Those committed to education reform must resist the easy temptation to support a nostalgic view that the content and approaches to teaching used in government schools when today's adults were in school are good enough for today's children. They are not.
Many OBE supporters argue that their opponents are almost exclusively religious-right fundamentalist Christians. This in itself has no bearing, of course, on whether the OBE opponents are correct. Moreover, although it is true that fundamentalists generally oppose OBE, it is misleading to claim that they are the sole or even primary opponents, or that no one is raising valid objections.
For example, some analysts object that there is no widespread "hard" evidence that transformational OBE works. There are a few jurisdictions where some success seems to have been achieved, but there has been no overwhelming, widespread evidence of success with transformational OBE.
Other critics argue that transformational OBE will "dumb down" the curriculum. They say that schools using it will have to lower standards to the least common denominator because not all young people, especially the disadvantaged, have the same innate ability to learn to high standards.
A variation of this objection is that OBE will hold back gifted and talented youngsters. In schools offering OBE, such students will either have to wait for slow students to catch up, or be kept occupied by helping them keep pace through peer cooperative learning arrangements in which students are placed in groups to work together on a project or subject.
Moreover, almost everyone acknowledges that implementing OBE will cost more—and probably much more—money than the current system does. Teachers will have to be . retrained, curricula revised, and new tests developed to take the place of traditional paper-and-pencil multiple-choice tests. This prospect leads some critics to ask the obvious question: Why spend more money on a wide-scale effort when there is no widespread evidence indicating that OBE works?
Pennsylvania has provided a telling example of opposition to OBE that was clearly not inspired by religious-right fundamentalists. The state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers withheld endorsement of Pennsylvania's OBE proposal. The union believed that the state's OBE outcomes were not sufficiently academic.
While acknowledging that OBE has evoked a wide variety of objections and opponents, one can argue that many religious fundamentalists and others on the right generally unite behind one major objection. They believe that the schools and curriculum of a bygone era are sufficient for our children today. From this perspective, schools should not attempt to teach our children to think critically, weigh evidence, reason analytically and independently, or reach conclusions contrary to "established tradition."
Robert Simonds, President of the California-based National Society of Christian Educators and Citizens for Excellence in Education, is recognized as a national leader in the fight to oppose OBE. In a recent article, he wrote, "To them [the supporters of OBE, among whom he includes Theodore Sizer and John Goodlad], 'critical thinking' means teaching children to empty themselves of their own values (transmitted from parents, church, and culture) and accept a set of suggested values." For Simonds and many others, critical thinking is an assault on religious faith and family values. In particular, to those whose world is bounded and defined by religious faith, it would be sacrilegious to oblige their children to become critical thinkers and independent questioners of authority.
One can understand and accept that parents become upset and dismayed when government schools teach doctrines that offend their deepest beliefs. And as mentioned, the situation is made more difficult when these families cannot exit the system unless they can afford a private school or the state allows families the option of home schooling. It is quite another thing, however, to believe that all government schools should refrain from teaching children the knowledge, skills, and understandings that allow them to become thoughtful, critical, and productive citizens.
This issue poses a fourth dilemma for contemporary education policy. Those committed to education reform must resist the easy temptation to support a nostalgic view that the content and approaches to teaching used in government schools when today's adults were in school are good enough for today's children. They are not.
We must insist that today's children learn to higher standards than those faced by most prior generations of Americans. This process involves combining an extensive knowledge of facts and specifics-those that make up what E.D. Hirsch calls our "cultural literacy"-with the ability to think critically, understand complex relationships, and solve complicated problems. To give all children a chance to develop those abilities is a legitimate aspiration for public authorities.