John Dewey’s Children

A few years ago a researcher compared the math performance of 24,000 13-year-olds from the United States and five other countries. Korean students came in first--and the Americans came in dead last. Despite their poor performance, two-thirds of the American students considered themselves "good at mathematics." In his book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, Douglas Wilson says the fact that low-performing Americans thought they were good at math indicates that their teachers have succeeded in at least one area: helping students feel good about themselves. As Wilson wryly puts it, "When it comes to maintaining a high self-image, [we Americans] can take on the world." But the attitude of these failing 13-year-olds demonstrates why our public schools are failing to teach. Modern educational theory no longer views teaching objective knowledge as its primary goal. Instead, today's educators are increasingly concerned with psychological adjustment, personal feelings, and political indoctrination. How did we get started on this slippery slope of educational malaise? It all began in the early part of this century with John Dewey, often called the father of American education. Dewey taught that it's not so important what children learn as how they learn. Schools shouldn't teach facts, he said. Instead, they should teach a process of inquiry. In a process-oriented history class, Johnny doesn't learn the key events at the founding of our nation. Instead, he grinds corn so he can experience how the Indians lived. In a process-oriented science class, Johnny doesn't learn the basic facts of biology. He writes an essay on how it would feel to be a groundhog. In social studies, Johnny doesn't learn the facts of geography and culture. Instead, he reads a story about a family living in some Third-World village, in order to get a feeling of their way of life. Why does modern education stress subjective feelings over objective facts and principles? The reason is that many educators don't believe in the existence of overarching, universal truths. And if there is no truth, what is there to teach? By contrast, by almost every measure, private and religious schools are doing a better job of educating children than public schools. As David Harmer writes in his book School Choice, students who attend private schools score an average of 932 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test versus an average score of 896 for public school students. Their dropout rate is half that of the public schools, and a greater percentage go on to earn a college degree. Why such a remarkable difference? The answer is that private and Christian educators believe in objective truth. They teach objective facts and principles--whether in history or math or geography. What are your kids learning--truths about God's world? Or are they learning that their subjective feelings are more important than truth? Of course, kids need to learn how to learn, and not merely memorize by rote. What they don't need is a method that teaches them to value their subjective feelings and opinions above objective truth. The secular world may mock Christians as anti-intellectual know-nothings. But if current trends hold, Christians may one day be the only ones standing for real education.  


Chuck Colson


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