Author: Bruce Deitrick Price

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Bruce Deitrick Price discusses these themes (and d

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Lenin asked his famous question in 1901: “What is to be done” Today in education, that question remains as hot and urgent as an oncoming hurricane

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Lenin asked his famous question in 1901: “What is to be done?”

Today in education, that question remains as hot and urgent as an oncoming hurricane.

The Education Establishment has spent 100 years making public schools dumber. That’s a common impression which, after years of research, I could finally explain. John Dewey and his colleagues were in love with social engineering. In devotion to this passion, they were willing to throw almost everything else overboard. (You might think socialists could run good schools. But Dewey and
his disciples fixated on a vision of empty brains, which the schools would fill in just the politically correct way.)

You can easily imagine that Dewey’s approach will play havoc with education as traditionally understood. Dewey regarded that old-fashioned kind of education as, at best, a nuisance. And there, in that little sentence, you have 100 years of dumb and dumber.

So now, let’s suppose that we had people in charge of education who understood that Dewey’s non-education was a vast historical detour, and now is a good time to put our schools back on track. What would they do?? Let’s cut to the chase. Here’s how we resurrect our public schools in just four easy steps:

1) SCHOOLS ARE SAFE AND SANE. Violence is not an acceptable option. Students are asked to act with civility toward others. A strong principal (this is what I call the Principal Principle) should spell out what is expected of parents, teachers and students. Namely, good manners. When discipline problems occur, there should be a clearly articulated spectrum of responses, from a friendly chat to calling the police. Everyone must know the school’s expectations, and that if expectations are not met, the school’s responses will increase in a predictable way. This is precisely what almost all students, teachers and parents are yearning for.

2) BASICS SKILLS AND FUNDAMENTAL KNOWLEDGE ARE TAUGHT. The Education Establishment scorns fundamental knowledge. Just as bad, the elite educators have promoted one counter-productive method after another. As a result of these unfortunate policies, the public is thoroughly confused about what can reasonably be taught and accomplished in school.

Let’s imagine somebody was raised in the woods for 25 years and now wants to return to the ordinary world as a normal adult. What information does that person need to know? There are hundreds of basic things such as the hours in the day, which way the North Pole is, what somebody is talking about when they say “the Nile.” You start in pre-K and you teach the names of the oceans and continents. You work your way through the full range of basic knowledge. All of this goes right along with learning to read, learning to write, and learning arithmetic, a few steps each week. The goal is to give ordinary children a sense of confidence and comfort. Facts are fun. Knowledge is power. Decide what an educated adult would ideally know; start teaching it the first day.

NOT doing this is the crazy, wasteful option. Every course after elementary school presupposes some foundational knowledge, some preliminary layers of information. For example, you can’t teach American History or World History if children don’t already know the names of oceans, continents, major countries, rivers, etc.

The Education Establishment came up with methods whose true purpose seems not to be teaching, but stunting and retarding everything. One result is that we no longer know what ordinary kids are capable of. Let’s teach them a little each day--slow, steady and systematic. I am sure that so-called ordinary kids will amaze us.

3) GOOD TEACHERS ARE NECESSARY. There are two ingredients. Teachers must major in the subjects they will teach. Biology teachers must be expert at biology. Second, they must be comfortable speaking before any size crowd. Most of what happens now in schools of education should be eliminated as a waste of time. Instead, future teachers should spend months at Toastmasters, comedy training, or acting school, plus months of classroom training. Know your subject and feel comfortable explaining that subject in front of any kind of crowd, now you’re a teacher.

4) TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY ARE ESSENTIAL. The intent of the system is everything. Do the people in charge of the school sincerely intend it to be safe, secure, logical and productive? Then it will happen. At the least, it can happen. Which is not the case if the people in charge have lesser goals and secret agenda. So the first step is to announce the real goals, rally support for them, and thereby make them a reality.

Of course you have quizzes and tests and papers. Of course you have homework. Of course you have a constant feedback from students so that they know how they’re doing, so their parents know how they’re doing, and so the teachers know how they are doing. All of these are aspects of transparency and accountability.

The rage against testing (which we have heard so much about for the past 50 years) was never about testing. The Education Establishment didn’t want to teach facts and knowledge. To conceal the inevitable ignorance, the educators had to get rid of tests.

IN SUMMARY: So much of modern public education is a distraction and a decoy. The parents and voters are given false choices to discuss and bad choices to vote on. Let’s say you have an obese child. The Education Establishment would have us discussing whether to give the child ice cream, pie or cake. No, all of those choices are bad. We first want to get the child in more athletic shape, with less eating and more exercise.

With regard to the schools, we first want to have them totally committed to a knowledge-based curriculum, openly explained and systematically pursued. This approach is quickly summed up with three words--Basics, Knowledge, Mastery (BKM). Finally, a school's minimum necessary mission is to take each child as far as each child can go.

(For more on these themes, see “38: Saving Public Schools” on

Bruce Deitrick Price is the founder of, an education and intellectual site.
One focus is reading; see "42: Reading Resources."
Price is an author, artist and poet. His fifth book is "THE EDUCATION ENIGMA--What Happened to American Education."

Bruce Deitrick Price is the founder of, an education and intellectual site.
One focus is problems in the schools; see "56: Top 10 Worst Ideas in Education."
Price is an author, artist and poet. His fifth book is "THE EDUCATION ENIGMA."



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About the Author

Bruce Deitrick Price discusses these themes (and dozens of others) on his site See, in particular, "38: Saving Public Schools." His fifth book is THE EDUCATION ENIGMA--What Happened To American Education.