Saturday, June 6, 2015

Depression era whole language and project-based learning

"Now you tell your father not to teach you any more. It's best to begin reading with a fresh mind. You tell him I'll take over from here and try to undo the damage--"


"Your father does not know how to teach. You can have a seat now."


"Don't worry, Scout," Jem comforted me. "Our teacher says Miss Caroline's introducing a new way to teaching. She learned about it in college. It'll be in all the grades soon. You don't have to learn much out of books that way--it's like if you wanta learn about cows, you go milk one, see?"

"Yeah Jem, but I don't wanta study cows, I--"

"Sure you do. You hafta know about cows, they're a big part of life in Macomb County."

I contented myself with asking Jem if he'd lost his mind.

"I'm just trying to tell you the new new way they're teachin' the first grade, stubborn. It's the Dewey Decimal System."

Having never questioned Jem's pronouncements, I saw no reason to begin now. The Dewey Decimal System consisted, in part, of Miss Caroline waving cards at us on which were printed "the," "cat," "rat," "man," and "you." No comment seemed to be expected of us, and the class received these impressionistic revelations in silence. I was bored, so I began a letter fo Dill. Miss Caroline caught me writing and told me to tell my father to stop teaching me. "Besides," she said. "We don't write in first grade, we print. You won't learn to write until you're in third grade."
 The remainders of my schooldays were no more auspicious than the first. Indeed, they were an endless Project that slowly evolved into a Unit, in which miles of construction papers and wax crayon were expended by the State of Alabama in well-meaning but fruitless efforts to teach me Group Dynamics. What Jem called the Dewey Decimal System was schoolwide by the end of my first year, so I had no chance to compare it with other teaching techniques. I could only look around me: Atticus and my uncle, who went to school at home, knew everything--at least, what one didn't know, the other did. Furthermore, I couldn't help noticing that my father had served for years in the state legislature, elected each time without opposition, innocent of the adjustments my teacher thought essential to the development of Good Citizenship... [A]s I inched sluggishly along the treadmill of the Macomb County school system, I could not help receiving the impression that I was being cheated out of something. Out of what I knew not, yet I did not believe that twelve years of unrelieved boredom was exactly what the state had in mind for me.

--Harper Lee (1960).


Adelaide Dupont said...


In a month we will see if Scout was respected as an adult the way she respects her father and uncle. {if a child could say that of her}.

There is so much more to Dewey than the Decimal System! And did they mean Melwin or the other person - John?

lgm said...

Cooper: you're ruling my son out for college now? The kid's fifteen.
Principal: Tom's score simply isnt high enough.