Could the Education Establishment Be That Dumb?

Perhaps you saw the exchange on television.

One guest said, "The administration's approach is destructive; they must be trying to hurt the country."

The startled moderator exclaimed: "Do you mean they're doing it on purpose? Why would you think that?"

The guest explained his reasoning: "Because nobody's that dumb."

Eureka! There you have it, a perfect condensation of everything that I've been able to figure out, over the past ten years, about education.

Again and again, you find the USA's educational practices don't work and seem to be destructive. You're confronted with two choices, it seems to me. The country's top educators are deliberately trying to hurt the country. Or they are some of the most oblivious, incompetent people who ever lived.

And you go around and around on this dilemma but you keep coming back to the option that they must be doing it all on purpose.

Why?? Because nobody's that oblivious and incompetent!

Let's take the prime example, the ultimate paradigm for everything bad that happened in American education for the last 80 years. That would be something called Look-say, Whole Word, or Sight Words (i. e., memorizing words as shapes). Elite educators forced this gimmick on most public schools in 1932; and despite criticism, falling scores, scorching bestsellers by Rudolph Flesch, and the preposterous achievement of creating 50 million functional illiterates, our educators kept this silly scam going. And going. And going. Quite simply, they MUST have been doing this on purpose.

Why?? Because nobody's that dumb.

To create avast population of semi-literate deprive the country of so much intelligence and remove some of the possibility and potential from tens of millions of lives....The more you focus on this waste and madness, the more you are going to say: nobody could be that dumb.

And the only reason you wish somebody COULD be that dumb is because now you're forced to contemplate the possibility that somebody might be that warped by ideology.

Well, you can go back to 1900 and reflect on John Dewey's contempt for learning. You could jump ahead to the 1930s when the top educators were all socialists who believed that the goal of education was collectivism and one-world government (i.e., hello, Joe Stalin). These people had a blueprint. Unfortunately, it had little to do with education as most people understand that term. Our top educators moved off into a world of their own, where the big goal was creating pliable children who could get along with each other and follow instructions from their masters. Reading, writing, arithmetic, all that stuff was secondary.

Think of it this way. Dewey and his followers have the same exact relationship to "education" in America that Chavez and his followers have to "education" in Venezuela. Oh, they may throw around the term a lot but their hearts are not in the ordinary meaning.

I believe, in order to have improvement in the public schools, we must honestly confront our deliberately stunted past. If you can look at what happened historically and find another theory, fine. But I'll bet that most people will not be able to find another theory. They will come up against this brutal and unpleasant conclusion: our elite educators, to the degree they could get away with it, were constantly trying to dumb down the country. They must have been trying to do this because otherwise you are forced to conclude that all of their dysfunctional policies and bad results were accidents.

Which is highly unlikely. Why?? Because nobody could possibly be that accident-prone.

You can subject all the major methods (Constructivism, New Math, Cooperative Learning, Self-esteem, Critical Thinking, etc.) to the same analysis; and you will invariably fine that each is as bogus as Look-say. At first, there seem to be compelling arguments plus a lot of marketing razzmatazz plus a choir of experts singing, love this, love this, love this. But at the end of the year, the decade, the century, all the claims are found to be empty; the methods are found to be sophistical and unsuccessful; the outcomes turn out shoddy and damaging. And your head is spinning as you ask yourself, could all this failure be a long, unfolding accident? Or weren't the top educators causing all this mischief on purpose?

And you decide: on purpose, definitely.

And why do you think that?? Because nobody's that dumb.

Bruce Deitrick Price is the founder of, a high-level education and intellectual site. One focus is reading; see "42: Reading Resources." Another focus is education reform; see "38: Saving Public Schools." Price is an author, artist and poet. His fifth book is "THE EDUCATION ENIGMA--What Happened to American Education."

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