Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Progressive Education

1. Teachers each day will fill lamps and clean chimneys.
2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.
3. Make your pens carefully you may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.
4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly
5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
6 Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society
8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barbershop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty
9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.

This set of rules is very similar to--no, it is exactly the same as--one passed to me by a lower school head some years ago. I copied and pasted this version from the Portage County, Wisconsin Historical Society.

Very quaint, yes? It shows us that we teachers have always been put-upon, never really got the pay we deserved. If our administrators ask us to go "above and beyond" it is only because all the teachers before us have done so, without complaint, and with the best interests of their students at heart.

The only problem is, it is a made-up pile of shit. Probably created and circulated by some Board of Education during contract negotiations long after 1872. Why would these rules have a specific date attached anyway? Do we think they changed that much from year to year? Why do they appear in the museums and historical societies of dozens of communities word-for-word, but always as a mimeograph or a re-typed document? Snopes knows.

Certainly, we know that much of US grammar school education until the early part of the twentieth century was situated in one-room schoolhouses (like where my Dad went), involved tedious rote learning and memorization, and finished with barely literate young teenagers who would go to work on the family farm or down at the mill. In 1900, only around 10% of US students earned a high school diploma.

Thanks to Columbia University Teachers' College and John Dewey, educators began to take a scientific approach to understanding how children learn, a process which resulted in the progressive education movement. Rote learning is replaced in this modern, research-based view, by hands-on learning, problem-solving and needs-based learning. Outcomes measured by standardized testing are less valued than those with a real-world, interpersonal or practical connection.

In the progressive view, knowing the "times tables" is well and good, but it's more important to be able to solve a word problem in which multiplication is needed. For, say, students learning English as a second language, developing vocabulary matters mainly to the extent the learner is able to use target language for understanding, communication and self-expression.

I'm not sure what I must have been watching, but somehow this video was just in my "Recommended for You" list on YouTube. Enjoy:

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