Education Research Official Call For Reforms in Schools
Washington--The recent decline in student achievement is directly related to the decline in the teaching of values and to "social permissiveness" in the schools, Donald J. Senese, the Education Department's assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, said at a conference here recently.
"Education has a purpose beyond the mere collection of skills. We should be teaching students a knowledge of our society," he said, adding that one of the most important things students can learn is the "relationship between ideas and their consequences."
The problems with our education system today include "lack of values and beliefs, the elevation of slogans without students' [understanding the] content, social permissiveness, and the decline of analytical thought," he said.
"The education system, at all levels, needs to be re-examined," Mr. Senese told participants in the Conservative Political Action Conference, which is held here annually by the Young Americans for Freedom, a campus youth organization, and the American Conservative Union.
Other speakers at the panel discussion, entitled "Education in a Free Economy: Winning the Battle for Young Minds," also decried the lack of values in American education.
"Much has been written about 'values clarification,"' said William J. Bennett, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. "The kind of problem I have with teaching that 'subject' is that, when there are no values to be transmitted from one generation to another, agnosticism pervades."
Mr. Bennett insisted that "for adults to tell children what they know and what [the children] will inherit--that's not indoctrination. If, instead of teaching the birds how to fly, we taught 'flying clarification,' they wouldn't fly for very long."
The blame for the decline in student achievement should rest with educators, he said. "We have systematically discredited such things as homework, memorization, and high expectations of students. But the minds [of students] have to be honed so they can compete."
"We must forgo sentimentality. It's not the inclination of every child to learn what he needs to know to be a good citizen. There is less to be learned from Starsky and Hutch than from reading the Bible and the Iliad," he said.
Mr. Bennett pointed to a recent survey of student leaders in high schools. "The students' biggest complaint was the incompetence of teachers and administrators," he claimed.
Education professionals were also criticized by Onalee McGraw, an education-policy consultant to the Heritage Foundation, the Washington public-policy research organization.
"We have seen the triumph of mind over content," she asserted. "Most educators endlessly discuss the process by which students can be taught to think. We never hear them discuss what cultural values are essential. Youngsters are in danger of becoming what T.S. Eliot called 'the hollow men.' They are being processed through [the educational system] to become technicians without ever having become educated," she said.
Ms. McGraw also warned that the new emphasis on technology in the schools "is going to get the educators off the hook. But we mustn't let them off the hook. Over the years, the ideological, elitist, secular humanistic social planners have taken over. Some of them do not know what it means to have a liberal-arts education. But what's missing for students is the classic liberal-arts education," she said.
Ms. McGraw urged those attending the conference to take advantage of the "widespread recognition that we are in an educational crisis" by contacting their elected officials. "Your senators and congressmen can force educators to be responsible for what the public is paying them to do," she said.
Mr. Senese, of the Education Department, also urged audience members to take action to improve the quality of education in their localities. His suggestions included:
"Urge the return of control of education to states and local governments, and stress order and discipline in the schools;
"Break the public monopoly on education;
"Encourage conservatives to go into the education field, to look at that as a true mission;
"Get to know your state superintendent of education, and find out whether he is elected or appointed; know your local superintendent and what's going on in the schools locally; and know who's on the state legislature's education committee."