64 Comments

This is surely the saddest post I have read in a long time. But heartening in that there is at least one teacher who sees clearly and is not pretending.

I don't have have kids, so I've long said this is not my fight, but this matters for all of us. These kids are supposed to be our Social Security.

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Intelligent, competent, educated people are much harder to tyrannize over and lie to, than distracted dunderheads. So maybe this is all by design. A few idealistic teachers can’t buck a huge, society-wide trend, especially if that trend reaches all the way to the president of Harvard.

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The funny thing is that both left and right say this about the other.

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And they're both right.

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Apr 4Liked by Phoebe Jacobson

This is spot on and can only lead to our demise. One more thing the government screwed up.

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The collapse of the public school system is one example, maybe the only one in recent history, that was not the government’s doing.

Sure, the Dept. of Education helped, but the long slow slouch to nescience was largely the product of grassroots activism by leftist parents themselves.

Although shepherded along the way by teachers unions, leftists (most prominently women) fought tooth and nail for every inch of academic rigor removed from public school curriculum.

While the unions were motivated by money and political clout, white, liberal parents were convinced that traditional Western education is an impediment to true enlightenment. Learning standardized curriculums by rote is fascist.

Meanwhile, black parents defenestrated their responsibilities completely, and by the early 90’s resented any suggestion their kids were getting less of an education than they did in Jim Crow segregated classrooms. They *had* to protect the status quo because the groups that formed the nexus were the same groups that ensured the welfare state remained robust.

All 3 of my boys were educated in private, parochial schools after I became aware of what was going on in their public school. They were not necessarily happy with the transition at the time, but all agree now, as successful, well adjusted adults that it was the greatest gift my wife and I bestowed on them.

My cousin and his wife homeschooled their 7 children from birth. All of them likewise have succeeded.

None of them ever had “smart” cell phones, or unrestricted access to the internet until they were well prepared adolescents.

I am irretrievably convinced that the collapse of the public system is not only inevitable, but necessary lest we become a nation of witless mumpsimus’.

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Apr 4Liked by Phoebe Jacobson

Man that was well said (or typed).

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No, it’s our salvation.

Through the fire.

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My 37 year old youngest and most successful son had a fight in high school. I think Grade 9. Junior high. It was not a big deal. It was treated as one as the schools have a ZERO tolerance towards fighting. Each of the kids had to write their account of the incident. I went to the school to meet with the VP re punishment - 3 day suspension. I read all the accounts. I was so shocked. The kids were illiterate. Grade 9 and they couldn’t write a sentence. My son, to his credit wrote a messy but clear account. His was the only one. I expressed my dismay. I was horrified. The VP said ‘William. It isn’t that big of a deal. Kids get into fights in Middle School and Jr High. This was not a bad one. And your son defended himself well.’ I said ‘I could care less about the fight. It is nothing. I am horrified these kids are illiterate’. She said ‘95% can’t write a sentence. They can’t spell. They are illiterate.’ She added Dan’s account was clear as a bell, even though it looked as though he had written it while eating a jam sandwich. This was in a lily white middle class school that encompassed waterfront living families and single Mom families. A range of socio economic conditions. No gang influence whatsoever, for example. And this was 22 years ago. In Canada.

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You said it: They can't write. They are illiterate.

And we are pressed to give them a passing grade so the district can brag to other districts about their numbers.

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the "minimum F" may be the most ridiculous policy to come out of COVID. Eventually these kids will fail.

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Thank you, colleague! Agreed, it's bad and getting worse. People think teachers have much more power over curriculum and instruction than we do. For decades it's all been a gravy train grift for managerial elites, state bureaucrats in bed with corporate publishers and consultants. So many consultants! Teachers in most districts are told what they can wear and what they can teach, and it better be the script of the day. Our unions are too invested in pushing divisive social justice ideology to speak for our concerns, the old circular firing squad. Government overreach, activist teachers and corporate greed are all part of the problem, but at heart the failure is in our families. So many broken homes (among all races) and unstructured, unhealthy home situations. Proof of this is in the success of many immigrant groups who have solid family values and religious traditions and whose children tend to do much better, even in the same broken school systems. Regardless of the deeper cultural causes, public schools should answer to the public, and the buck stops with state governors and their appointed superintendents of education. More pressure needs to be on them to find solutions. Agree that we need change now, if not yesterday. Thanks again for speaking up!

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Unfortunately it isn’t limited to grade school. I spent a few years as a TA at a big state college in upstate NY and was disappointed to discover that the majority of students lacked basic writing skills. If what you say is true across the country, it will only get worse.

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My son, a student at a state university, reported to me (he was a freshman last year) that most kids in his English 101 class couldn't write a coherent paragraph and had to be taught how to write an opening sentence with a "hook". My daughter went to college during the Covid lockdowns and reported back that she had to help her friends with Algebra 1, yet many had to use a calculator to multiply/divide simple numbers and couldn't do fractions or decimals. This is just wrong!....and it's criminal to graduate a student into the big world without educating them in the basic skills needed for life!

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I was a TA in history and can confirm that the level of writing is just atrocious. In one instance we were told that some students don't speak English very well (no they were not ESL students) and we should take this into account when grading. The general approach is to lower the bar so that everyone passes instead of raising expectations (or just keeping them at a reasonable level).

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Basic rules of arithmetic, + - x and dividing, are absolutely essential for algebra. Because algebra uses these in every step of the equation. Of course if they used a calculator for basic math they will never be able to do simple quadratic equations.

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Do we work in the same district???

A few years ago, I started to ask myself and look for the answer to one simple question: who benefits from a generation (or more) of ignorance? I really had to think about this, because my first thought was social media moguls who track current youth from birth and continue to spoonfeed them instantly passing trends - and make billions doing it. But that wasn't it. Graduates and young adults who played into the phone game, the detached game, the "big risk" of not caring about history and writing game, have told me that they don't have any time for that anymore after high school, and further they roll their eyes at whatever trend is current. They've been through it, and the constant changes are boring.

Perhaps it's education companies looking to reach their hands into that big bag of federal and state money, but they are playing the short game. Very few publish companies have outlasted the changing landscape of ed (Pearson, Houghton-Mifflin, you know the ones), and the short-term folks have a one-shot agenda. So who is it?

So I added more questions, and forgive me if I sound like an asshole here but this is how I word it in my mind: Where do people in low economic brackets shop? What are the goals of people without a foundational education? And who plays the long game to benefit from a culture of idiocracy? I think it's the corporations who have and have had major political and social influence for much longer than this generation has been alive. Those folks ride on lobbyists and tax breaks for "job creation" when they build everywhere. And one more question: Where are educated and fiscally viable people shopping and what do they buy? Not WalMart, not Target, and they certainly don't consume fast-fashion in ways TikTok would have us believe. They don't redecorate their living room every season as Target would make us think is normal.

I don't know how it's connected, but my guess is that it very much is. Target and WalMart are just examples, but there are many, and an educated and engaged population does not serve those megalithic corporations. They need a "stupid" population, one that has no leverage, can be paid next to nothing, and a serious lack of desire for education. Because no one dreams of working at WalMart for life, shopping at WalMart by choice, and having to fight for that extra half hour a week so they can get healthcare coverage.

Ridding phones in schools is another part of this equation and one that I continue to be astounded by when districts don't adopt this policy - mine included. Jonathan Haidt of Substack's "After Babel" (and friends) has multiple books that cite this as one of the most necessary implementations. And yet schools and parents seem to be entirely against it. "Yeah, but it's hard because what if....". So many excuses, so much reluctance, and laziness masquerading as "understanding the needs of the community". Even 10 years ago the phone use - and what was on phones - wasn't nearly as problematic as it is now. Phones are unchecked portals into worlds that are far more dangerous and delusional than any kind of unmonitored play or the potential for child abduction/whatever parents fear.

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The interest is too dispersed. Wal-Mart may benefit from a dumbing down, but the benefits are too long-term and mostly don't go to them for the CEO of Wal-Mart to advocate for worse schools.

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"They" may not openly advocate for that specifically, but they benefit from the results.

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Yes, but unless Wal-Mart can take specific actions to make people ignorant that have a positive ROI *for Wal-Mart*, that's irrelevant in terms of policy. A collective incentive is no incentive at all unless a means of coordination exists.

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It was an example, and places *like* WalMart do well to have lower ES populations. Whether they openly push for that, I can't say, but my statement suggested they benefit, not that they are in the "great eye" creating policy.

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You make so many fantastic points here. Phones, oh the phones. This seems, to me, one of the easiest issues to tackle in school and so many refuse to address the issue. I’m a non-traditional teacher. I contract, usually short-term, with schools until their needs are filled and then I move along. I’ve been witness to several different schools in the last 4 years. Schools that have zero phone monitoring, are the absolute worst. Class fail rate is through the roof in those schools. Yet, we keep moving kids up in grade level no matter what.

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Having spent a decade trying to steer a school district from a seat on the School Board, it became obvious that the growing influence of the Curriculum Development people (and the share of the school budget) was substantially larger than we expected. Even hiring a new Superintendent couldn’t change the trajectory. Teachers are not the problem, most of them anyway.

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Look, it has only been a tad over a century (106 years to be exact) since schooling became compulsory in the US. And not even a century since child labor became restricted. For most of our millennia living in civilizations, there was no such thing as school for any but a tiny elite.

At what point do we just accept that at some point between the beginning of this glorious experiment in educating everyone....and the point when pocket-sized instantaneous, infinite titillation-horror-envy-fantasy machines became available to everyone...mass education is no longer feasible?

I honestly believe that beyond elementary school, we are just wasting a massive amount of time, money, and energy on a completely pointless endeavor. It's a charade. It isn't real. The joke here is that it is while kids are in school that they know the most. As adults, they will forget 90% of what they learned, even if it wasn't much in the first place. So why are we going through this fake performance of pretending (and making everyone get up so early in the morning to do it?!).

I would suggest that it is completely unreasonable to provide a 14-year old with access to an infinite, instantaneous supply of the most graphic, provocative, exciting, titillating content that's ever existed in history...and then expect him to pay attention to a boring 40 year old trying to teach them grammar. Like, that is literally an insane thing to do. That anyone would expect any other result is completely crazy.

And these devices have so degraded the spines and the capacity of the adults around them that they no longer serve as sources of discipline. I mean, what are any of you really going to do if the 14 year tells you to eff off? Nothing. Stick in him in a room for a few days? Then send him home where he can be on his device in peace all day? Big deal. He has nothing to fear. No one's going to hit him, no one's going to send him to military school, and even if he got sent to military school, even there no one's going to hit him or do anything other than kick him out again.

Maybe 10% of students are inherently brainy and talented at academics. They will seek out information and learning no matter what context you put them in, because that's what they're into. Let them go to school, or have tutors or do whatever to learn. But the rest are not and never have been...it's always been a charade of pretending to teach them things they would remember more than a year.

But see, there didn't used to be anything else to do...if you weren't in school, you couldn't work, and you couldn't do anything but sit at home watching a boring soap opera or game show because there were only three channels and nothing good on TV during the day. Those were the only options, so you might as well go to school. Now there are much more fascinating alternatives to being in school, for everyone. So the fact that school is not actually doing anything for 90% of students over age 11 has been revealed. This isn't going to change, we need new ideas, like perhaps just letting those kids work for pay.

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I teach HS seniors and am a firm believer that high school is a waste of four years. They leave with nothing save maybe a food handlers permit. We have in our district one school that is on the community college campus and students are dual-enrolled throughout high school. My kid is about to graduate from that school and is done with lower division courses. She is a normal kid - not brilliant. I don't say that to diminish her but to illustrate that any kid can do this and the opportunities to do so need to be in all schools, not just a few.

This whole high school experience needs to change, and fast. Kids leave with nothing.

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I learned algebra. And how to type. That was what I got out of high school. And a horrible social experience. My three sons got more negatives than positives. Maybe my youngest made some good friends he still sees. My eldest two got nothing positive. I don’t think after about grade 4 or 5 you can teach kids less than what they get out of school. I think kids natural learning abilities are stifled sooo much in school they would learn more if you did nothing. Let them wander around, give them books, maybe some great docs to watch, on their own. They’d learn more.

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Lol, yes the typing was a plus! Funny that the one class that involves nothing more than drills and repetitive muscle memory for months on end is the single class that everyone cites as something they actually learned (and retained) in high school. I would guess I probably remember/retained 15% of what I learned in high school...and I was one of the rare kids who actually liked to read and did the reading! It's probably more like 2% for most people. I certainly recall that the majority of kids did not do the assigned reading even back in the 90s. My understanding is that they don't even bother assigning much reading nowadays, bc they know the kids aren't going to do it.

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I was in HS in the 60s. We at least read great literature. My sons were given garbage to read. Which didn’t help their respect for schools.

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You're on to something here but I think you underestimate the natural role of adult mentorship and the innate drive of children, including adolescents, to learn from them. It's ancient and it can't be replaced by screens.

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Oh I 100% agree that screens are the problem here, that's my point. This is the phones and the content provided thereon. That's what it is, not funding, not teacher dedication, it's the phones. Both directly by mesmerizing kids, and indirectly by turning their parents into similarly narcissistic, distracted, spineless excuses for parents who just give in and let the kids do whatever they please.

I'm just saying, there is NOTHING teachers can do to compete against the technology and tidal wave of cultural trash. Unless the parents have the will and means to take their kids out of school or put them somewhere phone free, these kids are toast, and the teachers are given an impossible task. No one can discipline kids, and no one can compete with the infinite entertainment machine. The top 10% bright and cerebral, talented kids will be okay and maybe those really busy with sports too, bc at least you're not on your phone if you're playing a sport.

But people trying to solve this at the individual or school level just seems like fighting a typhoon with a bucket. The technology has changed humanity, for the worse, and it isn't going to change unless something radically changes with what we allow.

I was in high school in the early 90s and I was a "bad" kid up to no good, though also got good grades bc I just naturally liked to read all the time. When I was in 9th grade, to see real live video porn, we all had to go over after school to the one kid's house where he had discovered his father's secret stash...pile into a room together with a dozen of us and one person keeping watch to make sure the parents didn't come home...watch the VHS in collective amazement / confusion / horror / arousal, then carefully rewind it back to the exact place it was when we inserted it and put the tape back in it's hiding place and make sure nothing was out of place so no one got caught. And then the next time you ever saw it again was like 2 years later. Seriously, that's how it was. Think about what it is today. It's amazing 15 year old boys manage to emerge from their rooms at all.

Our society has created a completely twisted, addictive context with horrible incentives and then expects teachers to wave a magic wand and fix it. I think serious rethinking is warranted. And I'd rather some kids at least be doing something socially useful or earning money than spending all their time plugged in to screens and going through a charade of learning.

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I pulled my son from public and put him into private. There was a no cellphone policy. The boys were allowed to have the phones on their body (they wore a sports coat) at all times, BUT they were not allowed to use the phone within the school building during school hours. They were allowed to use their phones outside when they had a free period or while walking to their next class. A violation got the phone taken away, the parents had to come in to get the phone and the student was assessed a 6 day after school suspension (which meant a Saturday school and restriction from after school sports activities). It was the best policy ever and all it took was one stupid freshman bucking the system to let it be known that admin was serious! The best part was that the boys had to actually engage with each other face to face and learn to resolve conflicts amicably.

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It's incredible that this isn't the policy at EVERY school. Seriously what is in people's minds that they think phones in school are anything but an unmitigated disaster? When I was in school you could get sent to detention for getting caught passing a *handwritten note* during class! Now they can just sit there watching YouTube?! Total insanity.

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The biggest problem are parents. In private school, parents sign the contract and know about conduct rules....so they get enforced. In public schools it's the wild, wild west of conduct rules and parents just "know" that their sweet little darling isn't at fault for anything.

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Yeah I know a few teachers, as well as people who left teaching, and their universal complaint is that there is zero ability to discipline students or hold them accountable, and that's because neither the parents nor the administration (who just wants to avoid parent complaints) will allow it or support the teachers. I don't understand what happened the past few decades where parents started siding with their kids over the teachers.

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Blessings to you to continue teaching. Kids are our most important resource. Watching the mishmash of CRT and corporate dumbing down of materials is like watching a faucet running during a drought. My aunt had a friend who worked in my old high school. She retired after kids started having sex in the classrooms. This is the same high school where a student was beaten unconscious by another student. But the dumbing down is spreading across to private schools. My kid is a 1% who went to great schools. Even he is ignorant of historical facts, and common sense is lacking. CRT and the purposeful turning of kids into social justice activists, per Paulo Freire, is going to bring down the whole educational system. The best and brightest who we rely on to innovate will stop coming to our shores and will start taking boats to leave it. Surely, Dubai and others will open STEM universities while our institutions sink under the weight of their administrative class. Peter Robinson recently interviewed Condoleezza Rice, Mary Bush, and Freeman Hrabowski, who all grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama. Angela Davis came from the same area. It is a bit mind-boggling that this small segregated area produced such luminaries at the same time. Their stories were the same—fathers in the home who worked hard to provide for their kids. As you stated, there is a multitude of factors, but it comes down to my belief that where need meets greed, it births dystopia.

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"Idiocracy" has become a documentary.

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Wow. I have heard about this and knew it was happening; I have been shocked to read what some college kids were writing. But this is such a great article about this topic with all of your specific examples. I didn’t know it was that bad. Your paragraph on the causes of the crisis is spot on. This is actually scary. No way this is a teacher thing. If you think Abraham Lincoln is America’s first president, your parents are doing something wrong…I’m sorry.

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Uhhh…yeah. Let’s start with assuming they even know the name “Abraham Lincoln” in the first place, and furthermore, that the name is in any way associated with U.S. Presidents.

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There's a reason so many teachers are throwing up their hands in despair and exiting the profession.

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This is spot on. My husband and I were teachers for 25 and 22 years respectively in public and private school (and included in my years of teaching were 3 years of homeschooling). We both left the classroom about 5 years ago. My husband was recruited to teach at our local public school 2 years ago and he reluctantly agreed since it had been a few years since he’d been in a classroom. He experienced this to a T and had such conflict about staying and finishing out the year (which he did reluctantly).

His one word description is “lawlessness”.

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“Lawlessness” is the perfect adjective here! Schools, and parents, are sending people out into the world with no foundation of poor behavior equating to consequences. Even the judicial system has softened. Too many plea bargains and lessening of charges. Too much “whoa-is-me” happening. Home lives and family values are sucking the soul out of society.

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Thank you from a fellow educator. Though it might be the apocalypse I appreciate being seen and heard. As someone else in the trenches I salute you and your continued efforts.

The scariest part is that in some ways many of the kids know this isn’t right on some basic human level, but because they’re children they can’t change it. Unlike the long line “experts” in both education colleges and administrators who make a killing selling educational snake oil.

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It's good you highlight these things about your country as it makes you a true patriot; you care enough to speak the truth. Your governments (meaning federal or state or even district-wide) should really see what’s happening in places like China et al where education has always been a priority, which includes STEM training which helps build their infrastructure (I’m sure you can find photos of bridges, etc). It’s like the US spends billions of $ on war, but ignores infrastructure and education and yet still wants to think of itself as “the greatest”.

What actually makes the US great are individuals such as yourself. Not only do you care enough, but you are able to analyse and articulate the issue so well and comprehensively breaking down the complexities into a reader-friendly form. You didn’t mention what you taught. English perhaps? Though thus far not more than about 16, most of the comments you’ve got are also indicative of good people out there in your country.

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America is fucking trash. A nation of murderous pedophiles. Fuck this shithole country.

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This is absurd hyperbole. Tons of wonderful Americans. They are seemingly led by pedophiles though.

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Yes, everyone I don't like must be a pedophile

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Not everyone is. But it seems at the upper echelons pedos gather.

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