Why Johnny Can’t Learn

SAT scores dropped again this year. Verbal scores hit a new, all-time low. What's wrong with American public schools? It began in the early part of this century with John Dewey, often called the father of American education. Dewey said it's not as important what children learn as how they learn. Schools shouldn't teach facts, 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 close-up story about a single family living in some Third-World village, to get a feeling of their way of life. Process-oriented education is interested not in objective facts and principles but in the student's self-expression. In sex education and drug education, teachers' guides fairly bristle with warnings not to teach that there are right or wrong answers. Instead, Johnny is taught a process of inquiry so he can express his own feelings and choose his own course of action. Why does modern education stress subjective feelings over objective facts and principles? The reason is that many educators don't believe in objective facts and principles. They don't believe in any overarching, universal truth. And if there is no truth, what is there to teach? By contrast, in Christian schools scores have gone up. Not just in the suburbs either, but in racially mixed, inner-city neighborhoods. This year in Washington, D.C., parochial schools actually registered a 20-point increase in SAT scores. Why such a remarkable difference? The answer is that Christian educators believe in objective truth. They teach objective facts and principles--whether in history or math or sex education. 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. It's happened before. In the Middle Ages, after the barbarians destroyed Roman culture, it was the Church that kept learning alive. Today, the new barbarians are those who reject any real truth. And the Christian Church is once again becoming the champion of learning.


Chuck Colson


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