progressivism and its opposite

Today I went to lunch with a small book group. We’re reading John Dewey’s Experience and Education, a short primer on how the progressivist’s stance should look and how it’s justified in education. The “progressivist” is in contrast to what Dewey refers to as the “traditional” model for education. This could also be referred to as the “essentialist” position. Essentially, the essentialist teaches that which we already know, passing down the old knowledge that makes our culture what it is; the progressivist prepares students for an unknown, dynamic world in the future. These could each be used to teach the same course. And they are both defendable positions, of course, with the slight advantage that progressivism is actually right and essentialism is wrong. Other than that, they’re equally defensible.

At about the same time, Karyn was in a district training session in which she learned something about how to coach elementary students in remedial math. I suppose we don’t have particularly ambitious, progressivist goals for third grade remediation in math. Maybe that’s the problem. At any rate, Karyn spent her day going through scripts. And then she rehearsed the scripts. In unison with the other tutors. It sounded worse than painful. But then it got worse still. They learned about “wait time.” They learned that they should wait one, two seconds for an answer. Two seconds for the mental wheels to turn. (I give my college pre-med students about 15 seconds.) So, of course, they rehearsed this. To practice they counted to two, out loud, in unison, at the end of their script.

And then they were reminded: Don’t count out loud when you’re doing this with the children, as that might be distracting. Just count to yourself. One. Two.*

I apologized to Karyn. Everything I and everyone else I work with in science and math education are failures. I gave her a hug and said how sorry I was. Then, I put my head against the wall and moaned.


*To be fair, Karyn suggested that this kind of training seemed to be helpful to some of the part time tutors. Huh.


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