Gurney's Inn
January 17, 2007

Eye On Education

I had this brainstorm that I might as well add my two cents to that growing list of authors coming up with various kinds of conspiracy theories. The thought hit me on one of my many sleepless nights as I ruminated on the fate of education in the early 21st-century. So my theory goes like this:

Let's say by some quirk of nature and with the help of financiers, the extremely rich, the docile media, corrupted voting procedures, and the Supreme Court, a not so ethical group, ascends into administrative power in the country. The in-group is at first taken aback by the surprise of their victory, but soon summons its own group of conniving miscreants to focus on how to hold on to the power realm at all costs.

The round table of plotters probes the question of "What's the best way to insure our future control of the government and assure the success of our desired slate of candidates." Someone in the group thinks back on how the Communists did this and comes up with the recognition that the focal point should be the school-aged population. A consensus is reached with a commitment to manipulating the nation's education system. But what strategy will do the job?

Out and out brainwashing vis a vis manipulations of the textbooks, teacher training programs, and other interferences with academic freedom would be too obvious and would certainly draw the wrath of the ACLU, the defenders of the Constitution, the liberal media, etc. No. Such third world dictator-led tactics wouldn't work. A more subtle and devious strategy would be required.

And so the No Child Left Behind era is born. How can this be devious you ask? Well that's the genius of this conspiracy because it's shrouded in the cloak of a long-held value system associated with education in this country. The value system is rife with a preoccupation with passing and failing, grades, testing, report cards and other assessment-related particulars. Its usefulness in the NCLB dumbing-down conspiracy is apparent. Let me cut to the chase and summarize the heart of the stratagem:

If we can get the entire educational enterprise to focus on low-level types of learning (the 3 R's, Read, Remember and Regurgitate), this will disable aspects of teaching and learning curricula that have to do with analytical, critical and creative thinking. A population of voters who primarily engage in thought processes that don't involve critical thinking skills are much easier manipulated when it comes to influencing their votes.

So those in power start the NCLB propaganda machine, which involves mandated testing at every grade level. Testing in and of itself can be useful. But when it's used to keep the focus on low-level learnings that seldom go beyond the rote memorization requirement, the tests become the instruments of the dumbing-down process.

Our Federal planners cleverly invoke serious penalties on those that deviate from their one-dimensional path. Part of the scheme is that any dissenters who opt not to make low-level learning skills and energy sapping devotion to facts and figures the core of their curriculum will have test results that will brand them as failures. These results will be publicized throughout the various states. Furthermore, Federal school aid (the carrot) for those branded school systems will be withheld or greatly diminished. That's the stick part of the equation.

In all fairness I admit there are those rare school settings that actually do both.

The school staff has devised methods to have students learn high-level learning skills and do well with the low-level standards as well! These lucky kids not only learn the basics, but they also engage in higher learning skills. Sometimes these unique achievements are evidenced in science exhibitions, in student writing that becomes published, in rare high school environments where the student government is active and actually impacts the life of the school, in school debating teams, robotic clubs, etc. But these are rarities. Most of our teachers and students are getting ready for the tests. They are compelled to teach for the test and only the test.

So the payoff for the dumbing-down conspiracy is that when the school age populace gets to be voters, the political connivers won't have to worry about such things as detailed examination of political positions on issues, unethical connections to the business world, abuse of power, disregard for the environment, corruption in general, including petty and serious criminal acts. The PR tactics used in promoting those character traits associated with success in various popularity contests such as the Miss America Contest and The Most Attractive Male survey will carry over in the election of our government officials.

The biggest threat to scrutiny of candidates by an intelligent, analytical, unbiased voting population will have been eliminated through the manipulation of the one institution responsible for nurturing and developing those same skills and attitudes.

If that isn't irony, then what is?

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