Some 35 years ago, social scientists began unveiling unworkable philosophies of child management, characterized by a lack of adult guidance and punctuated with heavy doses of pop psychology. For openers, they told parents to lay off the discipline and let kids express themselves. Professors at university departments of education joined in with admonishments to prospective teachers against putting red markings on pupils papers and criticizing youngsters’ work, manner of dress, and speech. School counselors took up the cause and levied a cease and desist order against adults who persisted in “shoving” their outdated moral and religious values on children.

Eventually, the suggestion that parents had the right to direct the upbringing of their children became synonymous with overprotective- ness, then with child abuse, while tolerance of bad manners and obscenities was viewed as “being flexible.”

By 1987, what kids wanted at any given moment had become more important than their knowledge base. Children were made drunk on their own importance. Teacher training was taken up with courses in behavioral psychology (“ed psych”) instead of academic subject matter.

Standardized tests started looking more like opinion surveys than cognitive assessments. By 1996, even math courses had started placing correct world views and teamwork (read: “peer pressure”) over correct answers.

Last week the cumulative effect of therapeutic/socialization-style education hit critical mass. Parents in Littleton, Colo., got a good jolt of the “mental hygiene” approach to schooling, up close and personal.

Psychologized education, which first came to Littleton in 1991 under the name “outcome-based education,” changed labels when it came under attack from parents and the public. But in typical fashion, curricular “standards” and the thrust of programs remained the same. Rocky Mountain News reported in June 1994 that the Jefferson County Education Board voted to continue funding the renamed outcome-based — i.e., psychology-based — education to the tune of $1 million, over parent protests. Drug education, refusal skills, self-esteem, and relationships became centerpieces of the curriculum, pushing academics to the back burner. Yet, in the aftermath of the Littleton tragedy, the President and pundits are calling for more of the same.

Only a few seem to connect the sudden surge of high-profile student violence with the progressive undermining of adult leadership, denigration of religiously based moral values, lurid media entertainment, and lack of substantive tasks to occupy the child’s mind and time.

Today, we have human warehouses, not institutions of learning. The peer pressure approach to teaching has unleashed a “Lord of the Flies” mentality which even police, stationed in school hallways and on rooftops, can no longer be expected to control. This result should have been predictable, especially among those calling themselves “child experts” — psychologists.

“Trench-coat Mafia”? Heavy eye makeup? Black hats and knee boots? What on earth did we expect when we started allowing kids come to school permanently decked out in Halloween costumes? When we stopped giving youngsters more to do than primp, preen, strut, intimidate, and spout filthy song lyrics, what we reaped was swastikas and vampire cults.

Curriculums and activities that revolve around psychological calisthenics instead of serious learning fuel a morbid preoccupation with self. They don’t increase self- esteem or instill self-respect. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist — or, for that matter, a priest — to figure out that youngsters who are allowed to spend the largest part of their days acting out fantasies, who are drilled with “antiauthoritarian” theology, who can get easy A’s under phony “standards” are eventually going to unleash an environment of social chaos that in 10 years will transform even a United States of America into a Kosovo, Iraq, or Bosnia.

The Littleton incident, added to those in Jonesboro, Arkansas; West Paducah, Kentucky; Springfield, Oregon; and Edinboro, Pennsylvania, among others, signals that the public school system is about to implode. More importantly, it indicates that schooling isn’t about literacy, basics, or proficiency at anything, no matter what educators pretend. It’s time for Americans to send an unequivocal message to legislators and school boards to pull the plug on psychology-based education programs and practices.

B.K. Eakman is executive director of the National Education Consortium and the author of “Cloning of the American Mind: Eradicating Morality Through Education.”