Schools should focus on academics, group says

August 20, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Carroll schools are headed in the wrong direction, critics say, with class time being wasted on discussing self-esteem and social problems to the detriment of academics.

"Schools need to get back to academic education and leave all the other social issues to other agencies better equipped to handle them," said William Bowen of Carroll County Citizens for Quality Education in an interview this week.

CCCQE is a recently formed group of parents and others opposed to certain trends. Those include outcome-based education, or building a curriculum around what students should know, and be, as they move through the school system.

Carroll County public school officials plan to implement a set of "exit outcomes" next year, which state that all students must be "able communicators, effective problem-solvers, collaborative workers, involved citizens, life-long learners, innovative producers and individuals with a positive self-concept" by the time they graduate.

Gary Dunkleberger, Carroll's director of curriculum and staff development, has said the standards are driven by the school system's need to "look to the future." He said that although the school system has been successful, it must continue to strive for improvement.

"The schools are not a laboratory for experimentation on captive audiences, or captive victims, and those victims include parents, teachers and students," Mr. Bowen said.

The interview was designed to clarify CCCQE's stance on educational reform in the county.

Also, Laura Albers, a leading member of the group, said her position on children reporting their parents for physical abuse was misstated in an Aug. 13 Sun article.

"As a parent, I would never advocate that child abuse can be bTC overridden by a family's right to privacy," she said. "Children have to be safe. But normal discipline is being included in sessions as if it were a form of abuse."

CCCQE is not against school reform, Mr. Bowen said. However, the group feels that proven, traditional teaching methods -- such as letter grading and separating children by age -- should not be rejected in favor of programs that lack a successful track record.

Exit outcome education has been rejected in several areas, including Chicago, said Mr. Bowen and Mrs. Albers.

Group members, who would have preferred the outcomes to be introduced as a pilot program, also are concerned about the program's potential cost, Mr. Bowen said.

He said the Wharton School of Economics conducted a study for Pennsylvania that indicated implementation of an exit outcomes-based program for just five districts there would cost $16 million. "It would cost over a billion [dollars] if they did the entire state [Pa.]."

Teachers should not conduct the psychoanalytical and behavior-modification activities of exit-outcome teaching, Mrs. Albers said, because most do not have the training in psychotherapeutic techniques needed to effectively test that children are achieving exit outcomes.

"It is clear that slighting content and substituting a psychotherapeutic style of classroom management turns out to hurt good children. And it isn't clinical enough, professional enough or powerful enough, to help those who are not," Mrs. Albers said, quoting an article, "Education that Brings Harm to Good Children," by W.R. Coulson, director of the Research Council on Ethnopsychology.

Dr. Coulson, who holds doctorates in philosophy and counseling psychology, was a member of the Reagan administration's Technical Advisory Panel on Drug Education and co-edited textbooks on humanistic education for the Charles E. Merrill publishing company.

Such programs serve only to turn children away from their parents' values, Mrs. Albers and Mr. Bowen said.

"Whose children are these that they are experimenting with?" Mr. Bowen said. "Not only is it experimenting in the academics, which are rapidly disappearing, but it's an experiment with their minds and their values.

"We don't believe that the schools have that right to make those kind of changes. Those are the kind of things that belong to the family and to the parents.

"Critical thinking is being critical of past values. . . . It's not a matter of delving into something that's very complex and then coming up with a solution. It means to be critical, to criticize."

Mrs. Albers questioned the goal of teaching students to interpret information, quoting the exit outcome handbook as saying, "Knowledge is subject to change. Higher level knowledge is changed as information is discovered which challenges a previous interpretation."

"That cannot be true in finite things," she said. "That can only be true in the kind of critical thinking that surrounds questioning values, morals and behaviors and attitudes.

"Knowledge cannot be subject to change across the board."

Group members worry that the schools' emphasis on multiculturalism will encourage students to consider behavior that society previously considered immoral, such as homosexuality, as acceptable, they said.

"We don't accept drug addicts using drugs. We send them to go get help, even if it is a so-called chemical imbalance and they can't help themselves," Mrs. Albers said.

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