Politics, education, and the choice of ignorance

If you’re like me, you sense fewer Americans than ever understand what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they authored the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Our education system – both K12 and colleges – are clearly a part of the problem.

Excerpts from two recent op eds. First up is – “Dumb and Dumber, By Choice” by Dan Kennedy from October 23, 2009.

“Presently, a huge percentage of the population – some 40 million Americans – read at the lowest literacy level.

A big, fat percentage of voters can’t read. Another bigger, fat hunk of ‘em won’t read. Refuse to read. And they, full of opinions, utterly uninformed and ignorant, blithely go about imposing their will on us all. This is a cancerous threat from within to our very survival as a nation, hardly being mentioned by the media.”

Kennedy’s article also included this:

“Now we have an epic, transformative-as-promised transfer of private power, wealth, and privacy rights from citizens to government underway, out in the open to great extent, absent mass protest. Why? Ignorance, laziness, complacency. But mostly ignorance.

Asking around I can’t find a single person who says they are ‘for’ Obama-care who has read any in-depth analysis of it anywhere or can answer the first five questions I ask them about it.”

Our political class relies heavily on that ignorance. They know, Kennedy writes, that Americans are far more interested in “American Idol” or fantasy football leagues than what’s happening to their country.

The next is a piece by Sol Stern: “E. D. Hirsch’s Curriculum for Democracy; A content-rich pedagogy makes better citizens and smarter kids.”

There are so many important things is this article it’s a must read for anyone interested in what ails our public schools, as well as why our democracy is being over-run by taxeaters.

Years ago, “[E.D.] Hirsch conducted an experiment on reading comprehension, using two groups of college students.”

“Members of the first group possessed broad background knowledge in subjects like history, geography, civics, the arts, and basic science; members of the second, often from disadvantaged homes, lacked such knowledge. The knowledgeable students, it turned out, could far more easily comprehend and analyze difficult college-level texts (both fiction and nonfiction) than their poorly informed brethren could. Hirsch had discovered ‘a way to measure the variations in reading skill attributable to variations in the relevant background knowledge of audiences.’

This finding, first published in a psychology journal, was consistent with Hirsch’s past scholarship, in which he had argued that the author takes for granted that his readers have crucial background knowledge. Hirsch was also convinced that the problem of inadequate background knowledge began in the early grades.”

Hirsch wrote the book “Cultural Literacy,” and in 1987 it remained on the New York Times’bestseller list for 26 weeks. He later launched “the Core Knowledge Foundation, which sought to create a knowledge-based curriculum for the nation’s elementary schools.”

Stern writes this:

“Influenced by the Romantics, progressive-education doctrine held that children learn best ‘naturally’ and that we should not drill ‘lifeless’ facts into their developing minds. Such views, which became prevalent in American teacher training by the 1920s, Hirsch shows, represented a sharp break with the Founding Fathers, who believed that children needed to learn a coherent, shared body of knowledge for the new democracy to work. Thomas Jefferson even proposed a common curriculum, so that children’s ‘memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European, and American history.'”

And this:

“The idea that schools could starve children of factual knowledge, yet somehow encourage them to be ‘critical thinkers’ and teach them to ‘learn how to learn,’ defied common sense.”

Hirsch “summoned irrefutable evidence from the hard sciences to eviscerate progressive-ed doctrines,” and as a result he has been the target of attacks from the ed-school establishment for decades.

“Hirsch shrugs off these slights and keeps working. At 81, he has written what may be his most important book, “The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools,” which deepens his argument about the American Founders’ support for core knowledge.

Hirsch recounts the famous story of Benjamin Franklinleaving the Constitutional Convention and being asked by a lady, ‘Well, Doctor, what have we got?’ Franklin’s memorable answer: ‘A Republic, madam, if you can keep it.’ Inculcating young Americans in the new democratic civic religion, the Founders believed, was the best way to ‘keep the Republic’ and preserve it from ‘factions,’ voters who cared only about their own groups’ narrow interests.

Schools needed to help create virtuous, civic-minded, and knowledgeable citizens-and the best way for them to do that was to teach the same grade-by-grade curriculum to each child. ‘The school would be the institution that would transform future citizens into loyal Americans,’ Hirsch writes. ‘It would teach common knowledge, virtues, ideals, language, and commitments.'”

Instead of public schools being involved in “the making of Americans” (Hirsch’s words) schools of education are closed to Hirsch’s work, and instead, readings “by radical education thinkers such asPaulo Freire, Jonathan Kozol, and ex-Weatherman Bill Ayers are common.”

“From these texts, prospective teachers will learn that the purpose of schooling in America isn’t to create knowledgeable, civic-minded citizens, loyal to the nation’s democratic institutions, as Jefferson dreamed, but rather to undermine those institutions and turn children into champions of ‘social justice’ as defined by today’s America-hating far Left.”

Friends, we have a lot of work to do. A Republican Renaissance isn’t an option, since political reform must precede policy reform. And one of the most important public policy areas requiring reform is education.