For a least a half-century, American education has been run by an informal alliance of five groups. The coalition consists of the faculty of schools of education, associations of school administrators, the two major teachers’ unions, the U.S. Department of Education and its state counterparts and the civil rights establishment.
What unites this diverse group is not a conspiracy to control American education. Instead, it is the strange ideology of John Dewey. This ideology is now being challenged by outside elements that threaten to tear the whole alliance asunder.
John Dewey and His Disciples
John Dewey is justly referred to as the father of progressive education. His ideas serve as a point of unity for all educators. Scholar Williamson M. Evers summarized the progressive educational ideology that Dewey inspired as follows:
- All learning in school is to come through playing.
- Children’s social and emotional development and psychological attitudes are to be given an overriding importance.
- A high-school-as-supermarket curriculum… in which core subjects are crowded out….
- Drudgery and hard work on the way to mastering a subject should be abolished.
- Competition among students should be eliminated.
Today, these tenets are the basis of all teacher training, accountability systems and curricula. “Education reform” plans never tire in trying to transform these theories into practice. The much-reviled Common Core State Standards are only the most recent attempt.
The Dewey alliance is unraveling because its radical ideas are not radical enough. New ideologues are proposing theories that go much farther. The resulting tension is tearing the coalition apart.
A recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article reported on the new fault lines. Authors Frederick M. Hess and Chester E. Finn Jr., mention an organization called Promise54 that is proposing new paradigms that challenge the old orthodoxies.
“Promise54 is a fast-growing ‘talent-solution provider,’” the authors relate. “Its CEO argues that the talent problem in education isn’t a question of better recruiting and retention, but of ‘white-dominant culture,’ with its oppressive embrace of ‘data-based decision-making,’ ‘speed and efficiency,’ and ‘merit.’ Reformers who blanch at this foolishness do so in hushed tones because they’re terrified of speaking out, lest they find themselves in the crosshairs.”
The Promise54 web site confirms this impression, albeit in gentler language. “We partner with people and organizations to solve their toughest talent-related challenges. We believe organizations will best maximize their impact and truly thrive when their teams are diverse, their cultures are inclusive, and their practices model the equity they wish to see in the world.”
In other words, without the “right” ethnic mix, success is impossible. To their way of thinking, the failure of a minority child has nothing to do with that child’s ability or discipline. Such a conclusion of deserved failure would violate two of the five points of the Deweyite ideology. Thus, the fault must lie with the lack of diversity of the child’s teachers.
The proof is found in Promise54’s study of “more than 200 organizations” that participated. While less than a quarter of the students (23.4%) are white, Caucasians make up the majority of School Boards (66.4%), and Staff (50.7%).
In the brave new world of “social justice,” such a situation is intolerable. However, it must also be noted that the study seems to reach an inherently racist conclusion. To argue that a minority student cannot learn from a non-minority teacher means that people of each race must learn differently. Thus, people of each race are so different that no universal set of rules that apply to all. They should be educated separately.
Consider this quotation from the Promise54 publication Unrealized Impact: The Case for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, “Black and Latinx students taught by teachers who share their racial backgrounds benefit from a culture of higher expectations, fewer discipline referrals, and improved academic outcomes.”
The Growing Rift Within Education
The conclusions of Promise54 and similar groups threaten the educational status quo since it would lead to reverse discrimination in the hiring of teachers and administrators nationwide. This risk is especially present in large urban school districts. If white teachers cannot teach minority students effectively, then minority teachers must replace them.
Promise54 believes that the concerns of the threatened teachers are byproducts of “white fragility.” Unrealized Impact quotes Dr. Robin DiAngelo. “White fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.”
This so-called white fragility could easily tear the teachers’ unions and administrators’ groups apart. Such wholesale hiring decisions would also conflict with the strict seniority rules that are part of most union contracts. Violating those agreements would give rise to court challenges that could get very ugly.
The Splintering Left
This situation in education is part of a far larger pattern of radicalization of the left. On the political scene, avowed socialists pulling away from their slightly more moderate colleagues. Leftists who prize free speech cringe when they see university students shout down other opinions. Increasingly radical anti-Semitism alienates other liberals. The issue of “transsexuals” in women’s sports divides feminists.
The splintering left is just one more indication of how the left never gives what it promises. It always demands more while abandoning its former followers along the way.