Enslaved by the Bell

Does the newest member of the state Board of Education really believe that Satan lurks in Arizona classrooms?

Many of Martin's attacks have been on outcome-based education, or OBE, which judges the quality of education by focusing on outputs--on what students learn and on measurable academic results--and which questions the conventional wisdom that education should be judged strictly by what goes into it: effort, time and tax dollars.

Shortly after it was introduced, OBE became all the rage. In 1989, President George Bush convened an "education summit" with all 50 governors. Together, Bush and the governors agreed on six (there are now eight) national goals for education, which came to be known as Goals 2000. So far, 25 states--including Arizona--have drafted OBE-friendly policies.

But once the goals were developed and states began implementing them, a backlash arose among those who saw the new standards as so esoteric as to be immeasurable and meaningless. For example:

* An Ohio graduate should be able to "function as a responsible family member [and] maintain physical, emotional, and social well-being."

* In Pennsylvania, "each student shall have exposure to different cultures and lifestyles."

* In Arizona, a math student should be able to "explore, model and describe patterns and functions involving numbers, shapes, data and graphs" and use "simulations to estimate probabilities."

Criticism of the new approach has come from all sides. In a 1993 newsletter, Phyllis Schlafly, president of the ultraconservative Eagle Forum, said, "OBE [was] converting the three Rs into the three Ds: Deliberately Dumbing Down."

From the opposite end of the spectrum, Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers and hardly an ally of Schlafly's, told the New York Times in 1993 that "OBE's vaguely worded outcomes . . . encourage business as usual . . . and [do] nothing to raise achievement."

Last February, Colorado's Democratic Governor Roy Romer, a leading figure in the move to set national education standards, told reporters that OBE was not the answer and called instead for a "hard content strategy." A month later, J. Fife Symington III, Arizona's rightward-reeling governor, called on the state Board of Education to reject "trendy" standards in favor of a back-to-basics curricula.

There are compelling arguments on both sides of the debate over OBE, which is still a long way from being resolved. And Martin, who has criticized OBE as difficult and expensive to implement and impossible to grade, makes many of the same arguments as OBE's more moderate critics.

But her criticisms and those put forth by other religious fundamentalists only begin there.

In the December/January issue of Educational Leadership, a conservative journal, Robert Simonds, a leading opponent of OBE, charges that the critical-thinking skills touted by OBE's backers mean "teaching children to empty themselves of their own values and accept a suggested set of values."

And in Martin's own writing, she suggests that "it is the belief of . . . secular humanists that there are no absolute standards of right and wrong. A test that deals with attitudes and opinions and the ability to present points of view is an essential tool for the liberal mind set."

Martin has also attacked OBE for its emphasis on building self-esteem in students. In a 1992 article in a Concerned Women for America newsletter titled The Self-Esteem Machine, Martin writes that "people's greatest need is not self-esteem; it is the realization that they are sinners in rebellion against God. . . . Man by nature wants to be free to go his own way. . . . That base drive of mankind is called rebellion. SIN!"

David C. Berliner is a regent's professor of education at Arizona State University who, for seven years, has chronicled the assault of the religious right on the nation's public schools. He lectures widely, and his book on the subject, The Manufactured Crisis, was published last year.

"The fight against OBE is a holy fight," Berliner says, adding that members of the religious right "don't want empowered, uncorrected kids. They don't want to build kids' self-esteem. They want obedient kids. They want the Stepford kids."

Berliner calls Martin's appointment to the board "a slap in the face at public education," a criticism echoed by Kotterman, the AEA representative, and by Renert of the Arizona Citizens Project.

Renert points out that Martin has allied herself with many of the same people who would like to tear down the wall between church and state. Indeed, Beverly LeHaye, the founder of Concerned Women for America, in which Martin has been both a member and an educational consultant, has said that prayer was driven from public schools because of "an imaginary 'wall of separation' conjured by nonbelievers."

When questioned specifically about her writings and the views of some of her contemporaries, Martin says that the ideas she and her allies have professed are simply being taken out of the context of a healthy discussion among like-minded people.

"My letters and my writings have been to my fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord," she says. "They have been to Christian audiences who understand that in 1963, when prayer and Bible were removed from our school, that we lost a lot of our foundational beliefs."

Janet Martin is not the only member of Arizona's school board to profess a desire to see a return to basics. Last May, Symington appointed Felicia Muller, a 34-year-old elementary school teacher, to the board as its teacher representative.

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