05/14/2008 10:03 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Education's Baron von Munchausen

Back in 1998, I got a call from a high school chemistry teacher in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. He had just heard a speech by a consultant named Willard Daggett who claimed, among other things, that we were the only nation in the world that still thought that you teach biology and chemistry as separate courses. This teacher was Net-savvy and checked syllabi in various nations and found they looked pretty much like us. He knew that I had taken Daggett to task for saying stuff that wasn't true (specifically, claiming there was research showing that high school dropouts could handle a VCR manual better than high school graduates; no such research existed) and so called to ask what I thought of this statement. It turned out that Daggett had been video taped and tapes were freely available (they no longer are).

Even though I had caught Daggett in the VCR whopper before, I was bowled over by the tapes.

Here's one segment from the tape. It wasn't used when I gave Daggett a "Rotten Apple in Education" award in 1999 because it involved his family. But, it's been 10 years, and while the stories have changed, the b.s. remains.

At one point on this tape, Daggett is telling high schoolers how the world is your oyster if you go into bio-tech. He says, "my oldest daughter, this young is the president and CEO of the 4th largest medical facility in the world. It's called Carolina Complete Care. She's got not only Carolina but John Hopkins (sic) and Boston Child's (sic). She's married to a neurosurgeon." On another tape he says she has 41 lawyers reporting directly to her just on the ethical-moral issues of gene research.

His fatal gambit was to name the facility. Just using 411, I found it in Charlotte and called.

Perky voice: "Good morning, Carolina Complete Care."
Me: "This will sound like an off the wall question, but I'm looking for a daughter of Willard Daggett."
Perky voice: "That's me, Heidi."
There was now a silence of indeterminate duration as I contemplated that the president and CEO of the 4th largest medical facility in the world answered her own phone.
Me: "Do you run the place?"
Heidi: "I'm the office manager."
Me: "How many physicians are in the practice?"
Heidi: "Four."
Me: "Is your husband one?"
Heidi: "Yes, he's a chiropractor."

Unable to control laughter, I hung up. That was my complete interaction and only interaction with anyone from Daggett's family, but, speaking with a reporter some years later, he accused me of harassing his family. My article (in the October 1999 Phi Delta Kappan) was pretty potent, but the most devastating critique came from a senior at the Grosse Pointe High School who had called experts all over the nation to gather the info that refuted Daggett's claims). It was published in the high school newspaper.

About a year ago, I got a call from a reporter in Iowa who had become suspicious about Daggett's statements. I sent him tapes and DVDs (by then I had quite a collection). It took him a year to get something the paper's lawyer would pass on, but it came out recently. To my surprise, it came accompanied by a video which shows Daggett saying something ridiculous followed by the truth flashed on the screen. It's a riot. It is now on YouTube. If it were a MasterCard ad, it would be the part where they say "priceless." Here's the clip:

. And keep in mind, this is only a 5-minute stint. Imagine what you'd hear in an entire hour.

Daggett appears to have lowered his prices. He got over $8,000 for his day in Grosse Pointe a decade ago, but only $6,000 for a 3-hour talk in 2007 to the Iowa State Board of Education.