Monday, August 23, 2010

Who Is To Blame for School Failure? Part 4 of 5

Read Part 3...

Type in “curriculum controversy” to your Google web browser and your search results number almost one and a half million. Why? Because, well, to put it bluntly, curriculum today either: has little to no actual educational value, proclaims theories as truth or just outright lies, or is so chock-full of socialist garbage that what little information of educational value is included is nearly impossible to find.

As one educationist proclaimed in the 1960s: “Historically the school has taught the three R’s and it has left much of the process of socialization and the development of values – at least officially – to the home, church, and community. It is conceivable that we may someday see the home formally assuming the student’s intellectual education, with the school becoming primarily a center for socialization.”

This was only the beginning of the public schools’ shift away from actual cognitive learning to feelings-focused curricula.

By 1977, the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development’s yearbook was devoted entirely to ‘Feeling, Valuing, and the Art of Growing: Insight into the Affective.’ “If education is concerned with total development of the individual,” one of its authors insisted, “then it must go beyond the facilitation of cognitive development. Education must become involved in the child’s personal development – his feelings, emotions, values, and interpersonal relationships. This aspect of humanistic education is becoming known as affective education…” The yearbook described affective education in language that is a cross between a pitch for a cruise ship and an encounter group. “It is our contention that schools can help persons become feeling, valuing, and growing individuals. Schools can provide settings designed to evoke feelings – settings in which persons can experience pleasure, passion, delight, and spontaneity….Schools can provide settings designed for the art of growing – settings in which extending ideas, commitment, striving, revising, transforming, and developing wholeness are evident.”

The yearbook goes on to make it clear that schools should no longer be in the drear and limited business of simply teaching children how to read and write. “Literacy is not good enough,” it declared. “More is needed to live a personally satisfying life.” Not content with math, science, history, geography, and literature, the educationist authors of the yearbook declared their preference for an alternative philosophy in which students are educated in “perceiving from many and varied perspectives, communicating thoughts and feelings in reciprocally open, honest, and constructive ways; loving by spending oneself in trusting, empathetic, and mutually enhancing relationships; problem solving and decision making which consider varied alternatives and their consequences; creating for the generation of innovative personalities in all facets of human thought, feeling, and action; and valuing to continually determine one’s own livable code of ethics.

Their vision of the new education was a stew of self-actualization, mixed with psychobabble and a dash of rhetoric about diversity. “We believe,” they insisted, “that for maximum learning and for maximum richness of living, each person must be valued for himself with his uniqueness recognized and not only respected but revered: ‘I am a self and you are a self and I don’t want to be made to feel guilty if I am not like you nor should you be made to feel guilty if you are unlike me.’ " When children would actually have time to learn anything remained unclear.

One of the earliest exercises in the new curriculum of feelings was the rap session or encounter group, in which students with “no assigned subject matter” or agenda would sit around and “talk about themselves or whatever is of concern to them.” Educationist Cecil Patterson insisted that from these meaningful experiences, students could learn:

To listen to others
To accept and respect others
To understand others
To identify and become aware of one’s feelings
To express one’s feelings
To become aware of the feelings of others
To experience being accepted and understood by others
To recognize basic commonalities in human experience
To explore oneself
To develop greater awareness of oneself
To be oneself
To change oneself in the direction of being more the self one wants to be
To help others accept themselves
To help others understand themselves and each other

Patterson explains that in such groups, “learning occurs without the input of external content…” In other words, it is totally self-indulgent. No ideas are offered by adults, no role model is presented. No arguments about what might constitute the “good” are considered, nor is the possibility even entertained that such a “good” might exist and that the students might wish to strive for it. Neither literature nor history are offered as guideposts, only the apparently infallible compass of each youngster’s “feelings”. (Sykes, 45)

…Beyond the grimly absurd attack on academic values in such programs is the baseness of their values, emphasizing needs but not obligations, feelings but not thoughts, self-gratification rather than self-sacrifice, self-indulgence rather than restraint, self-satisfaction rather than self-knowledge – all of which adds up to a particularly undiluted form of self-absorption. The child is taught to focus on him or herself almost exclusively; the needs of others are somewhere over a distant horizon. The child and his appetites – his emotions, feelings, impulses – are the center of this universe and the requirements of family, community, and other are decidedly secondary. (Sykes, 53)

…”All of this indicates,” Moeller concludes, “that massive efforts to improve the global self-esteem of children (particularly in the early elementary school years) are misplaced. The research suggests that rather than worrying about developing programs to improve self-esteem, elementary teachers would profit more by focusing their efforts on devising better ways of teaching children basic skills and on helping young children develop higher levels of achievement motivation. (Sykes, 55)

So, apparently, in the modern education system, how a child feels about himself and his work is far more important than how well he actually understands or performs the work. Because of this, we have:

• Whole language reading instruction – reading is difficult at first, and heaven forbid we should present our children with anything difficult. Instead, let’s spare them the “drudgery” (as it was put by the California school boards in 1987) of having to learn the rules and mechanics of reading. One of the top education advisors in California said this: “Our state’s educational leaders decided it was terribly insulting for kids to have to learn number tables or how to spell words, so we ended up with math books without arithmetic, and literature books without reading.” Yep, teaching the basics of phonics is apparently insulting to those poor kids’ egos. Can’t have that.

• Inventive Spelling – Under this way of teaching spelling, children are told that there is no one “right” way to spell a word. (Of course, how could they spell it, they never learned to sound it out when they read it!) Again, it is thought that correcting a child’s spelling would be damaging to his or her self-esteem, and therefore should be frowned upon. This is why we have fourth graders writing assignments like the following and receiving marks for above average work:

I’m goin to has majik skates. Im goin to go to disenelan. Im goin to bin my mom and dad and brusr and sisd. We r go to se mickey mouse.


Once a pona time, I visted a tropical rian forist. It was very pretty. There were lots of trees and anamlas. My fifil anaml was a jacwier. My ffifit insect was a wihite butterfly, my fifit riptil was a comilin…

• Creative (New) Math – 1989 was a turning point for math instruction in the United States. That year, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) launched the New Math revolution by issuing a comprehensive set of new standards for teaching math.

These new standards instructed teachers to spend more time focusing on:

Cooperative work
Discussion of mathematics
Writing about mathematics
Content integration
Exploration of chance
Problem-solving strategies
Use of calculators and computers

The NCTM standards want teachers to give less attention to:

Early attention to reading, writing, and ordering numbers symbolically
Complex paper and pencil computations
Addition and subtraction without renaming
Isolated treatment of division facts
Long division
Long division without remainders
Paper and pencil fraction computation
Rote practice
Rote memorization of rules
One answer and one method
Written practice
Teaching by telling

In many school systems today, children are taught math by using calculators as early as Kindergarten because the processes of mathematical computation are seen as too difficult for children to master on their own. Poor babies.

To close out this section, let me leave you with a comparison of a two schools’ mission statements, one from 1885, and one from 1994, copied from Dumbing Down Our Kids by Charles Sykes:

In 1885, eighth graders who wished to win admission to Jersey City High School needed to pass a test that asked them, among other things, to:

Define Algebra, an algebraic expression, a polynomial. Make a literal trinomial.
Write a homogenous quadrinomial of the third degree.
Find the sum and difference of 3x-4y+7cd-4xy+16, and 10ay-3x-8xy+7cd-13….
What is the axis of the earth? What is the equator? What is the distance from the equator to either pole in degrees, in miles?
Name the four principle ranges of mountains in Asia, three in Europe, and three in Africa.
Name the capitals of the following countries: Portugal, Greece, Egypt, Persia, Japan, China, Canada, Tibet, and Cuba.
Name four Spanish explorers and state what induced them to come to America.
Name the thirteen colonies that declared their independence in 1776.

In 1994, a small Midwestern district embarked on a strategic long-range planning effort that resulted in a statement of beliefs. “We believe,” the district declared, “that…

Everyone has individual needs.
Responsibility for education belongs to everybody.
Trust, care, and respect are needed for social harmony.
All learners have potential.
Everyone has intrinsic worth.
Individuals are responsible for the direction of their own lives.
Education is worth commitment.
Learning is life long.
Learning is essential.
Every individual makes contributions to society.
Change is inevitable.
Love is essential to human growth and development.
We are part of the global community.
Self esteem is a critical part of human growth.
Joy and humor enhances the journey of life
The spectrum of human emotions is an essential part of life.

While this is supposed to be a document of educational philosophy, eleven of the sixteen “beliefs” deal with feelings, emotions, social change, and the worth of individual students. Only five make any reference to “education” or “learning”, and then only in the most nebulous way. Education, the district says, is “worth commitment,” and is the responsibility of “everybody”; while learning “is life long,” and “essential,” and learners “have potential.” The rest of the statement is a pastiche of therapeutic New Age banalities that could easily be transposed to a self-help seminar, a kindergarten, or a session of psychotherapy. (Sykes, 61)

Our children’s curriculum, lessons, and textbooks spend more time attempting to make kids feel good about themselves than on actually giving them knowledge. That would require concentration, effort, and work, which might make children feel bad. Of course it would also give them something to actually feel good about.

And there you have it:

Education Mistake #6 – The New Curriculum: Knowledge is Out, Feelings are In

Yes, I’m a Republican and I’ll still admit it: the No Child Left Behind Act has done more harm than good. A basic synopsis of what I can remember of the program goes like this:

The NCLB focuses on standards-based or outcome-based education. Basically, it says we will measure how much kids are learning by testing and evaluating on certain pre-determined standards, or “outcomes”. Schools must have certain percentages of students which meet acceptable levels on all these standards, or else be put on the list of failing schools. Failing schools must be reported in the newspaper, and all parents of students at that school have the option to transfer their child to another school within the district.

Problems with this include the fact that each state is to design its own standards and testing, and if too many students fail or are unable to meet minimal requirements, states simply change the tests or find some way to manipulate the test scores. I have read articles detailing certain school districts who give students as many times as needed to take the test in order to pass it.

But the main problem I see with this movement is that, first of all, schools with high percentages of well-scoring students are naturally seen as better schools, and therefore more parents want their child to attend that school. This makes it almost a contest between schools to see who can pump out the best test scores. This could almost be seen as a good thing (awfully close to free-market education) except for the fact that in order to try to raise their particular school’s testing scores, more and more teachers and administrators encourage and practice “teaching to the test”.

Teaching to the test, in a nutshell, means teaching only those things which are known to be on a test to the exclusion of all other worthy knowledge. For example, a math teacher might have 100 concepts that should be presented to a certain grade level in a year. Only 10 of those concepts would be tested on year-end standardized testing. Without teaching to the test, the students would be required to learn all 100 concepts, and hope they had the understanding and memory to do well on whichever concepts were presented on the test. With teaching to the test, the students would be drilled relentlessly on the 10 testable concepts and nothing else in hopes of improving their test scores. With this method, test scores would most likely be up, but what about the 90 other concepts the students should have learned that year?

Another piece of good reading from Public Schools, Public Menace by Joel Turtel:

The No Child Left Behind Act is now forcing many parents to condone schools that dumb-down their tests and standards instead of blaming these schools for their children’s failure to learn. This is another unintended consequence of government programs that try to fix problems that a government-controlled school system created in the first place.

…Parents, particularly those with younger children, should take heed. You don’t want to end up with high school kids who may not graduate because they can’t pass the new tests. As we’ve seen, you certainly can’t trust your public school’s assessment of your children’s academic abilities. You should therefore consider having your children’s math and reading skills tested by an independent outside company…

Required testing. Teachers under pressure to produce high-performing students. Classes dumbed-down in order to pass the tests, or the whole test dumbed-down in order to make it passable. This is…

Education Mistake #7 – Teaching to the Test

Read Part 5...

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