Bruce Deitrick Price
What to teach. How to teach...Two different issues
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By Bruce Deitrick Price
July 14, 2016

Most discussions about education blur two separate questions: What should be taught? And how should it be taught?

Typically, our Education Establishment prefers to conflate and confuse. When everything is murky, and nobody has a sure grasp of what's going on in K-12 schools, the public won't see even the obvious ways of improving education. Decline will continue indefinitely.

So let's separate the two questions so they can't be confused again.

"What to teach" refers to such items as reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, history, science, literature, and the arts, and as well all vocational topics such as construction and engine repair, and as well all hobbies and sports, such as swimming, tennis, and skydiving, and as well all useful information such as investing in the stock market and how to cook, etc. Note that in all examples, genuine, valuable content is transferred from teachers to students.

The bottom line here is that for 100 years, our Education Establishment has pimped the proposition that content (i.e., facts and knowledge) is unimportant. Our experts have devised dozens of sophistries to justify teaching less each year. This is the trendline we must reverse.

Good teachers may use different tactics. But the goal is always the same: at the end of the week, students know more than at the beginning. Children can learn far more than is now being taught. We must constantly celebrate facts. The perennial war against knowledge is, to use John Dewey's favorite word, a "perversion."

"How to teach" refers to something else entirely: the instructional theories and methods used in the classroom.

Traditionally, teachers did what is now called "direct instruction." That is, they taught. They told kids, for example, that "Paris is the capital of France." This works wonderfully well. As you could probably predict, our experts hate it.

In the same way that our Education Establishment crusades against content, so these self-appointed experts also crusade against the most efficient approach for teaching content. The Education Establishment is brilliant at devising bold new theories and methods which mainly serve to clutter up the classroom and impede education. Here are some examples:

The most brilliant stroke of all is Constructivism which boldly prohibits teachers from teaching. The school commands it: no more direct instruction; let students wander in search of an education.

There are many other examples: Self-esteem requires that education be sacrificed for equality and alleged psychological benefits. Multiculturalism prohibits teaching of information from the child's immediate world. Relevance prohibits the teaching of information from outside the child's immediate world. Cooperative Learning requires that children do everything in groups. Memorization of anything is wrong. Classrooms are kept chaotic with loudspeakers, kids coming in and out, loose rules of behavior.

In summary, content is disdained and academic goals are set low. Simultaneously, everything going on the classroom is muddled and inefficient.

So we see a two-pronged attack on successful education.To fight back, you have to deal with the two prongs separately. On the one hand, relentlessly stress the importance of content. Proclaim that facts are fun and knowledge is power. Second, get rid of all the junk theories and silly methods. (We should test every idea and use only those that are proven effective.)

In the traditional model, schools and teachers worship at the altar of knowledge; content is communicated directly to the students. This model works and is widely practiced in private schools, Montessori schools, classical academies, home schools, and the best colleges.

The perennial attack on DI (direct instruction) is not based on anything empirical or on any research, i.e. having a better idea. Our Education Establishment's collectivist sensibility requires that kids be leveled and herded into a group. Anything that works educationally has to be maligned and belittled.

Our Education Establishment always signals what works best: They attack it!

For example, they hate cursive, memorization, phonics, and traditional arithmetic. So you know that's what every school should do.

They absolutely love Sight-words, Constructivism, Common Core, and Cooperative Learning. So you know these are tar pits.

© Bruce Deitrick Price

 

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Bruce Deitrick Price

Bruce Deitrick Price is the author of six books, an artist, a poet, and an education reformer. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia, earned Honors in English Literature from Princeton, served two years in the Army, and then lived many years in Manhattan.

Price explains educational theories and methods on his ed site Improve-Education.org (founded in 2005). He has 400 education articles and videos on the Internet. More forcefully than most, Price argues that the public schools are mediocre because our Education Establishment wants them that way.

Price's literary site is Lit4u.com .

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