The curriculum crisis
Mark Lopez reviews Dumbing Down: Outcomes-based and Politically Correct-The impact of the Culture Wars on our Schools by Kevin Donnelly (Hardie Grant Books 2007, 230 pages)
Kevin Donnelly's Dumbing Down is a book that many parents will read, wishing that their politicians were reading it as well. This book, like the author's 2004 offering, Why Our Schools are Failing, is a notable moment in the politics of education in Australia. It is a book that matters, about an issue that matters greatly: the quality of the education of the nations children and youth. It has important criticisms to make, insights to offer, and solutions to propose.
Donnelly appears to care deeply about the declining standards of education in Australia. As a former teacher, he also cares about those current teachers who share his concerns about the issues he articulates, and he wants a better deal for them. However, he seems to care most of all about the students and their families whom he perceives as being short-changed by the current system, so much so that he is doing somediing about it.
Donnelly's study focuses more on developments in educational policy rather than on anecdotal evidence of grassroots classroom experiences to make his case. He is impressively conversant with education policy documents and curricula spanning the state and territory jurisdictions. He is equally familiar with the relevant research and various testing procedures that provide international benchmarks for comparison.
The target of Dumbing Downs criticism is an educational model dial its advocates have jargonistically titled Outcomes Based Education (OBE). OBE is the latest umbrella term for a host of progressive, constructivist, Marxist, post-modern and other approaches favoured by the politically correct left-wing educationalists who, as Donnelly points out, dominate the state and territory education systems.
Donnelly argues that this model, and the concepts that informed it, has led to educational practices that have produced a decline in literacy, numeracy, and cultural literacy, and led to courses that produce an imperfect grasp of the fundamental knowledge required to perform best in the key disciplines of learning. It has also led to a proliferation of complex, non-competitive modes of assessment featuring euphemistic terminology that …