K-12 Education: Fatally Mired in Platitudes and Cliches

Apr 22, 2016 by

Education has been a mess for many years. But there was a time decades ago when top people in business, the government, and the Education Establishment were actually serious about improving education.

That time seems to have passed.

Now, no matter where you look, you see people discussing education in a superficial, almost deliberately irrelevant way.


It’s as if an epidemic hit the country and millions of people are sick. But our experts are debating what should be done about potholes and how do we encourage safe driving?
There seems to be a whole new art form, where people pretend to care about education but little of substance or seriousness is analyzed.

Just to pick an example at random, let’s look at what big shots in Delaware are doing to improve our public schools at this time. (You’ve probably got something similar in your area.)

A project called The Leadership Team of the Vision Coalition, no less, has created a first draft of A Vision for Education in Delaware in 2025. Apparently, school officials and ordinary citizens are sitting around tables, sharing coffee, tossing out ideas, and in general concocting a BOLD NEW PLAN that will propel Delaware toward educational excellence.

Could anything good come of this process? Of course, if the participants started by honestly assessing what the deeper problems are.


But here’s what the Vision Coalition has so far reported, and this kind of empty talk has become boilerplate in discussions about education ACROSS THE COUNTRY:

“Topics and ideas mentioned include the importance of…keeping more great educators; the impact of poverty on educational outcomes; and the important role of parents and families in a child’s education;…the importance of quality early education and that college and career preparation must match the needs of the workforce, and the need for more efficient and equitable distribution and use of financial resources across districts and schools.”

These, alas, are the endlessly repeated clichés and platitudes of contemporary public school discourse. You could probably spend 5 years and a billion dollars on each problem and nothing would change. Sure, the pot will be stirred but the same tasteless soup will be served. Why, it’s almost as if the school officials want the public to feel involved but NOT in a way that would allow the public to have any genuine input.


The trick here is to talk-talk-talk, but never mention the huge paralyzing failures in our public schools. Namely, that children are not mastering the basic skills (reading, writing, and arithmetic) nor are they learning basic knowledge. Inevitably, educational progress is stunted from elementary school onward.

Here’s the impasse. Our Education Establishment likes mediocrity, which socialist Bill Ayers would call “social justice,” a euphemism for uniformity of results.

In order to create this leveling, our Education Establishment has thrown substance out of the schools. They discarded the traditional methods that still work fine around the world. Instead they concocted inferior methods such as Whole Word, Reform Math, Constructivism, and the rest.

But you don’t see these structural issues even mentioned, never mind corrected. No, the discussion stays entirely on the big generalities. The same alleged problems elicit the same alleged solutions. (Even worse, I’d guess that the officials have decided on their next moves, and will use these superficial discussions as justification for doing what they planned to do anyway, which is probably to hang on to as much Common Core as possible.)


In short, if people are discussing education without discussing how to improve the basic skills, and the teaching of basic knowledge, then you are listening to dilettantes or pretenders. They are unserious people who don’t care if the school stay exactly the way they rare for another 25 years.

What we need are leaders who say frankly that the patient is sick, and we have to respond with powerful remedies. Not more clichés and platitudes.

Bruce Deitrick Pice explains educational theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org
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3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Great post, Bruce, and phenomenal website. I taught for 34 years in a tough NYCDOE inner-city school and created and developed original projects in reading, writing, thinking, creativity, poetry reading/writing, EI/SEL, character education and formation, and vocabulary. But more to the point, I taught, what I call, the “prerequisite fundamental skills for learning and learning how to learn”: contemplation, reflection, visualization, creative and critical thinking, concentration/focus, listening, self- or inner-motivation, self-knowledge, self-understanding, self-education, and “penmanship” (can’t write without it). These are part of the “tools” kids need to learn and to live. And it worked…I’m still in touch with many former students, now in their 40s and 50s, on FB. Please check out the “related article” titled: “Questions Educators Should Ask Themselves About Their Teaching Lives.”

  2. Avatar
    Ron W. Smith

    The three constants in successful K-12 outcomes whether here or abroad are the very best and brightest teachers, totally involved parents, and NATIONAL commitment to the education of EVERY child. In the United States we do too many things to undermine all three.
    This is the topic of a long essay, not a reply, but there’s no path to success without a thorough addressing of how patch, patch, patch has failed public education (not to mention our children!) and what should instead be the approach for a nation intent on securing its future.

  3. Avatar

    Bruce,
    Please review Over-Tested and Under-Prepared. Perhaps you will agree that this new book quickly reviews the platitudes and cliches, and moves to a discussion of the true barriers to success and an action plan for any school.

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