Television Teaches What Public Schools Used To

Imagine the chagrin of our elite educators. They have labored for a century to purge content, facts, and knowledge from the classroom.

This was a long march indeed, finally culminating in almost total victory. Students were taught little. They learned little. They knew little. As the great John Dewey said years ago, school is properly concerned with the social activities of the child. And to hell with all that learning stuff.

Imagine you are there in the final days, as this great victory is achieved. In many schools, and almost every classroom, there is this wonderful vacancy. Children play together around tables; they learn to chat "critically" about nothing in particular; they learn vapid 21st-century skills; they prepare portfolios. But few facts darken their horizon. Victory!

Warning: do not ask these children where Japan is on a map or how many stars spangle the American flag. That would be an impertinence. These children are bubble-babies. They live in a world protected from all input. One cannot even joke about garbage in, garbage out. Nothing comes in, except perhaps empty compliments.

Should our Education Establishment promote the teaching of content? Mention facts? How positively vulgar. You might as well ask a Victorian prude to tell a dirty joke. Are you mad? Do pigs play the fiddle and discuss Heidegger? Should public schools violate their most sacred trust, and offend the ghost of John Dewey? Preposterous.

In short, our educators had a pretty good scam going for many decades, blaming their failings on television, even as it was they who conspired to teach less and less as part of their commitment to social engineering. The Education Establishment dumbed down the schools and then blamed the decline on everybody but the real culprits, themselves!

And then along came television. Long ridiculed as a wasteland, it is today, if compared to many public schools, an intellectual hothouse on a par with Harvard.

You can sit and watch History Channel or Discovery Channel for a few hours and be exposed to more information than many 10th graders in the United States will see in a year. A thousand facts will whizz by your brain. You'll feel the primal excitement of swimming in the rough currents of raw knowledge.

Thus the educational void is filled. The vacancy is vanquished. The victory is canceled. By television!

Even if children are not assigned to watch the smart channels--History, Discovery, Learning, Disney, National Geographic, A&E, and others--you know it's happening. Sometimes, without any intention or plan, children catch a glimpse. Serendipity and happenstance explode into the scene. And, look out, children see interesting stuff. They want more. Before you know it, children are learning facts, content, knowledge.

How our faux-educators must hate this! In spite of the schools' cleverly concocted emptiness, children are being educated. All because of that accursed thing, television, more specifically certain content-loaded channels.

Of course, the internet helps too. Many web sites are themselves worth a public school. But there's a fine poetry in giving credit to television when educators have for so many years blamed their failure on--what else?--television.

Then, as noted, disaster struck. As fast as our elite educators can eliminate an island of information, television tosses out a new planet of content, a new solar system of knowledge. Like Sisyphus trudging up that mountain, our education commissars no longer have a chance against knowledge. It rushes down the slope at them. Hurray. The bad guys lose.

People say we need to take a wrecking ball to the public schools. We do not! Many of them are handsome buildings. We need to take a wrecking ball to the educational philosophy, inane and infantile, that devastates these schools. Return to a common sense love of content and knowledge; and presto, the public schools will soar precisely to the degree that the failed notions now dominant are unceremoniously dumped. Celebrate knowledge, and every measure of success will rise.

There are so many exciting tools available to make schools successful. All that's required is the will and the passion. Our Education Establishment must be focused on educational excellence. Or at least have the decency to get out of the way.

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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