Constructivism is Dead. Good Riddance to K–12 Rubbish
Herewith a quick review of what is arguably one of the most destructive excesses of the past fifty years.
Constructivism, a monster fad from the 1980s until quite recently, states that learners must be active in constructing their own meanings.
Their own meanings? What could that possibly mean? Anything, apparently. Depends on which meanings a student constructs. Two plus three might equal 6 or 8 or 10.
If people appreciate how outrageous and desperate Constructivism is, they are better prepared to see through the many other hoaxes in our schools. The common traits are elaborate claims disconnected from real life.
In the 1980s many schools proudly announced they were constructivist. Teachers who refused to play by the new rules were often fired. Main rule is that teachers should no longer teach, given that students must teach themselves. Constructivism became a sort of religion. It was a worldview with prescriptions for every aspect of school life.
Kids who know nothing are officially permitted to wallow in their ignorance.
While students should be learning basic information, they are instead encouraged to go freelance. They are instructed to reinvent the wheel for themselves. So students are told to be imprecise and self-indulgent, to create their own truths, to think any thought, to advance in any direction, but quite possibly never actually go around the block.
I think the fundamental flaw is a tendency to develop confused or schizoid thinking. Students probably feel they are expected to go in several directions simultaneously. This is not helpful. Children 10 or 12 years old do not need a whole lot of other stuff. They need the right stuff, the real stuff, the true stuff.
The hard part, in a short article, is to communicate the total smugness, absolutism, and merciless aggression contained in Constructivism as found in American schools circa 1990. Experts seemed to be talking about a new Ten Commandments, just brought down from the mountaintop, a great gift to the students of America.
Far-fetched claims, expressed in sophistry and jargon, were a giveaway that a phony had come to town. Typical purple prose, written by professors, tell us how very lucky we are to have Constructivism. Here are three examples worth lingering over:
The emphasis is on the learner as an active "maker of meanings." The role of the teacher is to enter into a dialogue with the learner, trying to understand the meaning to that learner of the material to be learned, and to help her or him to refine their understanding[.]
Piaget's theory of constructivism states that learning begins from the inside of the child. Constructivism is a scientific theory that explains the nature of human knowledge. It is also the only known theory that explains children's construction of knowledge from birth to adolescence.
Basically, constructivism views that knowledge is not "about" the world, but rather "constitutive" of the world. Knowledge is not a fixed object, it is constructed by an individual through her own experience of that object.
Now, as you read this hyperbole, imagine that you want to teach something immediate and practical, such as the life of a cell, the American Revolution, or the Age of Sail. You will probably imagine a classroom full of confusion and disorder as students build and rearrange their personal meanings. How can Constructivism do anything but get in the way of your teaching? Children will be paralyzed in place as they struggle to sort out what is real and imagined.
Constructivism, finally, functions as a poison, like putting fluoride in the drinking water or too much Ritalin in the school lunch.
I believe that the Education Establishment disdains knowledge and indeed eliminates it whenever possible. So we have Constructivism creating counter-realities sure to keep children confused. And now stir in a fad called Critical Thinking. This one encourages children to discuss critically things they know nothing about. Instead of learning facts, the children jump ahead to discussing them.
So, any which way it can be achieved, there is a steady disruption of efficient learning. Obstacle on obstacle guarantees a persistent inefficiency throughout the school.
What's the answer? Good teachers should keep doing what common sense tells them is correct. Teach something, anything, every day. Tell kids about the Incas, the Marianas Trench, the craters on the moon. Everything is fascinating if presented properly.
Discursive discussions of school problems aren't helpful. Citizens need to know exactly what devilry our professors and administrators are promoting. Tell us the problems in a paragraph. Then tell us the cure. For example, if you have widespread illiteracy, make sure phonics is taught in the first grade.
I keep thinking we have organizations that should be leading this fight. For example, there is the Heritage Foundation, the National Association of Scholars, and Hillsdale College. These have funding, staff, and prestige. Why aren't they more aggressively focused on explaining the pathologies of our education professors?
I think part of our problem is that conservatives and Republicans do not think in terms of winning anything. They want to talk about it for a few more years. The Education Establishment is deeply pleased to let that happen. Nothing improves. Decline continues. Democrats come up with new gimmicks like CRT, and there's a nice vacuum waiting to receive them.
Bruce Deitrick Price's new novel is Frankie. Logline: Frankie is designed to engage in smart conversation with humans. No other skills. Harmless. Chaos ensues. For more info, visit http://Frankie.zone.
Image: jarmoluk via Pixabay, Pixabay License.