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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Gatto Was Right

As followers of this blog are aware, I have been reading John Taylor Gatto's Underground History of American Education. There are problems with his thesis. He does not explain why schools are bad in Canada and the UK, among other developed nations, not just in the US. His references often do not check out. But on reflection, I want to take back one objection expressed here previously. This is that Gatto sees every “reform” introduced as making schools worse. They can hardly all have been bad, can they?

Actually, yes, they can.

Witness this recent “reform” initiative in Mississippi. Unbelievably, the local legislature is proposing to have teachers issue evaluations to parents. This is the exact opposite of how schools used to function—the local parents hired and fired the teacher. It is also the exact opposite of what we know is in the best interests of the students, which is to have the customer evaluate the quality of instruction. This is positively Orwellian.

Michelle Rhee is another case in point. She has built up a great reputation as a “school reformer.” As chancellor of the D.C. schools, her technique was simple: she personally observed the teachers, and issued a lot of pink slips. The problem is, classroom observation, according to everything we know from studies, is purely subjective. She was doing nothing to improve the schools; only to express her own personal preferences. In the meantime, probably convincing the best teachers to avoid the DC system at all costs. A purely destructive “reform.” It is just a very good way for educationists to enforce a party line and punish dissent.

The Lyndon Johnson administration followed up “Operation Head Start” with a massive experiment, probably the largest educational experiment ever undertaken, to see what might improve the early grade school years, “Operation Follow Through.” Various schools of education submitted their best instructional plans. Most of them performed worse in the testing than schools outside the project, pursuing business a usual. The one clear winner was a system, Direct Instruction, devised not by a teachers' college or an academic, but by an advertising executive.

Yet more telling, despite the great amount of time and money spent and the clear result, Direct Instruction has never been widely used in the schools. Few teachers have ever heard of it, or even of Operation Follow Through. These things are not spoken of in Teachers' Colleges. The results were, in effect, buried, and never heard of again. Shades of Gatto's conspiracy theories.

It cannot all be just coincidence. And, on reflection, it is not. There are two factors at work here. First, as Adam Smth pointed out, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Much blame must fall on teachers' unions, which not incidentally, there being lot of people employed as teachers, have a lot of cash to pass out at election time to politicians they can trust to do their bidding. Moreover, leaving educational reform to the professional teachers is always a plausible approach with the public.

Given this power, the teachers' first instinct, as Adam Smith warned, is to make things better for teachers, not students.

So much might be said of other professions, of course, although none are as big and so as politically powerful as the teachers. But why must the interests of teachers always run counter to the interests of students? Here's why.

Teaching is mostly common sense. It cannot be made “scientific,” because people are too complex, and the investigator is a person as well. Fellow humans cannot logically, morally or as a practical matter be reduced to “objects.” Teaching is therefore mostly intuitive, like performing on the stage. On top of that, anyone who has graduated from high school has spent twelve years full time observing various teaching techniques, and should have a good idea what works and what does not. As good an idea as they are ever going to get. This being so, obviously, Teacher's Colleges can convey very little of any value.

Nevertheless, teachers' claims to high pay are based on the claim that they have special expertise and training not available to the rest of us. They are a “profession.”

Given that incoming education students already know all the best ways to teach, and these are common sense or intuitive, schools of education must instead constantly introduce new techniques which fly in the face of common sense, and consequently do not work. If they worked, the students would already know them. To maintain the idea of a “profession” with definite technical skills, teachers' unions and administrators must insist on enforcing these techniques. Worse, once a new innovation becomes widespread, good or bad, it becomes familiar to the next crop of incoming education students. They can do it without going to Teachers' College. So new theories must be constantly produced, each crazier and further from common sense than the last. None, of course, have any kind of empirical warrant, for the very good reason that they do not, in fact, work. Yet the ability to expound on them and apply them become proof that one has attended education school, and so is properly qualified.

As a result, over time, as Gatto has observed, the schools become worse and worse.

Predictably, therefore, home schooled students consistently do better than those in public schools—largely because they are taught by people who have never been to teachers' college. Private schools, in places where they are allowed to hire teachers who have not been professionally certified, produce better results than the public schools. How else can this be so? Can you think of another “profession” you are better off doing without, just doing the job for yourself? Dentistry? Law? Medicine? Brain surgery?

No wonder the teachers of Mississippi want the right to evaluate parents. It is classic misdirection, typical of the devil's work. The best defense is a strong offense.

Solution: 1. Defund education schools. 2. Ignore teacher certification. 3. Ban teachers'unions.

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