NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Opinion: Traditional Education Better Than Modern Theories

March 1, 1997

Liberal educational theories -- which lean heavily on experimentation -- disadvantage students from poorer families and are a sure means of preserving the social status quo, according to political liberal E. D. Hirsch, Jr. Traditional educational methods -- emphasizing phonics and memorization -- are not only much more effective, but also socially liberating, he says.

He makes these points:

  • "Progressive" educators dishonestly disparage traditional education as "merely verbal," but it has a number of "hands-on" aspects which allow children to see, feel and touch the subjects they are studying.
  • Fear of "premature instruction" has led liberal educators to remove significant knowledge from grade school curricula -- to the detriment of poorer student who do not have the at-home stimulation that students from wealthier homes enjoy.
  • "Progressives" would replace direct teaching of subjects such as math, spelling and biology in separate classes -- which they deplore as "fragmentation" -- with "thematic" or "project-oriented" instruction.
  • They deprecate traditional instruction as "boring" and "teaching in lockstep" -- which they would replace with "interesting" and "individualized" instruction -- thus eliminating subjects such as ancient history and science in favor of topics having direct relevance to the child's life.

These "modern" approaches have done serious harm to recent generations of students -- with damage especially apparent among those lower on the socio-economic spectrum.

Source: E. D. Hirsch, Jr. (University of Virginia), "Why Traditional Education is More Progressive," American Enterprise, March - April, 1997.


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