Cover image for The conspiracy of ignorance : the failure of American public schools
The conspiracy of ignorance : the failure of American public schools
Gross, Martin L. (Martin Louis), 1925-2013.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, [1999]

Physical Description:
x, 291 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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LA217.2 .G76 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
LA217.2 .G76 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
LA217.2 .G76 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In this global age of information, nothing should alarm American parents and leaders more than the failure of our public schools. As quality education of the young becomes the true international currency, that commodity--unfortunately--is in grievously short supply. American schoolchildren lag far behind students in most of the developed world, scoring nineteenth out of twenty-one countries in a recent math competition. On domestic exams, almost forty percent are reading at "below basic" levels.

In this candid, provocative, and comprehensive study of the public school system, from kindergarten through high school, bestselling author Martin L. Gross charges that the Education Establishment has nurtured a conspiracy of ignorance that promotes and defends lower standards of teaching and learning designed to maintain its monopoly on our public schools.

The verdict is in: The teaching vocation has failed to produce competent teachers, penalizing its 45 million public school students. The problem is that the Establishment--from a tight group of teachers, principals, superintendents, education professors, and counselors, to the state commissioners of education--selects mainly academically inferior teacher candidates, and ignoring time-tested fundamentals, trains them in such dubious concepts as "educational psychology" and a "whole language" method of reading that ignores proper grammar and spelling.

In a series of shocking revelations, Mr. Gross describes how the typical teacher learns little more than a two-year community college graduate; how the average college-bound student scores fifty points higher on his SAT exams than most of his teachers; how the great majority of school teachers are less trained in their own specialties than other college graduates in the same field; and how "untrained" teachers in both private and public schools perform better than Establishment graduates.

The usual remedies--from federal aid to smaller class sizes--have done nothing to alleviate these problems because they make no attempt to challenge the Education Establishment's control. In a powerful Bill of Indictment, Mr. Gross shows how the teaching vocation, aided by its unions, maintains a self-perpetuating cycle of low performance, and he offers his own detailed prescription for change that will raise public education to the level our children--and society--need and deserve.

The Conspiracy of Ignorance is a lucid, persuasive argument based on a wealth of research that asks the questions most education observers are afraid to ask. It is a book desperately needed to ensure that American schoolchildren will have a chance to prosper as educated and productive citizens in today's world.

Author Notes

Martin L. Gross is the New York Times bestselling author of The Government Racket, A Call for Revolution, and The Tax Racket, as well as The End of Sanity, The Brain Watchers, The Doctors, and The Psychological Society. He is the recipient of the NEA's School Bell Award, and has been a faculty member of the New School for Social Research and an adjunct associate professor of Social Science at New York University. He lives and works in Connecticut.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Longtime institutional critic Gross is always fluent, persuasive, and uncranky. He skewers conservative bugbears like taxes and liberal ones like the medical establishment without spouting either party's line. Now, in one of his best books, he takes aim at an institution, the public schools, that is usually a conservative's target. Unlike many conservatives, though, he advocates reform, not replacement. What really needs to be changed, he says, is the education establishment consisting of colleges of education, teachers' unions, school psychologists, and educational administrators. Proceeding from 19 indictments--items such as "teacher training is lax," "the doctor of education degree . . . is inferior . . . and requires little academic knowledge," and "the Establishment dislikes traditional [teaching] methods" --he presents evidence of their accuracy and of who bears responsibility for them. In the manner of 1960s schools critic Paul Goodman, who believed that carpers must also propose improvements, Gross suggests 19 changes that are ambitious (otherwise, why bother? Goodman would have said) and particular; for instance, "close all undergraduate schools of education." The predicaments (e.g., "dumbed-down" curriculum, the therapeutic classroom, unions protecting incompetence) that Gross points out will be familiar to those who keep up with the public schools debate, but his knack for citing the cogent and authoritative statistic, test ranking, or poll finding at the right time makes his distillation of the massive public-school critique the book those in a hurry should read first. --Ray Olson

Table of Contents

1 An Indictment of the Education Establishment: The Decline of Teaching and Learningp. 1
2 A Tale of American Student Failure: Domestic Ignorance and International Embarrassmentp. 16
3 The Making of a Modern Teacher: Weak Selection and a "Mickey Mouse" Educationp. 39
4 The Debased Reading Curriculum: Whatever Happened to Phonics?p. 71
5 Licensing and Certification of Teachers: A Nationwide Shamp. 90
6 The Debased General Curriculum: Whatever Happened to Geography and Trigonometry?p. 104
7 The Psychologized Classroom: Counseling, Personality Testing, and Dr. Freudp. 129
8 Private, Parochial, and Charter Schools: Superior Education and a Matter of Choicep. 149
9 Alternate Certification of Teachers: Competition from a Brighter "Untrained" Cadrep. 175
10 Middle School and High School: Legions of Abandoned Mindsp. 185
11 The Teachers' Unions: Using Schools as a Political Toolp. 211
12 The Establishment and the Community: Unscholarly Administrators, Weak School Boards, and Pliant PTAsp. 226
Conclusion: How to Reform, Rebuild, and Regain Our Public Schoolsp. 246
Endnotes and Bibliographyp. 255
Indexp. 277