The journals Educational Psychologist and American Journal of Physics (which is the top journal for physics education research) published some very controversial “editorials” recently (although they are not labeled as such).
The first is an article by Kirshner, Sweller (inventor of cognitive load theory), and Clark entitled “Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching.” Richard Hake, a prominent physics education researcher, has responded to this article on various educational listservs. Cindy Hmelo-Silver, Ravit Duncan, and Clark Chinn also have a response forthcoming in a future issue of Educational Psychologist entitled “Scaffolding and Achievement in Problem-based and Inquiry Learning: A Response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark.”
Problem-based learning (see this overview) in particular is anything BUT “minimally guided.” See for example this article by Cindy Hmelo-Silver and Howard Barrows (father of PBL) which details the role of the facilitator in PBL. Kirshner, Sweller, and Clark appear to have created a straw man argument that no one actually believes. Why bother responding to something like that? For one thing, it has been published in a peer-reviewed research journal, and thus can and will be interpreted as scientific “truth.” This has happened before. As Hake discusses in his listserv post, an earlier 2004 article by Klahr and Nigam entitled “The Equivalence of Learning Paths in Early Science Instruction” has been used by conservatives to argue that good old fashioned lecture is the best way to teach. So we have to respond to these types of articles and engage in a dialog and not merely dismiss one perspective or the other.
The second controversial editorial is entitled “School math books, nonsense, and the National Science Foundation” and was published in the American Journal of Physics. Leslie Atkins notes in her blog that she has sent AJP a response, and see also this webpage detailing the issues educators have faced in reforming math education entitled Algebra Instruction, Then and Now.
A criticism of math education in the same vein was also posted recently on Kuro5hin by a Canadian math (not math ed) phd student, entitled The Declining Quality of Mathematics Education in the US, criticizing TERC’s Investigations in Number, Data, and Space elementary math curriculum. A Youtube video criticizing the same curriculum has been making the rounds the past month as well. As Bob Tinker writes, however, this curriculum has been quite successful, and we need NSF and other agencies to fund more innovative K-12 curriculum development, not revert back to old ways of teaching, or spend money on pure research alone.
Most of the time these attacks appear in newspapers, websites, and online groups, such as the criticisms of teacher unions by conservatives (and recently even by Apple’s Steve Jobs). We have to respond and engage in a dialog in those cases, as well. See for example Diane Ravitch’s article entitled “Why Teacher Unions Are Good for Teachers and the Public.”