All my life I assumed flossing was essential to dental health.
It was safe, it was sound, it was normal.
Every day after brushing, I would stand before the bathroom mirror and carefully thread a mint-flavored filament through my teeth – like a chump.
And when I got to the dentist, I’d comfort myself that I had done the best I could to prevent cavities.
The hygienist would remove plaque and germs while scraping and sawing at my teeth with a specialized hook, and all the while I’d think, “At least I flossed every day!”
Yet now the federal government tells us that flossing is ineffective at best!
What!? After all these years!?
It turns out, there just is no evidence that flossing actually helps – never has been. So this summer for the first time in decades the good folks who compile federal dietary guidelines decided not to recommend the practice.
A total of 25 studies have concluded that the evidence for flossing is “weak, very unreliable,” of “very low” quality, and carries “a moderate to large potential for bias,” according to the Associated Press.
“The majority of available studies fail to demonstrate that flossing is generally effective in plaque removal,” said one review conducted just last year. Another 2015 review cites “inconsistent/weak evidence” for flossing and a “lack of efficacy.”
So flossing is out.
It’s not evidence-based.
It’s actually kind of shocking to see the federal government acting so logically.
Where’s the politics? Why aren’t Republicans taking one side and Democrats the other? Why isn’t the dental floss lobby making massive contributions to our lawmakers to influence the decision?
But we get none of that in this instance. Instead, here’s the evidence. It doesn’t support this policy. So let’s discontinue that policy.
I wonder what the world would look like if every government stance was as susceptible to argument, cause and effect, and rationality.
As a public school teacher, I’ve become inured to our lawmakers doing exactly the opposite. They look at the evidence, see it DOESN’T support an education scheme and then… they proudly give it their full support.
As a result, education policy is full of unfounded, fallacious and unproven practices.
Our schools are struggling under the burden of illogical laws. Our teachers are pulling out their hair at a series of half-baked mandates that go counter to everything they’ve learned about childhood development. And our students suffer from procedures that don’t help them learn and in fact actually do much to prevent them from doing so.
Take standardized testing, Common Core and school choice.
Our legislators think standardized testing is the best way to measure learning. Are you freaking kidding me!? In colleges and universities across the country where this has been studied in-depth for centuries, it’s been disproven, ridiculed and considered an antiquated way of thinking about learning. It went out with phrenology and eugenics!
Multiple choice tests like these have consistently been shown to correlate more closely with socioeconomic status than intelligence, retention or understanding. Put simply: if you’re rich, you do well. If you’re poor, you don’t.
Standardized tests as we know them were developed in the Victorian Age to “prove” that wealthy people were just smarter than poor people. They were created to show the innate inferiority of black and brown people and the natural superiority of the white race.
Yet these kinds of assessments still are the backbone of the public school system.
Another fallacious policy championed by many lawmakers is Common Core State Standards. But like The Four Temperments, the Geocentric Universe, and the Flat Earth Theory, they aren’t backed up by evidence. In fact, each of these disproven scientific hypotheses has MORE EVIDENCE behind it than Common Core! Each of these ancient models was based on evidence but later refuted. By contrast, Common Core was never empirically based. In fact, it has never even been studied. Someone just pulled it out of their butt!
Let me say that again: there has never been any proof that Common Core will help children learn. In fact, far from showing any improvement, since its adoption, student outcomes have plummeted. But in many states it’s the law of the land.
In truth, Common Core is a series of academic standards developed by the testing and publishing industry as a way to sell more standardized tests and remediation materials. They were only adopted because state officials were blackmailed to accept them. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have enough money to continue running their state schools. In many cases, the standards weren’t even voted on by state legislators but instead by appointed boards of education.
Yet today these standards (or very similar ones) are required in public schools across 42 states.
Finally, we have the political darling, school choice. Many Republicans and Democrats champion some form of choice and competition in our schools. They all think it will help, despite the fact that there’s more evidence for UFOs, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster!
Very few countries try to help students by increasing their choices without also trying to increase the quality of those choices. Nowhere has it ever been shown that having more schools to choose from is better than less schools to choose from – if you don’t improve the quality of those schools. Simply having more options and having those options compete doesn’t make them better. As John Oliver pointed out recently, the town with the most pizzerias doesn’t necessarily have the best pizza.
In fact, in countries that have initiated school choice policies, they’ve seen educational quality drop – not rise. Yet billionaires all across the US push for us to adopt these policies all the while investing in schemes to enrich themselves if such a policy shift occurred.
It makes no sense. These are misguided, unfounded, and downright insidious ideas.
Yet everyday pundits, policy-makers and politicians still advocate for them – somehow with a straight face. And when someone who actually works in the schools like me points to the evidence – or lack thereof – I’m ignored.
In the words of Frank Zappa, “Modern Americans behave as if intelligence were some sort of hideous deformity.” And our education policies are doing nothing to fix it.
The problem is the very banality of corporate school reform. After almost two decades of these strategies pushed on both sides of the aisle, they’ve become the status quo. It’s just the way we do things.
They’re as common as… well… dental floss.
The federal government saw through the vapidity of that practice. Isn’t it time the administration does the same for corporate school reform?