The failure of the Critical Approach to Education – Part One

(The following is excerpted from my book, Poor Cheated Little Johnny.)

We’ve considered how tests, grades, grade levels, classroom situations and the categorization of children hamstring students, educators and parents.

But these are time-honored tools of the education trade, are they not? Sure they are.

Here’s another piece of work that is almost universally accepted as a “must” in education – evaluation.

Let’s say that you have a bright, active child. Let’s call him Little Johnny. Little Johnny is interested. The world is new and fascinating for him, every day. He has every right to anticipate an interesting and vital life experience! After all, our world is a pretty interesting place. Johnny gets up each morning assuming that life will be an adventure. And so it should be.

Then he goes to school.

For many students, that’s when the adventure turns into grim punishment. They find themselves compared. Little Johnny is “slow in math”. He’s “remedial” in science or reading. He’s “behind his grade level”. Why, goodness, Little Johnny isn’t little at all, instead he’s “too tall”! The boy is just “too friendly”. And he’s “religious”! (Gasp – none of that here now, this is school!)

Little Johnny is tested and found to have absolutely no aptitude for the thing he is most interested in, even though it certainly appears that he’s pretty good at doing that thing already.

Say, Little Johnny has a “high I.Q”! Or he has a medium or low I.Q.” with the corresponding expectations.

We’re sorry, the tests show that Little Johnny is “antisocial”. He’s “hyperactive”. He has “concentration issues” in class.
He has “ADD”, or “ADHD”.

Or perhaps Little Johnny is just “B-O-R-E-D”?

In short, the student that was just days ago bursting with plans and dreams and hopes and potential, and who was truly unique, is now longer unique at all! He is now identified, he’s labeled. The label slapped onto his forehead is some variation of “different-bad”.

Ah well. Poor Little Johnny is of far less value, he and his parents are informed, than was ever believed or dreamed of in their worst nightmares. Little Jonny’s potential is…well… limited.

And with impressive “authority”, the teacher and principle and school psychologist state that your child “needs help”. And they’re ready to help, yes they are! Help in the form of additional organizational controls over the student’s life…more time cracking the books (read “homework four hours a night”), “special” classes, counseling, Ritalin or worse.

Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad. Little Johnny really is not special and he never was. Instead, your boy is a “problem”, and the experts have a word, a title, a label to explain it all to you.

Your student has been evaluated.

He has been found wanting.

The world is not fascinating to Johnny any more. Now the world is threatening, a place in which he is a problem or has problems. After all, that’s what the “experts” have told him and they must be right. They’re “experts”.

A life of self-doubt and even drug addiction (prescribed and enforced by the state or school) has begun. (And not to get too dramatic, but has there been a shooting in a school in the last twenty years committed by a student who was not undergoing psychiatric “care”, most or all of them on prescribed drugs? Doesn’t seem so.)

Students must not be too vital or too interested. Such students must be contained for their own good and for the good of the classroom and school. They must be controlled to help them focus on the (generally worthless) materials to be studied. If the student is too bright, he might pull ahead of the rest of the class in a subject or two. We’ll have none of that excelling or showing off in our school!

Ritalin is great for controlling kids. Believe me, after taking it just one time, YOU as an adult would never choose to take it again. (I know of one parent who did this by accident. They stopped giving it to their children henceforth.) And Ritalin is addicting. Did the good people who prescribed it for your child neglect to mention that little fact? It is classified as the same type of drug as Heroin. Was that in the brochure in the doctor’s office?

For those of you with children using drugs like Ritalin on your children, I am not trying to be flip or rude, but really, you must consider the effects such drugs will have on your child in the long term against any perceived short term gain. Any drug is a poison, a toxin, by definition. Most problems that psychiatric drugs attempt to address can be far better handled through diet and exercise and through many other means, as has been proven in tens of thousands of cases. I completely understand that you are trying to help your children! That’s what you’re supposed to do! But drugging them is not the way. If you insist that it is, then my advice really may not be for you. I am extremely not in favor of “controlling” children or adults with drugs. In fact, I see little reason to “control” a child at all except to keep them from running in front of a moving car at age five. We should cooperate with children, yes. We should work with children to assure them a great life, absolutely. But should we control a child? I strongly think not.

Might a child be anxious or bored in class, and still be a “normal” and sane child? Given what education has become today, you bet. In fact, in a school, the bored child is probably the sane child, almost every time. He knows that his time is being wasted, his life stolen away by the hour.

Not to point out the extremely obvious, but if you as an adult were forced to study materials that were never made relevant to your life, day in and day out, week after week, month after month, year after year – if all of free or “discretionary” time when you might have pursued things that really did interest you was taken away in favor of MORE study of worthless junk – um, you might get a bit depressed or bored, too.

Anger or boredom would, in fact, be the sane response to knowing that your life was being stolen from you a day at a time. You might even get “hyper” about wanting to be elsewhere and wanting to do other things.

As you probably know, I am an advocate for homeschooling. It’s my belief that homeschooling potentially provides a student with a vastly superior education than schooling in any form. This is backed up by a lot of numbers and research. I’ve taught for public and private schools, at the University level, as a private instructor in thousands of workshops, and as a homeschool dad running a homeschool group. Homeschooling by far works best for most students- and most families.

But I understand that many parents do not believe they can effectively homeschool. They’ve been told that they “don’t have degrees,” and that they “aren’t qualified.” This is all nonsense, of course. You’re legally not required to have any kind of a degree to homeschool your kids anywhere in the U.S. A lot of people who have degrees and who call themselves “professional teachers” are simply awful, and even destructive at what they do. A lot of parents…hundreds that I know of…have homeschooled their kids right into universities and careers.

In a serious effort to make homeschooling easier to do, and more commonly successful in terms of education received, I’ve authored my own curriculum. It took some 15,000 hours to write, over more than a decade of work, and is intended to replace the need for schooling a student from age 5-Adult Continuing Education. The curriculum is called Steps (or “CTT”). It has been used by over 20,000 students worldwide over the past 10 years. Hundreds of “success stories” attest to how well CTT works.

CTT courses are written in a way that gradually allows the student to take over his own education. Each course itself largely does the teaching, relieving mom and dad of that duty unless they wish to use our daily lesson plans in various subjects as springboards for family discussion and discovery – as many families do, every day. The parent has the job of making certain the student is working and has what they need to study. (And you’ll need to find a good math program for homeschooling as we don’t provide one. There are many.)

Below are links to our site discussing each level of curriculum, and every subject at that level that we offer. (You can start any level at any time. We don’t have “semesters” that start at a certain time, and each course stands alone well.) You’ll find free videos describing how every subject and each level works. You’ll discover free samples of every course we offer. Our site offers many other services and surprises, including numerous free courses you can download and try out.

Starter is for ages 5-6, and for preliterate students of any age. It focuses on starting to develop literacy skills, while teaching about various subjects. Starter includes full two-year programs in Reading, History, Science, Creative Writing, and Living Your Life, courses that develop life and study skills for the youngest students. Every lesson plan at the Starter level works to develop literacy.

Elementary is for ages 7-8, and for students who are developing literacy. It includes two-year programs in Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing (which also teaches the parts of language at this level), and Living Your Life courses which develop life and study skills in preparation for more advanced studies to come.

Lower School (ages 9-10) offers two-year programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, P.E. Electives, and in various arts such as Animation, Music Theory, and Acting. At this level, students must read fairly well, and studies are progressively turned over to the student.

Upper School (ages 11-High School, and Adult Continuing Education) provides programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, Current Events, Literature Guides, P.E. Electives, and in arts such as Animation, Acting, Music Theory, and Music History.

For parents who wish to teach at home, but are intimidated at the thought, and for parents who just wish to improve the homeschool experience, we offer a ten course homeschool program for homeschool teachers, as well as several books about education and homeschooling today.

We want you and your children to win with homeschooling!

9 comments for “The failure of the Critical Approach to Education – Part One

  1. Angelic
    June 21, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Hello, this excerpt made the case for adjusting the labels that are placed on low income urban youth as “at risk”. Instead, these children are “placed at risk” and end up being “at risk”. They are placed at risk of being placed in the same exact context and environment that you’ve described. However, their names often aren’t Little Johnny. Some students have names like Quintavious, etc.

    Thanks for writing this.

  2. July 2, 2011 at 10:02 am


    I get your point, believe me, but I’m opposed to ALL labeling of any kind. Each child is unique, individual, with unique skills, interests, needs and wants. Labeling of any kind is an attempt to unitize human beings, turn them into some identifiable part of a “system” so that they can be “properly handled” and controlled. This is a disgusting by-product of 20th century thinking that has been embraced by governments, education, and other institutions as a “tool” to simplify administrative and service-oriented requirements. Labeling is simply disgusting in any form.

  3. Sharon Curran
    November 27, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Interesting article…especially your valid point about the unfairness of labelling. I agree completely but I would like to point out the reality that a lot of parents are in favour of labelling when their children are indicated as “gifted.” It’s funny how much power a label gets when it is positive; no one wants an ADHD child but everyone wants that tag “gifted.” It is sad either way. Children aren’t meant to be slotted into categories with evaluations and expectations and paradigms that don’t seem to change over time. Every child is wonderful; every child is gifted but it is very easy to forget that.
    Thank you for the excerpt.

    • November 27, 2011 at 9:49 am

      Agreed!!! I was a “gifted” student and felt that it was a burden throughout my schooling. The expectations were nonsense and had nothing to do with me or what I wanted to learn. You are so right!

  4. July 11, 2012 at 2:15 am

    This makes me sad as I read it. My little Johnny is going into 9th grade next year and I want him sooo much to do homeschooling / Virtual High School so he can stop being compared both academically and socially …. and more. Thank you for writing on these topics that are so close to so many, including my own, heart.

  5. November 7, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Found you on Twitter (as we’ve been tweeting back and forth…Shell_Buck). I have a daughter with Aspergers, ADD, and Sensory issues. I know that labels in school are bad, but do you think in life they are bad? Aspergers diagnosis has helped me understand my child better, have more compassion on her, and change how I teach her. I don’t think its all bad. But I can definitely see the downside of it…thinking my child will “never” learn, feeling hopeless that she won’t get it, feeling inadequate, ect. Do you think there can be a balance? OR do you believe all labels, even from the medical community are wrong? I don’t whole heartedly agree with the ADD diagnosis. I think they give those to kids when they don’t know what to tell you. We never put our child on medicine.

    • November 7, 2012 at 10:42 am

      Hi Michelle,

      Well, I think you’ve figured it out. I don’t believe that the people who assign such labels know what to do – and that’s a generous definition of the problem they create. I’m willing to bet that you understand your own child fairly well, and without the label. I do not believe there is any such thing as ADD. I DO believe that the schools and modern educational methods fail miserably to secure and retain children’s interest or attention – and they need an “out” to hide their spectacular failure. Why SHOULD a child sit still? They’re children, they’re supposed to be active and in motion! Why SHOULD a child care about studies he does not care about? Would YOU? Would any adult? Why should a child be expected to be more “responsible” than an adult. If a subject is not demonstrated to a child to be interesting or at least useful, why should a child care about that study?

      You got it right. They label because (charitably) they don’t know what to do. Modern educational and critical techniques lead inevitably to that result. And VERY WELL DONE for avoiding medicating your children!!!

  6. Nancy J. Bell
    March 1, 2013 at 5:03 am

    I enjoyed reading your article and am happy to see more people than just me running around saying it. I successfully homeschooled my two youngest children and they went on to be successful honors students in college, allowing them to follow their passions in learning, taking them off the beaten track, and focusing on mastery of material instead of grades that accept less than understanding (when compared to what?) I am now helping my sister homeschool her daughter, having to pluck her from a seething cauldron of self-down, denial, false accusation and limitations being imposed on her thinking. “Why Johnny Can’t Think, The Politics of Bad Schooling” another timeless piece demonstrating the dumbing down of American children. Try checking out MIT’s newest FREE online class, “Learning how to learn almost anything: Creative Learning.” Good stuff!
    Our children are wonderfully built to learn, until our schools squeeze them into tiny cubes of obedience, conformity, and mundanity. I support homeschooling!

    • March 1, 2013 at 9:04 am

      Well done on your children, Nancy!! Yup, there’s lots of help out there for homeschoolers…enough that many options are created as to the approach one might take to homeschool. And that is a very good thing, as the number of people homeschooling is growing very fast.

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