An old fashioned con-man’s game of fraud is alive and well. It is called “Bait and Switch” and is sometimes used to sell products. It works very simply. The con-man offers to sell one thing at a given price, but when the customer arrives to get the merchandise, he is told that it has suddenly been sold out and a product of lower quality put in its place, usually at higher cost.
“Bait and Switch” is not the exclusive practice of unscrupulous crooks. It is alive and well in American education, in which one thing is promised and another thing is delivered in its place that is astonishingly more costly and of vastly lower quality. In this case, they promise education, but, instead of a platform of studies which sets high standards of achievement and that demands students work to reach the objective goals of literacy, numeracy, clear critical thinking and uncorrupted reasoning, they deliver a platform of deliberately lowered standards, and political correctness in the form of a range of excuse-making devices. These devices take various forms, such as special education ploys for often fictitious and exaggerated “disabilities” that suspend the natural human challenge inherent in education, destroy accountability for failure and create an egregiously debilitating government dependency through ignorance and propaganda.
The Bait is the false promise that, through enormous funding, too often squandered in patronage grants for useless studies, a superior education is ensured. The Switch is that, for all the investment and graft, you get illiteracy, bad behavior through permissive conditioning and the continual failure of incalculable numbers of high school graduates unable to read, write, add, subtract, divide, multiply, or generally to think.
There is only one reason to become educated. It is to free the mind so that it can govern the process of living. The purpose for being educated is not just to get a job, as is widely asserted. That is the main purpose of training, or the detailed learning of specific skills related to a profession or job. The real end purpose of becoming fully and truly educated is freedom, because only a free person can truly make life choices and decisions without being limited by anything but his ability and civilized society’s rules. To be free, a person must be able to depend on knowing reality, which requires the skills of clear thinking and uncorrupted reasoning. These alone enable a person to make wise and beneficial decisions, and without them, i.e., without education, there can be no freedom.
The methodology of education is learning to learn, a process which is guided by teachers, but which is something students must ultimately acquire for themselves. It cannot be instilled or instantly injected in anyone. You cannot simply tell someone how to play the piano or how to build a house. You may guide that person through a set of steps and explain various details, but the skills that make up piano playing or house building must be learned, fully understood and practiced until they are mastered. The ultimate ability of learning is the ability to teach oneself whatever one needs to learn. This should be the clearly recognized goal of every student and every teacher. The ultimate result of learning is not limited to specific facts or content, but to mastering the disciplines of clear, critical thinking and uncorrupted reasoning. It is the mastery of skills, not exclusively of content, because grasping truth and comprehending reality are skills that enable a person possessing them to learn anything and everything for the rest of his or her lives. Contrary to the argument that disciplined learning is constricting, a mastered set of disciplines, of reading, writing, reasoning, etc. is itself freedom from constriction. The intent of education should never be to cram data into a student’s head.
Neither is education the process of manufacturing self-esteem through grandiose notions or false narratives of history. That is the intent of propaganda, not education. The intent of educating students should be to teach them to evaluate data by objective standards and to expose them to many possible opposing explanations of a thing, until they have enough data to arrive at the truth objectively and it becomes a part of their experience. It is the truth and not the data which sets them free.
Author Dana R. Casey has put it succinctly: Teach students how to think, but never what to think.
This is vitally important for people to realize, because, a free, fully educated people are much stronger and less vulnerable to oppression than ignorant masses, long fed on propaganda. Therefore, governments often pervert education, so that facts are replaced with propaganda and the vital skills of objective critical thinking and a traditional liberal arts education are replaced by technical training. Freedom to think objectively strengthens people, while ignorance weakens them and makes them vulnerable to oppression or manipulation by government.
Corrupting an entire educational system takes a long time and must be done slowly and subtly. The advent of social liberalism and the theories of John Dewey, who praised the Soviet Union in its early days, introduced the concept of educating the masses, i.e., of collectivizing education. Dewey’s notion was that an educated population could be mass produced. He believed that the purpose of education is social reform. He wrote that “education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction.”
Dewey tried this in the USSR in the 30s, but the Soviets did not take Dewey’s notions entirely to heart, although they recognized that his methods and rationale might effectively create an educated collective population. Recognizing that a functioning nation requires a high rate of literacy and of all the other basic skills, they kept the traditional principles of education intact and instead placed their emphasis on slanting the content of education.
They stressed technical subjects and rewarded science students with government subsidy of their work, because they knew that technological advances were advantageous to their national power. Students in the Soviet Union had a high rate of literacy, mastery of foreign languages, especially English, which they recognized as the global standard, and the arts. Students of history were taught a carefully constructed propagandized view, even to the extent of manipulating and even inventing historical accounts. They were not given opportunities for an objective, many-faceted examination of such events. Thus students “learned” history which was skewed to the purposes of the Soviet regime.
The arts were also fiercely controlled, especially literature, because the Soviets understood the power of arts, especially of the written word, to shape the spirit and soul of a people, and punishments were exacted for violating the rules regarding what one could draw, paint, compose, write or disseminate. Even what was read by the people was tightly controlled. The works of Kafka and others were banned, and anyone copying prohibited text, called samizdat, often went to jail where they were harshly treated. In some respects, dissident artists and writers were treated more harshly than murderers on the logical theory that a murderer only killed people, whereas a powerfully written poem could inspire rebellion.
We in the US do not have a collectivist culture. The founding principle of our free republic is the freedom and rights of individual citizens. The founding documents upon which our nation was formed, was the diametric opposite of Soviet Socialism, thus, we have never believed in collectivizing anyone. In the US, these values and principles are also the purpose of the US education system. But that has gradually been corrupted.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, many former citizens of the USSR fled to the West. They knew that here they could fully appreciate what real freedom, freedom of the individual, was like. One component of Soviet life that was valuable and which they retained, was the skills had gained from their traditional education. One of the most encouraging things to draw from this is that many chose to reject Communism and become American citizens, praising American values, especially its extraordinary and unusual concept of individual rights.
Many of these former Soviet citizens were also shocked by the condition of education here in the US today, many claiming that education, minus the propaganda, was better in the USSR. This is hard to argue with. While in the Soviet Union people were not allowed to read the works of Kafka and other writers that would clash with Soviet values, they were encouraged to read, write and master many languages, all the sciences, and arts. Many mastered musical instruments and later established themselves in the West as soloists and orchestral musicians. Most Soviet and Soviet Bloc schools taught chess as a regular course of study, a game that most American children in public schools have either never heard of or ridicule as absurd, as they continue to fail to read on a high school level, preferring instead to spend their time listening to rap on their iPods and cell phones.
This is because American education has been degraded, deliberately and gradually, to its present state, so that students in schools are often encouraged to use excuse making and threats of litigation as a technique for achieving high grades, instead of the vital process of real learning. This degradation has come about through the yielding of control over education by local authorities to the Federal government.
The Soviets controlled the content of education while preserving the value of traditional standards and methods. But they lacked something that we in the US do not lack, money and its concomitant of greed. The Federal government uses money as a tool to control education by giving large grants to those who develop the so-called theories which promote standards prone to ideological propaganda and to school systems willing to implement these standards. It has also used money as a weapon to demonize standard education, ridiculing traditional methods as outdated or outmoded and instituting such corrupt standards as Common Core, a huge false-bottomed boat from which innumerable so-called “experts” drop their nets in search of big wads of cash. In a version of Bait and Switch, they offer idiotic fads and notions masquerading as theories in exchange for small fortunes of grant money. All that is required is that their cleverly invented “theories” always support and reinforce the ideology of big central government, thus making not only the students, but also the professionals in education, dependent upon it.
It will take brave educators, teachers in the classroom already overburdened with so much chaff that they cannot impart the kernel of wheat students badly, even desperately, need. They will need the courage of their convictions and great strength to insist on the restoration of traditional standards of a real learning environment, and to overturn the bandwagon of money, in order to right the course of American education. The first step will be to seize it back from the Federal Government and put it again where it belongs, in the local laps of teachers, parents and school officials who have been immunized against trendy notions and are confidently dedicated to bringing back proven traditional methods that actually educate students and teach them to appreciate what it really means to be educated. But it will also take dedication from parents not to allow the ultimate destruction of their children that illiteracy and a false conception of reality will cause.
*Social Liberalism is not true Liberalism, which was a product of the Enlightenment and celebrated freedom and the rights of individuals. Like so many other concepts, the Left has co-opted and corrupted the concept of true Liberalism, thus, it cannot be used in its original meaning without confusion.
FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse.