Can America’s Schools Be Saved? An Insider Weighs In

Can America’s Schools Be Saved? An Insider Weighs In

Can America’s Schools Be Saved? An Insider Weighs In.

The American education system has long been in crisis. It seems every administration seeks to reform the system, but it usually ends up making matters worse. The book, Can America’s Schools Be Saved? How the Ideology of American Education Is Destroying It, helps explain what has gone wrong.

Author Edwin Benson has seen it all. He is a teacher and shares the fate of his students by being a victim of programs, testing standards and new-fangled crazy ideas. He vents his frustration at dealing with ivory tower reformers and theorists who will not let students be students and teachers be teachers.

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The book’s style is accessible, engaging and genuine. It is full of refreshing anecdotes that reflect a lifetime of teaching experience. It even has a classroom feel by its logic and clarity. One senses the author’s passion for education that remains unshaken despite everything that conspires against him.

Tracing the Process of Education’s Decline

What makes the book so valuable is that it pinpoints the problem in its origins. The culprit is not a specific bad program but an ideology that generates bad programs. Until the ideology is rejected, the march of new programs will continue indefinitely as reformers never tire in recycling their bad ideas.

The main proponent of this ideology is reformer John Dewey who marked the American system in the early twentieth century. His ideas put a collectivist stamp on education that diminished the full intellectual development of the individual. His emphasis on teaching skills rather than knowledge has eroded the very reason for education. His utilitarianism has discouraged the teaching of any absolute standards of truth, morals and beauty. Dewey taught relativism regarding morals and accepted anything that might work for the occasion.

It is from this focus of process not program that the author denounces the errors of the American public school system. His is truly an insider’s perspective since he has heard every slogan and seen every fix-it kit. Like a detective, he traces the processes that have brought education down to where it is today.

Some programs like Outward Based Education did not last long and now lay in what he calls educational “cemeteries.” Others have lingered on for decades inside “intensive care units” waiting for someone to pull the plug. Readers of any age can find how they fit into the process by locating the “Common Core” equivalent of their youth.

Can America’s Schools Be Saved? An Insider Weighs In

Proposals for Reform

Needless to say, Mr. Benson has presented a compelling case for reform. He has taken the first step toward this goal by helping the normal reader better understand the crisis. However, given the entrenched present state of affairs, a drastic change, while proven to be logical and necessary may seem improbable in the near future.

The temptation of most reformers is to attack a big problem with a bigger solution.

Proposing a Philosophy of Education

This is not the case with this book. The second part deals with proposals on a human scale. This is where the author’s experience as a teacher shines forth. His proposals are not ethereal and inaccessible. They are doable if adopted with common sense.

The author does not fall into the trap of so many educational reformers. These activists reason that if the problem is caused by the imposition of an ideology, then the solution must consist of imposing a counter-ideology. Thus, they devise a rigid set of principles that they force upon the concrete circumstances in the form of an equally rigid program.

What Mr. Benson presents is not an ideology but a philosophy of education that draws upon his own experience. He presents a few universal principles of education, recognized by teachers since the time of Socrates. He then gives teachers the freedom and flexibility to apply these principles according to their talents, abilities and circumstances.

Applying Principles, Discipline and Transcendentals

Thus, he presents, for example, the principle of subsidiarity which he calls “authentic and organic bottoms-up decision making.” This operating principle of the Catholic Church holds that “any problem is best solved by someone who is intimately connected to it.” Acting in this manner would cut through the burdensome bureaucracy that so stifles initiative and progress.

The author encourages teachers to resort to the simple telling of marvelous stories as a tool for better education. He recommends common sense in applying much needed discipline that would involve “simplicity, consistency, immediacy and cessation.”FREE e-Book, A Spanish Mystic in Quito: Sor Mariana de Jesus Torres

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In reply to the naturalistic perspective of modern education, Mr. Benson calls for restoring what are called the “transcendentals,” which consist of the good, the true and the beautiful. These have always informed classical education and are a logical stepping stone to the consideration of God.

A Limited Scope

It is important to note that the author does not extend himself beyond his focus of the American school system of which he is familiar. He does not address more classical and religious models that deal with the complete education of the body and soul of the student. He merely suggests guidelines that would combat the ideology that is destroying American education.

However, if his suggestions were applied to the present system, they would inevitably lead to a more ideal manner of teaching the truth. That is why modern educators will not like this book. They will see where it leads.

It will lead to an educational model that is in harmony with human nature and turned to God and an eternal destiny.

The Art of Education

Such a model is impossible when the model is like a machine. Mr. Benson insists that education is not a science that automatically churns out informed students.

If that were the case, he argues, simple application of its methods and principles would yield consistent and predictable results. That is not what has happened. In fact, the only thing consistent about educational programs, designed in laboratories, is their failure.

That is why he insists that there must be a return to “the concept of teaching as an art.” Education is an art that involves organic human relationships that are not found on spreadsheets. Teachers by their nature should be role models that communicate character and virtue. The teacher’s role, like that of an artist, is to inspire and motivate the student to aspire to the truth.

When that happens, teachers will once again be passionate for their art. And students will more easily return to the innocent love of the truth.


As seen on American Thinker.


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  • Randal Agostini

    One book, one set of ideas is a good start, but who would dare to raise their hand in a system that is overtly hostile to independent thought.
    There is a political opportunity to take the issue to the voting Public – to marry property or personal taxation assigned to schooling to the ability for parents to choose which school their child attends. Withdraw the Blaine Amendment from the 38 states that still implement this outdated bigoted law.
    America has a peculiar advantage which fully accepts the principle of subsidiarity – the idea that independent minds, having the ability to flourish in a free environment, and grow in the largest single language market, can change the world as we know it in a very short time. We have great examples such as Edison and Job.
    One school, using Mr. Benson’s or others enlightened principles, could change the standard of education in one generation.

  • Daniel Jones

    Based on your description, I am excited to read this book. There are certain efforts that are forming in the direction this book seems to take based on this review. There may be modern educators that would not care to digest Mr. Benson’s account of what is happening and where the education system needs to go but there is also a weariness heaped upon school teachers to cyclical continuation of the same theories, over and over again. There may be a “silent majority” waiting for some common sense approaches to this problem. They may just be waiting for someone to make the challenge and call for the debate. I feel there is definitely an audience for this book in the world of education and I am a teacher. Thank you Mr Horvat. God bless you Mr. Benson!