Feel-Good Schooling

At the risk of flogging a dead horse, I want to return briefly to the problem in our public schools. I have addressed this problem in previous blogs and even suggested remedies for the problems. But I know full well that any suggestions I might make will fall on deaf ears. And that is the issue I want to address.

Until or unless the education establishment admits there is a problem in America’s  public schools, it goes without saying that the problem will go unsolved. There can be no solution if those who are involved see no problem in the first place. And that is clearly the case. I have been in contact with a number of teachers and without exception their posture is one of defense: excuses and rationalizations come tumbling out. I read these same excuses in the articles defending the status quo. There are none so blind as those who will not see, as the saying goes.

Those, like me, who are “outside” the establishment are dismissed because we simply don’t know what’s going on. The fact that I taught for a year at the elementary level and 41 years at the collegiate level and have read any number of books on the subject, in addition to writing one of my own, is deemed irrelevant. I am one of “them.” And unless you are on the inside you simply don’t understand what is going on — what the teachers have to put up with daily, and how they struggle against insuperable odds to open young minds. But I do know these things. I visited enough public school classes to know I couldn’t teach in our public schools. I wouldn’t last a month. I also know there are dedicated teachers out there who perform miracles every day, and exceptional students who go on to lead exemplary lives. But I also know there is a larger problem and it needs to be addressed.

Sad to say, those who dare criticize from within the establishment are not heard, either. I have mentioned Maureen Stout, who wrote an excellent book about The Feel Good Curriculum, subtitled “The Dumbing Down of America’s kids in the name of Self-Esteem.” She taught for years in the public school system in California and now holds a teaching position in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at California State University in Northridge. Her book is a well argued attack on “the self-esteem” movement, which is described as “a radically child-centered, therapeutic model of schooling, which has transformed schools into clinics and teachers into counselors, creating a generation of self-righteous, self-absorbed, underachieving children.” Indeed so. But her book was never on the best-seller list and in the twelve years since its publication it has had no noticeable effect. The establishment simply refuses to listen to criticism.

The educational establishment resembles the A.M.A.in policing itself, a situation that is designed to breed corruption. But in many ways, the educational establishment is worse, because (so far as I know) teachers cannot be sued for malpractice — which is a way of curbing abuse, surely — and they have created a huge and powerful bureaucracy which protects them from political influence that might have meaningful results. The only thing parents can do, as they have done in Wisconsin, is to retaliate against the teachers themselves by reducing their public support. And that is cutting of one’s nose to spite the face. It is not the solution. Teachers need to be paid more, not less. That’s the only way to attract the best and brightest minds to a profession that now attracts students from the bottom third of the colleges and universities, nation-wide.

And, as I have written in an earlier blog, the only way to begin to solve the problem is to eliminate the certification process, thereby crippling the Blob that controls the education establishment, and return schooling to the best teachers, attracted to teaching by the expectation of greater prestige and higher salaries, and then given their heads. But this won’t happen. Indeed, nothing much will happen, unless the establishment, including the teachers themselves, admits there is a problem and opens itself to constructive criticism.