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The charade of education reform

By Samuel L. Blumenfeld
web posted February 11, 2002

President George Bush and Senator Ted KennedyWhen we saw President George Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy on television billing and cooing over the new education bill, fittingly called, No Child Left Behind, we knew that the reform is as phony as all the previous reforms that were supposed to leave no child behind. Bush gave the impression that he had to twist arms to get the Democrats to spend more money on education.

How do we know that the new reform bill is a sham? Because the federal government will be giving money to the same people who have caused the problem. These are the same people, or their disciples, who implemented the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was supposed to help the poor and culturally deprived kids learn to read through Title One. Thirty-seven years and $100-billion dollars later, the kids are doing worse today than they were in 1965.

How could so much money result in so much failure? Easy, spend the money on fattening the education establishment and blame the failure on the kids. Bush, of course, is making some kind of an effort to change that. Since he strongly believes that every child can learn, he is putting more blame on the schools for failure to teach, than on the kids for failing to learn. He made that very clear in the speech he gave after signing the bill. He said:

When we find poor performance, a school will be given time and incentives and resources to correct their problems. A school will be given time to try other methodologies, perhaps other leadership, to make sure that people can succeed. If, however, schools don't perform, if, however, given the new resources, focused resources, they are unable to solve the problem of not educating their children, there must be real consequences.

So, again, children are at the mercy of their schools and not guaranteed a decent education. They will be experimented on until the school can actually discover how to teach reading, writing and arithmetic, as if that were the equivalent of finding a cure for cancer. What Bush doesn't realize is that it's impossible to deal rationally with a system that is so irrational. Thus, while the President may have the best of intentions, his desire to make public schools more effective by throwing more money at them will inevitably fail. After all, he's only going to be around for seven more years at best. But the education establishment will still be there doing what it does best, dumbing down the American people.

The system is rotten to the core and has to be done away with. It can't be saved by more money because the education establishment will not change its philosophy which is the obstacle to the needed changes. For example, the present configuration of the classroom based on "progressive" ideology, is chaotic and totally non-conducive to intellectual or academic achievement. But there is no possibility of going back to the kind of classroom that America's greatest generation learned in. And yet, that is the only way to "save" public education. No rational human being can accept the present classroom configuration and expect anything but intellectual confusion and academic failure. Yet, most parents and teachers accept that classroom as an absolute given.

Naturally that classroom is perfect for the progressive curriculum being taught: whole language, invented spelling, the new math, and social studies. It is said that the new reform bill will get phonics back into the primary classroom. The President said, "Every school has a job to do. And that's to teach the basics and teach them well. If we want to make sure no child is left behind, every child must learn to read."

Funny, back in the days when I was going to school, the federal government did not have to spend billions of dollars to make sure that every child learned to read. The teachers knew how to teach children to read. It was as simple as that. Most primary teachers today don't. In our classrooms the desks were bolted to the floor, there was no speaking out of turn, the floors were immaculate, the teacher maintained discipline knowing that she had the backing of the principal. She taught everyone the same thing, and used the most rational methods of teaching improved over centuries of experience. There was no Mickey Mouse, no stupid cartoons papering the walls. There was a portrait of George Washington.

There is no chance that the classroom that produced the great results of yesteryear will be restored. The present confusion will persist even though it has caused the epidemic of attention deficit disorder that requires over four million children to be drugged daily with Ritalin.

What this latest reform actually does is accelerate the takeover of public education by the federal government. And that is why the liberals just love it. When George Miller of California, socialist to the core, thinks it's the greatest thing since sliced bread, you have to wonder what indeed is in the bill's one thousand pages. At this moment I'm trying to get a copy. But I'm not holding my breath.

Samuel L. Blumenfeld is the author of eight books on education, including, "Alpha-Phonics: A Primer for Beginning Readers," "The Whole Language/OBE Fraud," and "Homeschooling: A Parents Guide to Teaching Children." These books are available on Amazon.com.

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