Teach the children well

Not a fan of Summerhill, Diane Ravitch thinks adults should teach children. She writes on Bridging Differences:

As a parent and as someone who cares deeply about elevating the state of our civilization, I rebel against the idea of letting children decide whether they feel like learning today or any day. I believe that adults must take responsibility for children’s well-being, for their physical and intellectual growth, and that involves setting goals as well as limits, in other words, acting as the grown-up.

To be useful members of society, children will need to learn a lot more than what interests them, she writes: Examples are science, math, literature, history, civics and the arts.

(John) Dewey wrote in 1926:

There is a present tendency in so-called advanced schools of thought…to say, in effect, let us surround pupils with certain materials, tools, appliances, etc., and then let pupils respond to these things according to their own desires. Above all, let us not suggest any end or plan to the students; let us not suggest to them what they shall do, for that is an unwarranted trespass upon their sacred intellectual individuality…Now such a method is really stupid. For it attempts the impossible, which is always stupid; and it misconceives the conditions of independent thinking.

Via Core Knowledge.

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Comments

  1. Robert Wright says:

    Sniff, sniff.

    I smell an either/or fallacy.

    What’s better, teacher-centered direct instruction or the child-centered discovery approach?

    You should have both.

    So, what should there be more of?

    That depends on the skill of the teacher and the demands of the class.

    A really great teacher can pull off something like a 50/50 split.

    Most excellent teachers that I’ve seen structure student choice into about 20% of everything that goes on. Mediocre teachers, 5-10%.

    Are there teachers who need to teach more and facilitate less? Yes. Good, old-fashioned direct instruction gets the job done and it’s value is sometimes overlooked. Do some teachers overdo giving students choice? Yes, I see it all the time, especially with newer teachers who are anxious to try out their so-called innovative ideas.

    Teachers who can’t teach very well need to learn and follow Madeline Hunter’s Five Step Lesson Plan. Teachers who are already doing a wonderful job should be left the hell alone.

  2. how popular can the student-centered method of teaching be if used copies of the book are selling on amazon for $2.51? i’m not familiar w/ ed theory, but i would think the student-centered method would be a method of last resort to cope w/ students are risk of dropping out.

  3. I’d like to comment on a couple of things.

    First, “I believe that adults must take responsibility for children’s well-being, for their physical and intellectual growth, and that involves setting goals as well as limits, in other words, acting as the grown-up.”

    Yes, I agree in an ideal world adults would take responsibility for their children’s well being etc., but there are many adults who can’t do that for any number of reasons. A lot of what I do as a teacher is give adults support so that they can give children support. I think the system needs to do more to help adults so they can help children.

    Second,
    “To be useful members of society, children will need to learn a lot more than what interests them, she writes: Examples are science, math, literature, history, civics and the arts.

    Once again I agree. When kids ask why they have to learn whatever it is I’m trying to teach them, I tell them that they need this background knowledge to help them make sense of the world so they can make informed decisions about the things in their lives. Often they are not impressed, but the ones that want the marks will and the ones that don’t care about marks might. You cannot force kids to learn if they don’t want to. Getting them to want to learn what the system thinks they ought to learn is the challenge, especially since the system isn’t always right.

  4. Mark Roulo says:

    how popular can the student-centered method of teaching be if used copies of the book are selling on amazon for $2.51?

    We may not want to use this as a method to determine popularity. I can get a used, paperback, version of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” on Amazon for $2.29. I don’t think we want to conclude that Summerhill is more popular than Harry Potter 🙂

    The Summerhill book has probably sold in excess of 1M copies over its publishing lifetime. As an ed book, it is quite popular. More to the point, though, is that it is frequently used as a prototype for the *type* of book that basically suggests that adults should let children learn (or not learn) what they wish when they wish. So it isn’t just the one book … Summerhill is a proxy for an entire category.

    i’m not familiar w/ ed theory, but i would think the student-centered method would be a method of last resort to cope w/ students are risk of dropping out.

    Sadly, you would be wrong 🙁

    -Mark Roulo

  5. What would seem to be important to the discussion would be to talk to Summerhill graduates and see what they’re doing. Take an actual look at the results. That’s one thing I find frustrating in discussions about education, they’re very often about what a perosn imagines might be right/wrong with an approach rather then what the actual results are.

    Summerhill has been around for decades. The graduates are out there.

  6. BadaBing says:

    Teachers who can’t teach very well need to learn and follow Madeline Hunter’s Five Step Lesson Plan.

    For years Madeleine Hunter was the rubric administrators used to evaluate us. We referred to evaluations as “dog-and-pony shows,” and after the eval was over, we reverted to our own unique methodologies.

    Teachers who are already doing a wonderful job should be left the hell alone.

    I have been a highly successful teacher at my school. I’m not bragging, just stating a fact. However, administrators and some teachers consider me unorthodox. This year a consummately uninspiring bureaucrat directed me to take down all my posters and follow the district’s pacing guide as if it were the Ten Commandments.

    Would that the idiots in the front office had the mindset of Robert Wright above.

  7. SuperSub says:

    “For years Madeleine Hunter was the rubric administrators used to evaluate us. We referred to evaluations as “dog-and-pony shows,” and after the eval was over, we reverted to our own unique methodologies.”

    This has less to do with the validity of Hunter’s model and more to do with the weaknesses of scheduled observations.
    My methodology is unique, but I do have to say it is heavily influenced by DI… during my unannounced observations this year my observers both noticed the influence of Hunter.

    “This year a consummately uninspiring bureaucrat directed me to take down all my posters and follow the district’s pacing guide as if it were the Ten Commandments.”

    Perhaps this is an issue for you to address through your department supervisor or union head? There will always be bureaucrat administrators who have little idea of what works in the classroom… and its the job of the department heads, principals, and union reps to give those bureaucrats perspective.

    Unfortunately I have found few non-teachers in education who appreciate the need for balance and flexibility in the classroom. Its usually use this model or that model, and there’s no attention paid to the differences amongst schools, classes, teachers, or students.
    That being said, while cooperative groups and student-centered activities are useful tools in the classroom, I think that they are currently overused and new teachers are pressured to use them exclusively.

  8. I love this article and I’m glad someone finally came out and said it. This “child-centered versus teacher-centered” approach is much more of an issue in homeschooling circles, actually, and as a teacher and homeschooler (not really a contradiction in terms, I swear…), I run into this approach quite a bit, particularly on crunchy-granola sites like Mothering.com and its fora. God help the poor soul who suggests on that site that homeschool lessons should follow what the parent believes the child should learn — after all, children know better than adults.

    Cough.

    Anyway, glad to know I’m not the only one who finds this attitude ridiculous.