NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teaching Theories, Not Facts

January 22, 1997

Some educators see in the "ebonics" controversy an illustration of the educational fad known as "constructivism." Many of today's teachers, they say, believe that there is no single best way of doing things -- no objective knowledge for students to apprehend. Instead they are allegedly embracing constructivism -- the idea that learners construct their own knowledge and hang newly acquired knowledge on a pre-existing scaffold of what they already know.

  • These teachers hold that there are many different ways of doing math, critics say.
  • The influence of constructivism can also be found in current approaches to teaching spelling and the acceptance of invented spellings.
  • Emphasis is placed on creative writing over the crafting of grammatically correct sentences.
  • In reading, "whole language" techniques are used, rather than phonics.

In teaching history, students are allowed to express their own interpretations of the past, at the expense of learning names, dates and events.

Constructivism, critics contend, is based on relativism and a reluctance to let students know when they are wrong. Thus, schools have moved from institutions designed to instruct students to places designed primarily to nurture good feelings.

Source: Tom Loveless (former public school teacher, now at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government), "The Academic Fad That Gave Us Ebonics," Wall Street Journal, January 22, 1997.


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