Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Six National Goals; a Road to Disappointment

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Six National Goals; a Road to Disappointment

Article excerpt

A Road to Disappointment

The people who set goals for education seldom take into account scientific knowledge about how children acquire knowledge and moral values -- and the six national goals formulated in 1990 are no exception, these authors charge.

MANY FACTORS can be cited to explain the meager results of the reform efforts of the past decade. The quick-fix approach to accountability that led only to attempts to raise test scores and increase graduation requirements and a variety of other reasons have been mentioned in recent years. Many people are calling for bolder, fundamental, systemic changes, especially changes that bring true innovation into the classroom. A factor seldom mentioned is the need for coherent goals that are based on the best scientific theory available today about how human beings acquire knowledge and moral values. Such goals are of the utmost importance in education reform because, if our objectives are poorly conceived, the rest of our efforts will be misdirected.

Goals in education are usually defined by groups of people who have the power to decide what outcomes are desirable. The people who set these goals seldom take into account scientific knowledge about how children acquire knowledge and moral values. They usually formulate goals based on tradition and on their own values and priorities. The six national goals that were formulated by President Bush and the National Governors' Association are no exception.[1]

In contrast to our political leaders, Jean Piaget started out by conceptualizing only one broad aim for education -- the development of autonomy.[2] Our purpose here is to argue that, unless we have a set of goals coherently formulated with autonomy as the overall aim, the results of the second decade of reform will once again be disappointing. Piaget's conception of autonomy as the aim of education was a result of his application of his theory, constructivism, which is a scientific theory supported by 60 years of research all over the world.[3]

Since autonomy in the Piagetian sense means something different from what we often understand by the term, we will first explain what Piaget meant by autonomy. Then we will discuss autonomy as the aim of education -- and the drastic changes in classroom practices that this goal entails. We will also point out the inadequacies of the six national goals.


In common parlance, autonomy means the right of an individual or group to be self-governing. When we speak of Palestinian autonomy, we are referring to this kind of political right. In Piaget's theory, however, autonomy refers not to the right but to the ability of an individual to be self-governing -- in the moral as well as in the intellectual realm. Autonomy is the ability to think for oneself and to decide between right and wrong in the moral realm and between truth and untruth in the intellectual realm by taking all relevant factors into account, independently of rewards or punishments. The opposite of autonomy in the Piagetian sense is heteronomy. Heteronomous people are governed by someone else because they are unable to think for themselves.

Moral autonomy. An extreme example of moral autonomy is the struggle of Martin Luther King, Jr., to obtain civil rights for African Americans and others. King was autonomous enough to take relevant factors into account and to conclude that the laws discriminating against African Americans were unjust and immoral. Convinced of the need to make justice a reality, he fought to end the discriminatory laws in spite of the police, jails, dogs, fire hoses, and threats of assassination. Morally autonomous people are not governed by rewards and punishments.

An extreme example of moral heteronomy is the affair of the Watergate cover-up. The perpetrators went along with what they knew to be morally wrong to reap the rewards that President Nixon could bestow on those who helped in the cover-up. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.