How the American Education System Suppresses Critical Thinking
Joe David | January 11, 2018
Freshman Donald Wiggins takes a final exam at the Forestville Military Academy in Forestville, Maryland. Micah Walter/Getty Images
(Observer) – One mother in a popular magazine once told a reporter about what she thought was happening in the schools. “It’s the brightest, the best and the most sensitive who are at risk,” she said. “We’re losing them, and we don’t know why.” Well, dear mother, you are wrong. We do know why. It’s because the children are bright and sensitive and the best! Social planners have no tolerance for such students, because they may revolt against an establishment that’s out to control them.
During my 18 years in public and private schools, I had never felt that I had enough good teachers. Only a few stand out as defenders of clear thinking. The majority, on the other hand, were intellectual robots who expected me to accept biased information, fed by rote and unprocessed critically. If I ever dared to challenge them, they would shoot me down with righteous and noisy disapproval before disgracefully dismissing me.
In an article entitled, “Undoing the Dis-Education of Millennials,” the author, Adam MacLeod, an associate professor at Faulkner University’s Jones School of Law, summarized his observation of his students. “For several years now my students have been mostly Millennials. Contrary to stereotype, I have found that the vast majority of them want to learn. But true to stereotype, I increasingly find that most of them cannot think, don’t know very much, and are enslaved to their appetites and feelings. Their minds are held hostage in a prison fashioned by elite culture and their undergraduate professors.”
It saddens me to agree with Professor MacLeod. It is very rare to find a student with a fresh point of view, derived from clear thinking, secured in place by sound knowledge. Too many of them utter popular catchphrases that lack in-depth understanding of the subject. Their minds float around in orbit on some stratospheric level, which is only casually connected to reality. Educators have carefully achieved this by systematically stripping students of their adventurous appetite for knowledge and loading them down with fake information. The good students, those striving for high-level professional careers, often end up like those in Professor MacLeod’s class—with limited knowledge and weak reasoning skills. Since both are needed for survival in the business world, any attempt to smother a student’s fire within for knowledge (as I identify it in my book of the same name) is, in my opinion, the act of an evil person out to cripple autonomous man.
How did our country slip so fast, so innocently (it seems) to this state, from a powerful nation with a great educational system to what we know today? Here are a few examples of how it was done during my teaching days in the public schools:
- Promoting students who haven’t first mastered primary skills;
- Deluding the value of important subjects that sharpen thinking skills and deepen understanding (like math, science, history, logic, and language);
- Rewarding students indiscriminately not by ability or achievement, but by race, gender, color or background;
- Teaching reading by the look-say, not the phonic method;
- Grouping students in a class heterogeneously, not homogeneously in order to make it harder for teachers to teach;
- Reducing learning to the common denominator with special-needs students as the benchmark;
- Favoring indoctrination and rote learning to the Socratic approach to teaching;
- Coddling students and stroking their self-esteem while ignoring their education;
- And giving students the power to compromise teachers who dare to challenge them.
The responsibility for this type of educational practice isn’t just limited to educators. Our U.S. presidents are also active contributors to the problems in education. Each one generously does this by setting the tone for education, when elected into office, by the programs he expects the Department of Education to implement. Lloyd Bentsen IV, senior research fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, in his report last year, identified in his report four federal education reform initiatives that have failed after billions of dollars were irresponsibly pumped into the school system.
- Goals 2000 (under Bill Clinton’s Administration): This program supported a framework for identifying academic standards for measuring student progress and for providing students with the support needed to meet these standards. Results: “Mandates hidden in the small print caused many states to scrap the program.”
- No Child Left Behind (under George Bush’s Administration): The primary goal of this program was to boost test scores. Results: “Education was damaged as students were coached to pass tests rather than taught a rich curriculum to prepare them for life in the 21st century.”
- Race to the Top (under Barack Obama’s Administration): This program provided “robust plans to address four key areas of K-12 education reform.” Results: “By 2012, states were largely behind schedule in meeting goals for improving instruction and school and educational outcomes. Many states experienced substantial setbacks due to unrealistic promises and unexpected challenges.”
- Common Core (under Barack Obama’s Administration): This program set standards for what students should learn on each grade level. Results: There is a backlash and a withdrawal of support because of the “growing concerns over the program, such as the cost and classroom time consumed by state tests.”
Although these costly programs all sounded noble in theory, each one, when implemented, brought some degree of instability to the teaching process. In each case, success was hindered by a lack of intelligent planning. To compound failure, many seasoned teachers, aware of the outcome, based on their experience, treated the programs for what they were—fads without any serious long-term educational value. For many of them, they saw these programs as an irresponsible way to add another layer of confusion to the educational process. I once called government education a multi-billion-dollar racket. In truth, it is more than that. It has become a propaganda machine used by the establishment to strengthen its political base with the next generation of voters. By weakening learning with unsuitable programs and creating academic chaos in the process, it has widened the opportunity for teachers who may have a particular political bent to indoctrinate students without accountability and prepare their students for a new world order.
What do we do to bring this all to a halt? The answer is simple. We must free education of government intervention and give parents the autonomy to choose the type of education that best suits their child’s needs.