to get even moderates or right-leaning speakers time with the kids bring derision and silence.

Bottom line: kids are increasingly (and that's important) being indoctrinated into leftist views in a systematic manner. The results are increasingly bad. I draw a causal line between the two.

Sunday, 02 September, 2007  
Blogger Michael Anissimov said...

It is at least partially left vs. right issue, as your last sentence and the comments make clear. But it is true that it isn't mentioned in campaign speeches. But fine, I'll withdraw my unfair comment.

Our schools are dumbed down. So what should we, or anyone do about it? I'm more interested in positive proposals than more arguments about how bad the schools are.

I for one am happy that I skipped college and am self-educated, but to some people I am seem to be suffering from a lack of credentials.

Sunday, 02 September, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

KM: Yes, those are the issues which understandably concern you about government education.

I generally focus on psychological neoteny (sheltering young people from meaningful responsibility and competence forming) and academic lobotomy (presenting only one perspective--regardless of what it may be).

Michael: I have presented multiple postings in praise of college dropouts who went on to become high achievers. It is real world results that count, not credentials from schools.

I will always object to presenting only one perspective of the world to young minds, regardless of what that perspective may be. The left vs. right debate in the US is very limited in itself. But if instructors further limit their presentation (and acceptable answers to exam questions and essays) to only one side of an already limited debate, they should (in my opinion) be taken out and at least whipped, if not shot.

Sunday, 02 September, 2007  
Blogger Will Brown said...

I think a restatement of your final sentence will illustrate the political nature of the question, Fin.

"These issues are political to the extent that a dumbed down populace offers a reduced threat to the aspirations of those of the existing political class (both elective and bureaucratic)."

An informed and competent body politic (aka: We The People ...) are far more likely to obstruct the political class in their exercise - not to mention expansion - of power over us.

The exercise of power is always a political issue.

Sunday, 02 September, 2007  
Blogger M. Simon said...

If you look at this question over the long sweep of history you come to the conclusion that balancing accounts in 500 AD was very advanced math for the average person.

Whether this is good enough is another question.

Monday, 03 September, 2007  
Blogger M. Simon said...

BTW I'm a self taught aerospace engineer.

I was never "qualified" for any of the positions I held. LOL

BTW I have code running on the F16, A320 and 747-400. Among others. Plus a little hardware too.

I beet the "qualifications" racket by being a contractor.

BTW the 'net is countering some of the bias you get from schools.

Monday, 03 September, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

m. simon: Good point about the internet providing a path around government school bottlenecks.

will: Right. Well, everything is political if you look at it a certain way.

My point was that I would be happy to see government education oriented toward instilling greater responsibility and general competence in adolescents and providing multiple points of view--intellectual diversity--the only kind of diversity that matters in education.

Who cares what the personal politics of the teachers and professors is, as long as they present diverse viewpoints and perspectives without bias. Currently, lack of professorial bias is incredibly rare--and criminal (in my estimation).

Monday, 03 September, 2007  
Blogger Will Brown said...

Fin: I was addressing the base cause of public school failure in the US. The teachers/administrators and policies you and so many others lament over are the natural result of the political (and social) intentions of the school systems' founders - see John Taylor Gatto for example from my reference links (shameless self-promotion alert :)).

It seems rather pointless to continue beating the mule for his inefficencies when your complaint is he can't fly you across the continent fast enough. Your enemy is the people keeping you from studying airplanes, not the poor mule the present system provides. I know, it's a weak analagy, but the best I can come up with off the top of my head.

Monday, 03 September, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

On a related subject, I was reading a bit about the Saxon Math and Singapore Math textbooks, in comparison to some of the latest "math reformist" textbooks in use in the US.

Apparently, the more the math reformers depart from traditional no-nonsense basic math teaching, the worse the children's scores get.

When government school teachers try to teach out of the more traditional Saxon or Singapore texts, they find out how little math they actually know! What a wakeup call!

So of course, the teacher's resent the traditional texts and go back to the "reformed" texts where their lessons are completely spelled out for them, and everything is nicely multicultural and such. To hell with the kids, eh teach?

As for the mule vs. supersonic transport, I think the internet will have more and more to say about that. With a decent textbook and a good tutor--even a webtutor--most children should be able to at least ride a propjet.

Monday, 03 September, 2007  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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