AMERICA'S SCHOOLS - Real PROGRESS? or Gimmicks, Gadgetry, and Galloping INNOVATION?
Vern L Farrow
The clamor for educational CHANGE in the past decade has become a SIDESHOW. The magic word of the barkers is "INNOVATION"! Educationists are engaged in a dizzying three-ring binge of EXPERIMENTATION! But what has it produced? Where is it leading? This article explores the current national preoccupation with EDUCATIONAL INNOVATION!
HERE we are folks — on the 'Education Midway'! It's bigger than ever! And it's full of glittering gimmicks, gadgets, and games for all, so HURRY! HURRY! HURRY! Don't miss out! Everyone can play! "Step right up — who's first? You over there — you say we've got to train more scientists faster? Right! We have here just the thing for you — schools for babies! Yes sir — schools for babies from three to twelve months of age! And, if they're already overcrowded, wait a year and try our new 'mini-schools' for two to four-year-olds. "Sign your child up right away. It's a surefire way to get a head start on his Ph.D.! "All right now — who's next? You there young man, you say you're having trouble with arithmetic? That's a snap! We've got a package for that. We've got modern math programmed into a computer right in the classroom for you. You can talk to the computer to your heart's content from the first grade right on up. We've got the latest electronic hardware. That's the way we do it in the space age! "All you first graders — step right up! You say you want to learn about your world? We've got another package for that! Here it is — a three-year study of evolution, primate behavior, and the cultures of primitive hunters and gatherers! "Yes sir! The finest minds available have designed a scintillating social studies curriculum for you. It goes like this — "Your entire first grade year will be devoted to a study of the Netselik Eskimo. Exciting! You bet! But that's only the beginning. When you're a second grader you will spend the year comparing the Bushman of the Kalahari Desert and the Australian aborigines. Then, with this background you will be ready to really concentrate your third grade year on the intriguing problems of Evolution by comparing the behavior of free-ranging primates (especially baboons and chimpanzees) with prehistoric cavemen! We guarantee when you finish our program you will be a full-fledged junior social scientist at age nine! "And so it goes. HURRY! HURRY! HURRY! Step right up! Try the NEW, the DIFFERENT, the IMPRACTICAL, even the LUDICROUS in education today!"
Think It Over
Does that little satire leave you scratching your head? Does it sound a little weird? Well, believe it or not, every one of the educational oddities you just read about is a FACT! Everyone has been seriously proposed and most are in actual practice right now! Yes, from new science, new social studies, new English curricula to Computer Assisted Instruction, programmed textbooks, teaching machines, independent learning laboratories, and Educational TV, the name of the school game today IS "CHANGE-INNOVATE-EXPERIMENT!" But change for what? Innovate for what? Experiment for what? Why this bewildering obsession to rewrite, rearrange, reconstruct, revamp, and research? Why this compulsive attitude of "out with the old and in with the new"? What is behind much of the rampant innovation in education today? You need to recognize the motivation and know where the results are surely leading.
Change Is Progress — or Is It?
Is progress in education merely a matter of change? To get to the root of that question you must understand what the educational leadership of this country believes in and how it makes decisions. Their conclusions, tragically, are based on two erroneous principles. First, they believe in the Evolution theory. They are therefore convinced that "progress" in every phase of life and culture can only be measured in terms of change. They need not even be concerned with the quality of change, for who can know what devious adaptations and mutations may be required to finally result in advancement? It is sufficient for them to believe that the education system must be continually undergoing change to be evolutionary. Second, American education rests on a belief in man's "perfectibility of man." Francis Keppel, former U.S. Commissioner of Education stated this position without qualification when he remarked, "The educator in a democratic society... must come to accept the doctrine of the perfectibility of man or must seek some other way of earning his bread..." (Education Summary, February 15, 1968, p. 10). That's almost an ultimatum coming from the highest office of educational leadership in the land! In effect he was saying, "Either believe it or get out of the teaching business!" But, what is meant by the "perfectibility of man"? Simply stated, it is an unswerving faith in the power of man's rationality and creative genius to produce a utopia. It is the doctrine which holds that there is no limit to man's potential progress if he strives to build a favorable environment in which to live. Obviously then, changing the environment is seen as the key to progress! Does that sound familiar to you? Does it sound like echoes of a Great Society? Well, it should because this philosophy of unbounded hope, optimism and self-confidence has become the creed of our leaders. And just so in education, everything that has been done during the past decade has been geared to belief in the panacea of change in today's schools. The unfortunate result of this twofold error among educators is that "change" has become an end in itself. The amount of change, not the quality of change, has become the most significant index of "progress." Too many educators come to believe the fiction that change equals progress — therefore, no change, and no progress! What absurd reasoning! The educational system which shaped and molded your thinking and behavior has indelibly stamped upon our whole nation the dogma of the rightness and NECESSITY of continual, universal, even blind change. T.M. Stinnett, former assistant executive secretary of the National Education Association summarized this flaw in educational leadership. He wrote, "The basic thesis of this cult [of change] is that everything changes without boundaries, and without much reference to chart and compass, sweeping away all vestiges of whatever was. This has been made into... an ABSOLUTE in our lives, often by high pressure, selling..." (Washington Education, November, 1967, p. 6) But do all things change? Are there no limits to change? Is all change really progress?
What Is Progress?
It is true that progress involves change. But what kind of change? By definition progress must involve change in the direction of BETTERMENT! Is all change progress then? The answer is clearly No! If a man's fever changes from 101 to 105 degrees he is obviously not making progress. His condition is worsening. He is regressing! Likewise, changes in the educational system which do not produce beneficial results in terms of moral and academic betterment do not represent progress! Has the welter of recent change in education brought such beneficial results? What have been the fruits? Has there really been progress? Let's take a look at what has happened in this new era of innovation and experimentation. Let's step behind the glitter, tune out the loud and bewitching claims and see what the unvarnished truth of the matter really is!
Disillusionment, Duds and Dismal Failures
Of all teaching innovations developed during recent years, Educational TV has perhaps become the most common addition to school life from kindergarten through college. The potential of ETV for revolutionizing education has been widely acclaimed. Innumerable applications of great ingenuity for all grade levels and subject matter areas have been produced. Vast amounts of money have been expended in research, experimentation, and implementation of ETV as an instructional medium. But, what contribution has it made? To what extent has it improved and bettered the efficiency of our schools? Let the Carnegie Commission on Educational TV answer. It reported the disappointing finding that, "With minor exceptions, the total disappearance of instructional television would leave the educational system of the nation fundamentally unchanged" (Phi Delta Kappan, April, 1967, p. 380). What a dismal result! Nearly twenty years of radical and costly innovation to produce no fundamental change. Here is indeed a paradox — change equals no change — and no progress! And what about reading instruction? Here is another area which has received the concentrated innovative efforts of the "experts" for years. More than forty new programs for teaching beginning reading have been introduced during the past half dozen years alone. The result has been a great deal of confusion. "Which method is most efficient for teaching young children to read," asked frustrated teachers and administrators, "phonics, look-say, linguistics, color coding, diacritical marking systems, a phonemic alphabet, or a combination?" Champions of each method loudly defended their private positions and advertised their products. Finally the U.S. Office of Education financed some twenty-seven comparative research studies throughout the country in an effort to settle the question once and for all. Now, after several years, the research findings have come in! And what do they tell us? Which method is best? Which method will cure all our reading ills? Would you believe the reports say that no method is better or best! That's right! The key factor was found to be the teacher! As Edward B. Fry of Rutgers University concluded after studying the evidence, "The children who do best are those who have the best teachers [regardless of method]..." Other respected figures in the field of reading such as Russell Stauffer, director of the Reading Clinic at the University of Delaware, have confirmed the finding. Stauffer said, "... the principal variable in a classroom is the teacher [not the method]. All research supports this conclusion." (The Instructor, May, 1968, pp. 6, 25) Another disillusionment! Another dismal failure! Another case of costly, time-consuming experimentation producing no progress only continued confusion. And so it goes. One after another of the changes so highly touted has failed to fulfill the glowing promises of originators. A favorite pastime of school administrators in recent years has been juggling school organization. They have tried anything from eight-year elementary and four-year high schools to six-year elementary, three-year junior and three-year senior high schools, to patterns of 6-2-4, 7-2-3, 4-4-4, and even no grades at all! Presumably these various manipulations were supposed to improve the education of children. But, now we are told research has shown that changes in school organization have produced no significant differences in the quality of education! Only a year or two ago Federal assistance in public education was hailed as a panacea. Today, there are mostly complaints and disillusionment with the results of the huge sums ill-spent on poorly conceived projects. President Johnson was told by a special advisory council that the first full year of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provisions for education of the disadvantaged was a "dud"! Superintendent of Schools Jack P. Crowther recently reported in Los Angeles that tests of 90,000 pupils showed intelligence and reading ability scores declined slightly in 1967 from levels set the year before. Yet Los Angeles and the State of California generally would like to take pride in being educational leaders in the nation! Everywhere on the education scene there is disillusionment and dismal failure at a time of unprecedented experimental activity and change! But why do such monumental efforts fail? Why no real progress?
Educational Progress Not the Goal!
While some educational benefit may have resulted as "fallout," an honest appraisal of all this activity clearly reveals the overriding goal. It has not been real concern for the betterment of our children. Rather, it has been a self-seeking desire for personal or institutional prestige and profit. Tragically too many in education have sought their own selfish ends under the presently unimpeachable banner of "innovation"! "The desire to get on the innovation bandwagon and the awareness of school-men... that foundation and government money goes to the man with the gimmick, have spawned scores of pseudo [phony] innovations." So said Mortimer Smith, executive director of the Council for Basic Education. He went on to observe that, "Too many present innovations are fluff and gimmickry not calculated to produce any fundamental changes" (Education Digest, February, 1968, p. 6). Think of it! Not calculated, not planned, and not even expected to improve education? Unbelievable? University of Southern California Professor of Education Earl V. Pullias also put his finger on much of the selfish motivation when he wrote, "... the search for innovation and to be thought of as an `innovator' have become almost a disease of epidemic proportions" (Curriculum Exchange, January, 1968, p. 3). The human lust to receive the acclaim of colleagues has clouded the true goal. It has produced gross manipulation and even dishonesty! In much the same vein, Richard E. Gross, Professor of Education at Stanford University commented on the growing preoccupation with introducing advanced and complex studies to very young children. He quipped, "This now provides a new way to become famous — just adapt a college course for the primary grades!" (Washington Education, November, 1967, p. 12) Humorous? No! Tragic for children who are the guinea pigs!
Where Is It Leading?
The end of such "squirrel-cage" folly which has deified change is not difficult to predict. There will be continued "scattergun" experimentalism, glamorous equipment and gadgetry while character and morality totally disappear from our schools! There will be increasing and irreversible alienation of our youth as we continue to exploit them through shamefully dishonest self-interest! There will be continued and finally unbearable demands for gigantic sums to be squandered in the mistaken (but typically American) belief that money can somehow buy true education! There will develop an overwhelming professional preoccupation with the scientific manipulation of the physical environment while our national spirit, character and integrity are slowly strangled! Not a very pretty forecast. But, it is just as sure as is the fact that man has human nature! "Could it be that we are missing the point," asked T.M. Stinnett, "that we are worshipping at the wrong altars? Could it be that we are obsessed with change exclusively in the material world... of gadgets and gimmicks and things? If so," he warned, "we may be grasping for the shape and not the substance of our world." (Washington Education, November, 1967, p. 6) Indeed we are worshipping at the wrong altars — the altars of scientism, experimentalism, and materialism! And, they are dumb gods who cannot save us!
Take Time Out for Sanity!
Americans are chronically "out of breath." We are an "action" people. We are an inventive people. We are obsessed with the new and novel. Indeed we are very much like the Athenians the apostle Paul met on Mars' Hill who, "... spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing" (Acts 17:21). But, Americans are poor evaluators. Even our hindsight is faulty mainly because we stop so seldom to consult it. We are lousy students of history! And, that may well lead to our downfall! Our headlong plunge into the supersonic, automated space age has stretched our tether with sanity and reality too near the breaking point. Until we take time out for sanity and honestly face the real purpose of education — until we admit to ourselves that our schools are tampering with minds and not machines only — with eternal destinies, not merely faceless IBM cards — we will continue to rush hopefully from one phony innovation to another till we drop in the dust with the barker's voice shouting HURRY! HURRY! HURRY! still ringing in our ears. No, we will never come to grips with the underlying weakness of our educational establishment until we acknowledge that the Creator of our minds also has a plan for their perfect development — the plan contained in your Bible! When we make that acknowledgment we will have set in motion the greatest and most productive innovation in the history of education!