Postmodern Schools

Thomas Sowell was an economics professor at UCLA when he noticed a disturbing trend among his students. They began answering economics questions starting with the phrase, "I feel . . ." "They seemed shocked," Sowell writes, "when I cut them short and told them that economics is not about how you feel. It is about logical analysis and empirical evidence." This seemed to be a new idea to many of them. Sowell came to realize that the students were products of California's experiment with Outcome Based Education. OBE has become one of the most fiercely debated issues in education today. But the debate is about to be abruptly cut short: There's a bill before the U.S. Senate right now that would mandate outcome based education throughout America. In effect, the bill would place all public schools under direct federal control, wreaking havoc with the time honored principles of local control and parental rights. What makes OBE so controversial? Like many bad ideas, it began with good intentions. The failure of contemporary education led to a search for more stringent standards. It's clear that students need to master basic skills before they go on to higher levels. So OBE first came on the scene as an attempt to help kids master the basics. But somewhere along the line, these ideas for reform were overtaken by therapeutic definitions of education. Instead of establishing learning goals based on the mastery of content, many of the goals in OBE focus on students' attitudes and psychological development. Instead of requiring students to master reading, writing, history, and arithmetic, OBE requires them to demonstrate self esteem and multicultural sensitivity. Another innovation is that in OBE classrooms, teachers assign no grades. Students simply take a subject again and again until they demonstrate the approved response. No one ever really fails, but, of course, no one ever really succeeds either, so there's little incentive for excellence. It's like playing football with no score. This is so far removed from normal teaching methodology that it makes one wonder why educators find it attractive. The answer is that OBE fits well with the intellectual climate of our postmodern times. If truth is relative, then there really isn't any factual content to learn; the important thing is students' emotional adjustment. And if truth is relative, there really isn't any basis for objective evaluation; so how can you have grades? Congress is about to place all public schools under federal control. Today even the federal government is getting into the act of promoting postmodern methods of education. The administration has developed what it calls "Goals 2000," which establishes outcomes for a national curriculum. Now the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will require all schools that receive federal aid to adopt curriculum standards and tests that conform to the federal mandates in "Goals 2000." The House has already passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Senate is poised to pass it any day now. Please call your senators and urge them to vote no on Senate Bill 1513. Those of who believe there is absolute truth cannot sit by and watch passively as postmodernism takes over our schools.


Chuck Colson


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