Sunday, December 26, 2010

Favorite comments of '10: Beth and Anonymous on traditional vs. progressive education

(Further thoughts...)

My theory is that everyone's complaints are justified. 

Progressives look at the public schools and say "this isn't a good progressive education!" and they're absolutely right. It's not progressive because there's no room for kids to develop their own interests. The homework overload and constant grading mean that it's almost impossible for a child to develop any sense of themselves as learners. Intrinsic motivation? Forget it.

Traditionalists look at the schools and say "this isn't a good traditional education!" and they're absolutely right too. The curriculum is set at an incredibly low standard, and even that doesn't get met reliably. And if the kid didn't understand something, the school outsources the problem to the parents.

There's a huge gulf between any theory and an actual public school classroom. In a classroom with 30 kids and one teacher, which has been "balanced" to include a couple of gifted kids, a couple of kids with learning problems, and a couple of kids with behavior problems, just keeping the peace for 6 hours a day is a tall order. This is why progressive theory finally gets implemented as graded coloring projects, and traditional theory gets implemented as endless repetition.

I come from Ireland originally and I was exposed to what would be considered a "drill and kill" education by many people involved in American education. But I enjoyed school and learning. I have an mp3 player filled with podcasts covering legal theory, science and other subjects. My educaton did not turn me off learning but actually increased both my desire and ability to learn. 

A certain amount of rote learning and drilling are required to produce a well-educated child. Rote learning and drilling aren't the only ways children should learn but they are necessary. People who think you can educate a child without a certain amount of memorization and drilling are out-of-touch with reality.

I always hear that kids should be thought problem solving skills and critical thinking skills and not just a bunch of facts. But you can't solve problems without a base of knowledge relevant to that problem. You can't think critically about subjects you don't know anything about. I also hear that there is no point in teaching facts because students can use modern technology to look up whatever they need to know. But to actually make sense of what you have looked up, you need a pre-existing body of knowledge.

There is no getting around it. Students have to be given a large base of knowledge built on a coherent curriculum.

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