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The Hidden Hand of Violence
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Cover Report

Disorienting a Generation

Education experts take aim at “progressive education” techniques as a corrosive force on moral values in schools.

n the national discussion of youth violence, a growing number of experts point to the systematic eradication of moral values in schools, accomplished by “progressive education” techniques rooted in psychiatry and psychology. Foremost among these techniques has been “values clarification,” also known variously as sensitivity training, self-esteem training, critical thinking and other names.

According to authorities like Beverly Eakman, director of the National Education Consortium, and Tom DeWeese of the American Policy Foundation, the underlying concept of “values clarification” is to break down the morals and values children have acquired in the course of growing up, teach them that there is no set “right” and “wrong”, and have them chart their own values based on personal feelings and opinions. The same concepts underlie “outcome-based” or “performance-based” education which stresses psychological objectives such as relationships, self-esteem and refusal skills, instead of academics.

William Kilpatrick, author of Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong, states that the psychological-values training emphasizes “feelings, personal growth, and a totally nonjudgmental attitude.” However, “no time is spent providing moral guidance or forming character. The virtues are not explained or discussed, no models of good behavior are provided, no reason is given why a boy or girl should want to be good in the first place.” Kilpatrick states that the kids “come away with the impression that even the most basic values are matters of dispute.”

An underlying current in values clarification that “anything goes” is exemplified in the words of the authors of the original 1960 text on the subject, who stated that “it is entirely possible that children will choose not to develop values. It is the teacher’s responsibility to support this choice also.”

The results, as Kilpatrick sets forth in his book, can be disruptive and disorienting to the students.

Behavior vs. Academics

Values clarification and similar programs are rooted in psychiatry and psychology, not education, and signal a conversion of schools from halls of academic learning to laboratories for behavioral modification.

In the words of Eakman, the “clear and stated agenda” of psychiatry and psychology in schools “has been to jettison systematic, academic, knowledge-based curricula in favor of psychologized fare that places the emotions and belief systems above any cognitive, rational, or communicative functions. What was first hailed as progressive and relevant education quickly degenerated,” states Eakman. “Then it got worse. What information youngsters did learn was actually harmful.”

It is no coincidence that Columbine High School in Colorado — the site of the April 1999 killing spree by a student — was caught in the cesspool of so-called progressive education techniques which overtook a number of Colorado schools in 1991. The name “outcome-based education” (OBE) was born in Colorado, the home of its founder, William Spady. Some local schools embraced the concept, despite being strenuously fought by parents, educators and religious leaders. For instance, a battle waged between 1991 and 1995 involving Littleton Public school board members — including three who were ousted in favor of board members who advocated “back to basics” in the schools, and others who eventually quit in frustration over fighting OBE — as well as public referenda and volleys in the press.

Kids “come away with the impression that even the most basic values are matters of dispute.”

– William Kilpatrick
Author, educator


Columbine High, part of Colorado’s Jefferson County school system, was featured in a 1991 ABC News 20/20 segment on the controversy over “death education” in public schools. The class was to teach them “how to be brave enough to face death.” One student interviewed on the ABC report believed she was “seduced into a suicide attempt by her death ed class.”

Undoubtedly, the worst casualties of the battle over the psychiatric and psychology-based education methods have been the students themselves.

In the four decades psychiatrists have been active in U.S. schools, SAT scores have plummeted, tens of millions of Americans have left high school functionally illiterate and drug abuse among youth has escalated. The suicide rate for 10 to 14-year olds increased by 190 percent (from 0.6 to 1.74 per 100,000 between 1963 and 1995), while teen suicides have tripled — with suicide the second leading cause of death (after accidents) for 15-24 year olds.
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