I recommend all my readers sign up for the free Pedagogically Correct Newsletter by Lisa VanDamme. Below is the most recent one sent to me today.
Volume 1, Issue 6February 14, 2007
"Pedagogy": The art and science of teaching.
:: Can Classical Education Save American Schools?
:: Announcement: "Physical Science II" now available on CD!
:: Recommend Pedagogically Correct to five friends, get Lisa VanDamme's e-book, "Reclaiming Education," for free!
:: Announcement: Pedagogically Correct Blog
In addition to writing regular short pieces for Pedagogically Correct, I also periodically deliver lectures and write extended essays on education.
I am happy to announce that my latest essay, "Can Classical Education Save American Schools?" will be published in the Summer 2007 issue of The Objective Standard, a quarterly journal of culture and politics. TOS has published two of my previous essays "The Hierarchy of Knowledge: The Most Neglected Issue in Education" and "Teaching Values in the Classroom." These are available here.
Can Classical Education Save American Schools?
By Lisa VanDamme
The Regress of Education and The Classical Rebellion
Here are a few stories about today’s American schools.
In E.D. Hirsch’s bestselling book Cultural Literacy, he cites a Washington Post article entitled "The Cheerful Ignorance of the Youth in L.A." in which the author says:
"I have not yet found one single student in Los Angeles, in either college or high school, who could tell me the years when WWII was fought... Nor have I found one who knew when the American Civil War was fought... Only two could even approximately identify Thomas Jefferson. Only one could place the date of the Declaration of Independence. None could name even one of the first ten amendments to the Constitution or connect them with the Bill of Rights..."
A recent study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (or NAEP) concludes that the average eleventh grade student is an incompetent writer. To evaluate their writing ability, testers asked high school juniors to write a paragraph based on notes they were given about a haunted house. The performance of half the students was judged to be either unsatisfactory or minimal. The following is a "minimal" response:"The house with no windows. This is a house with dead-end hallways, 36 rooms and stairs leading to the cieling [sic]. Doorways go nowhere and all this to confuse ghosts."
This is the student’s complete, word-for-word response—and represents the performance of nearly half of all eleventh graders. Most of the other half were evaluated as writing "adequate" paragraphs. Just two percent wrote something that was judged to be “elaborate,” a step up from "adequate."
In Dumbing Down Our Kids, Charles Sykes tells a chilling story about a straight-A student in the 8th grade named Andrea, who was very eager to learn science. Unfortunately for Andrea, her school, like most today, stressed the importance of "creativity" over "dreary" facts, and of "hands-on," "active" learning over "dull," didactic instruction. This bright young girl with a thirst for scientific knowledge spent her time in science class picking up cereal with a tongue depressor (to simulate the way birds feed), hunting for paper moths on a wall, and drawing pictures of scientists. When Andrea wrote a letter complaining that she had gotten nothing out of the class, she was expelled for being rude and disrespectful.
What has brought education to this state of disintegration, superficiality, and mindlessness?
The philosophy that has most influenced modern education: Progressive Education—a movement based on a fundamental disdain for the human mind and its needs.
[Progressive Education founder John] Dewey attacked traditional, intellectual education as forced, artificial, and irrelevant to the child’s true needs. He urged an approach to education that is "child- centered," allowing for his instinctive and spontaneous development—as well as one that eventually provides for the "socialization" of the child. In Schools of Tomorrow, Dewey praised Rousseau for seeing that a proper education allows the child’s mental development to be as natural and spontaneous as physical growth. He said, "If we want, then, to find out how education takes place most successfully, let us go to the experiences of children where learning is a necessity, and not to the practices of schools where it is largely an adornment, a superfluity, and even an unwelcome imposition."
If formal, reality-oriented, intellectual education is an "imposition" on childhood, it is an imposition that has long since been removed. Dewey’s Progressive method, founded on the rejection of reason, knowledge, and intellectual training, and enshrinement of emotional impulse and "social adjustment," has dominated American schools for the last century. The "remote," “musty" subject of history has been replaced by the disintegrated mash of allegedly "relevant" knowledge known as social studies. The "futile," "lofty" attempt to systematically teach abstract principles of science has been replaced by the fun, child-focused "learning-by-doing" method of making collages and finding moths on a wall. The "distant," "antiquated" works of world literature have been replaced with contemporary, hip "boy-makes-good tearjerkers" that appeal to the immediate concerns of the most childish children. Rigorous training of the intellect has been replaced with, in the words of the Progressive educators, a more "practical," "child- centered," "humane" approach to education.
The practical result of all of this has been legions of ignorant children unequipped for human life.
The movement known as "classical education" finds nothing cheerful in the ignorance of today’s youth—or in the Progressive movement that it rightfully holds responsible for this ignorance. It argues for an intellectual, rigorous, curriculum covering the core subjects of math, literature, science, and history. Understandably, many parents, including many home- schoolers, have turned to the classical education movement as an antidote to the intellectual poison in so many of today’s schools.
The Classical movement indicts Progressive Education on two basic counts: it produces students who are both ignorant of the facts necessary to be a functional adult, and that—even more important—it produces students who are incapable of proper, rigorous, critical reasoning. Thus, they say, Progressive Education prevents students from being able to effectively acquire later knowledge, and paves the way for them to be seduced by cultural charlatans.
Foundations School, a leading practitioner of Classical Education, writes: "There is no greater task for education than to teach students how to learn. The influence of ‘progressive’ teaching methods and the oversimplification of textbooks make it difficult for students to acquire the mental discipline that traditional instruction methods once cultivated."
Writes Dorothy Sayers in her hugely influential essay "The Lost Tools of Learning":
"the tools of learning are the same, in any and every subject; and the person who knows how to use them will, at any age, get the mastery of a new subject in half the time and with a quarter of the effort expended by the person who has not the tools at his command...we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary...[they experience] the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects...young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of 'subjects'; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished."
A wholly different type of education, she writes, is necessary "to produce a society of educated people, fitted to preserve their intellectual freedom amid the complex pressures of our modern society."
And the Classical exponents claim to achieve such an education. As Foundations School advertises on its website: "The classical method develops independent learning skills on the foundation of language, logic, and tangible fact...Classical education teaches students facts, provides them with logical tools to use those facts, and perfects the student’s ability to relate those facts to others. This fundamental skill-set is more valuable today than it has ever been...Classical education helps students draw original, creative, and accurate conclusions from facts and then formulate those conclusions into logical and persuasive arguments."
Such a goal, as stated, is noble—and seems like an educational panacea compared to most of today’s schools.
But does Classical Education live up to its billing? More broadly, can it provide the foundation for a positive revolution in American education?
To find out, read the rest of this essay in the Summer 2007 issue of The Objective Standard.
Recommend Pedagogically Correct to five friends, get Lisa VanDamme's e-book, "Reclaiming Education," for free!
Lisa VanDamme's educational career began when a group of parents, disillusioned with standard public and private schools, hired her to educate their children. In 1998, she chronicled her successes homeschooling and explained the methods that made them possible in a lecture, "Reclaiming Education." The audience, fascinated by her insights about education, and inspired by the stories she told, gave her a standing ovation. In 1999, she made "Reclaiming Education" available in written form, to the delight of thousands of readers. Since 1999, the essay version of "Reclaiming Education" has been unavailable. Until now.
For the first time in almost 8 years, we will make this remarkable work available. And we are giving it away for FREE as an e-book to those who help us grow Pedagogically Correct by recommending it to their friends. Just send enter the email addresses of at least five friends who might appreciate an invitation to receive PC--along with a brief personal note, or our standard note below. We will not add anyone to our email database without their permission.
Click here to refer five friends and get your copy of "Reclaiming Education."
Announcement: "Physical Science II" now available on CD!
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Announcement: Pedagogically Correct Blog
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