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“Quackery in the Public Schools” -- A Tribute

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Albert Lynd was a Harvard-educated businessman living near Boston. He had children in the public schools, and ended up on the school board. From then on it was that famous painting by Edvard Munch, the one where an hysterical person stands on a bridge screaming.

This reaction is common when smart, highly educated people stumble into the world of public education. They tend to rave, chiefly from disbelief that so much silliness can go on in plain view.

Lynd wrote a famous article in 1950, telling the country that things were bad, so bad that he used this still-radical title: “Quackery in the Public Schools.” (The book-length version of his reaction followed in 1953.)

Lynd, a sophisticated intellectual, clearly thinks the people presiding over education are loons and feather-weights. The mismatch is entertaining.

The practical lesson here is that the full-scale destruction of our public schools was already going full-tilt 60 years ago. Common Core is probably best regarded as simply the latest chapter.

Here is a smorgasbord of quotes from "Quackery in the Public Schools" to encourage celebration of this wisest of critics:

“I believe in the public school. I do not find this belief incompatible with a lack of confidence in the antics of many of its present professional manipulators.”

“The professors, busy as they are redesigning the lives of our children and the minds of their teachers, have found time to write treatises for members of school boards, telling them how to behave and what attitudes they should hold, and urging them to be proud of their responsibility and take it seriously. Small as our town is, I am proud enough of my mandate to take it very seriously. That is why I’m interested in reducing the quackery quotient in public education.”

“[W]hile neo-pedagogues palaver more and more about the ‘real needs’ of youngsters, the pupils are learning less and less about the arts of word and number, the history and the literature, the science and the aesthetics, and the rest of the painfully accumulated culture of this harassed civilization... For good measure it is usually also insisted by some legerdemain of modern Educationism, that youngsters are getting the ‘essential’ learnings of the older curriculum by devoting less time and less direct attention to it.”

“It is demonstrable from their own works that many enthusiasts of the New Education are themselves half-educated or uneducated... On evidence of much of their written lore, many neo-pedagogical zealots are remarkably unacquainted with the elements of that ‘formal education’ from which they propose to free our youngsters....Again, one hears the value of classical studies denounced by men whose understanding is obviously uncomplicated by any personal acquaintance with the classics.”

“In the new view, learning proceeds best with a ’felt need and a present problem’; hence the switch from a direct attack on things like the three R’s to such concerns as how-can-I-make-my-room-more-attractive.”

“Pedagogical ignorance is now sanctioned by a system which accepts Education as a substitute for education.”

“Having thrown out most of the traditional curriculum, the neo-pedagogues have a lot of time for the contemplation of themselves. Going to school to learn about school is an invention of Educationists, who complain that the older curriculum was not sufficiently related to life.”

“‘Democracy’ is the recurrent chant in the litany of the new schoolmen. They use it as often as the Russians, and with about the same meaning: that is, something the self-accredited experts have decided is good for us.”

“As for modern languages, the most amazing contradiction in the educational theories of New Educationists is their yearning for ‘international understanding’ and their simultaneous efforts to get rid of foreign language instruction in our schools.”

“Pure mathematics and foreign languages seem to be the subjects which the neo-pedagogues are most eager to abolish. It is interesting that these, together with genuine science, are subjects which cannot be taught in traditional form by a teacher who has not some elements of a real education in his background.”

“If such laborious juggling of words and numbers proves anything at all, it indicates that by the yardsticks of modern Educationism the last quality needed by a successful teacher is a good personal education.”

“But in 1941 two further studies found ‘considerable weakness in the literature program of the elementary schools of New York State and a continued emphasis on ‘belles lettres’ in the high schools.” [Translation: if we could eliminate all that literary stuff, everything would be fine.]

“The most minute subject in Education can breed research studies by the score. A publication on The Student Council in the Secondary School contains a bibliography of thirty-one books and thirty-seven articles.”

“Quackery is almost inevitable in a profession whose practitioners create their own subject matter and are the only judges of their own competence. A parallel situation, equally irrational, would be a legal profession whose members create laws and enforce them by professional right.… How has it happened that one of the most important of all social jurisdictions has become vested in a professional group whose rulers are practically uncontrolled by any effective expression of community will, and who are remarkably ill-fitted, on the record, to appraise the philosophical and cultural aspirations of the society which they are supposed to serve?”

“The super-professionals make the critical decisions for our schools, and they leap behind the skirts of the classroom teacher (a dependable character for public adoration) when the changes which they have wrought are criticized.”

“The National Education Association [in1949] recommends that public education be expanded to include nursery schools, kindergartens, and junior colleges; increased summer camping, recreational and creative activity; and adequate adult education programs. We believe that all school, community, and regional facilities and resources should be used to the fullest extent in expanding these educational services.”

“It is not to be wondered that the courses offered by professors of Education have multiplied by the thousands in regular sessions, summer sessions, and in late-afternoon and Saturday sessions. There is no other professional body anywhere enjoying so great an advantage over its subjects, and none which takes so few chances on attracting students through the intrinsic interest or appeal of courses.”

“There is a ‘philosophy’ of practically everything in Educationdom. The University of Pittsburgh School of Education offers a course in Philosophical Bases of Health and Physical Education.”

QED: the decline in our public schools is not an accident. It was intentional.


ARTICLE: “Let Us Now Praise Knowing Stuff” (our basic problem is that schools stopped teaching knowledge)

VIDEO: “Education As Neurotoxin” (how schools went over to the dark side)



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