I think it’s fair to say that one of progressive education’s central characteristics is its obsession with so-called “active learning” and its abhorrence of student passivity.
The Center for Research on Teaching and Learning at the University of Michigan defines active learning as “a process whereby students engage in activities, such as reading, writing, discussion, or problem solving that promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of class content,” which seems like a perfectly reasonable pedagogical prescription.
Obviously, one of the primary goals of teaching is to encourage students to engage with the material; it would be difficult for anyone to seriously argue that students should approach material passively. (more…)
While looking for models for the little sendup of progressive education that I posted recently, I came across a New York Times op-ed piece entitled “What Babies Know About Physics and Foreign Languages.” As the title and tag line (“Our kids don’t need to be taught in order to learn”) suggest, the piece is a pitch-perfect paean to the progressive ethos, touting the benefits of allowing preschoolers to learn “naturally,” through imitation.
While preschoolers can of course acquire many important skills this way, my immediate response to the article was to wonder how quickly Gopnik’s assertions about the benefits of natural learning for four year-olds would be misappropriated as an endorsement for treating higher levels of education this way.
As it turned out, I got my answer pretty quickly. (more…)
Just imagine if people talked about sports the same way they talk about education…
In the nineteenth century, when modern sports were invented, athletics served as an extension of the factories in which many of their players worked, reinforcing hierarchies and training athletes to be obedient and “play by the rules.” Today’s sports leagues are heirs to that model. Unsurprisingly, for many athletes, playing a sport has become a source of stress rather than one of joy.
Nothing could be more natural than the desire to run and play, but this inborn tendency is all too frequently destroyed by a system that emphasizes rote drilling of individual skills at the expense of more authentic forms of participation.
A new, more progressive model is clearly required, one that harnesses players’ innate love of games and movement, and that places players rather than sports at the center of the athletic process. (more…)
In my previous post, I outlined some of the ways in which the progressive methodologies that pervade much of the American system inadvertently fuel a reliance on the private tutoring industry.
On its surface, the tutoring model would seem to be the holy grail of progressive education. Teachers are encouraged to “personalize” their approach to fit students’ unique learning styles, “empowering” them to “find their passions” and “take ownership of the learning process.” But this perspective is based on both a simplification and a misunderstanding of how teaching and learning actually work.
Oftentimes, tutoring is assumed to be effective simply because it epitomizes personalized learning. But although personalization is a component of what makes tutoring effective, it is far from the only element – nor, I would argue, is it the most important element. (more…)
In continuation of my previous post, some thoughts on one of progressive education’s favorite tools: group work.
A good deal of fuss is currently being made of the importance of preparing students to work collaboratively in groups, in preparation for the twenty-first century economy. In the context of these discussions, group work, much like “critical thinking,” is typically presented as a formal skill that can be developed in the absence of any specific context.
On the surface, this is one of those claims that seems eminently reasonable. Because many well-paying jobs in the current economy do in fact require some degree of collaboration among workers, it seems logical that children should be trained to work collaboratively. (more…)