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March 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 6

Traditionalist Christians and OBE: What's the Problem?

Outcome-based education remains a sore spot with many Traditionalist Christians. Some insights into their position may suggest options for addressing potential conflicts.

Any attempt to speak for Christians on any point of controversy may just lend credence to the adage “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Christians—even so-called Fundamentalist Christians—no more speak with one voice than do Hispanics, African Americans, or any other identifiable group. Nevertheless, as a Traditionalist Christian and a university professor who has presented public school informational seminars to Traditionalist Christians throughout the United States, I would like to offer some insights about the “Religious Right” that may be of help to public school educators.

What Educators Should Know

Public educators appear to be woefully ignorant of Traditionalist Christians' belief in supersessionism, the belief in the exclusivity of Christianity that states that only through faith in Jesus Christ's atonement can eternal salvation be attained. This belief has a profound influence on how this group of Christians responds to OBE.
If Christianity is the only true religion, assert Traditionalist Christians, then any element of the curriculum that propounds that all religions are equally valid and acceptable—as opposed to teaching that all people have an equally valid and acceptable right to practice whatever religion they choose—threatens the eternal well-being of their children. Further, because they believe that their eternal well-being is more important than any temporal tranquillity, they will relentlessly oppose any attempts to deprecate their concerns about what they see as the public schools' insidious inculcation of universalism.
Public educators may disagree with this exclusivity; nonetheless, supersessionism is the sine qua non of the Traditionalist Christian viewpoint and the source of almost all Traditionalist criticisms of the curriculum. Any aspect of public schooling that detracts from this belief or from the moral values associated with it will evoke opposition. Knowing this fact could help public educators respond to challenges sensitively and judiciously.
A second important point to consider is that Traditionalist Christians link topics as diverse as the debate over whole language versus synthetic phonics, multicultural education, social services on campus, and site-based management to OBE. For example, the lack of structure in the whole language philosophy appears to be consistent with what they see as deliberate attempts by restructuring proponents to achieve ambiguously stated objectives in OBE. Traditionalist Christians respond emotionally to these issues, and because they fail to prioritize their relative importance, they treat whole language phonics with the same gravity as, say, globalism: all are “subversive.” Public educators should be aware that apparently minor issues may be seen as significant because of their perceived ties to OBE.
Closely related to the failure to discriminate among issues is the fact that some Traditionalist Christians are not well-informed about specific details of issues. Neither their public school administrators nor their Christian leaders have presented them with a balanced analysis of the issues. Public school educators may find themselves attempting to explain something that their audience may not have the background to understand. Again using whole language versus phonics as an example, many of these Christians will either not know about the different kinds of phonics approaches, or they will have been programmed to reject any attempt to teach reading using an analytic approach. Approaches that do not have a clearly defined scope and sequence, they believe, lead to nebulous goals and subjective outcomes.
Most Traditionalist Christians, however, are eager to learn, and they have been receptive to presentations that challenged their most cherished notions, provided that they see the presentations as objective. If they believe that public educators will listen, they also welcome suggestions on how to diplomatically present their concerns. Unfortunately, experience has led them to anticipate that they will be stonewalled and their concerns will be disparaged. Educators seem neither to desire nor respect their input. As a result, they often resort to aggressively presenting their concerns.
Although Traditionalist Christians agree that OBE contradicts their values, there is no consensus on the specific elements of OBE to which they object. Participants at my presentations have raised a number of points that could be summarized in two major concerns: they object to affective emphases in content courses, and they oppose the covert indoctrination of social, political, and economic values.

Concerns About Affective Goals

An objective from Maine's Common Core of Learning illustrates how a seemingly benign objective, if couched in ambiguous terminology, can evoke controversy: Students with a common core of knowledge work cooperatively and actively in group decision making, whether in small groups or in the larger society; are able to listen, share opinions, negotiate, compromise, and help the group reach consensus.
Traditionalist Christians challenge this objective because it seems to promote relativism as a desirable goal. They object to fostering the abilities to “compromise” and “reach consensus” when such practices could lead in certain situations to capitulation to group pressure or to approval of behaviors that a Traditionalist interpretation of Christian Scriptures prohibits, such as homosexuality. They fear that their children's advocacy of moral absolutes, which preclude their having an attitude of “tolerance” or other secularly sanctioned “virtues,” will detrimentally affect their children's grades and academic placement. They believe that their children will have to demonstrate politically correct behaviors, and that the goals, processes (such as group problem solving and cooperative learning), and evaluations used in OBE deliberately attempt to undermine their children's values, individuality, and commitment to personal responsibility.
Both public educators and Traditionalist Christians need to understand one another's perspectives on the question of ambiguous, affective outcomes. Most Traditionalist Christians, when presented with hypothetical situations that illustrate how their children are affected by classmates who do not know how to achieve peaceful compromise, begin to understand why such OBE objectives have been formulated. Yet I have found no evidence of an equal level of understanding on the part of public educators regarding the concerns many of these Christians have about formalizing affective goals. How many educators understand that many Traditionalist Christians view a goal such as Maine's “Have a basic understanding of the changing roles and rights of women and men” as being diametrically opposed to their belief that the husband is the head of the house and the wife is the helpmeet who is to submit to the husband's authority? How many educators would attempt to accommodate this concern?

Concerns About Indoctrination

In addition to concerns about affective objectives, Traditionalist Christians believe schools using OBE are indoctrinating children with social, political, and economic values in subjects such as science, health, social studies, and the visual and performing arts. Environmentalism, globalism, and multiculturalism are supplanting ideas such as the prudent utilization of resources, “my-country-right-or-wrong” patriotism, and America the melting pot. Many of the views presented on political issues such as gun control, abortion, homosexual activism, and the welfare state violate deeply held Traditionalist Christian beliefs.
Traditionalist Christians have, for some time, asserted that indoctrination has been occurring within traditional education, but OBE exacerbates their concern. OBE, they say, makes covert indoctrination overt. Ambiguously worded objectives legitimize the politicization of the classroom and the curriculum, and they sanction educators to “come out of the closet” with political perspectives antithetical to those embraced by most of these Christians—perspectives students will be held accountable to when demonstrating various outcomes.

Concerns About Process

In addition to these two major concerns, the process by which OBE and other restructuring initiatives have been adopted disturbs Traditionalist Christians. Many of them feel manipulated or disenfranchised by their public servants, some of whom they perceive as duplicitous or dishonest.
For example, one state legislator approached me at a restructuring seminar and showed me an invitation he had received to an institute at Harvard University on reform in public education. A session-by-session analysis of the agenda could be the subject of a whole article on why the process of achieving reform angers Traditionalist Christians, particularly as it relates to OBE. The description of the last formal presentation of the conference says: The most difficult part of systemic reform is not in finding consensus with each other ... the hardest task may be in “selling” the package to the public.... This session examines how legislators can package education reform and offers suggestions for dealing with vocal opposition groups.
The conference sponsors appear to assume that legislators, presumably invited to discuss the need for and the nature of reform, will buy into all the reforms presented, that consensus will be achieved, that the specifics of the reforms will need to be “packaged” and “sold” to the public, and that opposition will be stifled. Traditionalist Christians have too frequently noted a similar arrogance on the part of their public school administrators when they implement OBE.

Some Suggested Solutions

To address the concerns of Traditionalist Christians and reduce the conflict between them and public educators over OBE, I offer several suggestions. First, public schools could offer courses that focus solely upon values and that unambiguously specify their objectives and the measurable outcomes. Courses such as “Leadership and Group Dynamics,” “Problem Solving and Conflict Resolution,” and “Cooperative Decision Making” could be taught by civic, corporate, and other leaders and offered on an “opt-out” basis. Thus, no group would be able to assert that a hidden agenda is subverting its value system, and necessary affective objectives could be addressed openly in the OBE curriculum.
Second, by offering clearly designated “critical issues” courses, schools could address concerns about covert or overt indoctrination. The primary content of such courses would be issues analysis or problem solving, using an approach such as the Issues Analysis Procedure and a curriculum emphasizing critical reading and thinking skills. Such a curriculum would replace the teaching of so-called higher-order thinking skills, which most Traditionalist Christians view as the affective, covert values-clarification agenda of OBE.
Critical issues courses would examine major political, economic, and social issues identified by a cross section of public school clients. The most visible proponents and opponents of an issue would present students with a spectrum of opinions. OBE objectives would be clear, measurable academic outcomes emphasizing reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Students would complete a formal written analysis of each issue that would incorporate research based on speakers' presentations and that would not have to conform to the political leanings of their instructors. Such a format would avoid charges of indoctrination or of failure to teach legitimate cognitive higher-order thinking skills.
Third, a forum that emphasizes dialogue rather than debate would address the concern about the process of adoption. I have found that in my seminars—a simulated dialogue of sorts—even the most emotional factions have been willing to listen to reason. A debate format seems only to make people more defensive of their positions. Public information seminars in various school districts provided by presenters agreed upon by a majority of Traditionalist Christians and public educators could address not only controversy about OBE, but concerns about other issues as well.
Those who would presume to receive the benediction “Blessed are the peacemakers”—Traditionalist Christians—and those who presume to teach conflict resolution skills—public educators—have failed to achieve either peace or resolution. Public forums would be a starting point toward an attainable goal: consensus on what constitutes a good education for America's children.
End Notes

1 A helpful resource presenting issues of concern to Traditionalist Christians is Reinventing America's Schools, published by Citizens for Excellence in Education, Box 3200, Costa Mesa, CA 92628.

2 To obtain a treatise on the Issues Analysis Procedure, contact Arnold Burron at the address below.

Arnold Burron has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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