Thursday, November 02, 2006

EDUCATING CHILDREN - Government and Education

By 1918, every state in United States had passed some form of compulsory attendance law, and the still fledgling Department of Education was now deeply involved. Though by this time, it had already been through several transformations. Originally it was created for the purpose of collecting information on schools and teaching, and to help the States establish more effective school systems, at least that was what the original charter said. But this didn’t last long; in 1869 it was transferred to the Department of the Interior as the Bureau of Education. Then in 1939 it was transferred again, by executive order, to the Federal Security Agency, which in 1953 became the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Although during these years, there was not an "official" Department of Education, the concept was still very much alive in Washington DC, and the eyes of the government were still clearly focused on education in America, and the potential it had for shaping society.

During the same years that the Department of Education was going through its many transformations, the National Education Association (NEA) was also making its long journey to become what it is today. Since its inception, it has been a "uniquely privileged organization."[1] As a federally chartered corporation it was exempted from property taxes, which is a very unique status that not many unions enjoy. But as was stated earlier, the NEA was not actually started as a union in the modern sense. It was originally started as simply a professional organization, an organization whose goals were the promotion of new educational trends, improving schools, helping teachers, and improving cooperation among educators. But by the 1960s, their transformation into a powerful lobbying group and activist labor union was nearly complete. It was President John F. Kennedy who, in 1962, opened the way for the NEA to become a full fledged labor union. The President issued Executive Order 10988 which approved the formation of federal public sector unions. This allowed labor unions to organize and represent public sector employees, something that had not previously been done. Up until this point, the vast majority of unions were private sector unions. They were primarily concerned with things like better wages or better working conditions. But these new public sector unions were more concerned with things like political power and directing more funds toward their employer, which in this case was the Federal Government. So with this new status, the NEA could now organize and promote teachers strikes and other militant type actions under the protection of the union, and completely within the limits of the law. This gave the NEA the clout and staying power that it needed to effect changes in the education system. While the percentage of Americans in private sector unions has been in a steady decline over the past fifty years, the percentage of Americans in public sector unions has continued to grow, with groups like the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) leading the way. Together, their combined membership, in 2005, was well over 4 million, and they account for about 40 percent of the total membership of all public sector unions today. But even though they had the power and the numbers, they still didn’t have the official voice that they wanted or needed in Washington DC.

By the early 1970s, the NEA had become one of the nation’s largest political lobbying groups. Armed only with a great number of America’s teachers, they set out to regain their voice in our nation’s capitol. In 1972, the then NEA president, Catherine Barrett, was quoted as saying "We are the biggest potential striking force in this country and we are determined to control the direction of education."[2] Like many of the educational reformers before them, they knew that if they could control education, they could control the direction of the country. With that as their goal, they set out to win their biggest political score to date, the election of Jimmy Carter as president. In 1976, that is exactly what happened. Jimmy Carter won the election, but just having "their" candidate in office was not enough. In return for their support, they, along with their new President, proposed legislation that would reestablish the Department of Education as an official government department again. This would give them the voice in Washington DC that they wanted and increase their political bargaining power exponentially. While there were many opposed to the idea of a new federal Department of Education, congress did manage to pass the new Carter/NEA legislation by a narrow margin of 215 to 201. By 1979, the Federal Department of Education was once again an independent branch of the government, and this time, it had a huge partner in crime, the NEA.

As an interesting side note, the night before President Carter signed the new bill into law creating the new Department of Education, a leading NEA official was quoted as offering a toast saying: "Here’s to the only union that owns its own Cabinet Department."[3]

Once again, fully funded and ready to work, the Federal Department of Education was back on the job. While the stated mission of the Department of Education is "to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation"[4] it would seem that a more accurate translation of this mission statement would be; to influence state education through legislation and the selective disbursement of federal aid based on compliance with federal standards as directed by the NEA. And it is that direction of the NEA, which continue to influence the efforts of this now colossal political force. With the strength of these two combined groups, the agenda of the educational reformers seems almost unstoppable, and for "public" education, that very well may be the case.

But what is their agenda? What sort of education reforms are they after? Well, the real problem is that most of their agenda has very little to do with education, and very much to do with politics. As they have become more politically involved, they have also become more radically liberal, and with this shift, their radical agenda has continued to drift away from Christian values of our forefathers. By the early 1990s, the NEA along with its smaller sister organization the AFT, displayed their tremendous political prowess to elect Bill Clinton as president. During the 1992 Democratic convention, the NEA alone accounted for one-fourth of all the delegates who attended the convention that year. As their political efforts increase, their radical agenda continues to evolve. Over the last 50 years their focus has been drawn more and more away from education and more towards any and all forms of radical social reform. In the past decade alone, the NEA has lobbied for "a host of non-education, culture-transforming resolutions supporting" many such things as: "abortion, homosexuality, radical feminism, nuclear disarmament, and world government."[5] In their Annual Meeting held on July 7, 2005, in Los Angeles, California, one of the major business items that passed was a measure committing the NEA to "develop a strategy to counter new attacks on curricula and practices that support gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students and staff in public schools."[6] In other words, they have committed themselves to promote homosexuality as a normal lifestyle through the public education systems. But that was not all, they also passed several other resolutions that had absolutely nothing to do with education, they included a call to boycott Wal-Mart, statehood for the District of Columbia, affirmative action, opposition to private accounts in Social Security, opposition to capital punishment, gun control, "single-payer health care", and endorsement of the International Criminal Court and the UN Declaration on Human Rights, just to name a few.

In an article entitled "How Public Schools Have Changed", Phyllis Schlafly commented that there were a few NEA resolutions that did pertain to education, they "called for the teaching of global, multicultural, suicide, environmental, and bilingual education." But as she also mentioned, apparently "resolutions about the need for improvement in the teaching of phonics or basic math didn't make the cut."[7] So my question is; is this organization really in the education business? It is hard to tell, but one thing is for sure, they are a group with a current membership of nearly 3 million and they work daily with, and have direct access to, 99 percent of all school aged children in the United States![8] That is exactly the kind of influence they want. According to a recent report from the Family Research Counsel, that’s roughly 48 million children,[9] that is about 1 out of every 6 people in our country! That makes the NEA a group with a tremendous potential realm of influence. But while the NEA’s radical left agenda has become increasingly damaging, none of its efforts have been more devastating to the children of America than its efforts to promote social reform through what has come to be known as "progressive education." This continues to be the ultimate goal; the promotion of social reform through progressive education policies and philosophies.

What exactly is progressive education? Well, progressive education comes in many different flavors. The American model is basically a group of ideas and philosophies that are aimed at making schools more effective agents of our democratic society. They are also aimed at the improvement of the democratic social order as a whole. Some have called it "child-centered", some have called it "social reconstructionist", but whatever the current label, they are all "progressive education," and it has been popular in this country for almost a century.

Progressive education is really nothing more than a term used to describe all these various ideas and philosophies that are used to promote of social reform through education. Although there are many different methods espoused among progressive educators, they all share a common conviction that democracy means the active participation by all citizens in the social, political and economic decisions that will affect all our lives. While on the surface this certainly sounds like a worthwhile goal, a deeper look into the specific philosophies reveals some serious flaws, especially when compared to the model found in Scripture. According to the philosophy of progressive education, the production of good citizens should consist of two essential elements.

First, it must require respect for diversity. This means that each individual should be recognized for his or her own abilities, interests, ideas, opinions, and cultural identity. It also means that each of these abilities, interests, ideas, opinions, and cultural identities are of equal value. One set should not be held above another because all are equally valid. There is not one single way of life or one single set of moral values that are better than all others! All are equally valid.

Secondly, it should require the development of a critical, socially minded intelligence. In other words, all persons should be required to develop a way of thinking that always considers community first, with the majority as the standard. This helps the individual to understand and participate effectively in the affairs of their community. Only as a collective can people achieve the common good, and they will only do that, according to the philosophy of progressive education, when they have been educated correctly, as good, tolerant minded, citizens. Through the promotion of progressive education, the thoughts and ideas of the individual actually become secondary to that of the community. There is also no one standard for right and wrong; everything is relative to the current situation or the current feelings of the majority. The desired outcome is simply unity under all standards as long as the common goal is achieved.

So where do these ideas come from? Well, American progressive education has its roots in the thoughts of many men. Men like the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, German philosopher Johann Herbart, and German educator Friedrich Froebel. All these men "sought to substitute natural methods for the traditional implements of learning."[10] By natural methods we mean that they emphasized the experience of the learning situation over the mere learning of facts during an educational experience. While they were all successful in promoting this method, no one has influenced the propagation of progressive education, especially in America, more than John Dewey.

John was born in 1859 in Burlington, Vermont. His father owned a general store there. As a boy, John delivered papers. He was raised in a traditional American home and attended the White Street Congregational Church in Burlington. John was a bright young man who loved to read. At age fifteen, he entered college. He attended the University of Vermont and graduated head of his class with a major in philosophy. After graduation, he taught high school for two years in Oil City, Pennsylvania. Later he earned his doctorate degree from the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences at John Hopkins University. He studied under men like G. Stanley Hall, George S. Morris and Charles S. Price, all of whom were deeply influenced by the rationalism[11] and the philosophy of German educators. After he earned his doctorate, John went on to teach at the University of Michigan and later the University of Minnesota. Soon after this, he moved to the University of Chicago where he assumed the role as the chair of the combined departments of psychology, philosophy and pedagogy.[12] During his stay at the University of Chicago, he, along with the help of his wife Alice, conducted the first major experiment using progressive education techniques in a classroom setting. Dewey said that school "must represent present life – life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground."[13] Dewey believed the best way for children to learn would be through hands on experience, and the things that they needed to learn were those things that helped them live out their day to day lives as participants in their communities. In this, we see the focus of the social reforming aspect of progressive education. The focus was removed from the dull every day subjects such as reading, writing and arithmetic and placed on hands-on activities such as sewing, cooking, gardening, carpentry, building, dramatics, storytelling, and recreating basic occupations.[14] Dewey’s model "Laboratory School," was an exciting school. It was unlike anything that had ever been done in America before. Children were exposed to many different instructional techniques and experiences, and while the results of this experiment are questionable, each side of the debate claims victory. Dewey critics say it was a total failure. They say that history and the current state of education in America has proven this point. But Dewey supporters say it was an overwhelming success. They say that while many other attempts to run schools like Dewey’s have failed, they all did so because they did not carefully duplicate Dewey’s vision. So while no one really knows the outcome of this first model school experiment, I tend to side with his critics. We can look to the results of an experiment to determine its success or failure, and after decades of progressive education in our government school systems, all we have is decreased test scores and decreased moral values. Without a doubt, Dewey’s experiment was a failure.

After John left the University of Chicago, he was called as the head of the prestigious Teachers College at Columbia University in New York. In this position, by the 1950s, he became the nation’s most influential educator. As many as 20% of all American school superintendents and 40% of all American teacher college heads received advanced degrees under Dewey.[15] Robert L. Cooke wrote about Dewey saying that he "probably applied his philosophy directly to education in a greater degree and in broader ways than any other man."[16]

With the help of the NEA and the Department of Education, John Dewey’s educational philosophy has become the predominant method for training teachers in the United States. Even greater than his predecessor Horace Mann, John Dewey’s educational ideas have spread far and wide. While both had similar convictions about education they both also had their own religious bent as well. This is primarily where the two began to part ways. Mann was a Unitarian, and believed in teaching a form of religious morality to children, a form based on his own Unitarian beliefs. Dewey on the other hand was an atheist, and a humanist, and did not feel that moral training had any place in education. Where Mann believed that morals should be taught apart from the specific religious doctrines about a higher authority, Dewey believed that there was no higher authority to be accountable to. As one of the co-signors of the Humanist Manifesto I,[17] Dewey believed that there were no moral absolutes, everything was relative to the situation at hand and that was relative to the quality of the experience. This was clearly visible in Dewey’s teaching style. It was one of his best known teaching techniques, known as experiential learning. The closing remarks of the Humanist Manifesto I sums up Dewey’s beliefs very clearly, it states:

"So stand the theses of religious humanism. Though we consider the religious forms and ideas of our fathers no longer adequate, the quest for the good life is still the central task for mankind. Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement. He must set intelligence and will to the task."[18]

So to Dewey, positive experience was everything, the "quest for the good life" was the central task for all of mankind including children. If the experience was good to the child, if it brought him closer to the good life, then this was something of value to the child and should be retained. If it was not, then this was not something the child needed and should be put aside. The accumulation of mere facts was no longer the focus of education, only the accumulation of positive learning experiences. In this we see some of the most devastating effects of the progressive education movement. Not only has it resulted in the academic decline of the American student, but it has also been the chief cause of the moral decline as well. Thanks to progressive education, American students now achieve some of the lowest scores in the world on standardized tests. They also have little or no morality to go with them. Right and wrong have been relegated to the quality of the experience, to whether or not it feels good at the time. If it does, then it has value, otherwise it is simply discarded as outdated or unneeded.

This is the foundation that our current system of public education is built on. With the help of men like Horace Mann and John Dewey, and organizations like the NEA and AFT, the federal government has redefined the way education is to be carried out.

[1] Charles J. Sykes, Dumbing Down Our Kids, Why American Children Fell Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write, or Add (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1995), 230.
[2] Samuel L. Blumenfeld, NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education (Phoenix, AZ: The Paradigm Company, 1985). 78.
[3] Sykes, 231.
[4] U.S. Department of Education, official website,
[5] John A. Stormer, None Dare Call it Education: What’s happening in our schools? (Liberty Bell Press, 1999), p43.
[6] National Education Association Website article, Annual Meeting, July 7, 2005,
[7] Phyllis Schlafly, How Public Schools Have Changed, (Eagle Forum Newsletter, Aug. 17, 2005).
[8]Brian D. Ray Ph.D., 2004 - 2005 Worldwide Guide to Homeschooling: Facts and stats on the benefits of home school (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2004), 27.
[9] Family Research Counsel newsletter, August 17, 2005.
[10] Towns, 319.
[11] Towns, 310.
[12] Ravitch, Diane, Left Back, A Century of Battles Over School Reform (Touchstone, 2000), 57.
[13] John Dewey's declaration concerning education (The School Journal, Volume LIV, Number 3 January 16, 1897), 77-80.
[14] Ravitch, Left Back, 172.
[15] Stormer, 39-40.
[16] Towns, 319.
[17] Stormer, 44.
[18] Humanist Manifesto I, Copyright 1973 by the American Humanist Association