With education clearly on the decline in the nation’s public schools, one has to ask why it is happening. There is a movement afloat which began in the 1920s which theorized that there was too much information available to be taught and that new information was created at a rate that defied the ability to have it taught. The theory suggested that a better way to educate the young was to “teach them to think” rather than teach facts. Using that theory, mathematics, history, and science were placed on the back burner and “life skills” and “life adjustment” classes were prioritized. We have now had many years of those theories and to be honest, they suck. To paraphrase another writer, there is no use in being able to think if you have nothing to think about.
One could argue that the purveyors of those theories didn’t understand what was being taught in the first place. While it is true that most people not involved in science, engineering, finance, architecture, etc. don’t use higher mathematics on a regular basis, the theorists completely misunderstood mathematics education. While mathematics education does teach students how to manipulate and solve equations and problems, that is only one part of the class. More importantly, mathematics teaches students how to approach any problem rationally and to be careful in what assumptions you make. Problems need to be solved in a step-wise manner in which each step must be justified and not left to whim, chance, or assumption. Many times in mathematics, the real answer to a problem is not what the answer is intuitively. Additionally, when an answer is obtained using firm and true assumptions and steps based on correct technique, one can be confident that the solution is solid and reliable. This approach is valuable to almost everyone every day. Systematic problem solving is a valuable life skill and is arguably much more important than how you “feel” about the problem. As an aside, mathematics is important to the daily life of US citizens in that the current Congress certainly has demonstrated that they have no mathematics skills.
History classes tend to be criticized as rote memory of names and dates. If taught correctly, they are anything but that. The early history of the United States, for example, is a drama worthy of any novel or made for television movie. The founders of the United States were not homogenized in their views and goals. There was much consternation about splitting with Great Britain and even more dispute on the proper construction of the government once the revolution was won. The Constitution barely passed and was only passed in some states on the condition that the Bill of Rights was included. The study of those people tells students not only who those people were but what this country was intended to become. It tells why these people were willing to die to create a way of life where individuals, not a monarch, held sway over their own lives. The founders were real people with differing thoughts and goals, not caricatures on different currency denominations. To be able to take a side in a political discussion, educated citizens should not only understand current issues but how the country got to be where it is and what it was in the past.
Science, at its core, is the search for the truth. Scientists are sometimes accused of being amoral because they do not subscribe to determined agendas. The true scientist takes the data presented and analyzes the data to determine where the real truth lies. Real science is reproducible and does not change with varying researchers. That is why true science is “open source”. Conclusions are only valid when someone else can do the same work and get the same result. When there is disagreement, it is because the data is conflicting when studied by many, not because a political or financial agenda is overshadowing the work. The ability to remain objective and unbiased is a very useful skill in everyday life and is difficult to achieve without education. If anyone watches opinion shows or reads the newspaper, they will realize objectivity is a resource surely lacking.
Political leaders who have nefarious objectives have always sought to “dumb down” the population because it is much easier to mislead and take advantage of an ignorant mob than an educated population. Educated populations ask tough questions and demand accountability from the leaders. In a representative form of government, the government functions best and is predicated on having an educated people. The founders realized that.
The conservative political philosophy encourages individual decision making and liberty. The liberal political philosophy encourages elite groups of leaders to make decisions for the population in their best interest. The assumption is denigrating in that the people are presumed to be unable to decide issues for themselves. It is therefore in the interest of liberals to have the population less informed and less educated and, conversely, in the interest of conservatives to have the population better educated so better individual decisions will be made. It is easier to guide the population to the liberal elites’ interests if they are less informed and more dependent. The teachers unions are decidedly liberal, as evidenced by their devout support of liberal politicians. Perhaps that explains why the teachers unions oppose educational programs like the voucher program in Washington, DC which clearly produced better student results at half the taxpayer cost. Teachers colleges educate future teachers on the liberal 1920s theories of education and reinforce the “life skills” agenda. The old saying is “When you find yourself in a hole, you should stop digging”. The current educational philosophy in the United States public schools has consistently shown itself to be a failure. Why not go back to what worked and teach people how to think while they actually learn some factual information? Consider it a bonus.