Dumbing Down

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“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
– Albert Einstein

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”
– Isaac Asimov

“In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching Remedial English in college.”
– Joseph Sobran

“If you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation”

“Prior to the late 1800’s, education was a private practice that took place in private institutions or through home schooling,” i, ii writes the Collective Evolution website.1

Jim Keith notes in Mass Control: Engineering Human Consciousness:

Since the advent of “progressive education” schools have not been intended to educate, but simply to regiment.… Public schooling…does not challenge children to learn or to think creatively, but instead indoctrinates them to conform to their prison-like surroundings.2, iii, iv

“Schools as we know them today are a product of history, not of research into how children learn,” writes Peter Gray for the website:

The blueprint still used for today’s schools was developed during the Protestant Reformation, when schools were created to teach children to read the Bible, to believe scripture without questioning it, and to obey authority figures without questioning them. The early founders of schools were quite clear about this in their writings. The idea that schools might be places for nurturing critical thought, creativity, self-initiative or ability to learn on one’s own – the kinds of skills most needed for success in today’s economy – was the furthest thing from their minds. To them, willfulness was sinfulness, to be drilled or beaten out of children, not encouraged.3, v

“From an early age, we are forced into a mandatory school system that requires and encourages youth to attend for a large portion of their human life, for six hours a day,” continues Collective Evolution. “Kids who do not fit into the system and do not resonate with it are usually labeled and medicated.” 4

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The American Dream website exposes numerous examples of heavy-handed treatment, writing:

In the classrooms of America today, if you burp in class, if you spray yourself with perfume or if you doodle on your desk, there is a chance that you will be arrested by the police and hauled out of your school in handcuffs. Unfortunately, we live in a country where paranoia has become standard operating procedure. The American people have become convinced that the only way that we can all be “safe” is for this country to be run like a militarized totalitarian police state. So our public schools are run like prisons and our public school students are treated like prisoners. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world by far, and our schools are preparing the next generation to either “do time” in the prison system or to live as good little slaves in the Big Brother prison grid that is being constructed all around us. But what our schools are not doing is giving these children the critical thinking skills that they need to live as free citizens in a nation that used to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.5, vi

“Modern secular education is failing…because it has no moral, social, or intellectual center,” notes Neil Postman in Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology:

There is no set of ideas or attitudes that permeates all parts of the curriculum. the curriculum is not, in fact, a “course of study” at all but a meaningless hodgepodge of subjects. It does not even put forward a clear vision of what constitutes an educated person, unless it is a person who possesses “skills.” 6

Recently, some school children “compete against a kitchen timer during lessons to see how long they can sustain good behavior — raising hands, disagreeing respectfully and looking one another in the eye — without losing time to insults or side conversations,” writes Kate Zernike for The New York Times:

Schools began emphasizing social-emotional learning around 2011, after an analysis of 213 school-based programs teaching such skills found that they improved academic achievement by 11 percentile points. A book extolling efforts to teach social-emotional skills in schools such as the KIPP charter network and Horace Mann in New York, “How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough, appeared the next year.

Argument still rages about whether schools can or should emphasize these skills. Critics say the approach risks blaming the victim — if only students had more resilience, they could rise above generational poverty and neglected schools — and excuses uninspired teaching by telling students it is on them to develop “zest,” or enthusiasm. Groups that spent decades urging the country toward higher academic standards worry about returning to empty talk of self-esteem, accepting low achievement as long as students feel good.

But teaching social-emotional skills is often seen as a way to move away from a narrow focus on test scores, and to consider instead the whole child.7

“Quality education has been a hot topic among teachers and parents in China to turn students away from overemphasis on test-taking to a more comprehensive development through extra-curriculum activities and critical thinking skills training,” notes Chen Weihua for China Daily.8

“What passes for education today, even in our ‘best’ schools and colleges, is a hopeless anachronism,” adds Alvin Toffler in Future Shock.9

In Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, award-winning teacher John Taylor Gratto relates needed changes to our methods of education if we are to prosper in the modern world:

Dan Greenberg, found of the Sudbury Valley School – a successful…learning community based on the principles of self-initiated learning and democratic self-government – has written that between leading educators, business leaders, and government officials there is a virtually unanimous agreement regarding the essential features of an education that would meet the needs of society in the 21st century. He sees consensus on six points:

  • As society rapidly changes, individuals will have to be able to function comfortably in a world that is always in flux. Knowledge will continue to increase at a dizzying rate. This means that a content based curriculum, with a set body of information to be imparted to students, is entirely inappropriate as a means of preparing children for their adult roles.
  • People will be faced with greater individual responsibility to direct their own lives. Children must grow up in an environment that stresses self-motivation and self-assessment. Schools that focus on external motivating factors, such as rewards and punishments for meeting goals set by others, are denying children the tools they need most to survive.
  • The ability to communicate with others, to share experiences, to collaborate, and to exchange information is critical. Conversation, the ultimate means of communication, must be a central part of a sound education.
  • As the world moves toward universal recognition of individual rights within a democratic society, people must be empowered to participate as equal partners in whatever enterprise they are engaged in. Students (and teachers) require full participation in running educational institutions, including the right to radically change them when needed.
  • Technology now makes it possible for individuals to learn whatever they wish, whenever they wish, and in the manner they wish. Students should be empowered with both the technology and the responsibility for their own learning and educational timetable.
  • Children have an immense capacity for concentration and hard work when they are passionate about what they are doing, and the skills they acquire in any area of interest are readily transferable to other fields. Schools must thus become far more tolerant of individual variation and far more reliant on self-initiated activities.10

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i Homeschoolers Anonymous was inspired by a woman who fled her [fundamentalist] parents and published an essay online, appealing for financial aid so she could go to college and then establish a safe house for refugees like herself.… Around 40 homeschooling alumni planned the site together on a secret Facebook group.… Their goal was to show what goes on behind closed doors in some Christian homeschooling families – to share, as one blogger puts it, “the stories we were never allowed to talk about as children.”…

For those outside the homeschooling movement, and for many inside it, the stories are revelatory and often shocking. The milder ones detail the haphazard education received from parents who, with little state oversight, prioritize obedience and religious training over learning. Some focus on women living under strict patriarchal regimes. Others chronicle appalling abuse that lasted for years.…

Homeschooling now exists in a virtual legal void; parents have near-total authority over what their children learn and how they are disciplined. Not only are parents in 26 states not required to have their children tested but in 11 states, they don’t have to inform local schools when they’re withdrawing them. The states that require testing and registration often offer religious exemptions.
– Kathryn Joyce, “The Homeschool Apostates,” American Prospect, at (retrieved: 8 December 2013); See also Kathryn Joyce, “Escape from Christian Fundamentalism – the Kids Who Flee Abusive, Isolated Christian Homes,” AlterNet, 6 December 2013, at (retrieved: April 2013).

ii The fifteenth century was one of those times when higher education for women had a priority of zilch;* in fact, the only country to which women with a yen for a degree could go was Italy.
– Vicki Leon, Uppity Women of Medieval Times, (New York, NY: MIF Books, 1997, p. 230.

* Lack of education limits prospects, decreases family income, reduces health, puts women and girls at risk of trafficking and exploitation, and limits the economic advancement of entire countries.
– “Girls’ and Women’s Education,” World Education, at (retrieved: 5 February 2015).

Many studies show that educated women have healthier pregnancies and a lower infant mortality rate.
– Tomiko Duggan, Director, Office of Embassy Relations, Washington DC, USA, UN Global Day of Parents 2013, Universal Peace Federation, 11 June 2013, at (retrieved: 5 February 2015).

Bart vs Hamster
Bart vs Hamster – DO NOT TOUCH © The Simpsons

iii Learning, in it’s simplest form, can be illustrated by an experiment carried out by Yerkes. He trained an earthworm to run along a T-shaped maze, which had dried leaves at one end of the short arms of the cross-piece of the T, and had an electrified grille in the other arm. The worm received a shock when he turned to the right and found dried leaves (apparently desirable to earthworms) if he turned left. The directions can, of course, be interchanged without affecting the experiment providing they are not interchanged during the experiment. After some hundreds of trails the earthworm always learned to run away from the shock and toward the leaves. This is one of the simplest examples of what the psychologist means by learning.
– F.H. George, Cybernetics (London: Teach Yourself Books, 1971), p. 118.

iv The Irish Independent reports that grocery giant TESCO has strapped electronic armbands to their warehouse workers to measure their productivity, tracking their actions so closely that management knows when they briefly pause to drink from a water fountain or take a bathroom break.… As surveillance technology advances, companies can increasingly track all aspects of their workers’ time and activity.…

But increased surveillance not only creates a more stressful workplace for workers, it also effects the product, Gilliom points out. For example, nurses are no longer taking the time to get to know their patients because hospitals make more money when more people are hustled through. In the past, nurses had ways to circumvent hospital pressure. Now, electronic tracking of patient movement means that medical professionals will spend far less time with you when you are sick.
– Tana Ganeva, “Work is Becoming More Like Prison As Some Workers Forced to Wear Electronic Bands That Track Everything They Do (Including Bathroom Breaks),”, at (retrieved: 26 February 2013).

v Traditionally, classrooms have been organised with children sitting in rows with the teacher at the front of the room, directing learning and ensuring a disciplined classroom environment. This is known as direct instruction.

Beginning in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, teachers began to experiment with more innovative and experimental styles of teaching. These included basing learning on children’s interests, giving them more control over what happened in the classroom and getting rid of memorising times tables and doing mental arithmetic. This approach is known as inquiry or discovery learning.

Based on this recent study of classrooms in the UK and China and a recent UK report titled What makes great teaching?, there is increasing evidence that these new-age education techniques, where teachers facilitate instead of teach and praise students on the basis that all must be winners, in open classrooms where what children learn is based on their immediate interests, lead to under-performance.
– Kevin Donnelly, “A group of teachers went to China and realized that the West is instructing students wrong,” Business Insider, 24 April 2015, at (retrieved: 14 June 2015).

1 Arjun, “The Origin of Education and Mandatory Schooling,” Collective Evolution, 7 January 2013, at (retrieved: 3 July 2013).

2 Jim Keith, Mass Control: Engineering Human Consciousness (Lilburn, GA: IllumiNet Press, 1999), pp. 28, 29.

3 Peter Gray, “School Is a Prison – And Damaging Our Kids,”, 8 September 2013, at (retrieved: 10 June 2015).

4 Arjun, “The Origin of Education” (retrieved: 3 July 2013).

5 “19 Crazy Things That School Children Are Being Arrested For In America,” The American Dream, at (retrieved: 26 June 2012).

6 Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1993), p. 186.

7 Kate Zernike, “Testing for Joy and Grit? Schools Nationwide Push to Measure Students’ Emotional Skills,” The New York Times, 29 February 2016, at (retrieved: 1 March 2016).

8 Chen Weihua, “School work: Chinese want less, US more,” China Daily, 23-25 August 2013, 33(10169), p. 2.

9 Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1988, 1970), p. 398.

10 David Albert, 2001, in John Taylor Gratto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2013), p. xiii-xv.

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