Bloomin’ Ignorance

The citizens of Virginia recently gave thumbs down to a new education approach: They persuaded Governor Wilder to drop plans to impose outcome-based education (OBE) across the state. Chalk up a stunning victory in the fight for better education. What concerned many Virginians about OBE is that it throws out all traditional standards. There are no textbooks, no grades, no requirements that students take so many units of English or math. Instead, students have to demonstrate proficiency in what are called student "outcomes." And most of the outcomes have little to do with academic skills, like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Instead, they focus on feelings and values. For example, in Pennsylvania one outcome is that students will "understand and appreciate their worth as unique and capable individuals." A fine goal; but how can teachers measure how much a student appreciates his own worth? How do they decide whether a student appreciates himself well enough to graduate? In Rochester, Minnesota, students are required to "demonstrate mental and emotional responsiveness to the arts, to nature, and to daily life." Sounds idyllic, but just how does a teacher test emotional responsiveness? In Washington State the outcomes require that students "function as caring and responsible individuals" in their families and communities. But how does a teacher know whether students are caring and responsible outside the classroom? The only way a school could assess these things is by intrusive questionnaires to probe a child's feelings and private behavior. But that would violate student privacy. Besides, words like caring and responsible mean different things to different people. We live an age where "responsible" sexual behavior means using a condom and has nothing to do with morality. We live in an age where "caring" sometimes means pulling the plug and letting someone die. An age where "equality" means acceptance of deviant lifestyles. When Americans talk about values, we no longer mean the same thing. Whose values will schools teach? In the past, Christian parents chastised the public schools for not teaching values. Today schools are bringing values back in-but often as not, they're the wrong ones. They're relativistic values based on personal feelings. And what will happen to students who disagree with the official definitions? OBE uses a teaching method that recycles students over and over until they demonstrate the prescribed outcomes. Will Christian students be recycled through the system until they conform to government-approved attitudes? The potential for political indoctrination is enormous. These are the disturbing prospects that aroused parents across Virginia against OBE. But OBE is not defeated yet: In fact, it's the centerpiece of Clinton's Global 2000 proposal. The granddaddy of outcome-based education, Benjamin Bloom, once defined teaching as "challenging the students' fixed beliefs." But the parents I know don't send their kids to school to have their Christian beliefs challenged. They send them to be educated, not indoctrinated.


Chuck Colson


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