Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Unlearning Bad Pedagogy

There's no way to be diplomatic. Faculties of Education are the soft underbelly of the academe; their ideas and practices are outmoded; the hard sciences have disproven their theories; many of the faculty are old-fashioned and cling to what clearly does not work.

In Sol Stern's article E.D.Hirsch's Curriculum for Democracy in City Journal (Autumn 2009), he outlines Hirsch's work in education, work that disproves and seriously undermines the outdated ideas and practices of progressive educationalists.

E.D. Hirsch, beginning with his book Cultural Literacy, has worked for over twenty years, trying to get educators to see the light and listen to the facts:
More powerfully than any previous critic, Hirsch showed how destructive these instructional approaches were. The idea that schools could starve children of factual knowledge, yet somehow encourage them to be “critical thinkers” and teach them to “learn how to learn,” defied common sense. But Hirsch also summoned irrefutable evidence from the hard sciences to eviscerate progressive-ed doctrines. Hirsch had spent the better part of the decade since Cultural Literacy mastering the findings of neurobiology, cognitive psychology, and psycholinguistics on which teaching methods best promote student learning. The scientific consensus showed that schools could not raise student achievement by letting students construct their own knowledge. The pedagogy that mainstream scientific research supported, Hirsch showed, was direct instruction by knowledgeable teachers who knew how to transmit their knowledge to students—the very opposite of what the progressives promoted.

So "the sage on the stage" - a practice that has been successful for hundreds of years - is  the best bet for students. And students' test scores in Massachusetts, where they follow this practice, have significantly improved beyond what all other states in the US have accomplished:
The “Massachusetts miracle,” in which Bay State students’ soaring test scores broke records, was the direct consequence of the state legislature’s passage of the 1993 Education Reform Act, which established knowledge-based standards for all grades and a rigorous testing system linked to the new standards. And those standards, Massachusetts reformers have acknowledged, are Hirsch’s legacy.
We should be saying good-bye to outcomes, skills-based training, "guide on the side," and other dangerous educational practices. Stern sees a glimmer of hope for the American K-12 system.

Unfortunately, the nonsense has found its way into post-secondary education, probably because it serves corporate agendas and the agendas of those who see education as just another commodity.

We can learn how to learn until we drop, but we must eventually learn facts - especially the fact that outdated, disproven progressive educational methods just don't work!

Sol Stern is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.He is the suthor of Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice.

I would like to invite E.D.Hirsch Jr. and Sol Stern to my soiree.


Simon said...

A layman on this subject,but I remember taking an English Teacher, at my daughters school to task,for awarding high marks on an essay she had written, which was full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.I was told in a pompous tone that nowadays we focus on content.Sorry? Am I missing something?

ChrisJ said...

Hi Simon,

Yes, the terminology is a bit different for writing classes. The progressive way focuses on the content the STUDENTS create - and whatever that is always is praised. The writing itself is pooh-poohed.

The content-based education I'm talking about here means knowledge-based (the content), rather than skills-based. Also, the content to be in the curriculum is decided by the expert in the field - not by the student.