From Gilbert Sewall, “Lost In Action: Are time-consuming, trivializing activities displacing the cultivation of active minds?,” American Educator (Summer 2000).
Teachers have to ask themselves: Is writing an eyewitness journal entry on “what it was like to witness the signing of the Declaration of Independence” really the best way for eighth-graders to learn the principles of the Declaration? Do we give up making that mural of the Underground Railroad in order to get a more in-depth understanding of the Civil War through reading the Emancipation Proclamation or memorizing the Gettysburg Address? Which is doable in a shorter amount of time, and which is more valuable?
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Education is not a game. The only valid architecture for projects and activities is core knowledge. How to handle words, express yourself fluently, and listen are not educational electives. No substitute exists for the foundations of mathematics, history, and science. Individual deliberation, judgment, understanding, and the ability to take advantage of the present depend on an individual’s storehouse of these fundamental facts and skills. They are the armature, skeleton, and building blocks on which continuing education depends.
Facts and academic mastery are what too many activities artfully dodge. What civilizations have considered the keys to and the superstructure of knowledge, contemporary progressives label lower-order skills. At their most debased, projects and activities are the curriculum of Nietzsche’s Last People, who see the wonders of the world, a world formalized in the humanities and science—and can only blink.