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56: Top 10 Worst Ideas In Education

Top 10
Worst Ideas
In Education 
Bill Gates concluded that public schools are so bad they are a threat to the national economy and the society’s long-term survival. Why might a shrewd observer think this?
What is it that most needs fixing?
Herewith the 10 worst ideas in public education:

1) BOGUS READING INSTRUCTION -- Whole Word, Sight Words, and Dolch Words (there are many aliases) have created 50 million functional illiterates, for the simple reason that this method does not work. (No one learns to read fluently with Sight-Words. Some people learn to read, if at all, IN SPITE OF of Sight-Words.) This hoax and the accompanying gimmicks known as guessing, picture clues, et al should be eliminated from the schools. 

2) REFORM MATH -- Arithmetic jumbled and mumbled. Reform Math is a monster with many names (Connected Math, Chicago Math, Mathland, etc.) created by the same people who gave us New Math and now want to give us Core Standards. Reform Math forbids mastery, requires spiraling from topic to topic, and promotes using a calculator to compensate for a lack of basic skills. 

3) COOPERATIVE LEARNING -- Students always work in groups. A good approach for fostering a herd sensibility; a dreadful approach for creating independent thinkers and self-starters.

4) CONSTRUCTIVISM -- A destructive fad. Teachers are reduced to facilitators, their knowledge and academic training rendered moot. Students are required to invent their own new knowledge. This process will be long and slow. After all, the human race has been around for millennia and has collected tens of thousands of prime facts, insights, discoveries, theories, etc. What sort of loon turns a child loose with this order: try to recapitulate the intellectual history of the human race? (A far better approach is to give children a wide range of foundational knowledge ASAP.) 

5) WAR AGAINST CONTENT -- A  witless policy pursued since the time of John Dewey. The apparent goal is to make sure that children learn as little as possible. In any case, that is the result.

6) NO MEMORIZATION -- This is standard operating procedure in all grades and in all courses. It is an excellent policy if you wish to ensure cultural illiteracy and societal amnesia.

7) SELF-ESTEEM -- Another destructive fad now rampant. Students must be praised even when they do bad work. Furthermore, a concern for self-esteem can justify eliminating virtually all content from classrooms, on the grounds that some students won’t be able to handle the material. A quiet plague.

8) MULTICULTURALISM -- This sophistry requires children to learn more about faraway cultures, both in miles and years, than about their own. As the children have no frame of reference for understanding other cultures, little information is retained, other than the persistent message: your own country is no damn good. Multiculturalism helps in the war against content. Kids are kept busy, going nowhere.

9) HOSTILITY TO GENUINE TESTING -- A helpful policy if you wish to conceal that children aren't learning much. (A complex point. If schools are genuinely trying to teach knowledge, they will want to find out how much the students are learning. Same as it ever was. Problem is, in the schools today there is a lot of disingenuous testing of trivial things that didn't need be taught in the first place. Common Core Math illustrates this phenomenon.)

10) TOO MANY IMPOSTORS -- Ideologues pretend to care about education even while focused on manipulating the minds of millions of children. (Keep these extremists away from the schools, and the other nine problems will miraculously vanish.)


BONUS PROBLEM: the Top 10 work in perfect harmony to dumb down the schools, and make them the threat to our future that Bill Gates saw. 


GOOD NEWS: These bizarre and bogus methods are not automatic or inherent. They had to be smuggled into the public schools. They can be discarded. First step: encouraging people to look closely at them. 


All the issues mentioned on this page are explained in




RE: false reading theory, see “42: Reading Resources”


RE: Reform Math, see: “36: The Assault on Math”

RE: Constructivism, see “34: The Con in Constructivism”


RE: The War on Content, see "45: The Crusade Against Knowledge" 


RE: Learning Styles, see "51: How Educators Divide and Conquer"


RE: Cooperative Learning, see "57: Cooperative Learning"


RE: Prior Knowledge, see "62: Prior Knowledge


RE: Project-Based Learning, see "63: "Project-Based Learning"  






None of this perspective should be attributed to Bill Gates. In fact, my worry is that his own solutions are too weighted toward the administrative, bureaucratic, procedural, and/or financial aspects of education.


More and more, I’m thinking that everything depends on the intentions of the people running the school. If these people sincerely believe in knowledge, facts, basics, mastery, and so on, then you will have a good school, even if it's in a tent in the jungle. 


If on the other hand, these people scorn the basics and instead embrace the nonsense described above, then you will have a dreadful school, no matter how many billions you pour into the pit.


Here's the sine qua non: all the kids can read, write and count, confidently and independently, by the third or fourth grade. The Three R's remain the launch pad for everything else.


(An easy way to understand the actual consequences

of so-called Progressive Education is that schools were given fancy pretexts for disdaining the Three R's.)  


The quick answer: "New American Curriculum"






© Bruce Deitrick Price 2011-2017