Focus Point - Educational Fads

Commentary by Pete du Pont

I'm Pete du Pont with the National Center for Policy Analysis. Public education has had to suffer through some awful fads over the years. Whole language was such a disaster California had to spend billions to reverse the damage done to students. "Fuzzy math" was so horrible, 200 leading scientists and mathematicians signed a letter denouncing it.

The latest, according to an independent institute study, may be the worst: "learner-centered education" or "discovery learning." The idea is to teach students how to think, but not teach them anything to think about. In other words, "critical thinking" - as opposed to, say, biology or geography or english lit. It's like the old joke about the new math, where the idea was to understand what you were doing, rather than to get the right answer.

Sure, a few gifted students can learn on their own. But the other 90 percent can't. They need direction. They need subject matter. Schools of education, which spawn these nonsensical fads, can spin airy fantasies all they want, but in the real classroom, students need real teaching.

Those are my ideas, and at the NCPA we know ideas can change the world. I'm Pete du Pont, and I'll see you next time.