Thoughts on Teaching: On the Evils of Multicultural Education, Constructivism, and Teacher Preparation Programs

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LEAFING through a stack of old mail this morning, I came across a long-forgotten report titled University of North Carolina Education Schools: Helping or Hindering Potential Teachers? A publication of the Pope Center for Higher Education, it had been sent to me a couple of months ago by my friend Rita. Scrawled across its cover in red ink above a goofy-looking happy face was a note: "I read this and thought of you. Enjoy.--R."

The Saturday morning peace and quiet seemed a good time to read it. But as I began the executive summary, I was surprised by the report's fantastic claims. The author, George Cunningham, begins by declaring that "most people" believe the purpose of schools is to ensure that young people learn the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in life. That seems simple enough, and I agree. That is, I agree that schools should do that. But I am never too comfortable thinking that I know what "most people" think. Knowing what I think is tough enough.

Next, Mr. Cunningham outlines the failings of the "dominant progressive/constructivist philosophy" and explains the evils of teacher education programs that value "objectives other than academic achievement"--"multicultural awareness" and lifelong learning, for example. Furthermore, he asserts with unwavering certainty that progressives regard "actually teaching" to be "bad practice" and that the "progressive/constructivist approach is markedly inferior to traditional, 'teacher-centered' pedagogy."

Having set the stage, he gets down to serious business. The state, he says, should adopt a policy that makes academic achievement the goal of public schools (academic achievement being measured, he later points out, solely by scores on standardized tests). Once this policy is firmly in place, he continues, the government should force universities to "revamp the missions, curricula, and personnel in the schools of education ... to bring them into alignment with that goal." As we've seen in recent years, nothing clears up a mess in education quite like government intervention.

By the time I got to the summary's last paragraph, I had to read on. But first, I googled Mr. Cunningham and the Pope Center. As it turns out, the author has written textbooks on testing and measurement and spent 30 years in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology at the University of Louisville. Apparently a man with no connection to the preparation of teachers and no experience as a public school teacher or administrator, he seemed an interesting choice to write a report on teacher preparation.

Scanning the Pope Center's website, I noted some interesting additional reports. One claimed that North Carolina universities "adopt policies that are guaranteed to suppress prosperity and freedom." Policies guaranteed to suppress. Not prone to suppress or with the potential to suppress. Guaranteed to suppress prosperity and freedom.

Next I read the Center's mission, goals, and background. "Motivated by the principles that have traditionally guided public policy," the Center does research and publishes reports. And its agenda is pretty clear. Because "all too often universities allow teaching to become shallow and trendy ... disparaging traditional principles of justice [and] ethics ... students know little about the history of their country or the institutions that led to this nation's prosperity and liberty." I suppose the shallow and trendy teaching accounts for the guaranteed suppression of prosperity and freedom.

Mr. Cunningham leads off his 2008 report with a quote from a 10-year-old publication. This sets the stage for his interesting use of references--mostly relying on old, outdated resources selected from a very narrow field of possibilities, seemingly chosen to prove specific points. The "public wants schools with orderly classrooms that produce mastery of conventional knowledge and skills," the quote claims. …