OBE and Curriculum 2005

The underlying Philosophical Premises

Dr Irmhild Horn


Hierdie artikel gaan van die standpunt uit dat die werklike resultate van opvoeding en onderwys nie bepaal word deur die verklaarde doelwitte nie, maar deur die onderliggende filosofiese vooronderstellings.

Na die oordeel van reformatoriese opvoedkundiges wat humanistiese vooronderstellings verwerp tengunste van Bybel-gefundeerde a priori's, is humanistiese vooronderstellings nie werklikheidsgetrou nie. Opvoedings- en onderwyshandelinge wat humanistiese nie-bybelgefundeerde vooronderstellings as grondslag het, lei tot teenstrydighede en individuele en sosiale misvorming.

Hierdie artikel ondersoek die vooronderstellings wat die aard van menswees, kindwees, leer en hoŽr-orde denkprosesse ten grondslag lÍ. Die aandag word gefokus op die relativistiese humanistiese siening van waarheid wat onderliggend is aan uitkomsgerigte onderwys (UGO) en Kurrikulum 2005. Daar word bevind dat diť onderliggende vooronderstellings in teenstelling is met die werklikheid.

Binne die raamwerk van UGO en Kurrikulum 2005 kan prysenswaardige doelwitte soos die beskerming en bevordering van individuele vryheid, die ontwikkeling van kritiese denke en wetenskaplike geletterdheid derhalwe nie werklik bereik word nie.

1 Introduction

Curriculum 2005, the South African version of outcomes based education (OBE), is to usher in an exciting new era in South African education in which all children are promised high-quality education that will fully prepare them for life. The very term 'outcomes based education' suggests purposeful, goal directed education which, the propounders claim, avoids meaningless rote learning and will meet praiseworthy ideals such as the protection and enhancement of individual freedom and the development of critical thought and scientific literacy.

Few people would disagree with such educational ideals. Nevertheless, the actual outcome of educational activities is not determined by the professed ideals, but by the underlying philosophical premises. Humanistic premises that do not accord with the reality of that which is described, stand in antithesis to reality. Therefore, action which is based on such premises will in all probability not lead to the professed ideals but to contradiction, antimonies and individual and social deformations.

In view of the above, the purpose of this article is three-fold: first, to identify the premises about human nature and the nature of childhood, learning, higher-order thinking skills and the existence of truth that underlie outcomes based education (OBE) and Curriculum 2005; second, to determine to what extent these premises correspond to reality; and third, to trace, via logical analysis, whereto these premises really lead.

2 The philosophical premises underlying Curriculum 2005

2.1 The human image underlying Curriculum 2005

The human image underlying Curriculum 2005 derives from two psychological streams: behaviourism and humanistic psychology. The former will be discussed first.

2.1.1 The human image of behaviourism

In OBE the stress is not on learners mastering specific subject content, but on the shaping of social attitudes and values. This is the route of dangerous political utopianism where schools no longer fulfil their central academic function, but serve the task of engineering the reform of society towards its perfection. When the attainment of a school certificate is coupled not to academic standards but to state-defined social values and attitudes, as is the case in Curriculum 2005, the end result can be nothing other than statism ‑ the absolute state ‑ in which individuality is swallowed up in uniformity and collectivism, and individuals exist only as parts of the state organism.

I am not denying that schools should contribute to thoughtful social reform. As human beings we all have moral duties and schools have the responsibility to contribute towards children's moral nurturing. The state, however, should not prescribe anything more than that schools provide education, via ethos and example, in the shared set of moral principles held by all the world's religions. Furthermore, the learners' acceptance of these principles must always be a hope, never a requirement. This shared moral order includes virtues such as respect for elders, honesty, mercy and justice, and is set out by CS Lewis in his book The abolition of man (1946:56ff). If the state expects schools to go beyond the universal moral virtues to its own particular values, schools become powerful instruments for social engineering.

Social engineering programmes, explicitly or implicitly, proceed on the behaviouristic and dehumanising assumption that humans are merely raw material that can be moulded into a predetermined social and political product. This assumption denies that humans have a God-given central core of individuality and personal freedom that can transcend the causal chain of social and cultural conditioning. Behaviourism is a mechanistic theory which is not only false but vicious because it destroys human liberty (Machen 1995:89-90) and reduces the value of humans to zero (Schaeffer 1982:379). Behaviourism denies the freedom of individuals to prefer any one social and political alternative to another and renders people prisoners of the prevalent ideological fashion and its politically correct conventions, unable to critically assess the valuable and less valuable aspects of such conventions. Furthermore, as BF Skinner, a leading proponent of behaviourism, recognises, within behavioural terms democracy is essentially impossible (Schaeffer 1982:377).

At the heart of social engineering lies the humanistic fallacy that the root of human problems is not sin, that is the selfish human heart, but society and that all human problems can therefore be solved by social reconstruction which is most effectively exercised via education. But the lesson from the apartheid era (and from Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union) is that any social engineering programme always ends in implementing by force its social ideals. Social engineering ends inevitably in totalitarianism (cf Solzhenitsyn in Schaeffer 1982:188-189).

The ideal of South Africa's present government is to construct a society in which no one pronounces judgements, no one is ostracised and everyone extends warm effusiveness to every one else. Such optimism about human nature is not only unbiblical, it has actually been falsified by history itself, especially by the social atrocities committed during the twentieth century - a century which ironically started on a note of confident, humanistic, evolutionary optimism. The world invoked by the utopian humanist is a dream, which would require that a wholly new human nature be produced.

The optimism about remaking human nature that undergirds OBE is derived from humanistic psychology which proceeds from the premise of a basic trust in the essential integrity and altruism of human nature.

2.1.2 The human image of humanistic psychology

The assumption of humanistic psychology that every person is basically good and responsible has led to the widely accepted idea that children's most foundational need is to feel good about themselves at all times. The emphasis on self-esteem in education is well meant, namely to cultivate a healthy and confident stance towards life. Sadly, however, it sets the stage for arrogance and a fantasy world of self-sufficient power which gives no support in times of real tragedy.

Children are encouraged to answer the question 'Who am I?' positively instead of realistically. A realistic approach to the self encourages honest self-examination and accurate self-knowledge where character flaws and the necessity for correction thereof are acknowledged (Matzat 1990:59ff). A realistic approach to the self means that children are helped to develop their talents, accept their physical and intellectual weaknesses, and correct and overcome their character flaws. A positive, self-affirming approach, on the other hand, leads to self-deception and encourages the child to form an arrogant, fabricated self-image which reinforces the narcissism characteristic of young children. The psychological danger of making children overly conscious of themselves and their talents and feelings is that children learn to ignore that which does not serve the self-image and to convince themselves of their rightness, whatever the objective evidence to the contrary (Damon 1991:17). Out of such seeds grows a stubborn disregard for social rules and laws. Unperturbed by anxiety or guilt these children learn to seek unrestricted self-gratification.

Facilitating arrogant self-centredness is but one unintended and unwished for ramification of the strong psychological element in OBE. With its roots in humanistic psychology and behaviourism, OBE calls for psychotherapeutic activities carried out by teachers without the necessary training, against many parents' wishes, and given to children who have no need for psychotherapy or, if they do, should be given professional treatment. Once teachers accept the idea that psychotherapy offered as life orientation is "part of their role as educators, it becomes easier for them to use all kinds of psychological methods without ever realising that, in their honest desire to help children, they might be unintentionally doing things that can be harmful to their students" (Kossor 1995:3). Such harmful results include, for example, the solicitation of inappropriate confidential relationships, the undermining of parental authority, and the invasion of the privacy of children and their families by requiring that children reveal information regarding family relationships to class scrutiny (Kossor 1995:3-4).

Another way in which OBE impacts negatively on our children's development is its flawed assumptions about the nature of childhood, learning and higher-order thinking skills.

2.2 Curriculum 2005 and the nature of childhood and learning

In OBE intellectual content is de-emphasised in favour of programmes of experience and growth and formal classroom instruction is replaced with informal group activity sessions (Ludwigson 1995:286). Separate subjects are abandoned in favour of 'holistic', life-like projects that will purportedly enable learners to gain essential life skills by working in co-operation with fellow learners. The rationale is that such an approach is democratic since it is non-prescriptive and non-authoritarian, that it teaches children from a young age how to learn, that it replaces isolated data with integrated data, and teaches co-operation even while it boosts independent, critical thinking. Yet despite the noble rationale, OBE is rooted in a wrong theory that misconceives the reality of childhood and the reality of learning.

2.2.1 The reality of childhood

Children are wonderful and refreshing beings, but they are in no position to take charge of their own education. Their lack of inhibitions leaves them vulnerable to impulsive and self-destructive, or socially destructive, behaviour (Honig 1987:12). Treating children as children, that is, as immature persons who need adult guidance and care, is not patronising nor prescriptive and authoritarian. It is Biblical and it reflects the adult's real love for children and real understanding of their vulnerability.

By withholding authoritative guidance, teachers are depriving their pupils of the opportunity to engage in dialogue with confident, steering and caring adults, and are denying pupils satisfactory models for their own adulthood (Elkind 1989:13; 112; Sewall 1983:86). The child psychologist David Elkind (1989:21) states that withholding authoritative guidance is quite literally a return to the view of medieval and earlier times when children were regarded and treated as miniature adults.

OBE also expects an unrealistic amount of independent effort from children. But children, especially primary school pupils, usually still lack the necessary perseverance, background knowledge and research skills (Gega 1994:153). Independent work will be expected especially from capable children since less capable and learners with special needs will require more attention from the teacher. However, as any loving teacher knows, children's interest is very often drawn to playing around. Since children are sociable, this tendency has a built-in growth which can soon turn the classroom into bedlam (Honig 1987:15). It is also quite conceivable that capable children who want to do more and better work are instead utilized as teacher assistants in large classes.

2.2.2 The reality of learning

The non-prescriptive and learner-centred rather than subject-centred nature of OBE is a reaction to the caricature of traditional schools as places where children sit silently in rows, passively absorbing what the teacher says and where their natural desire to probe, inquire and question is not taken into account. It is true that the principal agent of learning is the activity of the learner's own mind and that knowledge acquired through hands-on learning is more likely to be remembered than knowledge presented verbally. It is also true that knowledge gained in a familiar, relevant and problem-solving context is better understood and integrated. (Hirsch 1996:250.) There are, however, serious drawbacks to hands-on learning if it is not carefully structured and guided by the teacher. When done on their own, children's observations and enquiries are often superficial and unsystematic (Eltgeest & Harlen 1990:3-4). The problem in classroom activities is often "not one of getting pupils to attend … but to help them to attend to the 'right' things … The focus that the teacher intends is not always the one adopted by all pupils" (Osborne & Freyberg 1985:91). Consequently "students do not always on their own make the discoveries they are supposed to make; in fact, they sometimes make 'discoveries' that aren't true" (Hirsch 1996:250). Furthermore, children do not come to the classroom with empty minds. They have often already constructed their own interpretative ideas regarding learning matter. If a child has constructed for himself or herself wrong meanings and ideas and these are not corrected by the teacher, any new information which is linked thereto is also likely to be wrong or to be wrongly applied (Gega 1994:42).

Despite the prevalent popularity of learner-centred, progressive education, its actual track record is poor (Hirsch 1996:passim). Hirsch (1996:2) ascribes its failure to the 'absence of a coherent knowledge-based curriculum'. Higher order thinking skills, such as independent, critical thinking and problem-solving, are necessarily conjoined to relevant, domain-specific information, and therefore such skills cannot be gained without gaining the associated information (Hirsch 1996:254, 264). The very de-emphasis on factual knowledge in OBE defeats its laudable ideal of stimulating problem-solving and independent, critical thinking. "Independent-mindedness is always predicated on relevant knowledge: one cannot think critically unless one has a lot of knowledge of the issue at hand. Critical thinking is not merely giving one's opinion" (Hirsch 1996:247). It is also noteworthy that the research findings of a ten year American study, Project Follow-Through, which involved more than 9 000 learners, showed that basic and higher order cognitive skills as well as affective skills are best promoted not by progressive, learner-centred techniques but by highly structured, direct instruction which emphasises academic content (Moeller 1994:36-37; Emberley & Newell 1994:36, 173; cf Hirsch 1996:passim).

Objective testing and the competition it engenders has, too, been caricatured by those who are opposed to orthodox instruction. Research has, however, shown that learners learn more when work is tested and graded (Hirsch 1996:182ff, 245) and that, in practice, progressive classrooms have not abolished a spirit of competition between learners (Hirsch 1996:245).

Curriculum 2005 also rests on the unfounded assumption that everybody can learn everything, which is flattering to the human condition but unfortunately not true. It is well meant, wishful thinking that will inevitably result in the undermining of academic excellence. Academic content must be watered down if all learners are to understand and master it.

The idea that everybody can learn everything also makes people susceptible to popular but highly dubious learning theories such as the mythical split-brain theory which claims that the right hemisphere of the brain has vast but under-utilized intuitive and creative faculties. According to brain specialists, this theory has no scientific grounding (Beyerstein 1990; Hines 1985). Popular techniques such as guided imagery, meditation exercises, suggestopedia and brain gym, that are promoted as ways of stimulating learning, creativity and psychological health, are in fact powerful psychological tools with decisive psychological risks about which the promoters are far too sanguine. Furthermore, such techniques require a relaxed, passive mental state of high suggestibility that shuts down the mind's critical faculties and results not in learning but in indoctrination. (Horn 1996:219ff, 257.)

Another assumption underlying Curriculum 2005 which will undermine not only Biblical Christianity but also the already fragile learning environment in South Africa is the homage paid to relativism. I agree that it is not the task of public schools in a plural society to propagate one specific philosophical and/or religious view. Nevertheless, relativism is not neutral. It is a specific philosophical judgement that denies the objective, mind-independent existence of truth, and it has definite implications for education, be it religious, moral or academic-scientific.

2.3 The educational implications of relativism

2.3.1 Religious education

In contrast to the privileged political position that the Christian religion enjoyed in the past, our present government neither protects nor endorses any one religion. Religious education in schools is, however, not a thing of the past. As pointed out by the Deputy Minister of Education, Mr Smangaliso Mkhatshwa (1997:2), Curriculum 2005 "recognises religion as an integral part of the human experience". In future religious education will be multi-religious education where children are taken on an uncommitted shop-window tour of the various religions that leaves the question of religious truth untouched.

Not only is such an approach to religion (or to any other cultural expression) the very antithesis of the critical thought processes that will purportedly be an outcome of OBE, it implicitly or explicitly conveys the message that there are as many truths as there are religions - an idea which is endorsed by Mr Mkhatshwa (1997:4). This idea is pure relativism and it has decisive ramifications. Although the various religions address the same human need, are equally sincere and teach the same set of basic moral virtues, they hold drastically different and irreconcilable views of God and offer different explanations and solutions to human problems (Muck 1992:51ff). To say therefore that all religions are true is, in fact, to imply that there is no real religious truth and no God whose existence and nature are independent of what societies or individuals think about Him. However, such an implication, even if unvoiced, is dogmatic since it is totally beyond proof.

The implicit or explicit denial of God's objective, independent existence leaves people with two religious options. The first is atheism. The second is the postmodern option which regards all religions as myth, upheld for the satisfaction of a psychological need and as instrument for self-development and self-fulfilment (Anderson 1990:257-258). The postmodern option implies, first, that God is an impersonal, cosmic spiritual force or energy that animates nature and can be personified, as one god or as several gods, according to social or personal taste, and, second, that the gods, that is the spiritual powers in nature, can be manipulated for human advantage. In other words the relativist, postmodern option is not religiously neutral. It arbitrarily rejects the possibility that God and other spirit beings are personal, objectively existing beings who are distinct from nature and beyond human control and, instead, arbitrarily affirms pantheism, panentheism, polytheism and animism.

Like religious education, moral education in Curriculum 2005 also rests on relativism.

2.3.2 Moral education

In Curriculum 2005 moral education is driven by two motives: one is tolerance for all world views, religions and sexual lifestyles, the other is individual moral autonomy. The discrimination and moral rigidity of the past is to be replaced with tolerance and moral flexibility and the authoritative educational relationships of the past are to be replaced with democratic, non-prescriptive relationships.

Children ought indeed to learn to treat all people with respect. Nevertheless, the demand to create, via education, a social climate of absolute tolerance and affirmation of all religions and all lifestyles goes far beyond the respect in one's dealing with others that social harmony calls for. There is, moreover, no evidence that relativism breeds social harmony. Relativism consistently applied means that there is no real right or wrong, no rules whatsoever of decent behaviour. This means that the basic and universal virtues such as honesty, kindness, respect, a sense of fair play, which together form the cornerstone of social harmony, are reduced to nothing more than arbitrary values which every individual is free to accept or reject as he or she sees fit. It would seem therefore that relativism, far from being the way to social harmony, removes the very seat of socially harmonious behaviour.

Grounded in relativism and its related premise of human autonomy, Curriculum 2005 has no coherent basis for teaching children socially constructive values. Instead it must take recourse to the assumption of humanistic psychology that the basic virtues are innate, embryonic potentialities which will emerge naturally in a non-judgemental and non-prescriptive environment. The following remark of an American teacher clearly shows that such trust in people's innate benevolence is misguided:

My class deals with morality and right and wrong quite a bit. I don't expect them all to agree with me; each has to satisfy himself according to his own conviction, as long as he is sincere, and thinks he is pursuing what is right. I often discuss cheating this way, but I always get defeated because they will argue that cheating is all right. After you accept the idea that kids have the right to build a position with logical arguments, you have to accept what they come up with. (Sommers 1984:383.)

Debunking moral truth, and subsequently hoping that the virtues that all decent people endorse will emerge as a naturalistic value system that needs no recourse to any authority outside the individual, is a wrong move. The truth is rather that the very best way for schools to develop honest and caring hearts and to weave the moral fabric which our society so desperately needs is to give children, via ethos and example, a firm grounding in the basic moral virtues (Carr 1993:16). Teaching the basic virtues as absolute moral principles is not an unconstitutional intrusion of a particular religion in the public schools. The basic virtues have nothing to do with distinct religious beliefs, but agree with the ethics taught by all religions and responsible secular philosophies (Lewis 1946:15ff; Veith 1987:83).

There are, of course, moral issues on which the different religions and secular philosophies do not agree. But such disagreement tends to surround highly complex and very difficult moral problems; abortion, euthanasia, sexual preference, the death sentence and so forth. A school is not the place for debating such issues. If adults struggle to resolve such issues, how can we expect inexperienced children and adolescents to resolve them? Furthermore, disagreement on difficult moral issues does not deny the objective and binding truth of the virtues that children need to be introduced to before they, as responsible adults, can participate in complex moral debates.

2.3.3 Academic-scientific education

The relativism that underlies Curriculum 2005 also causes it to bump up against problems in meeting its laudable ideal of equipping all children with, at least, basic mathematical and scientific literacy. The multiplicity of 'truths' that relativism implies stands in direct opposition to the type of logical thinking and critical reasoning that undergirds mathematics and the natural sciences. Mathematical and scientific reasoning is ruled by the principle of non-contradiction, namely that the meaning of something cannot include its own contradiction. Such logic is a self-evident, not arbitrary, logic that rejects contradictions and therefore lends consistency and coherence to human thinking, and it is vital to scientific and critical reasoning.

If children are to become mathematically and scientifically literate, they must acquire both the knowledge and the mental disposition that rejects contradictions and inconsistencies. Curriculum 2005 demands therefore that children be taught to think logically, that is to recognise and reject contradictions. Yet at the same time Curriculum 2005 also demands that in regard to belief and value systems children should accept contradictions and, in fact, regard them as of equal truth status.

Such an essentially incoherent and fragmented epistemological stance will confuse children. Sadly but inevitably they will accumulate the positivistic, scientistic notion that the natural sciences are matters of logic and objective truth whilst religion and morality - the big questions in life - belong to the mind-dependent, subjective realm; the realm "of feeling and personal predilection, with respect to which, like matters of taste, there is no disputing and no adjudication by logical means" (Adler 1990:126). In other words, children will come to accept that natural science and religion are essentially incompatible, that the mind must keep them in separate, logic-tight compartments, and that it is natural science which is the real source of authoritative knowledge.

Natural science, that is the experimental investigation of nature, is, however, only incompatible with religions that do not conceive of nature as secular and rationally ordered (that is non-contradictory). A deified and/or spiritually infused nature would be capricious. It could not be scientifically analysed but would have to be treated with reverence and awe. Its forces could possibly be magically manipulated but never understood. (Veith 1987:22-23, 108).

Scientism was not the intention of the constructors of Curriculum 2005. Learners are to demonstrate an understanding of the changing and contested nature of scientific knowledge (DoE 1997:133, 155). However, learners in grades one to nine are introduced to only one truly speculative scientific theory - the theory of evolution. This theory should not be taught as fact because the origin of life on earth is unrepeatable and can never be scientifically proven. The acceptance or rejection of any explanatory theory is thus always an ultimate matter of faith.

Apart from the theory of evolution, learners in grades one to nine are introduced to basic scientific facts, for example, the heart pumps blood, the composition of air, the very basic workings of electricity and magnetism, the properties of various substances, and so forth. Of course children should learn that scientific explanations, for example of electricity, magnetism, atomic structure, and so forth, are not exhaustive and final because human theories can never be perfect or absolute. One must, however, proceed carefully. Learners should be encouraged to question speculative theories such as the theory of evolution, but doubt should not be cast on the universal validity of scientific facts and tried and tested scientific theories as that would hinder the development of true scientific literacy. Furthermore, the impression should not be conveyed that all explanations of natural phenomena are of equal truth status, as the following assessment criteria seems to require: "Science is acknowledged as but one way of looking at and explaining phenomena" (DoE 1997:153, 154).

Explanations of natural phenomena belong to two foundational types: those that proceed from the premise that nature is secular and rationally ordered (that is non-contradictory) and those that proceed from the animistic premise that nature is full of innumerable spiritual and/or divine forces and therefore magical and capricious. Animism is a particular religious view of nature and therefore it should not be promoted in the public schools of a democratic, plural society. Public schools should promote true scientific literacy for the following reasons: first, in our highly scientific and technological society and economy greater employment opportunities and an improved standard of living are natural consequences of high-quality natural science education in all our communities (Main 1993:vii). Second, children who perceive nature and technology as understandable develop greater confidence than those who view nature and technology as mysterious and magical (Gega 1994:16). Third, people who have a basic knowledge of how nature works, and who know what effects certain habits and lifestyles have on the environment and their ultimate implications for human survival, will be more inclined to change their lifestyles and support environmental programmes.

3 Conclusion

The fact that all children should receive high-quality education is incontestable. OBE is not the way thereto. The falseness of its undergirding premises leads to internal contradictions and therefore to certain failure. As Wilder-Smith (1975:95) points out, "to navigate on incorrect principles . . . gets [one] to where one does not want to be".

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