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.