My son is luckier than most children and attends a school that has yet to fall into the hands of the education establishment. In science class, we get to study a variety of interesting topics like the history of medicine instead of another boring lesson about global warming or environmentalism. The current lesson is about a physician named Galen who lived in Rome during the second century. He was fascinated with anatomy and curious about the inner workings and structures of the body.
In second century Rome, gladiators mutilating each other in the Coliseum was considered appropriate by society, however dissecting corpses was outlawed, even by physicians. Galen’s thirst to “see under the skin” could only be satisfied by treating the injured gladiators or dissecting animals. His findings were revolutionary at that time and his ability as a doctor became famous.
After Galen’s death, his medical notes were like a bible to the medical community who considered his techniques, which included blood-letting, the Gospel in medical procedures. Until the 1500s, Galen’s teachings still had the last word in most medical schools. In anatomy classes, if the dissected corpse didn’t match Galen findings, the presiding medical doctor would claim the error is with the body, not Galen’s notes. A doctor would deny what was right in front of his eyes because it didn’t match the drawing in a book written over a thousand years ago by a man who never actually dissected a human body. Reality wasn’t reality unless it fit into the Galen school of thought. It is said that Galen’s dead hand had a grip on the medical community and better ideas and processes not aligned to Galen’s teachings were dismissed. The obvious result was that innovation flatlined.
Unfortunately, man is slow to learn and today schools of thought still trump reality, especially in the field of education. The practices and ideas held by the “father” of education, John Dewey, continue to have a Galenesque grip on American schools. Despite the inverse relationship between student achievement and the increased use of his theories, John Dewey is never wrong. Teacher education programs across the United States have pledged their allegiance to the ideas of progressive education like constructivism, student centered learning, and fuzzy math. Teaching methods not aligned to this school of thought like direct instruction, memorization, traditional math, genuine phonics, and classic literature are considered taboo.
Education has flatlined in the U.S., just like medicine under the grip of Galen. The education establishment, in their infinite wisdom, has proposed the Common Core Standards (CCS) to jump start our schools, however a blip to the screen is not likely. It is a remake of progressive education and forces the consolidation of thought under its tent. National standards based on failed methods won’t solve the problem, it will make it everyone’s problem. It’s like improving blood-letting by using a bigger cup.
The CCS are transforming education into an “inquiry-based” and “student-centered” learning environment. Teachers are restricted from showing students the procedure for solving math problems and students are to work in groups to discover the solution. It’s the same outdated theories popularized by John Dewey in 1897 that advanced the teacher’s role in the classroom as being a “guide on the side” and allowing students to “independently discover” meaning in the subject area. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards from 1989 were also based on these ideas and math education declined during the past several decades. The education establishment needs an intervention; their theories don’t work.
We can no longer afford to be in denial about the problems in education and reality must trump schools of thought. Parents, educators, and policy makers must rise up and cut the grip of Dewey’s dead hand over schools of education.