Teaching theories of the 1960s and 1970s have been attacked as "plain crackers" by the chief inspector of schools in England, David Bell.
David Bell attacked "incoherent" teaching philosophies
The Ofsted chief said that in the past he had seen "too much of the totally soft-centred belief that children would learn if you left them to it".
Speaking in Chester-le-Street, Mr Bell said pupils needed a well-rounded curriculum, including basic skills.
And he rejected the "incoherent" approach of over-liberal teaching.
In a lecture at the Hermitage School, Mr Bell defended the importance of a "broad and rich" national curriculum, spelling out what pupils should be expected to learn.
In the past, he said that too many pupils had been short-changed by "eccentric" educational philosophies.
"I saw too much that went wrong in the 1960s and 1970s," said Mr Bell.
"I saw too many incoherent or non-existent curriculums, too many eccentric and unevaluated teaching methods, and too much of the totally soft centred belief that children would learn if you left them to it.
"In particular, the notion that children learn to read by osmosis - and I suppose I exaggerate to make the point - was plain crackers."
In contrast, Mr Bell said that the last decade had seen "significant improvements" in the standard of teaching and pupil achievement.
Mr Bell also highlighted the difficulties of introducing citizenship lessons in schools.
Inspectors have criticised the quality of secondary schools' efforts to introduce citizenship lessons - which Mr Bell described as "stuttering and varied".
But he pointed to the importance of the subject which could help to improve "social cohesion" and to address ethnic tensions.
"I reflected with horror on the disturbances in the spring and early summer of 2001 in northern towns and cities such as Oldham, Bradford and Burnley, and have no doubt that education has an urgent and important part to play in promoting social cohesion."
And he pointed to the controversies in France over the wearing of Islamic head scarves.
"My counterparts in France are reporting increased social segregation in schools. It is increasingly difficult for teachers to meet the challenge of the constitution: that French state schools should be strictly secular and religiously, philosophically and politically neutral."
The Shadow Education Secretary, Tim Collins, said: "David Bell is 100% right. There is no clearer evidence of the great betrayal of several generations of British children.
"Countries that have embraced school choice have far less of a gap between the best and worst performing schools and we need to emulate them.
"He is also right to say that methods of teaching children to read, write and do their sums must be based on clear scientific evidence of what works rather than outdated trendy left-wing 1960s theories."