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Public Schools: The Sorcerer’s New Apprentice? Part 2

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

In part one of this series I asserted that there are certain endemic educational strategies and curricula, widely used in public schools, that are fraught with illegalities, are ineffective, and can be harmful to the student.

These problematic programs may include new age/occult ideology and practices, meditation/hypnosis and other psychotherapeutic practices, including an approach called the non-directive, self-esteem, and decision-making model. These programs tend to appear in guidance counseling programs, self-esteem, health, gifted, psychology, and creative writing classes. They can be found from kindergarten through college classes, including sex and drug education courses.

After the Littleton, Colorado, and 5 other school shootings within 20 months, people are again focusing on trying to understand why there has been such a sharp rise in teen violence in the past decade. A strong case can be made that these new educational approaches and programs may be contributing factors.

In fact, Newsweek published a story in its Science section (July 13,1998) titled, “You’re OK, I’m Terrific: Self-Esteem Backfires”. The story bemoans the fact that following an assertion by a prominent psychologist 21 years ago, schools began to adopt a goal of instilling a child with “self-esteem,” which would inoculate the child “against drug use, teen pregnancy, bad grades and just about everything else short of the common cold.”

The article pointed out that new research is demonstrating that artificially inflated self-esteem is “potentially dangerous,” in that unjustified self-esteem can create a narcissism which is “supersensitive to criticism or sleights.” Researcher Dr. Brad Bushman, psychology professor at Iowa State indicated that Luke Woodham, convicted of killing his mother and two classmates in Pearl, Mississippi, fit that profile.

Dr. Martin Seligman, a president of the American Psychological Association, stated, “Schools often contribute to the problem by viewing self-esteem as a cause of success rather than the result of achievement.”

Indeed the ingredients of the wrong-headed educational strategies began to congeal over 20 years ago. Several converging contaminated streams, including a culture that is becoming more and more oriented toward postmodernism and new age philosophy, began to erode normative values and the barriers in the way of its own destruction.

We need to consider some of the conditions, which helped pave the way for these new faulty approaches to education. Much has been written about the slide of our country into humanism and paganism and the resultant culture wars. Predictably, all of the social ill indicators have sharply escalated in our post-Christian or postmodern culture. Unfortunately much of the blame for this slide can be laid at the steps of a dormant, isolationist Church.

William Bennett points out that between 1960 and 1990, violent crime increased 560 percent, illegitimate births increased by 400 percent, divorce rates quadrupled, the number of children living in single parent homes tripled, teenage suicide increased by 200 percent, and there’s been a drop of 80 points in the average S.A.T. scores.

Between 1972 and 1990, teenage pregnancy climbed from 49.4 to 99.2 per thousand girls. Child abuse escalated from 101 to 420 per thousand reported in cases from 1976 to 1991. Alcohol and drug use is unacceptably high, with alcohol usage averaging around 90 percent for high school students since 1975.

A 1993 U.S. Department of Education survey indicated that two-thirds of our high school students cannot read at their own grade level. Furthermore, 9.3 million Americans are functionally illiterate.

Most educators are in their profession because they care about children and want to make a difference. However, because schools are inheriting the behavioral problems and other residue from broken homes, dysfunctional families, abuse, etc., they are assuming – and in most cases, are being given – the responsibility to fix the children.

Tragically for everyone, though, some of the strategies and “remedies” that are being employed to respond to this crisis actually are counterproductive and even very destructive for the child, family, and society. The self-indulgent philosophies and ideologies of many of these new programs are alien and hostile to Christ and His truth, and thy are perpetuated by individuals and institutions that have their own social and political agendas.

With the systematic esponging of the Christian basis for truth in our schools and culture there is an obvious vacuum with nothing left but finite and corrupted forms of humanism. In our postmodern (relativistic, subjective, experiential, therapeutic, narcissistic) culture, the natural direction for educators to look for a solution to behavior problems and deteriorating test scores was the field of psychology.

Two of the dominant leaders in this area of developmental and educational psychology were Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. Their ideas and the subsequent misuse of some of their theories are part of the problem.

In addition to the humanistic psychology factors, the counter-cultural upheaval of the sixties produced many people who became educators and curriculum developers as well. In part one of this series I quoted new age leader Marilyn Ferguson’s findings as she surveyed other new age leaders for her book, The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980’s, where she affirmed that a large number of new age proponents are in the field of education.

She also wrote, “Subtle forces are at work, factors you are not likely to see in the banner headlines. For example, tens of thousands of classroom teachers, educational consultants and psychologists, counselors, administrators, researchers, and faculty members in colleges of education have been among the millions engaged in personal transformation. They have only recently begun to link regionally and nationally, to share strategies, to conspire for the teaching of all they most value.”

She also stated, “The deliberate use of consciousness expanding techniques in education, only recently well under way is new in mass schooling . . . Altered states of consciousness are taken seriously: ‘centering’ exercises, meditation, relaxation, and fantasy are used to keep the intuitive pathways open . . . These are techniques to encourage this awareness: deep breathing, yoga movement, biofeedback.”

There is another prominent new age education leader whose current popularity makes it significant to note his part in the development of new age strategies in education. His name is Jack Canfield, author and editor of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

Canfield was a leader in the California Department of Education’s Task Force on Self Esteem. Noteworthy are his comments in a 1978 issue of New Age, “In a growing number of classrooms throughout the world, education is beginning to move into a new dimension. More and more teachers are exposing children to ways of contacting their inner wisdom and their higher selves . . . An influx of spiritual teachings from the East, combined with a new psychological perspective in the West, has resulted in a fresh look at the learning process – the distinction between knowledge and wisdom, the student/teacher relationship, and the purpose of life. People everywhere are looking for a new vision, a new approach and a new paradigm for life.”

So what is this “new psychological perspective”? Is the significance and volume of these new approaches in public school curricula exaggerated by its proponents and critics? What is the New Age Movement and how does it relate to these new curricula? Are these strategies harmful and bad science? If so what can be done to remove them?

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