SIXTH COLUMN

"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Modern Education' s Return to Virtue, Honesty, and Justice

Can the problems with today's education system be traced back to the educational philosophy of 19th century educator, John Dewey?

What is Dewey’s troubling legacy? Dewey’s philosophy was much larger in its focus than merely education. Education was just a “microcosm of social life.” The schoolhouse was considered “society on a small scale, then the socialization, not the mere education, of the pupil becomes the primary task of the educator. Education is no longer simply academic or even moral—it is the first step of an experiment in social change.”

At first blush, this may not seem so problematic, if it were not for the nihilistic paradigm of Dewey that drove his educational policies.

Dewey believed that everything was social, even values and virtues. As such, standards for behavior were malleable, and things such as traditional moral and religious education were a waste of time, because the different traits that such moral education sought to cultivate weren’t really objectively fixed good things. He criticized traditional educational methods for treating children “like animals” who needed to be trained, instead of the active agents of unlimited possibility that they truly were.

In his own words: “The typical strategy of rewarding students for success and punishing them for failure—the old ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach—does not really encourage moral growth or learning. Indeed, once freed from such counterproductive supervision, the student learns automatically and autonomously.”

This reaction against moral education is perhaps one of the more defining hallmarks of Deweyan philosophy. The problem is that Dewey depreciates the human will, and as a result, children do not learn to appreciate fully the value of making good choices. The devaluing of character-molding education has obviously had a tremendous impact on American education, as the classroom has been transformed into a legal battlefield, with two sides warring over what kinds of things can be taught, said, and done within the walls of public schools...

The biggest error of Dewey and his intellectual descendants is believing that there is a way to create a morally neutral educational system or an objectively empirical method.

Dewey’s god was scientific empiricism, and thus his classrooms were effectively turned into laboratories, not arenas for instruction. Despite his attacks on traditional moral education for treating children like untrained animals, his educational system treated them like lab rats. The problem with removing any notion of the transcendent or absolute is that it renders any measure of progress and growth as subjective and unreliable. Dewey removed any “end” to education; progress existed for more progress, and growth for more growth, but they’re just ends in themselves, with no true goal in sight.
Perhaps the biggest clue that his unfounded, wishful theories of empirical education were not effective is the fact that he himself was a bad teacher and had trouble maintaining discipline. His theories might have sounded compelling, but they were divorced from reality—and bad ideas cannot bear the weight of reality for too long. His unproven theories would become subject matter for the classroom, often with undesired consequences...

Dewey’s legacy is unfortunately our public education system’s heritage...(a system of) “progressive educational” tactics which are constantly suggesting “new, better, and improved” educational ideas that are unsubstantiated and subject our children to attending school in laboratory-like conditions.


Each year, returning classroom teachers are required adapt to the "theory of the year," even though they might know from experience that these methods are just that: theories, tested on sample populations or, in some cases, as real time pilot programs.

No process will be effective with all students. An example is today's "Whole Language Reading Program." Many school districts required teachers to abandon the tried and true to implement this program, leaving by the wayside spelling and basic grammar conventions. The idea was the "natural" writing process. Spelling and punctuation interfered with the student's creativity. The result was predictable: students that can neither spell nor punctuate. Once learned, such patterns are very difficult to correct. Although Dewey didn't invent nor advocate Whole Language and the claptrap theories to which educators and students are subjected, but his philosophy is responsible.

1 Comments:

  • At Sun Mar 12, 04:45:00 PM PST, Blogger Always On Watch said…

    Yes, John Dewey undermined education. Furthermore, in my opinion, much of what passes for teacher training today ruins our prospective teachers. The public-school system finishes the job.

    When I was taking my teacher-certification classes (1970-1972), I was exposed to much of what you mention here. I tried to speak out (I had a bit of teacher experience even before I was certified), and every professor slapped me down. In fact, the professor of the foundations course said, point blank, "Students shouldn't be forced to learn anything. They'll learn what they need to learn." I tried to reason with the prof, but he wouldn't have it. Finally, I spouted off, "Then I won't learn everything you are teaching because I'll 'learn only what I need to learn from YOU.'" He didn't take that too kindly! But he didn't have the guts to fail me, so I passed the class.

    When I did my internship teaching high-school Spanish, my supervising teacher said, "Ignore the crap you learned in those education classes. I'll show you how it is." I wrote objectives and used methods according to his instructions (practical form), then revised them to suit the Education Department of my university (behavioral form); and when the prof visited, we revamped the class to suit her progressive-education ideas. Talk about a waste of time having to do everything twice! But it was the only way that I could get certified.

     

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