Texas Education Consumers Association
Jeanne Donovan, Coordinator
Fort Worth, TX 76123

Education Terminology Every Parent Must Understand

This page offers a condensation of the Critical Guide to Terms and Phrases, an appendix in the book: The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them by E. D. Hirsch. The condensation was produced by the Texas Education Consumers Association for their web site, which is currently down for renovation. We are grateful to E. D. Hirsch and to the Texas Education Consumers Association for permission to post it here on the NYC HOLD web site.

Table of Contents


Teachers and administrators use jargon which is sometimes unfamiliar to parents. When faced with strange jargon, parents are reluctant to ask questions or debate educators for fear of sounding ignorant. When parents do gather the courage to argue, educators sometimes use their jargon against us. For example, if you were to express a desire for traditional teaching methods, the teacher may use perjorative terminology to thwart your complaints. You may be told that traditional education is "just" drill and kill or rote-learning. The implication is that you are misguided, ignorant of childrens' developmental processes, and perhaps even mean-spirited. Then the teacher tells you: "We are a child-centered school, so we do not use those old-fashioned methods anymore because research has shown that our child-friendly methods are better."

This use of jargon implies that the teacher cares more about your child's education than you do. After all, the teacher has been trained to use the most progressive methods available, so his or her knowldge on this subject shouldn't be questioned. What the teacher neglects to tell you is that the "research" she refers to is not necessarily supported by mainstream scientific inquiry (i.e., published in scientific journals within a specific discipline such as psychology).

By using terminology that has either negative- or positive-sounding connotations, educators can succeed in silencing your opposition, simply because you don't understand the meaning of the words and phrases. Therefore, you should arrive at the teacher conference knowing the language teachers speak, just as you would have to do if you visited a foreign country.

The following terminology is quoted and summarized from The Schools We Need & Why We Don't Have Them (1996), which was written by Dr. E. D. Hirsch, Jr., and published by Doubleday (1-800-323-9872). The publisher describes the book as follows:

"As renowned educator and author E. D. Hirsch, Jr., argues in The Schools We Need, in disdaining content-based curricula for abstract--and discredited--theories of how a child learns, the ideas uniformly taught by our schools have done terrible harm to America's students. Instead of preparing our children for the highly competitive, information-based economy in which we now live, our school practices have severely curtailed their ability, and desire, to learn."

We are grateful to Dr. Hirsch for providing readers with a glossary such as this in his book. By doing so, he has given education consumers a powerful arsenal for defense.

In addition to this book, Dr. Hirsh has established the Core Knowledge Foundation. The Foundation is dedicated to excellence and fairness in early education.

Terms Grouped by Themes and
Their Supporting Phrases

(quoted from pgs. 240-241)

Tool Conception of Education:

Romantic Developmentalism:

Naturalistic Pedagogy:

Antipathy to Subject-Matter Content:

Antipathy to Testing and Ranking:

Alphabetical Glossary of Terms

(quoted and summarized from pgs. 241-271)

Accessing skills means teaching kids how to learn (how to access information or look things up) rather than transmitting specific knowledge to the students; the reasoning is that knowledge and technology changes too rapidly to bother with transmitting "soon-to-be-outmoded facts". As a result, schools teach kids how to depend on the dictionary, encyclopedia, etc. As Hirsch says, this is an important skill, but it doesn't take long to learn. "These sources cannot replace students' ready knowledge of varied subject matters and word meanings ... Even when using an encyclopedia or CD-ROM, students without prior background knowledge cannot understand the things they look up."

At their own pace. This concept developed in the first quarter of this century. Hirsch defines this idea as an element of "Romantic developmentalism." The phrase suggests that kids should not be expected to learn at an externally imposed pace; learning should occur when the child is "ready." This phrase is often heard in discussions about teaching reading and in conjunction with multiage classrooms. Despite teachers' favorable acceptance of this idea, "the data show that the imposition of externally set timelines, goals, and rewards greatly enhances achievement." In addition, "reading specialists have concluded that nearly all children can be brought to grade level in reading, though greater effort must be put forth for children who are slower. Should this greater effort be denied them on the naturalistic principle?"

Authentic assessment. A laudatory term for grading "real-world" (i.e. applied) projects. These projects can include, among others, letters, exhibitions, producing a play, or solving a practical mathematical problem. Teachers feel this method of measurement is better than teaching through separate subjects and grading by objective multiple-choice exams. Teachers feel projects are more motivational and fairer to minorities. Hirsch says that performance testing is only one tool that should be used in the classroom. For example, performance testing is necessary in evaluating writing. However, Hirsch claims that "authentic assessments" have been shown to be "ineradicably subjective and arbritrary in grading ... The consensus among psychometricians is that these objective [multiple-choice] tests, rather than performance tests, are the fairest and most accurate achievement tests available."

Banking theory of schooling. (Related to the "transmission theory of schooling.") Educators who use this phrase reject the notion that teachers should convey a core of knowledge to students because they feel that it merely indoctrinates students. In lieu of this educators teach "critical-thinking skills." Unfortunately, Hirsch claims, this theory has "failed to improve the condition of disadvantaged students." Hirsh believes that students should be given knowledge that will serve as "intellectual capital" because "it enables the accumulation of still more capital--an idea consistent with findings in cognitive psychology."

Break-the-mold schools. This phrase has been used by reformers since the 1980s. Some of the changes have helped schools and parents. However, Hirsch claims that many of these reforms are simply re-worked versions of failed progressive methods. He suggests that if a school is already achieving successful results, there is no practical reason to jump on a bandwagon and experiment with our childrens' minds.

Child-centered schooling. (Sometimes called student-centered education.) Educators preferring this philosophy believe they should "teach the child, not the subject." They reject the idea of lectures, drills, and rote learning because, according to them, it ignores the "feelings" and "individuality" of the child. Therefore, child-centered educators caricaturize anyone who favors a focus on subject matter as inhumane. Hirsch suggests that "on the contrary, ... children are more interested by good subject-matter teaching than by an affectively oriented, child-centered classroom. The anti-subject matter position is essentially anti-intellectual."

Competition. Many progressive educators see this word in negative terms. They disagree with grading because it "forces" students into higher and lower tracks. They believe students will learn for the sake of learning if their self esteem is not deflated by competition. This does not bear out, however, because "evolutionary psychologists have argued that all humans retain a residue of competitiveness." Competition still exists in the classroom no matter how hard a teacher tries to stifle it. It is a basic part of human nature. Hirsch suggests that "well-devised tests during a course of study has been shown to improve learning. This suggests that instead of trying fruitlessly to abolish competition as an element of human nature, we should try to guide it into educationally productive channels."

Constructivism. This term is used to give progressivist education ideas a "spurious scientific-sounding authority." Proponents of constructivism suggest that the only knowledge worth acquiring is that which a student finds for one's self because it is more likely to be remembered and used. Hirsch recognizes that this kind of knowledge is useful. However, he also claims that "both discovery learning and guided learning" are actually "constructivist," so the term doesn't add anything to the discussion.

Cooperative learning. Basically, this means splitting a class into groups to work on a joint assignment. Teachers like this idea because it results in fewer papers to grade, it allows for peer tutoting, and it supposedly does away with an emphasis on competition. Regrettably, the idea is rife with problems: more capable students end up doing most of the work, and students learn to be followers instead of leaders. Hirsch says: "Cooperative learning, used with restraint, can be an excellent method of instruction when used in conjunction with whole-class instruction. It has not been effective when used as the principal or exclusive means of instruction."

Critical-thinking skills. This term refers to the ability to analyze ideas and solve problems in an independent fashion by developing the ability to locate a main idea and look it up in resources. This is a goal we should all hope to achieve. However, some educators feel this is the only thing students need. They oftentimes will caricature the acquisition of subject knowledge as rote learning of "mere facts." In their mind, it has lesser value. Hirsch says: "This tool conception, however, is an incorrect model of real-world critical thinking. Independent-mindedness is always predicated on relevant knowledge: one cannot think critically unless one has a lot of relevant knowledge about the issue at hand."

Culturally-biased curriculum. Hirsch believes that school curriculums prior to the 1980s were too heavily Euro-centered. He feels that by adding information about women and ethnic groups to the curriculum, students will be better able to communicate across cultural lines.

Culturally-biased tests. This term arises from the claim that the SAT and other standardized tests are culturally biased because different cultural groups get different results. Hirsch explains this "hidden" bias by suggesting that "different cultural groups might attain different levels of actual achievement from the same schools if their home cultures have not prepared them for mastery of the school-based culture and the subjects taught within it." According to Hirsch, the American Psychological Association describes "technical bias" as "a consistent difference between the way a group performs on a test and the way it performs on some real-world criterion that the test is meant to measure. Most current standardized tests are free of technical bias in this sense." Therefore, Hirsch suggests that it is time to stop blaming unbiased tests for different group performances, and look elsewhere.

Developmentally appropriate. If a teacher uses this term, he or she is suggesting that a child's innocence needs to be preserved by not exposing the student to early hard work. The child will learn when he is "ready." This term, according to Hirsch, is "devoid of scientific meaning and lacks scientific authority," especially as millions of kids across the world have been exposed to and benefited from early hard work. Yet some teachers feel such work is "developmentally inappropriate" for our kids! This has a particularly disastrous effect for disadvantaged children. Specifically, he says "many advantaged children receive in their homes the early practice and knowledge they need, whereas many disadvantaged children gain these preparatory learnings, if at all, only in school. The learning processes involved in the unnatural skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic are inherently slow at first, then speed up cumulatively and exponentially. Because of the cumulative character of school learning, educationally delayed children rarely catch up. When an elementary school declines to teach demanding knowledge and skills at an early age, the school is unwittingly withholding education differentially from different social classes." Students with poor or disadvantaged homes suffer the most, and social injustice is perpetuated.

Discovery learning. This teaching method offers students projects to work on rather than textbooks to read. Teachers feel that students will be more likely to remember what they learn from the experience than they would from reading and regurgitating facts. Hirsh agrees that discovery learning plays a vital role in a child's education, however, he describes two serious flaws in using this method exclusively: (1) Students sometimes miss the discovery they were supposed to make and sometimes even make incorrect discoveries. Thus, a definitive goal must be set in the beginning. If the goal is not achieved, the teacher must use direct teaching. (2) Discovery learning is inefficient. Some students never gain the knowledge they were seeking, and even if they do the process is very slow and time-consuming.

Drill and kill. A perjorative term used by educators to diminish the importance of drill and practice. It is meant to suggest that practice will kill a student's interest in the subject. Educators will likely suggest that it is better for students if they use "discovery learning" or the "project method." Hirsch suggests that this idea is contradictory to the fact. For example, athletes, pianists, ballerinas, and others must go through repeated practices to achieve their goals. Cognitive psychologists and neurophysiologists agree. Note the following: "Development of basic knowledge and skills to the level of automatic and errorless performance will require a great deal of drill and practice. Thus drill and practice activities should not be slighted as low level. They appear to be just as essential to complex and creative intellectual performance as they are to the performance of a virtuoso violinist."

Exhibitions. Another term that refers to "performance-based assessments." Students prepare a project or demonstrate a skill. They are, however, subjectively graded. Nevertheless, exhibitions have a place. However, Hirsch warns that "exhibitions cannot be used ... for large-scale, high-stakes testing beyond the individual school or classroom without sacrificing economy, accuracy, and fairness."

Factory-model schools. Some educators will use this term as a perjorative against traditional teaching methods that are typically associated with lectures, chairs in rows, rote memorization, "regurgitation" of facts, and a lack of spontaneity in the classroom. Any parent who suggests that their child needs a traditional education will be painted as uncaring and rigid. Surprisingly, however, Hirsh claims that progressive-style classrooms are now the "factory-model schools" because their ideas dominate the hierarchy. "What makes the current system ineffective is the educational ineffectiveness of those ideas. The best hope for improving our factory system, which in some form all modern nations are stuck with, is to provide more coherent and focused teaching, with a view to achieving more specific and coherent goals."

Facts are inferior to understanding. This is a hallmark phrase of progressivist education today. "It is true that facts in isolation are less valuable than facts whose interrelations have been understood. But those interrelations are also facts (if they happen to be true), and their existence also depends entirely upon a knowledge of subordinate facts that are being interrelated. Since understanding depends on facts, it is simply contradictory to praise understanding and to disparage facts."

Facts are soon outdated. This is an excuse used by educators to avoid direct teaching of knowledge. It has been repeated so often by educators that people unwittingly accept it as true. Facts do change, but Hirsch argues that this truism is reason enough for teaching basic facts. For example, by teaching the elements of the periodic table (which don't change), students are better able to cope with changes that do occur.

Hands-on learning. (Also referred to as "discovery learning, holistic learning, and thematic learning.") "A phrase that implies the superiority of direct, tactile, lifelike learning to indirect, verbal, rote memorization ... Very often the term'hands-on' is an honorific term used to praise the progressivist 'project method' of education and to disparage a 'whole-class instruction,' which is conducted mainly by visual and verbal means. The superiority of this method has not been born out in experience." Hirsch claims research suggests that "such methods are uncertain, unfair (not all children learn from them), and inefficent, and therefore should be used sparingly."

Higher-order skills. "A phrase for the superior thinking skills that many current educational reforms aim to achieve. The goal is to produce students who can think and read critically, who can find information, who have mastered metacognitive strategies, and who know how to solve problems. Such students, it is asserted, will be far better prepared to face the challenges of the twenty-first century than those who merely possess a lot of traditional, soon-to-be-outdated, rote-learned information. Again, the tool conception of learning reappears, but research in cognitive psychology does not support it." According to Hirsch, "there is no way to gain the skills without gaining the associated information. It is mere prejudice to assert that strategies associated with using domain-specific information are of a 'higher order' than the knowledge itself."

Holistic learning. "(Same meaning as 'thematic learning' and is combined with 'discovery learning' and 'the project method.') A term for classroom learning organized around integrated, lifelike problems and projects rather than around standard subject-matter disciplines. Educators hope to make learning 'relevant' to life." Hirsch points out that holistic learning has always been used as when history and art overlap. However, it is less useful for teaching mathematics or other specialized subjects that require a lot of practice. Typically, Hirsch says, the problem is less with the method used than with its "injudicious overuse."

Individual differences. "A phrase reflecting the admirable desire to combine mass schooling with respect for diversity and individuality." Hirsch worries that this term has become "a rationalization for expecting and demanding less from children for whom we need to provide more support--inherently able students from disadvantaged homes." Unfortunately, schools are ill-equipped to provide individual tutorials while students progress "at their own pace."

Individualized instruction. This essentially means tutorial-like teaching for every child--an impossibility in classrooms that typically have a student/teacher ratio of 20:1. The consequences of attempting such instruction is special treatment for some and neglect for others; the latter having to do silent seatwork in the interim.

Individual learning styles. Common sense and experience demonstrates that not all students learn the same way. Some kids are verbal learners, others are visual. Educators will use this term as a nonjudgmental way of discussing academic ability, and as a rationalization for kids not achieving better results. "Since the only economically feasible and fair system of schooling is one that engages all students in a class most of the time (i.e., a system that employs a generous amount of effective whole-class instruction), one policy implication of different learning styles is that teachers should vary their teaching by using visual aids, concrete examples, and tactile experiences as well as verbal concepts in presenting what is to be learned."

Intellectual capital. "A phrase denoting the knowledge and skills a person possesses at a given moment." Intellectual capital is like money in the bank; the more you possess, the more you can acquire. This idea is in opposition to the tool concept of learning, whereby the only thing a student needs to be successful in life is knowing how to access information. "The work of sociologists and cognitive psychologists has been cited to show that the tool conception is much oversimplified, that skills always require domain-specific knowledge."

Learning by doing. Hirsch says this term illuminates the progressivist tradition, although the phrase is not used much anymore. Today educators substitute "discovery learning" and "hands-on learning". "It implicitly opposes itself to education that is primarily verbal, as well as to schooling that is artificially organized around drill and practice."

Learning to learn. This term refers to the tool conception of learning. The argument educators make in its favor is that information becomes outdated, but the ability to find information doesn't. Therefore, teaching facts is a waste of time. "But the tool conception, which makes the fish inferior to the hook, line, and sinker, is based upon a gravely inadequate metaphor of the skill of learning. Indeed, even learning how to fish requires a great deal of domain-specific knowledge."

Less is more. Here the term means that depth is more important than breadth. Unfortunately, Hirsch feels that this belief encourages students and teachers to slack off learning. If less is more, then skipping a subject altogether might begin to seem a virtue--an attitude not altogether foreign either to the progressive tradition or to many teachers who have been influenced by it." In contrast, Hirsch believes that breadth is preferable to depth in early schooling. Children should be exposed to a wide range of names, places, ideas, vocabulary, and concepts. When they reach high school, he says they should be ready to study a topic in depth. "In most cases, the balance between depth and breadth is a subject of a complex judgment that takes into account subject matter, the purpose, and the stage of schooling."

Lifelong learning. Everyone agrees that people must have the ability to adapt to changes in technology. Buggies gave way to automobiles, and the typewriter gave way to the word processor. Therefore, people must indeed have critical-thinking skills to solve their problems. Hirsh is worried because "the dominant progressive tradition has made a fundamental empirical mistake in believing that these general competencies do not depend upon the accumulation of knowledge and vocabulary, and in believing that transferable lifelong competencies will arise naturally from 'holistic,' integrated activities."

Mere facts. "The phrase 'rote memorization of mere facts' may be the most vigorous denunciation of 'traditional' education to be found in the progressive armory ... In Romantic progressivism, facts are dead, but hands-on, lived experience is alive; facts are inert and disconnected, but understanding is vital and integrated ... There is some validity in this conception, as there usually is in most views that are long and widely held. Understanding does mean connecting facts; isolated facts are meaningless." Hirsch insists that facts are vital to understanding. Good teachers should be able to convey facts in a meaningful way.

Metacognitive skills. The broadest meaning of the term is identified with "accessing skills," "critical-thinking skills," and "problem-solvinging skills." "Children who have learned how to set and meet such study goals for themselves (e.g., how to scan a text for the main reading, how to decide on what is more or less important in a subject with respect to their own study aims) are students who are better able to work independently ... The teaching of such self-conscious monitoring can speed up the learning of reading and problem-solving skills. But since expert skills are also dependent on domain-specific knowledge, the teaching of metacognition in this narrow sense is recognized as a useful but not sufficient help in learning a skill."

Multiaged classrooms. The resurgence of this concept results in classrooms grouped by abilities rather than age-groups. Progressive teachers like it because it fits with their concept of "learning at one's own pace." However, at Hirsch points out, classrooms end up with a "disproportionate number of older students in each learning group who come from disadvantaged homes and who belong disproportionately to ethnic minorities. The result of officially sanctioning their slow progress is a perpetuation of social unfairness." Hirsch believes multiaged classrooms would not be necessary if schools established grade-by-grade standards (a core curriculum of shared knowledge that builds cumulatively).

Multiple intelligences. This is psychologist and author Howard Gardner's substitute for IQ. His theory suggests that there are seven domains of ability under which every student can learn: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal. Hirsch says that Gardner's claims are not supported by mainstream research in psychology. Since these classifications are highly subjective, it is difficult to see how teachers could easily identify and teach to these "intelligences." Nevertheless, the theory has gained popularity among educators because it comfortabley coincides with already existing theories of "individual differences" and "individual learning styles." A distinguished psychologist, George A. Miller, claims that Gardner's specific classifications are "almost certainly wrong."

Multiple learning styles. See "Individual differences," "Individual learning styles," and "Multiple intelligences."

One size fits all. "A phrase that disparages the idea of common learning goals for all children regardless of their interests and abilities." Individual tutorials would be wonderful to have for every child, but they are not feasible. Hirsch seeks a "commonality in the elementary grades, which is required simply to ensure that each child in a classroom is ready to take the next step in learning. In high school, on the other hand, once the fundamentals of math, reading, writing, art, and science have been learned, it makes a great deal of sense for the good of the child, as well as of society, to stress a child's individual interests and abilities."

Open classroom. Again, another reference to "learning at one's own pace." Supposedly kids receive individualized attention, but the actual fact is that many kids are forced to do silent seatwork while they wait for help, which may not come. "Like all forms of naturalistic pedagogy, the open classroom has proved to be ineffective as a principal technique of schooling."

Outcomes-based education. "A term of uncertain meaning which during the 1990s became a symbolic cause of verbal war between political liberals and conservatives. It is best understood historically. In the late 1980s and early '90s, in the midst of public discontent with students' test scores in reading and math, some professional educators proposed that schools pay relatively less attention to methods of schooling, such as discovery learning, and more attention to results. They labeled this idea 'outcomes-based education.' Their goal was to correlate teaching methods more closely with results. The label stuck, but the idea behind it subtly changed in the early 1990s, when committees of teachers and administrators gathered to define what outcomes were to be achieved. Because of the general antipathy in the educational community to an emphasis on facts, subject matter, and content, the outcomes drafted by these committees tended not to emphasize knowledge so much as various tool metaphors for education and virtue in the form of democratic attitudes and emotions. These included respect for all people, including people of diverse races, religions, and sexual orientations. It was this last idea, and similar socially liberal notions, which raised red flags with conservatives. Thus the battle began, with the term 'outcomes-based education' being viewed as a left-leaning conspiracy. It could also be viewed as the transformation of a reasonable idea into impractical vagueness through progressivist antipathy to subject-matter knowledge."

Passive listening. "A progressivist phrase caricaturing 'traditional' education, which makes children sit silently in rows in 'factory-model schools,' passively listening to what the teacher has to say, then merely memorizing facts through 'rote learning,' and finally 'regurgitating' the facts verbatim." The simple truth is that whole-class instruction does not have to fit this caricature. The teacher does not have to be an authoritarian boss whose students can't think for themselves, but rather a friendly coach. "Progressivists claim that this docility is just what traditionalists want to achieve, whereas progressive methods will produce independent-minded, active students who think for themselves. To the extent that more 'active' methods like 'discovery learning' provide children with less factual knowledge on which to base independent judgments, the claim to produce independent-mindedness seems doubtful."

Performance-based assessment. "The original term used by specialists in the psychometric literature for what is called variously 'authentic assessment,' 'exhibitions,' and 'portfolio assessment.'" In simple terms, it means a student would receive a grade for an entire essay or a musical performance, just as they might in the real world. However, critics of performance-based assesment claim that "performances" in school do not duplicate the real world. "The most important criticism is that when used for high-stakes testing, performance tests are much less fair and reliable than well-constructed objective tests The best uses of performance tests are as lower-stakes 'formative' tests, which help serve the goals of teaching and learning within the context of a single course of study."

Portfolio assessment. An extended version of "performance-based assessment." Collections of works done during the year are kept in a folder and graded as a whole--aiming to reward improvement over time. Hirsch says this works fairly well for teaching writing and painting, but nothing else. "It has proved to be virtually useless for large-scale, high-stakes testing."

Problem-solving skills. "In a narrow sense, it refers to the ability to solve problems in mathematics or other specialized fields. More broadly, it refers to a general resourcefulness and skill that will enable the student to solve various future problems ... Work on the problem-solving abilities of specialists like doctors, chess players, and physicists has shown consistently that the ability to solve problems is critically dependent upon a deep, well-practiced knowledge within the special domain, and that these problem solving abilities do not readily transfer from one domain to another ... In short, there seems to exist no abstract, generalized, teachable ability to solve problems in a diversity of domains. For schools to spend time teaching a general skill that does not exist is clearly a waste of resources, which illustrates the inherent shortcomings of the tool conception of education."

Project method. "A phrase used to describe the naturalistic form of teaching devised by W. H. Kilpatrick at the beginning of the progressive education movement in 1918." Kilpatrick's method condones giving up subject-matter teaching in favor of "holistic" real-life projects. The method rejects the notion of lectures, tests, grades, and drills. Terminology has changed over the years to "discovery learning, hands-on learning, holistic learning, learning by doing," and "thematic learning."

Promise of technology This phrase is often heard from progressivists who favor the discredited tool method of teaching. According to Hirsch, "There is no evidence that [computers] advent has reduced the need for students to have in their minds well-practiced habits and readily available knowledge. Quite the contrary, the more one looks things up via computer, the more often one needs to understand what one is looking up. There is no evidence that a well-stocked and well-equipped mind can be displaced by 'accessing skills.'" Despite teachers' claims otherwise, lack of well-equipped minds may be the reason student scores have not risen in schools that already have computers.

Research has shown. "A phrase used to preface and shore up educational claims. Often it is used selectively, even when the preponderant or most reliable research shows no such thing, as in the statement 'Research has shown that children learn best with hands-on methods.' Educational research varies enormously in quality and reliability. Some research is insecure because its sample sizes tend to be small and a large number of significant variables (social, historical, cultural, and personal) cannot be controlled. If an article describes a 'successful' strategy, such as building a pioneer village out of Popsicle sticks instead of reading about pioneers, the success may not be fully documented, and the idea that the method will work for all students and classrooms is simply assumed. There are strong ethical limits on the degree to which research variables can or should be controlled when the subjects of research are children. Many findings of educational research are highly contradictory. Greatest confidence can be placed in refereed journals in mainstream disciplines. (A refereed journal is one whose articles have been checked by respected scientists, or referees, in a particular specialty.) Next in reliability is research that appears in the most prestigious refereed educational journals. Very little confidence can be placed in research published in less prestigious journals and in nonrefereed publications. The most reliable type of research in education (as in medicine) tends to be 'epidemiological research,' that is, studies of definitely observable effects exhibited by large populations of subjects over considerable periods of time. The sample size and the duration of such large-scale studies help to cancel out the misleading influences of uncontrolled variables. An additional degree of confidence can be placed in educational research if it is consistent with well-accepted findings in neighboring fields like psychology and sociology. Educational research that conflicts with such mainstream findings is to be greeted with special skepticism. The moral: Print brings no reliable authority to an educational claim. When in doubt, ask for specific references and check them. Many claims evaporate under such scrutiny."

Rote learning. Rote learning used to mean asking an entire class to recite in unison answers to set questions, whether or not they understood the meaning of the question or the answer. Today, educators define rote learning variously as 'spouting words,' 'memorization without understanding,' and isolated facts. The teachers feel that these things prevent students from becoming independent thinkers. Hirsch admits that all of these concerns are valid. However, "it is better to encourage the integrated understanding of knowledge over the merely verbal repetition of separate facts. It is better for students to think for themselves than merely to repeat what they have been told. For all of these reasons, rote learning is inferior to learning that is internalized and can be expressed in the student's own words. These valid objections to purely verbal, fragmented, and passive education have, however, been used as a blunt instrument to attack all emphasis on factual knowledge and vocabulary ... In the progressive tradition, the attack on rote learning (timely in 1918) has been used to attack factual knowledge and memorization, to the great disadvantage of our children's academic competencies."

Self-esteem. "A term denoting a widely accepted psychological aim of education. There is a consensus in the psychological literature that a positive sense of one's self is of great value to achievement, happiness, and civility to others, whereas a negative sense of one's self leads to low achievement, discontent, and social bitterness. The critical question for school policy and teaching is how far on average self-esteem can be induced by positive reinforcement on the teacher's part. There is agreement that some degree of positive reinforcement is necessary, and that teachers should be kindly and encouraging to all students. But there is a growing agreement among psychologists that verbal and affective reinforcement is not sufficient, and can in fact be counterproductive if the child is not persuaded. There is strong evidence in the mainstream literature that praise in the absence of achievement does not raise achievement. The best enhancements of self-esteem, according to both psychological and process-outcome literature, arise from accurate and matter-of-fact appraisals of a student's work, as well as realistic encouragement toward effort and actual achievement."

Student-centered education. The same concept as "child-centered education" except the name is changed to reflect middle- and high-school-aged students. The focus is on the student rather than "mere facts." Again Hirsch reminds us that "schools are organized and instituted primarily to teach subject matters and skills, and it is their first duty to do so as effectively as possible."

Teaching for understanding. "A phrase that contrasts itself with teaching for 'mere facts.'" It is associated with the motto "Less is more" which implies that depth is preferable to breadth in education, on the claim that depth leads to understanding, whereas breadth leads to superficiality and fragmentation. Few would dissent from the aim of teaching for understanding. Clearly the term needs different interpretations in the different grades. Take the alphabet. A kindergartner should understand the principle that the letters of the alphabet represent sounds. At a later stage, students should understand some peculiarities of English spelling and the differences between vowels and consonants. Still later, students might come to understand the historical uniqueness of the alphabetic system of writing, as contrasted with the various other modes.

Teach the child, not the subject. "The benign and reasonable interpretation of this famous battle cry of progressivism is that one should attend to the moral, emotional, and spiritual well-being of the child at the same time that one is providing an excellent grounding in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Only a hard-hearted person would dissent from this goal. Historically, however, the progressive tradition has continued to attack the disciplined teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic in favor of 'holistic' methods, which supposedly engage and educate the whole child. Progressivists have also continued to disparage merely academic learning. Not surprisingly, disparagement of 'the subject' has resulted in a diminishment of student competency in subject matters."

Teach the whole child. "The third of the original three child-centered phrases of progressivism: 'child-centered schooling,' 'teach the child, not the subject,' and 'teach the whole child.' All three phrases enjoin the schools to take a more humane, less subject-matter-oriented position toward schooling. It is true that the responsibility of the school extends beyond purely academic skills. Not many would dissent from the hope that in addition to providing training in academic skills, schools will nurture the physical and emotional well-being of children, as well as enhance their civic and personal virtue. Progressivists did not, however, explicitly teach these different spheres of education, but claimed that the development of the whole child would automatically arise from holistic instruction, in which children had to work cooperatively in simulations of real life. In this Romantic faith they were wrong.It was understandable that in the teens and twenties of this century, Americans might still entertain such naturalistic, providential hopes. If we wish to inculcate civic and personal virtue, that too needs to be the object of guided instruction, however indirect and subtle, and monitored for uptake. The theory of automatic, holistic learning has proved to be incorrect."

Textbook learning. "A phrase disparaging traditional forms of education, symbolized by textbooks, in favor of more 'holistic' and lifelike modes of instruction in which knowledge is gained from hands-on experience rather than from verbal statements in textbooks. Often, the objection to teaching by means of textbooks has all too much validity, because many currently available textbooks are unselective and umephatic, having been designed to pass through textbook-adoption committees in populous states and, therefore, to please everyone. As a consequence, many textbooks tend to be unfocused, ill-written, bland, difficult to learn from, and lacking in discrimination between the more and the less important aspects of a subject matter. But the alternative to textbook instruction, in the form of hands-on, project-style teaching, has been shown to be highly ineffective. One must be careful, therefore, to distinguish between a justified attack on bad textbooks and an attack on the carefully focused teaching of subject matter through good textbooks. The most effective subject-matter learning is often achieved through the use of well-written, well-thought-out textbooks. In the sciences and in professions such as medicine and engineering, well-crafted textbooks have always been a necessity."

Thematic learning. "A phrase used to describe the 'holistic' teaching of different subject matters across a common theme. For instance, the theme of 'The Seasons" might combine a study of history, art, science, and mathematics in a particular classroom, or grade, or throughout the entire school. There is much to be said for integrated learning that contextualizes subjects and reinforces them. As with various forms of the 'project method,' however, thematic learning has proved to be more successful when used with prudence as an occasional device than when used consistently as the primary mode of instruction. One reason for entering this caution is that some subjects require different amounts of exposure than others in order to be learned. History and literature, for example, generally require fewer reinforcements to achieve a learning goal than do certain aspects of math and science, whose procedures must be often repeated and practiced. The thematic approach may or may not provide these needed reinforcements. As with most pedagogical methods, the key is common sense. If students have been well monitored and are known to have mastered the basic subject matters that are to be dealt with in the thematic project, then the method is an attractive way of encouraging student enthusiasm and further learning."

Transmission theory of schooling. "A derogatory phrase used by progressivists to imply that traditional schooling merely transmits an established social order by perpetuating its culture, knowledge, and values. It is contrasted with the more "modern" tool conception of schooling, which aims to produce students capable of thinking independently and of criticizing and improving the established social order. In progressivist writings of the 1920s and '30s, the transmission theory of education was identified with decadent and static Europe, while the open-ended tool conception was identified with a vibrant, forward-moving United States. John Dewey, despite having been claimed by progressivists as their intellectual leader, stated explicitly in 'Democracy and Education' that the transmission theory of education is both sound in itself and an absolutely necessary principle of civilization: 'Society not only continues to exist by transmission, by communication, but it may fairly be said to exist in transmission.' Dewey was certainly correct in taking this view, which coincides with common sense and with the view of the general public."

Whole-class instruction. "A neutral description that has negative connotations in the progressive tradition, since it is understood to imply 'lockstep,' 'factory-model' education. It is caricatured by an authoritarian teacher droning on at the head of the class, or by passive, bored students, barely conscious and slumping in their seats, or by intimidated, fearful students, sitting upright and willing only to parrot back the teacher's words. These are not accurate descriptions of what effective whole-class instruction is. It is predominantly interactive, with much interchange between students and teacher; it makes frequent use of student performances and student comments on the performances; it involves consistent informal monitoring of the students' understanding; it engages all students by dramatizing learning in various ways. An overwhelming concurrence of reports from process-outcome studies shows that a predominant use of whole-class instruction constitutes the fairest and most effective organization of schooling. The attempt to sidestep whole-class instruction, and to provide individual tutorial attention in classrooms of twenty to thirty students, results in individual neglect. It has also been shown that an interactive mode of dealing with the whole class is the liveliest and most effective approach to teaching, and that it is useful to vary the mix with some amount of individual coaching, cooperative learning, and seatwork. All these other approaches should be used within a well-organized whole-class context in order to achieve the best and fairest results."

Whole-language instruction. "A phrase denoting an approach to the teaching of reading that emphasizes the joy of good literature and avoids drill-like instruction in letter sounds. In theory, the method is supposed to motivate children by emphasizing an interest and pleasure in books, and by encourging students to learn reading holistically, just as they learned their mother tongue--as a 'psycholinguistic guessing game.' Some children do learn to read under this method, but many do not. 'Whole language,' like 'outcomes-based education,' has grown and spread far beyond its initial confined meaning to become a philosophy of life and teaching, muddled by pseudopolitical associations. The term has become so vague, and so colored with nonpedagogical overtones that it could profitably be dropped entirely from use. After large-scale experience with its unsatisfactory results, especially in California, some former adherents of whole language now advocate a 'mixed' approach in which some letter-sound correspondences are taught explicitly. No well-regarded scholar in the field of reading now advocates an approach that neglects phonics and phonemic awareness. Many experts believe that with proper instruction nearly every child can read at grade level by the end of first or second grade."

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