I graduated from Dothan City Schools during the golden age of education (or so said Nell Brown, one of Dothan’s premier teachers). Then, according to Lois Baker, another of Dothan’s stellar teachers, with the close of the 1960s, we acquired a new batch of administrators who advocated the new and improved methods taught in the colleges of education. She resigned.

Then came the ’90s and Goals 2000. The community was “Delphied” into acceptance of whole language/progressive education.

What is the Delphi technique?

The gist of it is that the technique is used to reach a predetermined conclusion. In other words, to manipulate the group. It has evidently become popular within politics to give the impression that public input is actually having an impact on decisions when in reality the decision has been made already, and the group is being guided, unknowingly, toward that end.

The first time I remember its use was when Auburn’s Dean Kunkel came to Dothan to speak at Northview High School in support of Goals 2000. I asked him for research supporting whole language reading instruction. He said: “I can’t give you any. It’s current wisdom.”

Goals 2000 won. Drill and kill — what the “current wisdom” labeled phonics and math facts — lost. Except in sports, where coaches always knew that drill developed skill. That matters because winning teams on sports fields brought money into the coffers of the schools — unlike reading and math. Failure there brings in more money.

The Dothan City Schools board paid a consultant to rewrite its bylaws. Sequential learning (skill upon skill) was replaced by thematic learning (take a whole and break it into parts). Group learning and peer tutoring made the teacher guide on the side as students became “independent,” “hands-on” learners re-creating the wheel rather than “standing on the shoulders of giants,” being taught what others had already discovered.

Blooms taxonomy taught that children should be taken to the point of moral development where they “challenge the fixed beliefs of their parents.” They were successful.

The D.A.R.E. program taught young children where drugs were sold and how people used them. Marijuana and alcohol, the gateway drugs, became more prevalent. New age techniques such as role-playing opened doors that should have remained shut.

Conflict resolution also brought new age techniques into the classroom encouraging children to mentally withdraw into their happy place. The therapeutic classroom was born.

Then came another drive to “fix” our schools that wound up with the chamber of commerce “Delphi-ing” the community into accepting Common Core. Bill Gates promoted “21st-century skills” generally referring to certain core “competencies” such as “collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking and problem-solving that advocates believe schools need to teach to help students thrive in today’s world.”

“The idea that the richest man in the U.S. can purchase and, working closely with the U.S. Department of Education, impose new and untested academic standards on the nation’s public schools is a national scandal,” wrote one skeptic.

With Gates in partnership with UNESCO, Microsoft joined Pearson, the world’s largest educational publisher, to load Pearson’s Common Core classroom materials on Microsoft’s Surface tablet. The sales of data on our children collected through those computers must be quite lucrative.

According to the progressives, “21st-century learners” “balk at rote learning and memorizing.” Political activists like defrocked priest Paolo Freire revolutionized math and reading with “liberation pedagogy.” Planned Parenthood produces the sex education curriculum integrated into curriculum on every grade level.

During the late ’90s, one local education official got the school board to back the “four-period day.” Dr. David Bateson, author of a study on block scheduling of over 20 years, sent us his study, concluding, “The four-period day is detrimental to academic achievement.” Dothan City Schools saw scores drop 6 points for minority students, from 42 to 36. White students’ scores dropped 2 points. The official drew the conclusion that this was not statistically significant, thereby enabling her to recommend block scheduling. Before long, block scheduling was dropped.

Sadly, block scheduling has returned with Dothan’s new superintendent.

There has been no improvement on the curriculum of our schools. It is still based on “current wisdom” (progressive education), as Dean Kunkel explained 30 years ago. Only now it is on steroids as a consequence of Common Core.

We took a wrong turn in the late ’60s and have only gone further off course. Now, we must rethink our schools as a consequence of COVID-19. Does a crowded, single high school and middle school make sense? In the process, how about actually revolutionizing the schools by using methods proved to actually educate children in the manner expected by the public that funds those schools.

Be prepared; the demand for more money to use another gimmick to “fix” education will be coming soon. Through our taxes, we are all forced to support the “current wisdom” and sad individual and societal consequences of progressive education.

Sharman Burson Ramsey writes historical fiction and mint julep mysteries as well as the website Southern-style: A Downhome Look at All Things Southern.

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