Friday, February 18, 2011

The Purpose of Schools, Caring Adults

Is the point of schooling to create competent, caring loving and loveable people?  Perhaps it once was, and perhaps the pendulum will swing back toward seeing relationship or inter-personal intelligence as valuable again.  Certainly the world of professional work has recognize this need.  Professional employers have time and again said that they want workers who can perform in teams, think creatively, and solve problems.

Turing to Sir Robinson again, “Throughout the history of state education” he writes in Out of Our Minds, “there has been a contest between the mainstream vie that ‘reason’ and ‘objective’ knowledge should dominate education, and those who have argued for forms of education based on feelings.”  During the Romantic period, education thinkers like John Dewey argued that education should start with the child rather than with the canon.  The purpose of education, said the Romantics, was to awaken the curiosity and talent of the child and provide a nurturing place for those talents to bloom.  Some vestiges of this viewpoint are still with us today.  Teachers are still encouraged to get to know their students and their students’ families.   However, Teaching 2030 makes an important point when they quote Ellen Condliffe Lagemann in chapter 2, “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the 20th century unless one realizes that Edward Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”  Thorndike personified the Classical school of educational philosophy that promoted a teacher-centric curriculum-centric ideology in opposition to Dewey’s Romantic philosophy of education.

While teachers are told to get to know their students individual needs, their families, and their interests; while we are told to differentiate instruction and to customize intervention and planning to suit the needs of each student, we are to do so in order to achieve ever-higher scores on the standardized high-stakes tests.  What is measured by these tests, what matters in the world where the scores on these tests are conflated with “learning” is the canon.  It is the Classical body of knowledge intended for student memorization.  It is the logico-deductive reasoning championed by Thorndike.  It is as if we are now being asked to use the methods of the Romantic school of education to serve the interests and achieve the objectives of the Classical school of education.  Thorndike didn’t just beat Dewey, he made Dewey his whipping boy.

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