Sunday, February 27, 2005

Responding to a Critic

Dan S. left a series of comments on my post The Paradox of Education that tries to refute my points. He correctly calls me on presenting an extreme view of progressive education, which commenter Erica did as well, but the rest of it is not as convincing.

Following Erica, I would like to propose that you are beating the stuffing out of a strawman (Progressive Ed. is not "only learn what you want"! - although it can certainly be bastardized to that useless formulation. Can you provide references to any serious endorsement of this method?)
Did I boil progressive education down to “learn what you want?” Yes, in my reply to Erica. Was I being overly simple. Yes. I apologize.

In the essay, however, I only said that progressive educators make a mistake in playing towards what is relevant to their students today, an assertion I still support.

I’m still not sure of what your views of progressive practice are, since you don’t mention them directly. Can you explain what your concept of progressive methods are so I can get a better picture of where we disagree?
Putting aside genuine ideological issues (and they do exist), one reason for giving more time to progressive-style approaches is that they are less familiar to many people. Of course, this depends on age and place of schooling, but going most places results in applicants with a basic familiarity with the overall shape of traditional education. It's progressive ed. that most folks need more training in (as evidenced by the confusion evident in the above description).
Am I confused because I paint a picture with which you don’t agree or do I simply see things differently than you do? You have a view of traditional education with which I disagree, but I will not accuse you of a lack of education or clarity because of it.
Certainly my ed education up to this point has stressed the necessity of both approaches, something any sensible new teacher should figure out on their own within a few months at worst. Rather than being prohibited, explicit instruction was consistently presented as a valuable and necessary tool - just not the only tool in the kit. In fact, the overall model of teaching we learned (ie, balanced literacy) incorporates explicit instruction as a major component.
You’re saying that you learned that both approaches are necessary in the real world, correct? While this may be true, it does nothing to defend progressive education against my criticisms. It would be better for you to defend progressive education directly instead of trying to divert attention by defending your own ed training.
Aditionally, times have changed. Long ago, or so I'm told, teachers had widespread support and respect at both the social and individual levels. Nowadays we are competing with TVs and PlayStations, maybe facing students whose parents won't/can't make them work, and who might well insist that any and all problems are the teacher's fault. Some of us are facing classrooms where kids write about getting to spend time with their dad when he gets out of jail, or where violence and insecurity is all-pervasive. You yourself wrote that learning facts " gets progressively harder the less interest I have. " Presumably you don't face these distractions? One of progressive ed.'s main points is harnessing kid's natural interests (think sports stats or music idols)!
This entire point is irrelevant since it refers to the application of theory, not the theory itself. I'll address it anyway.

I’m the first to admit that doing it this way takes hard work, in fact I did in the essay! In addition, I do face the distractions of TV and video games and the web, all of which I enjoy, as well as the distractions of begging off what I’m doing to go work on a piece of music I’m writing or add to this blog. The point is I overcome these distractions to do what I need to do. It’s discipline, pure and simple.

In the environment you talk about, where violence and insecurity run rampant, I argue that it is even more important to help kids build the mental discipline necessary to overcome these distractions. It empowers them to be able to focus on something other than the violence and insecurity around them. Being sensitive to what they’re encountering and realizing they have a harder path is one thing, saying they’re not capable of something because of what they’re encountering is something far worse. Distractions can be a hurdle or an excuse. Hurdles can be jumped. Excuses become a wall.

Again, I take issue with the natural interests argument. Kids, at least at the elementary level, are overflowing with curiosity, even if it appears to be hidden. I favor using a child’s natural curiosity to get him turned on to what he needs to learn rather than just playing to his natural interests.

Finally, we have this:
Additionally, traditional ed. has its limits. Great, they memorized the dates, people, places, causes and effects of the War of 1812! However, most of them cannot use this knowledge for anything except to repeat it on a test. You've helped them how, exactly?
Thank you! You just proved my point about the superficiality of the progressive assumptions about learning. It focuses solely on the conscious mind, completely ignoring the effects that all that memorized knowledge has on the unconscious thought processes. I spent half the essay dealing with this and then you leave that paragraph in the comments section. Wow...

Not to be rude, but I really can't take much of the criticism seriously after that paragraph. The majority of the essay responds to just that question, so asking it as though I hadn't written a good 80% of the essay really kills your point. In fact, I'm not sure if that's an attempt to refute my main point or not.

Thanks for the reply.

P.S. While the above may seem a bit harsh, don't think it's because I don't appreciate dissenting viewpoints in my comments section. I really do. In fact, Dan (and Erica) have forced me to fess up to a mistake, thereby making me refine my thinking. Thus is the way with debate. Likewise, I feel free to disagree with comments left here both in the comments section and on the main page.

TOPIC: Education