Howard Anglin: Alberta's social studies curriculum is filled with facts, and the left can't handle that

(nationalpost.com)

The idea of universal education — the belief that the poor as well as the rich, the farmer as well as the philosopher, should receive a basic grounding in the sciences and the humanities — has been one of the great advances of recent centuries. The success of this project has been so complete that, until recently you could say with confidence that, at least across the developed world, ignorance and illiteracy had been stamped out and knowledge had triumphed. That is why it has been so astonishing to see the partisans of ignorance come roaring back in the criticisms of the new Alberta K-6 social studies curriculum. […]

It is important to understand these small-p political roots of this opposition or you could easily miss amid the din of attacks the most important fact: the evidence supports Alberta’s approach. And it isn’t close. Dan Willingham, a professor at the University of Virginia who studies the application of new findings in cognitive science to education, has written that “(d)ata from the last thirty years lead to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts.”

Willingham’s research is reinforced by University of New South Wales professor John Sweller, who has demonstrated that the way our brains store information when we learn is wired in favour of direct instruction of factual knowledge. […] In his most recent paper, published earlier this year, Sweller updated these findings. His conclusion was, once again, blunt: there appears to be “a causal relation between the emphasis on inquiry learning and reduced academic performance.” The problem with the constructivist approach (which includes discovery and inquiry-based learning), it seems, is that it doesn’t stimulate the long-term memory change in students that would show evidence of learning, and this is borne out in empirical studies showing worse student outcomes.

Ultimately, the belief that constructivist learning can replace core knowledge taught by well-prepared teachers is belied by the graduates of schools that adopt that approach. In his 2011 memoir Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School, Princeton professor Shamus Rahman Khan quotes a conversation he had with a freshman at Harvard.

“I don’t actually know much … like the Civil War or what France did in World War II” the student confesses. But, he hastens to assure Khan, “I know something they don’t. It’s not facts or anything. It’s how to think.”

When Khan asks him what he means, the boy replies: “I mean, I learned how to think bigger. Like, everyone else at Harvard knew about the Civil War. I didn’t. But I knew how to make sense of what they knew about the Civil War and apply it. So they knew a lot about particular things. I knew how to think about everything.”

This is where the fad for constructivist education gets us: students “thinking bigger” about things they don’t really understand because they never learned the basic facts of history. Another word for this is ignorance.

This is part of a really long article that goes over a bunch of curriculum changes in one of Canada’s provinces. It’s a really good read and outlines a number of areas where the education system is constantly under attack for not being enough of an indoctrination centre for kids.

While it would be nice to have the curriculum designed outside of government, the sad reality is that the bureaucratic mess that is government is usually better suited to slowly resist some of the extremist goals of groups.