A recent issue of Forbes contained the truly wonderful news that a corporation is now selling a video encyclopedia of the 20th century. This is sure to be a hot item in the “education technology” business. Today’s students, who dislike ordinary encyclopedias because they must be read, can now “tap into the visual side of their brains” and get their history by TV.

Anybody concerned about the dismal state of education today can only be depressed at such inventions. Who comes up with these nifty new educational ideas? The answer is, of course, “educationists,” by which I mean professors of education along with consultants and educators who have degrees in education from various “teachers colleges.” In the burgeoning literature on the decline of education, not much attention has been paid to the culpability of educationists for the degeneration of American education. Reginald Damerell has written a fascinating book which shines a light on educationists, one that will surely make the roaches scramble for cover.

Damerell should know what he’s talking about. After 11 years as a copywriter for an advertising agency, he was invited to join the faculty of the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) College of Education, after the critical and popular success of his book Triumph in a White Suburb, about a desegregation fight. While a professor of education, Damerell discovered an awful truth: Educationists are usually full of nonsense. Those professors in more rigorous disciplines simply dismiss departments of education as worthless. Ph.D.’s in classics or physics show more respect for a driver’s license than for an Ed.D., the standard academic credential among educationists. It is widely understood that the academic losers enter the school of education because they cannot make it in any of the tougher disciplines (arts and sciences, engineering, medicine, law, or computer science). But since most professors don’t take the educationists seriously enough to bother publicizing their failings, and since professors of education are themselves eager to keep the public in the dark, it takes a Mr.-Smith-goes-to-Washington (or more exactly, Amherst) to do the job.

Damerell’s book is great fun to read. He recounts the story of Mary, accepted into the doctoral program at Amherst with Graduate Record Exam scores of 210 quantitative and 240 verbal—in effect, zero because the lowest score possible is 200. A roomtemperature IQ did not prevent her from attaining the Ed.D. Damerell discovered that Bill Cosby received one, too—and so did the wife of the dean of the school. All three got their degrees by taking lots of “independent study” courses and doing “research” that falls far short of what would be accepted in other disciplines. Seeing such cases firsthand opened Damerell’s eyes.

As a field with no body of knowledge, a subject in search of content, education is filled with inane ideas. None is sillier than the current push among educationists for “visual literacy,” vaguely defined as:

. . . a group of vision competencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having and integrating other sensory experiences.

As a man who once earned his living writing TV commercials, Damerell makes short work of “visual literacy” before moving on to dissect other idiocies. Damerell explains in detail the damage education theorists have done to reading instruction, although curiously he does not discuss the excellent work done by Rudolf Flesch (author of the 1955 classic Why Johnny Can’t Read) in generating public pressure for better reading instruction. Damerell also does a good job of documenting how educationists—especially the infamous Mary Futrell of the NEA—lowered standards for both teachers and students. (Only recently and reluctantly has the NEA supported even weak standards for teacher certification.) Textbooks have been lowered in quality, tests eliminated or watered down, and so on—the whole familiar, disgusting scene is reviewed in his book.

Damerell goes beyond the usual (quite correct) criticisms of current education theory to broach a touchy topic: the poor academic performance of minorities. He finds that Asians do better academically than blacks or other minorities not because of differences in innate intelligence but rather because of better work habits and higher parental expectations. Asians do well because they work: They read, write, compute, both in the classroom and at home. Not for them the nostrums of the education-school quacks: learning by TV (“visual literacy”); “bilingualism” as an excuse for not learning English; “self-image” building through inflated grades; substitution of touchy-feely electives for math and grammar. For speaking the simple truth Damerell will probably be attacked by education bureaucrats as racist, though he was awarded a Human Relations Award by the Urban League of Bergin County and though he worked to elect Teaneek’s first black councilman and to pass fair-housing laws. He has shown about educational programs what Charles Murray has shown about welfare programs: that liberal programs hurt blacks and other minorities, and hurt them badly. His radical suggestion that we eliminate all schools of education deserves support from thoughtful Americans of every race.


[Education’s Smoking Gun: How Teachers Colleges Have Destroyed Education in America, by Reginald Damerell; New York: Freundlich Books]