Recently, while sifting through an old file cabinet, one of my staff members came across a brochure from the Arkansas Department of Education. The Brochure was dated January 1992, and titled, “Preparing Our Children for the 21st Century.”
To be honest, we laughed a little when we saw some of the goals outlined in the brochure. One promised, “By the year 2000, Arkansas students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement” (Emphasis added). I don’t think Arkansas is quite there yet.
Another goal read, “By the year 2000, every school in Arkansas will be free of drugs and violence and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.” I wish we could say we achieved this, but I know we have not.
Of course, these are just goals–and they’re arguably pretty noble goals–but they were part of a larger program popular at the time called Outcomes Based Education (OBE).
OBE was criticized widely because it placed such a strong emphasis on helping students learn intangible things like proper self-esteem rather than history or science. I recall one person saying OBE was more concerned with how students “felt” about math than whether or not they could actually “do” math.
OBE set a lot of goals, but it never could identify a clear path for reaching those goals. This Department of Education brochure is a good snapshot of that dilemma: Heavy on goals, but light on how we achieve them. Of course, anyone who reads the brochure will know immediately that Arkansas schools are probably no closer to any of its goals today than they were 20 years ago.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think if kids learn to read, write, add, subtract, multiply, and divide, they have the fundamentals they need to be successful. And a culture free of violence and drugs doesn’t start in the classroom. It starts in the living room, with good parents teaching their children good values.