Schools vs. Our Children's Minds

Article excerpt

Much has been made lately of the anti-intellectualism that permeates the American universities. Colleges are being criticized for such "junk courses" as "Vampires: The Undead" (University of Pennsylvania) and "The Biology of ER" (Purdue University). Other prominent schools have courses on juggling, on witchcraft and on UFOs. Increasingly, they are also offering "sensitivity training," "encounter groups" and other forms of emotionalist pap.

But the problem does not begin with the universities. The de-emphasis on serious, intellectual training begins in the elementary schools - and has been going on for decades. American children still are falling short of the education goals set for 2000, and progress in teacher preparation has stalled or worsened, according to the 1999 National Education Goals Report, which was released Dec. 2. We are a country whose high school graduates often cannot read or write or make change. If they lack even such basic mental skills, then it is inevitable the colleges will lower their standards and offer trashy, mindless courses. The sad fact is that too many of their students are incapable of intellectually demanding work. For a change in education to occur, it is at the elementary level that the process must begin.

More and more, our schools are de-emphasizing "subject-centered" learning and concentrating instead on the student's emotional capacity and social activities. Encouraging "self-expression" is deemed more important than teaching the distinction between objectively right and wrong answers. Many classes present little or no lecturing by the teacher, featuring instead group discussions in which all opinions - no matter how arbitrary - are held to be equally valuable.

Further, the schools often oppose standardized testing, claiming poor performance will hurt the child's feelings. The importance of grades is similarly dismissed, as an alleged threat to the student's "self-esteem." Classes are rarely organized based on ability. Instead, slow learners are placed with the most intelligent ones, thereby holding back the more gifted and burdening teachers with a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

Why have our schools so tragically abandoned their mission to train the mind? The basic cause is the philosophy of Progressive Education, which pervades today's schools. …