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How Children Should – and Should Not be Educated: By Branehart

How Children should – and should not – be Educated

By Branehart


We’ve heard about the problems in American schools: incompetent teachers; ridiculous punishments under “zero tolerance” rules; bullying and assaults, sexual and otherwise, between teachers and students; unbelievable amounts of homework, cutting into families’ private lives; and worst of all, the dumbing down of kids who graduate not having learned anything. Because parents and other Americans have been intellectually disarmed to the point they are unable to figure out why any of this is happening, however, they have become helpless to stop it. So they have no choice but to accept the standard lines given like “it’s from the breakdown of the family” or “insufficient funding” or (my favorite) “parents aren’t involved enough in their children’s educations”, etc.

The real cause of all of these problems and their deleterious effects on American society is not, however, from the “breakdown of the family” or the children’s parents or a lack of “funding”. It is Progressive Education, which has been ubiquitous since the 1920’s in not only American public schools but also many private ones. The purpose of Progressive Education is to deliberately dumb down American children so they become intellectually unable to mount effective opposition to liberalism. As I said in my blog post “Why Liberals are such, uh, JERKS (and what to do about them)” (November 2015), to keep their racket of looting their victims going liberals have to intellectually disarm them so they don’t understand what’s happening and are unable to mount any kind of effective philosophical opposition to it. Intellectual disarmament means the inability to validate or invalidate abstract ideas or facts.  If people are bombarded by ideas or facts that they can’t validate or invalidate, they are helpless to effectively oppose them and eventually end up accepting them by default and the liberals’ racket rolls on unopposed.

Progressive Education is the brainchild of the American philosopher John Dewey, who formulated its basic principles during the 1910’s and 1920’s. As I noted in my previous post, “The History of Thinking in Western History” (November 2015) he has been the most influential American philosopher since the end of the Enlightenment, largely because of the influence Progressive Education has had on American society.

Born in Vermont in 1859 Dewey was a Progressive Era liberal Democrat, a professor at University of Chicago and Columbia University, and a founder of the ACLU along with Roger Nash Baldwin. Most importantly he believed in the anti-thinking ideas of Immanuel Kant and Georg Hegel, softening Hegel’s political language to cater to (and hoodwink) a more freedom-loving American audience. For example in Hegel’s native Germany people accepted the idea that the authority they were to blindly obey was the state. However in the United States Americans were leery of big government, so according to Dewey people were to obey the dictates of “society” (with, of course, the state as “society’s de facto spokesman).

There is a correct way to teach children so they learn how to think properly. For this to happen though, a child can’t be given a lecture on the thinking process like the one in my previous blog post “How we get our Values: The Thinking Process” (October 2015); the language is too abstract for him, he lacks the context to understand it, and thus cannot yet make sense of it. Instead the child learns thinking from his teachers, who demonstrate the process by presenting material in a logical hierarchy with new material integrated with that previously learned. New material must always be integrated with that previously learned from which it builds off of, so that nothing is left “floating” in the students’ minds, irrelevant to anything else. In this way the student develops a mental context into which he can integrate and understand any new information he comes into contact with throughout his life, and consequently becomes able to properly understand reality and achieve his values.

The process of educating children begins in nursery school where they are taught simple, concrete perceptual-level concepts like simple entities the child is familiar with, such as dogs, cats, people, boys, girls, cars, buildings, trees, mountains, birds, fish, chairs, shirts, pants, coats, tables, plants, clouds, stars, insects, water, etc.  The child is also taught perceptual-level attributes of these concretes, including temperatures (e.g., hot, cold, warm, etc.), textures (rough, smooth, hard, soft, etc.), colors, sounds (high, low, loud, soft), shapes, sizes, tastes (salt, sweet, bitter, sour), and quantities (more than, less than, equal to), with this last being the basis for some very simple counting up to ten. This base of concrete concepts serves as the foundation onto which students will be able to integrate new information.[1]

Elementary school picks up where nursery school leaves off, teaching the “three R’s” of reading, writing and arithmetic. The proper way to teach reading, phonics, teaches children the alphabet first, presenting each letter as a distinct concept with a certain shape, specific sounds, and grammatical rules associated with it. Children memorize the letters by practicing writing them and saying the different sounds they make. From this understanding children can then learn words, which identify the concretes they know and are strings of the letters they just learned, and sentences, which are strings of the words they learned.  Once they learn words and sentences they can recognize and articulate concepts and facts, and meaningfully engage in the thinking process.

A vital advantage of phonics is by memorizing the alphabet children can then easily recognize and read any of thousands of words in a particular language by simply sounding out the letters in them. If a child ever comes across a word he is unfamiliar with, he can still sufficiently figure it out in this way to identify it and look up its meaning, making its usage intelligible to him. In this way he becomes fully literate. [2]  Children also use the understanding of quantities and counting they learned in nursery school as the base for learning arithmetic including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, exponents and roots.

Elementary school knowledge is in turn the base for the more abstract material presented in high school, which includes mathematics, history, literature and science.

Mathematics is the science of measurement and builds on arithmetic. It includes algebra, which adds to arithmetic the concept of a variable, a number that could exist in any quantity; geometry, the measurement of shapes; trigonometry, a geometry-algebra integration; and calculus, the mathematics of rate changes based on trigonometry. History gives students factual information about the social world and is primarily concerned with political history, because the organization of political systems is the most perceptually graspable aspect of societies and is a result of the dominant ideas of those societies. Literature, which builds off of reading and writing, uses fictional archetypes to present valuable conceptual information regarding the pursuit of values. Science provides factual information about the physical world and generally includes biology, the study of life; chemistry, the study of matter; and physics, the study of energy.

Throughout, the teacher always demonstrates the thinking process by integrating material within each subject into its proper context, using simpler concepts from earlier lessons as a base for more complex topics to come. An excellent example I’ve used in other blog posts to illustrate this is in arithmetic where a student first learns 6+4=10; then in algebra, a variable is added to the rules of arithmetic and the student learns 6x+4x=10x. In literature, fairly easy archetypes are introduced first, like the Gods in Greek mythology; then more complex archetypes, such as Shakespearean characters, are presented; then, complex ideas with the nineteenth century Romanticists like Hugo, Zola, Tolstoy, etc. The presentation of history is fairly straightforward, with events presented chronologically and later events shown as being caused by earlier ones. For example, in American history certain taxes and trade restrictions imposed by King George III of England caused the Boston Tea Party rebellion, which in turn caused the closing of Boston Harbor and the Intolerable Acts, which in turn caused the colonists to hold the First Continental Congress, raise an army and declare the American Revolution, a formal war on England.

The high school subjects of mathematics, history, literature and science are a necessary base for college courses that prepare students for their eventual careers. High school math and science courses are the base for courses in science, engineering, medicine, and architectural design at the college level, and high school history and literature courses are the base for college humanities courses in subjects such as philosophy, economics, psychology, political science, journalism and law. It is therefore vital that students get an adequate grounding in these four subjects.

As the student progresses, he must be tested and graded in some objective way to allow him to realize how well he is progressing. High grades mean he is learning the material well and should keep on doing what he’s been doing.  Low grades in contrast mean he is learning poorly and something needs to be done to improve the situation.

            None of this is characteristic of Progressive Education. Because it is designed to dumb down children rather than educate them, Dewey’s Progressive Education does the opposite of proper education: it presents material out of its logical hierarchy and out of context, so that it cannot be integrated but rather ends up an incomprehensible hash of floating, disconnected facts the student thinks has nothing to do with anything.

Dewey rationalized for this by claiming that a hierarchical, contextual presentation is “artificial” because information is not organized this way naturally “in experience”. Instead Dewey supported a random presentation of material that is “free” from “artificial constraints”, that will “be as it is confronted in experience”, and “… not externally imposed, because it is in accord with the growth of experience itself… the educator cannot start with knowledge already organized and proceed to ladle it out in doses”.[3] He believed in the passive role of the teacher as a catalyst (“…all that the educator can do is modify stimuli…”).[4] Dewey was hostile towards teaching important subjects and learning (“The notion that the “essentials” of elementary education are the three R’s mechanically treated, is based upon ignorance of the essentials needed for realization of democratic ideals.”).[5]  He formulated “class projects” where children “learn” out-of-context snippets rather than information organized hierarchically and placed in its proper context.[6]  He had an antipathy towards grading and tests (“Examinations are of use only so far as they test the child’s fitness for social life and reveal the place in which he can be of the most service …”).[7]  He was even hostile towards the pursuit of affluence.[8]

Two ways in which Progressive Education has been used to present material in a random hash to dumb students down in the past include “whole language” (also known as “look-say”) reading, which causes functional illiteracy, and “new math”, which prevents children from learning math.

Whole language reading teaches a child to read words before teaching letters. With whole language reading students ‘read’ by memorizing not the shapes of a few letters but of thousands of words, putting an enormous and unnecessary mental strain on the child. Because many English words with vastly different meanings look alike, like ‘peruse’ and ‘pursue’, whole language reading-educated students often confuse them, making the meaning of what they read unintelligible. Also, in contrast with phonics where a student can recognize any word in a language by simply learning the alphabet, whole language reading makes a student illiterate regarding any words he hasn’t learned yet.

New Math was a technique used in schools in the 1950’s whereby teachers went through the motions of appearing to teach math while actually talking gibberish. For example, 2 wasn’t presented as 1+1, but rather

“the equivalence class of ordered pairs of natural numbers… an ordered pair of natural numbers is the pair (7,5). This, intuitively, means 7-5.  However, (6,4), (4,2) … and millions of other pairs represent the same [number]. Two such ordered pairs (a,b) and (c,d) are called equivalent if a+d = b+c… Hence… 2 is the class of all ordered pairs equivalent to, say, (7,5). The “merit” of this definition is that one can, using only natural numbers, introduce the ordered pair…”. [9]

It should be obvious, no child can learn math from this garbage.

Something else schools do to dumb kids down under Progressive Education: scrambling up material in the aforementioned “class projects”.  For example, students may be told as a project to develop a solution to global warming and in doing so are allegedly expected to learn out-of-context snippets of biology, chemistry, political science, history, algebra, etc. in the process of doing it. This is ineffective because students get precisely that: out-of-context snippets of information, without any integration to anything the student already knows. When material is presented this way it is impossible for students to retain and learn anything.

Related to scrambling up material is teaching subjects without a proper predicate. In many elementary schools students are taught “current events” (with an emphasis on political events) before they have had the proper grounding with history and literature courses to enable them to understand in context the significance of these events.  The goal is to teach children that politics is an arbitrary bull session and the decision regarding whom to vote for can be based on mere whim. The students end up with no way of evaluating anything political. This is in part why, even several years after the fact, people believed the economic malaise of the late 1930s was still the fault of President Hoover rather than FDR, and believe the economic malaise today is still the fault of President George W. Bush rather than Barack Obama.

Sometimes schools teach literally nothing. With the advent of standardized testing, schools have become sensitive to their students’ scores.  So some schools have started ‘teaching to the test’, meaning passing out old exams and having students memorize the answers to questions that will be recycled and reused on upcoming exams. The students don’t actually learn anything, though their scores look good.

Schools also terrorize students, making them afraid to act on their judgment. One wrong move, no matter how slight, and your future is ruined. Dare to say ‘bang,  bang’ or point at someone with your fingers in the shape of a gun, or even bite into a pop tart the wrong way, or accidentally have a steak knife on the seat of your car while moving your belongings, and under so-called ‘zero tolerance’ policies you could be suspended, expelled or even prosecuted.

The deception continues on the college level, where bad ideas are taught to intellectually disarmed students. In addition to bad philosophies like Kant’s, professors proffer economic fallacies like those of John Maynard Keynes, who taught that it is government, rather than the private sector, that is the source of wealth; and that an economy is driven not by production of wealth, but rather by “consumer spending”.[10]

The ruse goes on today, with Progressive Education based scams like American history courses that don’t teach American history, and “outcome-based” education and the “common core” curriculum.

Although it is rarely this obvious, an excellent example of academia using Progressive Education to dumb down American schoolchildren occurred at Celebration, Florida in the late 1990’s. The Disney Company developed Celebration, a new town, with a public school in Osceola County near Walt Disney World. Disney wanted a state-of-art public school for the Celebration Development, so Disney put professors of education from prestigious universities in charge of designing the school’s curriculum and teaching practices.[11]

The school was marketed to parents as a place where new pedagogical techniques would turn their children into geniuses. A promotional film was made showing high school age students, after allegedly being educated with these techniques, reviewing complicated commercial contracts written in French as part of their class assignments (!).

But when the Celebration school actually opened parents found the truth was the exact opposite once they started sending their children there. The ensuing fraud and disaster could only be called Dewey does Disney.

According to the academicians’ plans kids of widely divergent age groups were grouped together in classrooms called “neighborhoods”, and were generally expected to teach themselves with teachers having a nominal role as “catalysts” rather than instructors.[12] There were no set times for teaching subjects, nor were there lectures where material was presented by subject and in its natural hierarchy, so that students would understand it in context. Instead, students were told to select “class projects”.[13] Also students didn’t have tests or receive grades, just vague evaluations such as “not yet”, “extending”, “in progress”, etc.[14]  There were no textbooks; instead, students were to use the internet, newspapers, and other sources that were not only potentially untrustworthy but also inappropriate for their knowledge level.[15] Instead of transcripts, students were told to develop “portfolios” of their work which they would submit to colleges.[16]  Students were also encouraged to be less ambitious about learning.[17]

Children raced around unsupervised in the “neighborhoods”, wasting time.[18] Many teachers were indifferent to the students.[19] Children learned nothing from their “class project” assignments. Students had trouble getting into college – even into the colleges that had designed the school’s curriculum(!) because they had portfolios, rather than transcripts with grade point averages.[20] When pressured by parents to give grades instead of evaluations, teachers gave students grades for courses they never took.[21]

Many families moved away from Celebration because of the school; when they did so, they were told by Disney not to tell anyone their reason for leaving.[22] When outraged parents complained to Disney, professors and school administrators, the Celebration Company secretly paid consultants to support the school and publicly smear and launch personal attacks against the complaining parents.[23] Furious parents organized a town meeting to demand that students be given textbooks, assignments, tests, grades, plus specific times for lectures in mathematics, history, literature and science.[24] The parents succeeded in getting the changes while the Celebration School principal, Dot Davis, openly insisted such changes, which initially had been militantly resisted by the academicians who designed the school’s curriculum, nevertheless had been “in the works” anyway.[25]

What happened in Celebration wasn’t because of misunderstandings, mistakes, or incompetence. It was John Dewey’s Progressive Education to the letter, chapter and verse from the man himself – and it is deliberately being spread by teachers’ colleges to potentially any school in the United States.  And although it may be an extreme case, there are thousands of more mild cases of Celebration-itis in schools all over the country.

What has been the cost to America from Progressive Education?  Economically it probably has meant perhaps hundreds of millions of American adults who are less educated and, as a consequence, less productive than they should be, working in businesses that are less productive and innovative than they should be. This causes there to be less economic activity and opportunity than there should be, and ultimately a slowdown in the increase in our standard of living. The loss in monetary terms of unrealized potential wealth is probably in the quadrillions (the number beyond trillions) of dollars (!). Culturally it has meant increased resentment, hatred and envy toward those who can think and be productive and a more destructive, nihilistic attitude among a large part of the population, leading to a coarsening of our culture. (For the explicit mechanics of this, read my post “Why Liberals are such, uh, JERKS (and what to do about them)”, November 2015.) Rather than go into any more specifics it suffices to say that if Progressive Education is not eventually stopped, America will end up full of Americans who will no longer, by the traditional definition of ‘American’, be Americans – and who will allow what makes America the greatest country in the world to vanish.

So Progressive Education must be stopped; now, about how to do it.

I really don’t see any way other than to eventually privatize all education, even on the university level, as an ultimate policy goal of conservatives. While some private schools use Progressive Education, ultimately government control over the lion’s share of educational establishments spreads it.  Governments implement policies that promote Progressive Education because, as said earlier, Progressive Education dumbs people down, making effective opposition to big government extremely difficult.  So while parents and advocacy groups might win individual battles like they did at Celebration, the public nature of the educational establishment will simply allow all the evils to be re-instituted at a later time and all the battles to be in vain.  Meanwhile, because private schools will be in competition with each other to do the best job at educating students, they will be forced by the marketplace to adopt the best pedagogical theories and make Progressive Education a thing of the past.

However, there is one aspect of children’s education where there must be government involvement: the issue of whether to educate a child or not.  Just as a child’s guardian has a legal obligation to keep a child fed and healthy, there must be a legal obligation to effectively educate him also.  This means to the age of majority, around 18 or so, which in turn means: the material of nursery school – elementary school – high school. As stated previously, that includes perceptual level concepts; the three ‘R’s, and mathematics, science, history and literature.  After that, on the college level the obligation stops and the child is on his own.  And the education has to be effective, with for example the guardian having phonics taught, not whole language reading. (The effectiveness requirement of course must, to comply with due process of law, accommodate children whose abilities are more limited, e.g., autistic children, etc.; guardians can’t be legally responsible for doing what through no fault of their own cannot physically be done). And, as an aside, if a child is not taught to read and write in the dominant language of the country he resides in, that should raise questions as to the fitness of the guardian.  The guardian needs to have a choice as to how to educate the child, e.g., whether to send the child to a school or home school him, but he still needs to be educated. A failure to properly educate a child should be considered child abuse, just as failing to feed him or treat him when he is hurt or sick.

And now, as I’ve done on previous posts, I want to close with some good news.  There is a school in California called the VanDamme Academy which teaches correctly and has had amazing success, with students ready for college at age 16. Also in California is the Falling Apple Science Institute, which was founded in part by the founder of the VanDamme Academy, to teach science more effectively than has been done in the past. With Falling Apple science is taught in context, starting from Astronomy (the first science in human history) and progressing forward, explaining how each discovery led to new discoveries and developments in physics, chemistry and biology.  I bought and read the first of Falling Apple’s books and now can tell time by looking at the position of the moon (and on the night after I write this I can tell you it’s going to be a waxing half that will rise around noon and set at about midnight); also encouraging: the continued popularity throughout the country of the Montessori Method, a very effective way of teaching nursery school students. (Full disclosure: I have no interest in the VanDamme Academy, Falling Apple Science Institute or the Montessori Method. I just like what they do.)

It is true Kant’s protégés are waging a war against our kids.  But it’s a war that can be won, if people know the answers and how to do it.  As I said at the end of my last post, Western civilization is still vulnerable. But the answers are out there.


[1] See Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method, passim.

[2] Dr. John Rehyner, “Reading Wars: Phonics versus Whole Language”, Northern Arizona University, Rev. December 13, 2008, passim.

[3] John Dewey, “The Progressive Organization of Subject Matter”, from Experience and Education (Kappa Delta Pi, 1938), in Reginald Archambault, Ed., John Dewey on Education (Random House, 1964), pp. 373-86.

[4]John Dewey, “The Nature of Subject Matter”, from Democracy and Education (Feather Trail Press, 1916, 2009), in Reginald Archambault, Ed., pp. 359-60.

[5] John Dewey, “The Nature of Subject Matter”, in Reginald Archambault, Ed., pp. 371-72.

[6] Ibid. John Dewey, “The Progressive Organization of Subject Matter”, in Reginald Archambault, Ed., pp. 373, 380-81.

[7] John Dewey, “My Pedagogic Creed”, pamphlet, E.L. Kellogg and Co., 1897, in Reginald Archambault, Ed., p. 432.

[8] John Dewey, “The Nature of Subject Matter”, in Reginald Archambault, Ed., p. 372.

[9] From Morris Kline, Why Johnny Can’t Add: The Failure of the New Math.

[10] To cure bad economic teaching, see Henry Hazlitt’s Economics In One Lesson.

[11] Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, Celebration U.S.A.: Living in Disney’s Brave New Town (Henry Holt and Co., 1999), pp. 125-30.

[12] Ibid, pp. 127, 142, 145, 252.

[13] Ibid, pp. 128, 249.

[14] Ibid, pp. 128, 134.

[15] Ibid, pp. 143, 249.

[16] Ibid, p. 128.

[17] Ibid, pp. 248, 250.

[18] Ibid, p. 252.

[19] Ibid, p. 250.

[20] Ibid, pp. 253-54.

[21] Ibid, pp. 292-93.

[22] Ibid, p. 135.

[23] Ibid, pp. 136-37.

[24] Ibid, pp. 287-99.

[25] Ibid, pp. 297-98.


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One thought on “How Children Should – and Should Not be Educated: By Branehart

  1. Awesome, well written and to the point.

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