About AE   About NHM   Contact Us   Terms of Use   Copyright Info   Privacy Policy   Advertising Policies   Site Map
Science Education Reform    
Custom Search of AE Site
spacer spacer

Campbell, David. The Coriolanus Syndrome.

April 1997. Pages 640-643.

Phi Delta Kappan. Volume 78, Number 8.

Abstract prepared by Chuck Downing, PhD.

[The current educational system] is no longer appropriate or useful. It is a horse and buggy rambling down a dirt road in a Third World society, without meaning or direction, simply doing what it has always done and pretending to change.]

So concludes David Campbell in his article The Coriolanus1 Syndrome.

I have to admit that I selected the article because of the title--I misread it at first and thought it might have something to do with classification. In a way it does, but not in the way I thought.

Campbell begins with a description of a restructuring meeting. Admittedly, the meeting he describes is in a college, but it is germane never the less since it reminds me of nearly all meeting on that topic I attended at my high school. The debate rages over whether to increase the math requirement of all education students at the college. Campbell, acting as a Socratic voice, questions the need for such an increase since:

most science education majors already took a number of calculus courses that they would never use and that those in other majors had selected their specialties to avoid taking more math whenever possible.

The response from the others in attendance at the meeting he describes as an immediate oxygen deprivation situation as they inhale collectively. After also questioning the need for longer research papers since "I don't know any schoolteachers who write 'papers' except when they are forced to by us [the colleges]," he is banished from the committee.

He then takes a day to visit a local high school. He returns "enraged and depressed after watching lesson after lesson filled with the memorization of trivia, mindless assignments, incessant testing, and 'covering the material'." His assessment, after only one six-hour visitation, is chillingly accurate.

Campbell does not limit his discussion to avant-garde reform ideas. When discussing "back to basics," he waxes eloquent as well.

Let's get back to those good old basics. I'll drive with you in your car to the nearest garage, where the mechanic will remove your automatic transmission, radio, air conditional and heater, defroster, tapedeck, bucket

seats, windshield wiper and turn signals. You'll feel good sticking your arm out in the rain and snow to signal for a turn while reaching around to wipe the dirt off your windshield. At home I'll remove your microwave and remote control (a good old 12" black-and-white set with three snowy channels on for four hours each evening is certainly adequate)... And let's replace that central heating and air with a good old basic coal furnace. The exercise of hauling coal and ashes will be good for you. Now that's getting back to basics.

Campbell contends that nearly all "skills" (sitting in rows of desks, filling in worksheets, and getting 80% right while choosing the "correct" answer from a list of four possibilities) students learn in school do nothing to promote societal goals and, in fact, might just get you fired in business situations. Real, significant education does not occur. He supports this contention by stating:

It is as if all that time [twelve years of schooling] never happened. I never see people camped out overnight to purchase tickets for the symphony, theater, or ballet. I cannot find "Nova," "Masterpiece Theater," or "Nature" among the top 25 television shows... Try to have a conversation with any high school (or even college) graduate about Rembrandt...

The overall tone of this article is one of discouragement. However, Campbell is not a quitter. He speaks of raising academic standards, and the need for improving the quality of teaching as well. By improving the quality of teaching, Campbell is referring to a progressive constructivist approach to content delivery--exploring, doing, engaging in process. If our classes fulfilled this goal of high standards and improved teaching, think of what our lives as teachers (and as world citizens) would be like.

Learning more is neither the problem or the goal. True understanding-- connecting and making sense of information and integrating it into a coherent picture of reality--is what [students] need to achieve. [Emphasis mine]

I encourage you to read this article and to become more Coriolanic in your approach.

1 Choriolanus is a Shakespearean character famous for cutting to the chase or being "too absolute."

Science Education Reform Index

Let's Collaborate Index

Custom Search on the AE Site