Friday, April 8, 2011

Educational Leaders Unmasked: Dewey Part II

Dewey once wrote, "The individualistic man is a victim of an unnamed form of insanity and only the collectivist man is sane."
And how might this notion affect education? I think back to my favorite influences (sarcasm here) of Prussian education and social efficiency; social efficiency educators [were] made up of an acceptance of a collective
society and a belief that an individual should be devoted to a specialized task
in society.” (see my Social Efficiency part III post) This notion is very Dewey-esque and is arguably still a practice in education.
Wikipedia states, “Dewey goes on to acknowledge that education and schooling are instrumental in creating social change and reform. He notes that “education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction” (1897) )”
I take this to mean that teachers are regulators, who must “adjust” students to fit their societal mold, as the key part in “social consciousness” (that sounds so hunky-dory and reminds me of my liberal arts education in college…social consciousness was nearly de rigueur in conversation and coursework). Does this sound like the role of a teacher to you? Perhaps it does but it is not my idea of a great teacher or desirable education. I think of teachers as “facilitators” who help mold students, yes, but not to their cog and wheel place in society but rather as a mentor, encouraging the student’s passions and interests, not societies pre-set passions assigned to them.
Learning by doing- Here’s where I favor Dewey. He was against a rigidly structured curriculum and felt that children learn best by doing, that is by experimenting, theorizing, playing with their learning. Too often we see classes heavy on lecture and/or scripted curriculum which study after study shows is not the most effective method. Think back to a lesson a teacher taught you, way back in elementary. Was it scripted curriculum, or learning by doing? I recall my favorite lesson was in 6th grade World History. After studying ancient civilizations, we worked in groups to create our own civilization, our own artifacts and Rosetta Stone which we sprinkled in dirt outside the school grounds. The next week each group went and did an “archeological dig” and pieced together the other group’s civilization. I think Dewey would support such a lesson.
The school must be made into a social center capable of participating in the daily life of the community . . . and make up in part to the child for the decay of dogmatic and fixed methods of social discipline and for the loss of reverence and the influence of authority.”

"that to put the child in possession of his fullest talents,
education should be active rather than passive
; that to prepare the child for a democratic
society, the school should be social rather than individualist'
“Every teacher should realize he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of the proper
social order and the securing of the right social growth. In this way the teacher is always the
prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of heaven.”
(just a creepy quote there...)
"the plea for the predominance of learning to read in early
school life because of the great importance attaching to literature seems to be a perversion." This echoes the Prussian idea of having education to educate the public just so much that they feel satiated. The people become more educated than they would be without completion of their compulsory schooling, and they are likely more desirable as a work force. However, they learn just enough but not enough to start to question the status quo. Reading well enough to function in life was what the Prussians encouraged; they feared a learned man that was a proficient reader because they were a threat to the “system”. Let the top 2-10% elitists, from their private education, rule and make decisions because they’re the experts and the common man is not and should be happy with his status. If this idea exists today in our schools (the supposed dumbing down of our schools would support such a theory) then it is time to put a stop to it. Man deserves to “be all that he can be” and deserves an elite education. Knowledge is power and frees us from the shackles of dependency, feudalism, and oppression. Reading is a great vehicle for change; many studies show that ones “level” of vocabulary is a great determinant in their success in life, and reading is a great exposure to, as I call them in the classroom, 50 cent words. If we don’t teach the importance of great literature to our children, our future generations, if we only teach them certain sight words that are in a blanched condenses and altered version of literary classics, then we are supporting “the man keeping us down”. Social stratification will continue to rear its ugly head.
founded the Progressive Education Association which promoted the seven principles to improve elementary education (of which I can only find five); 1) Child centered; education should be active rather than passive. (I must agree).2) Children should learn the contents of the activities of the children formed their own direct experience. (I somewhat agree…such an idea can go to far as is outlined in Diane Ravitch’s Language Police.) 3) "the process of teaching the course is to develop habits of mind". (Yes, we need critical thinking but do we as teachers encourage habits of the mind, or decide what those habits should be?) 4) . Dilute the authority of the conscious view of teacher. (I do like teachers as facilitators especially in the later years i.e. high school when students have a foundational knowledge. However, it seems teachers have lost authority but it has not gone to the students but rather the bureaucrats. 5) The concept of school spirit. Progressive educators believe that students should be encouraged to cooperate with the school. (I believe students should have pride in their school; however, should they blindly cooperate and idolize the school?)
Socialism- many argue that Dewey promoted socialism; you decide in his quote here; "I do not see how any honest educational reformer in western countries can deny that the greatest practical obstacle in the way of introducing into schools that connection with social life which he regards as desirable is the great part played by personal competition and desire for private profit in our economic life. This fact almost makes it necessary that in important respects school activities should be protected from social contacts and connections, instead of being organized to create them. The Russian educational situation is enough to convert one to the idea that only in a society based upon the cooperative principle can the ideals of educational reformers be adequately carried into operation."
From (and it is a valid source; I’ve seen it backed up by research but the author says it more succinctly than I);
“Under the pretext of improving teaching methods, they changed what was taught to the American children. What did Dewey believe? In his writing and teaching, Dewey rejected fixed moral laws and eternal truths and principles. He adopted pragmatic, relativistic concepts as his guiding philosophy. Denying God, he held to the Marxist concept, that man is without a soul or free will. Man is a biological organism completely molded by his environment. Dewey believed that because man’s environment is constantly changing, man also changes constantly. Therefore, Dewey concluded, teaching children any of the absolutes of morals, government or ethics was a waste of time. On this moral philosophy, amoral philosophy, he developed his teaching formula, commonly labeled Progressive Education. Dewey published a thing called My Pedagogic Creed in 1897, and in it he saw the destruction – listen to this – the destruction of the child’s individualistic traits as the primary goal of education.” The idea of ethics verses morals, and that morals are fixed but outdated or wrong, is replaced with ethics which can change by the situation at hand. This in my opinion deteriorates one’s own moral fortitude. If morals must be taught in school (I argue against it; this is the role of the family) then shouldn’t we teach moral fortitude and not arbitrary, situational ethics? Of course Dewey stated morals and ethics should both not be taught in schools and I do agree; however some ethics and morals must be part of schools or else you’d have chaos- for example, we as teachers must reiterate what we hope is taught at home; i.e. share with others, get along with others, respect your elders, respect yourself and others…
Phrenology- Dewey believed in phrenology (as did Horace Mann) which was a pseudo-science of psychology that measured the skull. More precisely, the dimensions of one’s head and the bumps on the skull were measured and often used to promote racial superiority.
A good source that summed things up much better than I did and is well worth a visit if you want to read something that reflects my perspective:

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