Dear Deb, I am happy to join with you in adopting a bridging motto of “Neither guide on the side nor sage on the stage.” One of the things that brought me to admire you was your obvious passion about teaching, learning, and children. I said at the outset of our conversation that I would gladly entrust my children (who are now too old to entrust to anyone but their spouses!) and my grandchildren to your classroom. Somehow, though, I think that teachers you admire could work within the context of a common curriculum that described the parameters of what ...

Dear Diane, I don’t want to argue about the word “constructivism” because words can, I agree, be slippery. But I urge you not to parody that viewpoint. There are few—if any—schools (in the public sector at least) where teachers are just “guides on the side.” Never were! I’ve seen hapless teachers. But not purposely. I also think that you have misread Dewey’s "The Way Out of Educational Confusion”. Or should I say “differently read”? (joke) I think he meant it in the same way as Ted Sizer did in describing a mindless Honor’s English...

Dear Debbie, Words are slippery things. Take the idea of “constructivism.” Yes, I agree with you that we all “construct” knowledge as we encounter new ideas. We try to make sense of new ideas by fitting them to what we already know, using the vocabulary and experiences that we have already accumulated. If we have a meager vocabulary—or none at all, as when we visit a foreign country and are unfamiliar with the language—and if we have no experiences that are connected to the new ideas, then we will not be able to do much constructing of knowledge....

Dear Diane, I just read a column about Sol Stern in The New York Times on why vouchers aren't the answer. I'm glad he's given up on them; alas, he has joined you in viewing a standard curriculum reform as the answer. The dilemma for me is not who is right on curriculum or phonics but with the idea of imposing either solution. Democracy uses the tool of "majority wins" because sometimes only one decision is feasible: we either go to war or don't, build the highway or don't. But I'm a libertarian wherever I can be—like about the ...

Dear Debbie, The reason that I directed your attention to the AIR study was that it included only the dozen nations that participated in both TIMSS and PISA. Otherwise, it is confusing to refer to the U.S.'s standing in these assessments because many nations participated only once. When several less-developed nations join in the assessments, our scores look better and better. Should we really congratulate ourselves because we got higher scores on TIMSS than Cyprus, Yemen, Botswana, and Iran? These countries were not included in the AIR study, nor was the “one district of China” to which you ...

The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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