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By Bruce Deitrick Price

Many pundits note that our public schools are sunk in mediocrity. Bill Gates concluded the schools are so bad they threaten the country’s economic future.

Less often noted is the obtuseness of so much that goes on in the schools. Professors of education seem to prefer flimsy theories and counter-productive methods. Then, to excuse the pervasive failure, the elite educators blame parents, kids, teachers, TV, popular culture, computers, and everything but their theories.

Rooting out all these bad ideas is the simplest, most inexpensive way to improve the schools:

The kingfish of dumb since 1935 is Whole Word, which demands that children memorize thousands of words as shapes. Can’t be done. Rudolf Flesch explained the craziness in 1955; but our Education Establishment went right on. Still today, little kids are forced to memorize sight-words and to guess, instead of simply learning to read.


(Reading is that one essential skill that all students must acquire early in their education, or everything else will suffer. But guess what? Our Education Establishment came up with a reading pedagogy that guaranteed tens of millions of children would never become fluent readers. We should all be endlessly fascinated by bad reading theory. It tells us so much about the people who concocted it.)

The next bogus pedagogy was called New Math and, later, Reform Math. The common denominator in the different curricula (different in that they have different names on the textbooks) is that children must wade through a hodgepodge of simple arithmetic and advanced high school or college topics. Reform Math introduced the idea of ‘spiraling’ from topic to topic, even as mastery is more or less forbidden. Reform Math does not teach much math, so calculators are mandatory.

Another bad mutation is called Constructivism, a fad that now appears in all courses for all ages. In essence, teachers are not allowed to teach; they must be facilitators. Simply put, students are not allowed to be taught, precisely the activity that schools have engaged in for thousands of years. Instead, little kids who hardly know how to tie their shoes are supposed to discover the knowledge that an educated person should know. Puzzle over how children will ever learn that the United States has 50 states, Paris is the capital of France, or Mississippi is the name of a long river — unless a teacher tells them. In fact, children need as much basic information taught to them as quickly as can be managed; this natural development is blocked by Constructivism.

Still another clunker is Self-Esteem. And doesn’t this sound benign and helpful? In practice, kids are fussed over, making them complacent and lazy. Worse, Self-Esteem is used to justify curtailing the curriculum to the point where every student can earn an A. This dumbing-down is done in the name of enhancing Self-Esteem. But it’s a ruse. Genuine Self-Esteem comes by taking on difficult tasks and doing them successfully.

And so it goes throughout the school day. Cooperative Learning dictates that children work in groups; as a result, they don’t learn to think for themselves. Multiculturalism demands that children study far-off cultures, so there’s little time to learn about their own.

If any of these methods ever seems elusive and difficult to describe, give credit where it is due. Our top educators seem to spend careers devising ever more verbose scaffolding for less and less substantial concepts.

Toss out the clunkers, return to education as the transmission of knowledge, and we will have instant improvement.

About the Author: Bruce Deitrick Price is the founder of

, an education and intellectual site. One focus is reading; see “42: Reading Resources.” Also see “56: Top 10 Worst Ideas in Education.” Price is an author, artist and poet. His fifth book is “THE EDUCATION ENIGMA–What Happened to American Education.”


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