Is it possible to mix and match traditional and progressive teaching philosophies? Some schools are doing it, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. A longer school day helps provide time for both. But some true believers think it’s impossible. On the progressive side, “deep thinking” is contrasted with “memorizing lists of facts.” The other side speaks of “rich content.”
In the sidebar quoting education authors Alfie Kohn, Deborah Meier and Tom Loveless, I was impressed by Loveless of the Brookings Institution, who mixed and matched as a sixth-grade teacher.
But the progressive-traditionalist argument is not simply about pedagogy. If it were, I think most teachers would do as I did . . . pick the best from column A and the best from column B, and we’d all live happily ever after. The real progressive-traditionalist fight is over outcomes. I selected instructional approaches that succeeded in teaching kids knowledge and skills — real knowledge and skills, stuff that they knew at the end of each day that they didn’t know upon arriving in the morning. If a technique didn’t measure up — even if it were traditional — it was jettisoned. Here’s the problem. Many progressive educators place too much value in the experience of learning itself — believing that learning in groups, creative projects and discussion of concepts are intrinsically good. Unfortunately, whether these activities promote substantive knowledge is seen as irrelevant.”
At Downtown College Prep, the subject of my book, the founders started out with progressive ideas but paid attention to what teaching strategies were achieving the goal of preparing students for college success. Like the YES charter that Mathews writes about, DCP had to teach basic skills and knowledge in order for students to have something to think deeply about.