Colleges of education are responsible for training teachers. However, most colleges of education in the US are guided by ideology, rather than by research. Instead of helping prospective educators learn how to teach, colleges of education tend to push a particular perspective on teaching: teaching methods that are aligned with this perspective are advocated, and teaching methods in opposition to it are rejected—even if they are more effective at furthering students’ academic achievement, self-esteem and critical thinking skills.
According to an article by professor Douglas Carnine of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, education professors in the United States overwhelmingly tend to advocate constructivist teaching methods. These include discovery-based learning, inquiry-based learning and project-based learning. These teaching methods require the teacher to avoid directly instructing her students: instead, she must simply put them in an information-rich environment, in which they are to discover key information on their own. Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker describes such methods (specifically with regard to mathematics education) in his book How the Mind Works:
The ascendant philosophy of mathematical education in the United States is constructivism, a mixture of Piaget’s psychology with counterculture and postmodernist ideology. Children must actively construct mathematical knowledge for themselves in a social enterprise driven by disagreements about the meanings of concepts. The teacher provides the materials and the social milieu but does not lecture or guide the discussion.
However, there are serious issues with such approaches to teaching—they are highly ineffective at promoting academic achievement. This has been repeatedly confirmed by empirical research over the past several decades, according to an article in the journal Educational Psychologist. Revered educational researcher Jeanne Chall arrives at the same conclusion in her book The Academic Achievement Challenge. In fact, various different fields related to education—such as cognitive psychology and process-product studies — have arrived at this conclusion, according to Professors Barak Rosenshine and E. D. Hirsch: this consensus from several fields of study is a very strong indication that the findings are valid. Additionally, constructivist teaching methods have been shown to be much less effective than direct instruction methods for promoting critical thinking skills and self-esteem, according to a book by Professors Siegfried Engelmann and Gary Adams. Even so, such ineffective teaching strategies have remained quite popular all the way up to the present.
Professor Richard Mayer, in an article for American Psychologist, notes that constructivist teaching methods have consistently re-appeared under different names throughout the past several decades. Every time one of these teaching methods is shown to be ineffective by empirical research, it reappears under a different label. The educational establishment clearly refuses to give up on constructivist teaching. Scholars such as Charles Sykes, E. D. Hirsch, Martin Kozloff and Siegfried Engelmann attribute this support of constructivism to the ideological influence of colleges of education. Professor J. E. Stone defines this ideology as developmentalism—educators wholeheartedly support any teaching strategy that allows children to develop naturally, while any teaching method that involves an interference with natural development is seen as harmful. This ideology ignores the well-established psychological literature indicating that children have inherently violent and dangerous tendencies. As an article in Science points out: “Babies do not kill each other, because we do not give them access to knives and guns … The question … we’ve been trying to answer for the past 30 years is how do children learn to aggress … [T]hat’s the wrong question. The right question is how do they learn not to aggress.” One goal of education, therefore, should be to develop children’s control of their negative tendencies and to further their positive traits.
Moreover, constructivist teaching methods tend to widen the achievement gap between students of color and white students, and between high- and low-income students, according to an article in American Educator. Even so, most colleges of education claim to support social justice. In other words, despite the fact that colleges of education purportedly support social justice (as noted by scholars Charles Sykes, E. D. Hirsch, Rita Kramer and Siegfried Engelmann), the teaching methods they promote are harmful to at-risk students (students of color and low-income students). This is, to say the least, a baffling contradiction.
What is most concerning is that these dangerous teaching methods, strategies and dispositions are enforced upon and therefore adopted by teachers—most students who go through a teacher education program in university will undoubtedly be indoctrinated into the use of such methods. This leads to teachers’ providing a highly inadequate education to their students, which—in the long term—leads to academic failure, and ultimately, failure in life. Academic achievement is highly correlated with scores on standardized tests and, although standardized tests (such as the ACT and SAT) are very frequently criticized, they are strongly correlated with IQ scores, and IQ scores are strongly correlated with job performance, occupational level, social status and income, and likelihood of engaging in crime. Effective teaching methods can ensure that students will succeed both academically and in life.
Constructivist teaching methods are highly ineffective: in fact, they compromise the overall life success of students. Therefore, the use of such methods is, quite simply, immoral. Nevertheless, the use of those teaching methods is extremely prevalent, and this use is promoted by the ideological bias of colleges of education. In order to promote equality, value and the development of knowledge in American schools, is it necessary to fight against the ideological indoctrination common in the education departments of American universities.
For a much more detailed explanation of these ideas, please check out the paper that I presented at the 2019 John Wesley Powell Research Conference. It is essentially a significantly extended version of this article:
[…] Source: Areo Magazine […]
I took my PGCE (Professional Graduate Certificate in Education) here in the UK. I already had nearly 20 years’ teaching experience in the ESOL sector. I was shocked and, frankly, infuriated to be told that ‘we don’t teach anything anymore; we facilitate learning’. This is partly why I refuse to work in the State sector. I work online for the Chinese, who appreciate and respect good teaching and expect their kids to be actually taught something in lessons.
The current situation in US schools has little to do with constructivism and more to do with the incompetencies of the teachers. I was brought up and went to college in my home country before I came to the US for graduate work in education and was shocked to see what passes here as teaching. It is ridiculous; even the professors at graduate level classes, with some exceptions, consider talking loosely on the subject to be good teaching. A good amount of all the teachers in the US would not be even employed as teachers in most countries in the world. As most people in the US do not really know what is actually going on in the rest of the world because they are so detached from the rest both geographically and also psychologically, since they think they are on the top of the world and know everything better… Read more »
The answer is simple: progressives favor a narrative over facts, while conservatives tend to favor what works. For example, even when told that a $15 min wage will hurt low-income workers (reduce their hours and perks, increase unemployment), progressives insist it is still needed. Starting in grad school I was able to follow a constructivist program because I was mature enough to do so. That is I became largely an autodidact. Kids cannot do this. It took thousands of years to discover today’s math–it is a monstrous conceit to think our kids can rediscover geometry in group discussions over a few hours per week. That idea is frankly insane. Kids having more fun does not equal learning. While we are on education, my kids hated the whole “group projects” stuff. There was always a total slacker and my kids got bad grades due to them or had to do it… Read more »
I don’t know why it has to be a contest. Instruction and discovery should coexist. Even when I’m instructing I’m encouraging students to beat me to the next point. Further, discovery is something to move toward — in lower grades it’s mostly instruction, and kids soak up what they are told. Later on, introspection and discovery become more important.
Mr Butler, this article would be better if it provided some of the evidence for and against constructivist education. To just provide the conclusions of respected – or even ‘revered’ – researchers is an appeal to authority. Also, it would be a good idea to outline the ideas of the original constructivists, which are worthy of discussion. The uninformed reader of the article will come away with a very shallow conception of what Vygotsky, Piaget and Dewey were on about. To completely dismiss constructivist ideas would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater – what is the appeal of constructivist education? From the article linked by James Birrell: “The report notes that inquiry-based teaching increases students’ joy in science significantly more than teacher-directed learning does. (Teacher-directed is also positively correlated with joy, though the impact is less.) Inquiry-based also helps convince students that science is worthwhile for their… Read more »
There is nothing wrong with a bit of “discovery based” learning provided they’ve got enough background knowledge and incentive to do it properly.
“Let’s give the kids a load of shapes and sit back while they invent Euclidean geometry for themselves!”
Can teaching increase IQ now?
Surely those in support of constructivist teaching methods aren’t unintelligent. It would be nice to see someone help we casual readers to better understand their arguments in favor of these methods, rather than simply listing the negative outcomes they generate. What are the steel-man arguments in favor of constructivism in education? Perhaps this doesn’t relate to constructivism directly, but since I get the sense that this “feel your own way through your education” is another in a series of efforts to make sure nobody feels bad about their poor academic performance (coddling self-esteem is apparently a virtue, after all), maybe it does. My preference in education would be to remove the problematic children from regular classrooms, such that teachers can focus their time and resources on those who have a chance to achieve academic excellence, rather than spending all their time dealing with the distractions of the troubled few who… Read more »
This is why we’ve decided to base salary to a small extent on improvement on standardized tests, and why teachers hate it.