I apologize for not writing sooner but I have been reading....and reading. First, I have been re-reading for the third time but still getting much from it in John Dewey's Democracy and Education: An introduction to the philosophy of. John left high school teaching to pursue philosophy in teaching and he wrote this work around 1916. I have to admit I have only covered the first two chapters as I read his writing and then have to put it down and think. Probably the most influential work I have ever read about education. Most of my philosophy is based upon this book.
In a more contemporary view I was intrigued by an article by Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a professor at Princeton. Her article is titled, "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" in the June 28th issue of The Nation. She comments about how many in the southern states are changing emphasis in the textbooks Concerning ethnic studies, Latino literature, American Sovereignty and separation of church and state in order to influence their students in schools. While this is not new, it does play a part in our discussion on what we should be teaching our kids. Should the schools be a vehicle for social change in this country? So...Professor Harris-Lacewell cautions us to watch those groups who wish to have a specific curriculum for our young. She reminds us with a song from the 1949 musical, South Pacific that :You've got to be taught to hate and fear,/You've got to be taught from year to year,/It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear--/You've got to be carefully taught."
On a more upbeat side I listened to Diane Ravitch on PBS advocating for a more traditional approach to what we teach the kids. Traditional being what we did in the fifties and sixties. I tend to agree with her comments but am sad to see so many school districts under funded and so many of her desires like Art and Music and PE are being jettisoned. In my local district a well respected and successful string (violins, cellos, etc.) is being dropped because of costs. Sad because research has shown that those that participate in music do better in reading and arithmetic. But money is scarce.
In the same thread, Stephan Covey who has written at least a library full of books on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People has now entered the K-12 ranks of those suggesting how we teach and what we teach our children. But let's give Mr. Covey some credit--he has at least worked with a charter school and has seen good results. Earlier the Combs Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina was in danger of being shut down but improved dramatically by using Covey's seven principles with the students. If by some chance you have been out of touch for the last twenty years, those principles are
1) taking personal responsibility and initiative, 2) getting clear about what's important to you and setting goals, 3) putting those priorities first and being disciplined, 4) seeking mutual benefit in all interactions with others -- the golden rule, 5) seeking to understand others from their perspective first before making your point, 6) valuing differences and creating third-alternative solutions to problems that are better than "my way" or "your way," and 7) taking care of and renewing yourself in all four areas of life -- body, mind, heart and spirit.
I'm for anything that helps kids. This is an interesting approach. And I suspect, not too costly. But please note--this is method, not content. How to Learn, not What to Learn. It gets confusing at times.
It seems appropriate to return to Dewey and why we teach our children. Dewey suggests that as a species if we didn't teach our young it would be the end of mankind. For example if each of us died knowing what we know but haven't passed it on to our young, they would have to repeat our learnings to continue. In essence, the species would stand in place, perhaps go backwards. In Louie Armstrong's "In a Small, Small World," a line goes somewhat like this....that the young will learn more then we now know." That is because we pass on our knowledge in someway to our young to continue on. And Dewey suggests that this is done by informal and formal instruction. In primitive societies, most learning is informal, where the young watch the adults and emulate them at the proper time. In more advanced societies, formal learning is provided in more effective methods by means of tutors or classroom instruction.
So we are back to where we started--what should we teach our children. Can we decide on those subjects without religion or politics making inroads? In the next few weeks let's work on the curriculum. What would be an outstanding education? As Plato once said, "What knowledge is of most important?"
Have you thanked a teacher recently? A pat on the back never hurts. And they appreciate it.