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OPINION

New Book: Mediocrity Has Long Plagued Government-Run Schools

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File

The American public school system has been defined by mediocrity for over four decades, argues a new book by two of America’s leading education reformers. 

In Mediocrity: 40 Ways Government Schools are Failing Today’s Students, co-authors Connor Boyack and Corey DeAngelis explore how government schools evolved to embrace mediocre standards–an ailment that long preceded the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Boyack, founder of the Libertas Institute and prolific author, joins forces with another powerhouse, DeAngelis, school choice evangelist and American Federation for Children Senior Fellow, to highlight 40 concrete examples of government schools failing students in the present day. 

The book’s release coincides with the 40th anniversary of a 1983 report entitled A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform from the National Commission on Excellence in Education. Then-Reagan Education Secretary Terrel H. Bell oversaw the project. 

Four decades ago, the report warned about “the rising tide of mediocrity” befalling America’s education foundations: 

"Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur-- others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments."

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The writers attribute the origins of this malaise to progressive figures Horace Mann and John Dewey—two individuals behind today’s corrupted model of public schooling. 

The authors attribute “the schematics of today’s government schools” to Horace Mann’s reverence for the 19th century Prussian model of education. This model, they write, consisted of the following aspects:  standardized curriculum, testing, compulsory education, professionalization of teachers, and career training.

“It was an authoritarian, top-down model that emphasized the collective over the individual,” Boyack and DeAngelis explain of Mann’s emulation of a “factory model school.”

The indoctrination, they continue, materialized under secular humanist John Dewey. Dewey wrote in his book, My Pedagogic Creed, how the “true kingdom of god” is the government. The authors also noted how he and other so-called reformers wanted to “build up forces…whose natural effect is to undermine the importance and uniqueness of family life.” 

Notice the parallels to today’s leading government school advocates and their concerted effort to divorce parents from their children? It’s not a coincidence; these progressive reformers intended for this to happen.

From that time period to today, the quality of education has, sadly, diminished thanks, in part, to powerful teachers unions that put themselves before their students. 

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Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president and darling of the Left, first comes to mind. She colluded with the federal government - namely the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) -  to keep schools closed despite evidence later showing schools were safe to attend. 

Earlier this week, Weingarten went before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Subcommittee on Education denying her culpability in the matter, but House Republicans didn’t let her off the hook. A FOIA request from Americans for Public Trust revealed the powerful union head helped craft the 2021 CDC school reopening guidance to keep the majority of schools closed.

The New York Post reported, “Powerful AFT boss Randi Weingarten spoke twice by phone with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in the week leading up to the Feb. 12, 2021, announcement that halted full re-opening of in-person classes — including the day before the guidance was released…”

She and her union buddies deserve to be reprimanded for causing immeasurable learning loss on the whole of students, the authors argue. 

It’s no wonder the “Fund Students, Not Systems” movement – a grassroots effort both have helped popularize on and off social media– is gaining steam across the U.S. today. But the authors go beyond school choice. That’s just a starting point.

While the book emphasizes 40 inherent problems with today’s schooling system, they advocate for the following “education entrepreneurship” alternatives for parents to public schooling: private schools, microschools, homeschool co-ops, online learning, tutoring, and cloud-based classrooms. 

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Instead of looking to self-appointed experts who tweet endlessly that reforms like school choice are useless against woke education, parents and reformers should seek out the likes of Boyack and DeAngelis who not only point out problems but are actively working to change the educational system for the better.  

Education reformers like the two co-authors should give Americans hope that not all is lost. Learn more about Mediocrity here.

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