Cookie-Cutter Education: Enlightenment or Indoctrination? Part 2

Randy W. Green, Ph.D.

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”

Albert Einstein

Mocha and Chip are magnificent canine companions—and great assistants.  In the presence of my clients, they seem to reduce anxiety and encourage smiling – a lot!  One of them, Chip, is also a “R.E.A.D. Therapy” dog.  Children would make appointments to read to him at the library.  There is compelling research, which indicates this modality can increase literacy and self-confidence in those who participate.  

What resulted was a bit surprising.  From anecdotal observation of participating children, those who were home-schooled read with greater fluency and expression than those who attended public school. How was this possible?  The alleged purpose of education as a professional institution is to enlighten students by providing them with an array of skills that will enable them to function successfully in society.  So why did Chip and I have that experience?

The problem is not teachers.  Our education system contains many fine, creative and innovative teachers... who are stuck!  The system is the problem; it’s broken.  We have a cookie-cutter system of education… with too many cooks, who burn the cookies.  In general, the problem may be viewed as two-fold: “standardization” and “bureaucracy.”  

According to John Taylor Gatto, an award-winning former New York City teacher and an author of several books on education, schools were designed by Horace Mann and Barnard Sears in Massachusetts many years ago, “to impose objectives downward from the lofty command center made up of ‘experts’….(considered) social engineers.”  The purpose, according to Gatto, was for the “scientific management of a mass population.”  He added, “Schools are intended to produce through the application of formulae, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.”  Although many will argue Gatto’s position is too far left for comfort, there are some salient points he makes, not the least of which is that the institution of “forced schooling” as he calls it at times negatively impacts the position of “family” in decisions that affect children.  One example: though there are some parents who choose to medicate hyperactive, inattentive children, there are many more who would choose not to, but are forced by ultimatum of their children’s school personnel, lest the child be reclassified and removed from the classroom.  

Gatto’s position is that the needs and best interests of the children being educated are not the first and foremost consideration of the process through which education occurs.  And this is the major contention of this article.  Children are unique individuals and yet, they are forced to excel in a system that treats everyone the same.  It’s called, standardization.  

A recent development imposed, as a template across public educational institutions is known as, “Common Core.”  An assumption of this model is that everyone should be required to know “the core”, which involves “left-brain” learning—pure cognition—or mastering a sample of knowledge taken from math, science, language arts and social studies.  But who did this “sampling?”  And where is the research to conclude that the knowledge selected for the “core” represents the most salient bits of information to all students on the planet? The upshot is that someone else decided what your son or daughter needs to learn— what constitutes the “core”-- and what he or she does not; and of course it is standardized!  

In effect, you don’t get to study or learn what is important to you personally, instead you are forced to study and learn what other people say is important.  A general assumption of Common Core Standards is that one or another of the traditional core subjects covers everything a kid needs to know.  But what of the unexplored intellectual terrain lying between and beyond?  Where is the room for creativity, innovation and discovery?  Could this be what Einstein meant in his quote (Part 1), “It’s nothing short of a miracle that…modern methods have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry”?  

That which is deemed important—the “standards”—are designed to be measured through national “standardized tests”, tests that lack the sensitivity to account for individual learning strategies (i.e., whether a child most values the visual, auditory or kinesthetic channel through which information is processed.  Visual strategies, valued by 70% of the population, are highly efficient and facilitate learning to spell and read more easily than auditory ones, and yet, most education is presented through the auditory channel); tests that fail to measure right-brain learning—creativity—non-verbal learning, or consider cultural biases; worst of all, tests for which there is little “predictive validity”—the ability to conclude that mastery of the material will lead to successful future endeavors.  

Everyone needs to be like everyone else—sit still, raise your hand to speak, listen to the teacher, get the information into your brain and then make it come out of your mouth and hands called, “taking the test.”  What you know (left-brain) becomes much more important than what you can do (right-brain).  Such is the sad state of education.  

So what can be done to improve matters?  Gatto believes the key is in the past; in an elite system of education that was a favorite of the ruling classes of Europe for thousands of years.  A major tenet is that self-knowledge is the only basis of true knowledge.  How can we assimilate this philosophy within a system of education that will enhance it?  Be here next time for the final exam.