Why Constructivism and Direct Instruction will Damage Your Child’s Brain – Part 1

Sacrilege! Direct Instruction is bad??? By the end of this 3 part article I hope to explain what I mean by this before my homeschool and charter school friends storm the castle, though they do have something to ponder.

Background: What Motivates Us

I recently listened to a book on tape called “Drive,” by Daniel Pink. The book is about the science behind motivation. It’s a fascinating subject explaining the appropriateness of reward systems and what increases or decreases motivation. He says that what we really seek is autonomy, mastery, and purpose. When we are given high amounts of autonomy, the opportunity to perform challenging work at our level of competency so we experience growth, and have meaningful purpose behind what we are doing, we experience something called flow, a term coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_%28psychology%29) meaning focused motivation. When we are denied these 3 elements in various degrees, we do not gain the state of focus and concentration to maximize our performance. You need to understand this to understand one of the educational philosophies I’m going to discuss.

Everyone is motivated either intrinsically or extrinsically. We are also rewarded either intrinsically or extrinsically. You either get joy out of what you’re doing, or something external to you is your reward for doing it. What the studies show is that when extrinsic motivators are used incorrectly, it can destroy intrinsic motivation and damage that mechanism altogether. There are times when both can be used effectively, but when intrinsic motivation is key, such as in the area of education, then introducing extrinsic motivators can cause serious harm to the true long-term goals we have of children becoming life-time learners.

Here’s how it works. If someone is doing algorithmic work that could perhaps be automated and doesn’t require creative thinking, those actions can be motivated by a reward or incentive system where the person knows they will be rewarded for completing the task. For example, moving boxes from one side of a warehouse to the other or raking the leaves. These don’t require creative processes (under most circumstances) and so you can incentivize them.

However, as soon as you step into anything requiring thinking and creativity, to provide an extrinsic motivator actually decreases motivation and outcomes because what the individual could have done for intrinsic purposes has been made to appear to be work instead of play. Instead of striving for mastery for the challenge itself, the bribe/incentive/reward turns it into work. Once on that path, rewards motivate people to seek rewards. In studies mentioned in Daniel’s book, creative people are less creative when they know there is a reward in it for them as if doing the thing itself isn’t enough. For example, asking a child to read a book because it’s exciting and fun would turn into work for them if you offered them $10 to read it because they would begin to perceive that if you have to pay them to do it, you might be thinking they really won’t like it and must motivate them with money.

If you’d like to watch Daniel Pink’s TED talk on motivation, it’s highly worth watching: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html

A Little Education History

Now we need to lay a little education history framework before we get to the meat of what’s going on.

In the early 1800’s, the Prussian army was frustrated that its soldiers weren’t performing on the battlefields with precise order. They wanted to make sure that future soldiers didn’t have this problem so they implemented compulsory education on their children and began psychological approaches to education to create the desired result of obedient children that would do exactly as they wanted.

Hallmarks of this Prussian education system included compulsory attendance, national training for teachers, national testing for students, national curriculum for each grade, and mandatory kindergarten. The philosophy it was based in was that humans were scientific objects. There is only a body, brain, and nervous system. There is no God, and no spirit, so everything in this scientific object was subject to a stimulus/response system.

Horace Mann
Horace Mann

In the mid 1800’s, Horace Mann was trained at Leipzig university in this methodology and returned to America to implement it here. Up until this time, compulsory education was not used in America. When it was implemented, parents rose up to stop it and the militia was called out to force children to public schools until the practice became accepted. John Taylor Gatto talks about this in his acceptance speech when he was awarded the NY City Teacher of the Year award for the 3rd time. He also points out that prior to compulsory education, the literacy rate in Massachusetts was 98% and after compulsory education was implemented it dropped and has never exceeded 91% since then.

G. Stanley Hall was another trained in this philosophy at Leipzig and he was John Dewey’s mentor. In 1934, John Dewey became one of the original signatories of the humanist manifesto. The manifesto was a socialistic, atheistic, religious document pronouncing that there was no God or spirit and that man was to fare according to his capabilities. Throughout his life, Dewey sought to use the school system to implement collectivist philosophies on children in an attempt to have them lose individuality and promote socialism.

John Dewey
John Dewey

Dewey wrote, “children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming, where everyone is interdependent.” (Human Events, 10/18/96)

He also wrote, “you can’t make socialists out of individualists.” (Gordon, What’s Happened To Our Schools? P. 16)

Another well known individual trained at Leipzig was Ivan Pavlov, famous for his bell ringing generating salivation in dogs. Introduce a stimulus and reward a proper response and these psychologists trained children the same way. To them, there was no such thing as children with divine potential and individual God-given talents and abilities, they were lumps of clay ready to be formed to whatever the teachers desired them to become, given the proper stimulus of course. Correction, Horace Mann referred to children as “wax,” not clay.

What did these psychologists want teachers to do to children? Dr. Chester M. Pierce, Harvard professor of education and psychiatry said this in this address to the Childhood International Education seminar in 1973.

Every child in America entering school at the age of five is insane because he comes to school with certain allegiances to our founding fathers, toward our elected officials, toward his parents, toward a belief in a supernatural being, and toward the sovereignty of this nation as a separate entity. It’s up to you as teachers to make all these sick children well – by creating the international child of the future.

Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning
Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning

Benjamin Bloom, another psychologist and educator, most famous for his work on his hierarchy of learning, said we needed to move children toward higher order thinking and defined it like this.

“…a student attains ‘higher order thinking’ when he no longer believes in right or wrong. A large part of what we call good teaching is a teacher´s ability to obtain affective objectives by challenging the student’s fixed beliefs. …a large part of what we call teaching is that the teacher should be able to use education to reorganize a child’s thoughts, attitudes, and feelings.”

So we can immediately see that those who strongly influence the education system are in many cases corrupt godless individuals who desire nothing more than to take children out of the home at young ages and reshape their belief system.

Last year the Texas Republican Party amended their platform to include this new item, demonstrating that they understood this issue very clearly.

“Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

Oh, but all is well in Utah, right?

John Goodlad
John Goodlad

John Goodlad is the modern era disciple of John Dewey. He’s an atheist, socialist, humanist, anti-family, pro-social justice educator that is one of the premier voices listened to in numerous education departments across the country including BYU’s McKay School of Education. Go figure. Many quotes could be shared from Goodlad but I’ll just share a couple.

Most youth still hold the same values of their parents…if we do not alter this pattern, if we don’t resocialize, our system will decay.” – John Goodlad, Schooling for the Future, Issue #9, 1971

Public education has served as a check on the power of parents, and this is another powerful reason for maintaining it.”
– John Goodlad, Developing Democratic Character in the Young, pg. 165

With people like this influencing the system, is it any wonder that public education is in decay? The goal these people are working toward is socialization, and a disruption and overturning of family values.


Continued in Part 2

4 thoughts on “Why Constructivism and Direct Instruction will Damage Your Child’s Brain – Part 1”

  1. Okay, so reality check. You list very compelling problems, but how exactly do you solve them in the current public education system? Getting rid of direct instruction leaves what alternatives when we have 40 students per class period, the majority of whom are only in our classes because their parents or the school make them? How exactly would you teach students the values of intrinsic motivation and success if we are only allowed to require of them what they want to accomplish? It is simple enough to use the method of Direct Instruction (which really means that the teacher provides opportunities for creativity and growth) without using the values of its creator. There is no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater just because some people are incapable of doing both.

    1. You need to wait for part 3’s exciting conclusion on Wednesday. :) You also may have missed the line at the very top of this post with my warning about that. :)

  2. Online is not perfect but it does give a parent room to make sure their children are able to thoroughly understand the information they are being taught and focus on those subjects that are necessary to get a good paying job and have a successful happy life. I have taken the time to show my kids how to research information both for and against propaganda. We discuss long term and unintended consequences of the “propaganda” and yes, I tell do them why I do not agree with one thing or another and I back it up with facts. I do encourage them if they are curious to go out and find the opposite position and prove it. With that background I let them make decisions for themselves. So far it has worked I have a 17 year daughter who is in college calculus and headed toward an engineering degree and I haven’t had to go through the horror stories that I hear from the other parents. My son is headed in the same direction. Parents know what is best for their children we need to make sure we never forget it or blithely give away our rights and responsibilities.

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