April 2008 Archives

Dear Deborah, As you know, Americans have a long history of looking to other countries for answers to our educational problems. In the 19th Century, American educators traveled to Prussia to see the wonders of its national education system. In the 1960s, the British education system became the American educational Mecca because of its demonstrations of infant education and open classrooms (with an occasional side trip to Summerhill). Recently, Finland has won admiration for its educational accomplishments—not long ago in a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal, and now in your address to your colleagues at the Forum...


Dear Diane, Let's pursue, over time, these topics: (1) the way we see "popular" culture and "the street" as sources for learning, (2) the notion of a "consensus" on curriculum—and the idea that we can insure that it only takes 50 percent of our time, and, finally, (3) that it doesn't matter whether we put the moral and social purposes of society or each individual's success on the job market as the public purpose of education. Alas, the latter isn't even within our means—as the economy doesn't produce more good, decent-paying jobs just because there are well-educated...


Dear Deborah, Well, we do disagree about what should happen in “our houses of learning.” Maybe that is the core of our disagreement, maybe not. We’ll see. Your rumination on “the street” reminded me of one of my favorite figures in education history, and that is Junius Meriam of the University of Missouri. Meriam’s laboratory school at the university was featured in 1915 by John Dewey as one of the “schools of to-morrow” in his famous book of the same name. Meriam wrote a book called "Child Life and the Curriculum" (published in 1920), in which he described ...


Dear Diane, Perhaps the most revolutionary thing we can do, as educators, is provide examples of adults who use their minds freely and toughly, in the interest of raising smart, feisty youngsters! On a recent visit to Wesleyan, where my granddaughter is a student, some teachers and students played with the question of whether schools should provide young people with opportunities to act on their ideas. After all, teenagers have historically always been activists, not just scholars. I think probably yes—but, if so, don’t we need to be equally prepared to support the “actions” that we disagree with...


Dear Deborah, Maybe I should not have thrown George Counts’ famous challenge into the mix. I sometimes have to remind myself that most people—even most educators—know very little education history and never read about why Counts asked “Dare the schools build a new social order?” At the time (1932), Counts was in his most radical phase, openly admiring the Soviet Union; his address was delivered to the Progressive Education Association, which at the time was enraptured with child-centered individualism. Counts said, in effect, dare to indoctrinate children, dare to throw aside your anachronistic beliefs in individualized education,...


Dear Diane, Actually, I do not now nor ever have believed that teachers of K-12 schools could create a new social order. It's neither accurate nor healthy for us to think that's our job. A minor clarification: You write: “no matter whether schools are progressive or traditional (are there any such??)… " I was wondering if the parenthesis meant you weren’t sure there were any progressive, traditional, or either of the two! If you recall that was one of our very long ago and far away arguments—my contention that progressive education had barely ever been tried in urban public...


Dear Deb, We do agree: Violence is not the essential reason that schools are unsuccessful. We agree that violence is not caused by schools, and that in every community the schools are the safest environment that students are likely to encounter. That was not the point, however, that I was making. The point was that we live in a society where authority of all kinds has been eroded, that the media regularly and consistently undermines adult authority, and that schools are no longer safe from the intrusions of the street and the popular culture. No matter whether schools are progressive ...


Dear Diane, You’ve opened a can of worms—or something like that. There’s so much in your last letter to take on that I’m at a loss about where to start. Our readers—especially teachers—really got excited talking about disciplining the unruly. Is there more brutal violence today than in yesteryears? I’m always suspicious of such claims—although assuredly guns are more deadly—but I don’t want to argue that point. Nor the lesser one, that forms of disrespect of authority are worse than ever. But I contend that schools are a safer ...


Dear Deb, I was just sitting down to reply to your post and thought I would first scan my email. I opened the daily email from ASCD SmartBrief, which links to interesting stories about schools across the nation. There was a story from Pontiac, Mich., with this headline: “Teacher Recovers from Attack: Police Say 3 students Assaulted Northern High instructor, who has a fractured skull, a broken rib and an injured lung.” This incident occurred because the teacher told several students to leave the boys’ restroom. They followed him to his classroom and beat him up. The president of the ...


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