American Schools: Fantasy, Farce, and Fraud


1. School Is Hell

2. Functions of Education

3. Who Screwed Up Education: the School Wreckers

4. Characters and their Psychology

5. Why Students Learn

6. Young People and Society

7. The Good School System

8. Glossary

9. Conclusion

Chapter 1

School Is Hell

The American Education Establishment has a highly inflated view of what schools should and can do. As a result, most of what is called education is a joke. It is a colossal waste of time and money. It is a noble idea fueled by fantasy, perverted into a farce, and permeated with fraud.

Americans are continually concerned about the quality of education although historically this concern has an ebb and flow to it. Currently, our concern is probably on the leading edge of an ebb because, first of all, America has a short attention span for this kind of issue and, secondly, because we have been working at making schools better for quite some time; it isn't working; and we're tired of trying.

I remember back in the '70s the most prominent guru on organizations - mainly business ventures - a man named Peter Drucker wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal in which he in effect argued that education hadn't suddenly gotten bad; it has always been bad. I was a young teacher at the time and I was stunned by this conclusion. I didn't want to think of myself as a cog in a broken wheel. As decades of teaching rolled by I concluded that Drucker was right.

The main reason why American schools are a disaster is not because we don't know how to teach. It is mainly because we do not fully understand what we want our schools to do - which means, of course, that the education system cannot have a clear set of priorities. Even if schools think they have priorities, they do not. If schools had a single spokesman to speak for them, he would mouth some simplistic platitude like "schools exist to teach kids what they need to lead productive lives." How can anyone disagree with that? I don't.

But when schools apply this philosophy, they assume that everyone needs virtually the same thing and if they are teaching it now it is because everyone needs it. Schools try to be all things to all people. Any institution that tries that will end up being very little to almost everyone. That's exactly what has happened to America's school - they do very little good for a very few.

Over the years the list of what students need to lead productive lives has grown. Schools have been mandated not only to teach the 3R's but also morality, self-esteem, bicycle safety, nutrition, self-fulfillment, tolerance, art and music appreciation, etc. The list goes on and on. All of this sounds pretty good, doesn't it? I think so. Probably 90% of what schools do is worthwhile in an absolute sense and to someone, but it isn't worthwhile for everyone. I know in my case most of my time as a student was a waste. High school was the worst. It bored me, annoyed me, frustrated me, tortured me - school was hell. And I was a good student. It was hell for everyone although some would deny that. They were the "school heads" who worked hard, and who made such a powerful emotional commitment to school, that then - and now - they cannot admit that they were wasting so much of their time.

American schools pride themselves on their attention to the individual and the unique needs of each student. That is a delusion. American education is much closer to a one-size-fits-all model than an every-child-according-to-his-needs approach. Our attitude is that if something is good for someone, it must be good for everyone. With very limited flexibility, everyone must learn the same things.

SCHOOL IS HELL! It is hard, it is painful; it is frustrating; it is mendacious; it is wasteful. By its nature education has to be difficult, but schools do not have to be the kind of wasteful and demeaning hell they are today. Schools are bad for students, for teachers, for parents, and for taxpayers.

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