Never before has American education been in such a precarious situation as it appears to be today. For more than ten years we have seen many governor’s summits and a series of commissions, committees, panels, unions, boards, and company executives trying to warn citizens that America’s schools have become dysfunctional and in dire need of repair. And for more than ten years, student achievement results have worsened despite the billions that have been spent to stem the downward trend. Perhaps the time has come to stop and try to examine the problem rationally. It is not the first time that American education has reached a threshold where only radical solutions seem to be required. This time, however, the reformers are calling for systemic reform, a complete rethinking of the very concept of education. As politicians, educators, academics, psychologists, sociologists, and CEOs entered the fray, the well-intentioned movement turned murky and increasingly chaotic. It soon became clear that the reformers really intended to make a clear sweep of what education had meant to Americans.
The acquisition of knowledge for themselves, the study and appreciation of great works of minds and outstanding artists, the acquisition of communication and mathematical skills, the objective search for scientific knowledge, the analysis and assimilation of ideas and ideals that allowed civilization To serve as a beacon for the rest of the world, all of this was suddenly declared superficial, politically motivated, artificial and unnecessary. The new education was going to go from such academic trivia to preparing the new person for the 21st century, a person aware of the leading role that new technology was going to play that will somehow take care of all the other academic frills that there was. marked the progress of ancient education, the education of the past.
The search for truth, which was at the heart of traditional academia, was to be replaced by promoting the social and emotional growth of the individual while preparing him for the demands of “real life.” As a result, a group of researchers and educators began racing in search of a system that would accomplish this. It seemed to explode a gold mine when a group of sociologists and educators, with the help of politicians and business executives, came across a program that had been around for some time and had close connections to Dewey’s “progressive education.” Known as results-based education, it required a much greater emphasis on the affective dimension of the educational process at the expense of the old academic rigors. Based on the conviction that it is a disproven theory that children must first learn basic skills before engaging in more complex tasks, the emphasis will now be placed on “more complex tasks.”
The educational process consisted of moving from concepts to facts and not the other way around. This required a complete overhaul of teaching methods. Rather than the teacher being an authoritative figure at the front of the class, he was to be a “coach” or “facilitator” helping the class discover knowledge in small groups working on one or more projects. Working together in groups would prepare students for the team approach used by the industry. It would also “level the playing field” so that the disadvantaged have the same opportunities as others in the learning process. This brings us to the two dominant mantras of the new education. One is that it should build self-esteem; the other that “it takes a whole town to raise a child.” The first requires students to acquire the attitudes, values and feelings that would lead to a smooth and painless transition to “real life” as defined by experts; the second requires that the entire community of the child participate in defining their education. Regarding the evaluation of the results, the standardized tests are discarded for the most part. Any testing that is done should be supplemented with folders containing the student’s work record to follow through their schooling and beyond. In short, the primary emphasis is on the student’s ability to process information rather than acquire and retain content or discipline knowledge.
The general movement is from academic to behavioral concerns, from cognitive to affective domain. The stark contrast to “traditional education” is obvious without going into more detail. Given that the results so far can only be called disappointing, shouldn’t we mark time for a while to see where we’re going? Should self-esteem be the ultimate goal of education? Should “the whole village” be involved in defining a child’s education? Should the idea of acquiring knowledge differ from acquiring skills for new technology? Has the concept of education become so controversial that it requires a new definition? The two great revolutions that shook the world, the French Revolution of the 18th century and the Industrial Revolution of the 19th, tried in vain to redefine education. The passage of time inevitably justified a return to the proven concept of the educated person developed by the ancients and the European Renaissance. The latest example of this occurred shortly after World War II when the Soviet Union suddenly seemed to be outpacing us in new technology with the launch of Sputnik in 1957. None other than the American commander-in-chief responsible for Hitler’s defeat He agreed. that instead of American education turning to the general training of technical experts, it should continue to emphasize the liberal arts and the development of whole citizens. The reward came with the fall of the Soviet empire. It has also come in the form of the surprising continuation of Americans who win more Nobel Prizes than the rest of the world combined.
In a new study published recently by two teachers with impressive credentials, we even found the incredible thesis that the entire substructure underpinning current educational reforms is based on flawed and unsubstantiated research and statistics. The study challenges the notion that American schools are failing and inferior to European ones. The authors ask how Americans could have escaped the conclusion that education in this country is in a deplorable state. The authors then proceed to present statistics to support their conclusions. Even admitting that his handling of statistics has been seriously questioned, the main thesis remains valid. Does the success of American education over the past two centuries justify the sudden storm of criticism directed at our schools? The call for a complete overhaul and “reinvention” certainly must be approached with great care. Such a radical approach may well affect not only the general direction, but also the basic philosophy of an educational system that has given our country leadership in almost every area of human endeavor. We thus come to the basic question that must be asked. What should be the basic purpose of American education? Is it to prepare us for adult life and, if so, what do we want adult life to consist of? Or is it to fulfill the promise contained in our Declaration of Independence: the guarantee of life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness? Could it be the old adage of Know yourself? A sage of the Renaissance considered virtue as the only constant in mortal affairs because only it “can make blessed those who embrace it and unhappy those who abandon it.” He defined virtue as the ability to “feel God correctly and act correctly among men.” Given the recent interest in the teaching of character, should virtue be the primary goal of education? Can all or some of them be summed up in the concept of wisdom? And don’t most or all fall into the category of what has been considered “academic” since the days of Plato and Socrates?
It is critical that we measure progress before proceeding. Therefore, we respectfully urge the leaders of future Summits to use their influence to ensure that the radical programs that are being imposed on schools in an attempt to “reinvent” education at the national level are carefully reexamined. Schools have already been overwhelmed by intrusion from social services, health services, special interest groups, and the attempt to turn them into multi-use community centers. We must not erase the distinction between “schooling” and “education”. Any Summit that does not take into account the views of those parents, taxpayers, and citizens who are legitimately skeptical of what has transpired in the last ten years of reform efforts is bound to create further tensions and misunderstandings that could lead to the paralysis of the American school.