Competence in basics is central to a well-rounded education
• KEVIN DONNELLY
• The Australian
• 12:00AM March 14, 2018
One of the more vacuous education cliches doing the rounds is “21st-century learning” — that teaching traditional subjects such as history, maths, science and English is obsolete and irrelevant.
Instead teachers and schools are told, to meet an unpredictable future, they must prioritise generic competencies such as learning how to learn, being collaborative, critical thinking and inquiry-based learning, where the focus is on process instead of content.
The OECD’s plan to test “global competence” in this year’s Program for International Student Assessment test represents the most recent push to reshape radically what students learn.
In the jargon much loved by contemporary educrats, global competence is described as “a multifaceted cognitive, socio-emotional and civic learning goal” promoting in students a “desire to understand the other” and to “include marginalised groups”.
According to postcolonial theory, the “other” refers to the way European imperialists, supposedly, denied the humanity of indigenous people they colonised by describing them as dangerous, uncivilised, primitive and irrational.
The justification for embedding global competencies in the curriculum includes the need to develop a “shared vision of humanity” based on “inclusive societies”, an appreciation of “cultural differences” and the need to promote “responsible action towards sustainability and collective wellbeing”.
While historically PISA has tested traditional subjects involving science, mathematics and reading, the global competencies test breaks new ground. In addition to a cognitive assessment measuring students’ ability to examine global issues, the test also measures familiarity with topics such as sustainability, multiculturalism, intercultural sensitivity and the need to take action and “safeguard the environment”.
While there is much of value in the OECD promoting global competencies (all would agree that “peace, non-discrimination, equality, justice, nonviolence, tolerance and respect” are highly valued), there are also serious misgivings.
While there is an admission that not all cultural beliefs and practices need to be respected, the OECD’s global competencies test promotes cultural relativism and the mistaken belief that students should uncritically embrace diversity and difference. Students are told they should be open and sensitive towards other cultures and beliefs on the basis they cannot “assume their own values, beliefs and behaviours are the only possible correct ones”.
In line with a cultural-left, postmodern belief that how we perceive the world is a sociocultural construct, the statement is also made that: “One’s beliefs and judgments are always contingent upon one’s own cultural affiliations and perspectives.” If true that one’s beliefs and values are subjective and relative, then there are no grounds for arguing against cultural practices such as child brides, female circumcision and the existence of patriarchal Islamic theocracies such as Iran and Saudi Arabia where women are marginalised and oppressed.
The argument is also put that there is nothing special or unique about Western civilisation’s concept of human dignity and human rights on the basis that various other cultures and countries have developed similar beliefs about the inherent dignity of the person.
Ignored is that the evolution of what the American Declaration of Independence describes as the unalienable God-given right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and the concept of liberty involving freedom of expression and the right to vote and not be oppressed by government are uniquely Western in origin.
In line with the doom-and-gloom environmental scenario prevalent since the Club of Rome’s publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972, the OECD’s new test presents a bleak and depressing view of humanity’s future. The list of possible topics to be tested includes climate change; air pollution and related health risks; pollution and over-acidification of the oceans; soil degradation; desertification and drought; population growth and unsustainable urbanisation; natural disasters; glacier mass balance; contamination from pesticide residues; loss of biodiversity; access to clean water; overfishing and the clearing of forests.
Further evidence of a lack of objectivity is where students are asked to analyse a graph claiming that fears about global warming are not substantiated by the evidence. The graph shows temperatures falling, not rising. After asking students to analyse a second graph showing rising temperatures, they are told the first graph lacks credibility as it was “financed by a major oil company”, and such companies promote self-interest by ensuring researchers are made to “support the interests of the sponsor”.
There’s no doubt the PISA mathematics, science and literacy tests are useful, but adding global competencies to the list is an example of indoctrination instead of providing an objective evaluation of students’ knowledge and skills.
Kevin Donnelly is a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of the forthcoming How Political Correctness is Destroying Australia (Wilkinson Publishing).
https://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinio ... 9add451a1c
When teachers complain they don’t have time to teach phonics, it’s because so much of their time is taken up with pointless, busy-work activities that are supposed to create politically correct citizens of the future, when all it does is stop/delay meaningful learning.
For those aren’t already familiar, this is what E.D. Hirsch has to say about the required 21st century skills that teacher are expected to teach:
Tool Conception of Education:
Accessing skills means teaching kids how to learn (how to access information or look things up) rather than transmitting specific knowledge to the students; the reasoning is that knowledge and technology changes too rapidly to bother with transmitting "soon-to-be-outmoded facts". As a result, schools teach kids how to depend on the dictionary, encyclopedia, etc. As Hirsch says, this is an important skill, but it doesn't take long to learn. "These sources cannot replace students' ready knowledge of varied subject matters and word meanings ... Even when using an encyclopedia or CD-ROM, students without prior background knowledge cannot understand the things they look up.”
Critical-thinking skills. This term refers to the ability to analyze ideas and solve problems in an independent fashion by developing the ability to locate a main idea and look it up in resources. This is a goal we should all hope to achieve. However, some educators feel this is the only thing students need. They oftentimes will caricature the acquisition of subject knowledge as rote learning of "mere facts." In their mind, it has lesser value. Hirsch says: "This tool conception, however, is an incorrect model of real-world critical thinking. Independent-mindedness is always predicated on relevant knowledge: one cannot think critically unless one has a lot of relevant knowledge about the issue at hand.”
Higher-order skills. "A phrase for the superior thinking skills that many current educational reforms aim to achieve. The goal is to produce students who can think and read critically, who can find information, who have mastered metacognitive strategies, and who know how to solve problems. Such students, it is asserted, will be far better prepared to face the challenges of the twenty-first century than those who merely possess a lot of traditional, soon-to-be-outdated, rote-learned information. Again, the tool conception of learning reappears, but research in cognitive psychology does not support it." According to Hirsch, "there is no way to gain the skills without gaining the associated information. It is mere prejudice to assert that strategies associated with using domain-specific information are of a 'higher order' than the knowledge itself.”
Learning to learn. This term refers to the tool conception of learning. The argument educators make in its favor is that information becomes outdated, but the ability to find information doesn't. Therefore, teaching facts is a waste of time. "But the tool conception, which makes the fish inferior to the hook, line, and sinker, is based upon a gravely inadequate metaphor of the skill of learning. Indeed, even learning how to fish requires a great deal of domain-specific knowledge."
Metacognitive skills. The broadest meaning of the term is identified with "accessing skills," "critical-thinking skills," and "problem-solvinging skills." "Children who have learned how to set and meet such study goals for themselves (e.g., how to scan a text for the main reading, how to decide on what is more or less important in a subject with respect to their own study aims) are students who are better able to work independently ... The teaching of such self-conscious monitoring can speed up the learning of reading and problem-solving skills. But since expert skills are also dependent on domain-specific knowledge, the teaching of metacognition in this narrow sense is recognized as a useful but not sufficient help in learning a skill."
Problem-solving skills. "In a narrow sense, it refers to the ability to solve problems in mathematics or other specialized fields. More broadly, it refers to a general resourcefulness and skill that will enable the student to solve various future problems ... Work on the problem-solving abilities of specialists like doctors, chess players, and physicists has shown consistently that the ability to solve problems is critically dependent upon a deep, well-practiced knowledge within the special domain, and that these problem solving abilities do not readily transfer from one domain to another ... In short, there seems to exist no abstract, generalized, teachable ability to solve problems in a diversity of domains. For schools to spend time teaching a general skill that does not exist is clearly a waste of resources, which illustrates the inherent shortcomings of the tool conception of education.”
Lifelong learning. Everyone agrees that people must have the ability to adapt to changes in technology. Buggies gave way to automobiles, and the typewriter gave way to the word processor. Therefore, people must indeed have critical-thinking skills to solve their problems. Hirsh is worried because "the dominant progressive tradition has made a fundamental empirical mistake in believing that these general competencies do not depend upon the accumulation of knowledge and vocabulary, and in believing that transferable lifelong competencies will arise naturally from 'holistic,' integrated activities."
Promise of technology This phrase is often heard from progressivists who favor the discredited tool method of teaching. According to Hirsch, "There is no evidence that [computers] advent has reduced the need for students to have in their minds well-practiced habits and readily available knowledge. Quite the contrary, the more one looks things up via computer, the more often one needs to understand what one is looking up. There is no evidence that a well-stocked and well-equipped mind can be displaced by 'accessing skills.'" Despite teachers' claims otherwise, lack of well-equipped minds may be the reason student scores have not risen in schools that already have computers.
From: Education Terminology Every Parent Must Understand
This page offers a condensation of the Critical Guide to Terms and Phrases, an appendix in the book: The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them by E. D. Hirsch. The condensation was produced by the Texas Education Consumers Association for their web site, which is currently down for renovation. We are grateful to E. D. Hirsch and to the
Texas Education Consumers Association for permission to post it here on the NYC HOLDweb site.