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The Education Enigma by Bruce Deitrick Price
Bruce Price : Excerpts from The Education Enigma

The Education Enigma

Three excerpts from "THE EDUCATION ENIGMA—What Happened To American Education," a book by Bruce Deitrick Price.

The Art of Teaching

A very nice lady in Texas told me (in no uncertain terms) that I must read "The Art of Teaching" by Gilbert Highet. So I did!

I have to report that this book, from the perspective of modern educators, is woefully quaint and curious.

Poor old Professor Highet actually had the audacity to insist that a teacher "must know what he teaches...It is not enough for a chemistry teacher to know just that amount which is taught in schools and required for the final examinations. He must really understand the subject of chemistry...One cannot understand the rudiments of an important subject without knowing its higher levels—at least, not well enough to teach it...A teacher must believe in the value and interest of his subject as a doctor believes in health."

Is the man not crazy? We will have to throw out the bulk of modern pedagogy. Ed schools claim you shouldn't bother knowing a subject. Content, smontent! Who needs it? You must instead know methods, theories, and politically correct attitudes. Here is the all-too-typical route: pay little attention in high school, get mediocre grades, retain as little as possible. In college, major in Education or Psychology; be sure to learn no facts from outside this gated community. Finally, get a Masters in Education; ditto. Now, you are fully prepared to teach Chemistry, History, Math and the rest.

Please. Even educators know this is bunk, humbug, and bull.

Thinking Critically About So-Called Critical Thinking

Needless to say, there's a two-step process: first, students learn a lot about a topic, whether in history, science or art; then they learn to arrange the information in new ways, to set one fact against another, to discover original insights about this knowledge.

Not anymore! Today's educators don't bother with the first part. They jump directly to step two. In this scenario, students who know nothing are expected to talk intelligently about it. Imagine the depth.

Having just heard about X, could you discuss X? For example, the Ottoman Empire, its rise and fall? If you are like me, you know nothing about this complex subject. We will seem completely goofy if we try to discuss it. Talk about low self-esteem! Try chatting about the Ottoman Empire when you know nothing about it.

Far from empowering our students, this upside-down approach just makes them feel foolish and inadequate.

Today's educators have many obtuse dogmas, perhaps the chief of which is that students need not memorize (that is, know) anything. Everyone must have an empty head. But that's not bad enough. Then the educators want to add charade on top of ignorance. Students are supposed to engage in deep and meaningful thinking about all the things they don't know.

Phooey on John Dewey

First off, let it be stated that John Dewey was a phenomenally brainy and productive guy. During a long life, he wrote more articles and books than you could read in a year. Indeed, he wrote so much on so many topics that he surely said some things that you would agree with, no matter what your opinions are. In some weird way, he made everyone a Deweyite. For example, in his book "The School and Society" he perfectly states my own philosophy on education: "What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children." Exactly. The problem is that the onslaught of Dewey's words has tended to work against that goal. His efforts, in their totality, have tended to create precisely the sort of education that the best and wisest parent wouldn't wish on a tuna. •

© 2009 Bruce Deitrick Price

Bruce Deitrick Price is an author, artist, poet, and education activist. More »

8/5/09