“Progressive education” is not the problem — it’s what’s missing that is!

In following a lively and stimulating discussion at EduChatter this past week, I noted that many parents and educators today are turned off with what they see as “progressive” education. Now, while progressive and traditional terminology was not used on that thread, its implicit assumptions were there in relation to the international test results and other related issues. In my opinion, however, any misunderstanding about current pedagogy is not with the concept of “progressive” per se, it is the way it has been distorted that is the problem. For instance, take a look at this Wikipedia site.

Progressive ideas have been around for over a hundred years and John Dewey, the father of progressive education, while opening his first laboratory school in the late 19th century, wrote his books on education in the 1940’s and 50’s. Yes, they were radical at the time, but in my view, they were never about getting rid of all traditional methods. Rather, my interpretation is that progressive and the most effective traditional methods were meant to be integrated in an eclectic way.

Yet, interestingly, it took until the late 1960’s before progressive ideas would begin to affect teacher education and what went on in the classrooms of all publicly funded North American schools. In fact, in Ontario, the Hall Dennis Report came out in 1968. But, the “awakening” as it were, happened all over North America at almost the same time.

Today, however, “liberal progressivism” has become a political ideology more than simply an educational  philosophy. On the Wikipedia site, for instance, readers will find “ideas” that have nothing to do with teaching and curriculum approaches, such as: civil liberties, ethical conservation, economic progressivism, economic interventionism, efficiency movement, environmental justice, fair trade, feminism, labor rights, anti-racism, positive liberty, social justice, social progressivism, techno-progressivism, social welfare, women’s rights, and women’s suffrage.  Nothing wrong with those concepts. The problem is just that there is an assumption that traditional or conservative views don’t encompass fair trade, anti-racism policies, social justice and women’s rights — which they certainly do.

However, the problem, according to the progressives,  was that those traditional methods didn’t encourage problem solving and creative thinking. They also didn’t teach kids how to work with other kids and how to think differently and make connections between subject disciplines. However, the baby was not supposed to have been thrown out with the bath water. Meaning, the best of traditional education was supposed to be integrated with the new progressives ideas. But, unfortunately, it wasn’t. Today, the political left ideology has taken over education from top to bottom, starting as early as the mid 1970’s when “whole language” was instituted. I had just started teaching in 1972 and was part of that wave. Yet, many of us resisted and kept on teaching phonics. I mean, how was it “whole” when so many important parts were being left out? Now, it is almost entirely discovery and language experience, which is not “whole” either.

For example, on the Wikipedia entry, at the very top of the article, is the quote: “A progressivist teacher desires to provide not just reading and drill, but also real-world experiences and activities that centre on the real life of the students. ” (My emphasis.) In other words, progressive education was supposed to be “reading and drill,” as well as the other experiences. It was not one type of learning over the other.

So, maybe, just maybe, Canada’s drop from 7th in the world to 10th on the OECD international test scores, has something to do with this issue.

Updated & shortened December 24,2010

UofT accepts thesis that Holocaust education programs racist

As an alumnus of the University of Toronto (UofT), I feel I should let the blogosphere know that the content of a Master’s thesis has made the mainstream press. Why? Because someone dared to write something considered negative and controversial about the Holocaust.

The thesis under attack was written by Jenny Peto who, apparently, concludes that two Holocaust education programs are at their core, “racist.” As such, there are complaints that the thesis should not have been accepted by UofT.

Now, let me be clear. I disagree with the way Peto defines her problem. However, we have freedom of speech in this country and while many of us may disagree with her premise, she has the right to express it, particularly in a thesis.  I mean, disagreeing with the rationale behind the Holocaust education programs or even calling them racist is not, in my opinion, a hate crime.

I mean, where do we draw the line? The argument that the thesis is not scholarship, but ideology holds no water either. All scholarship reflects the researcher’s world view and beliefs, upon which all ideology is based. In fact, that was the subject of my own doctoral thesis. Even the complaints in the ShalomLife.com article are based on ideology because our world view can be both implicit or explicit in what we say or write.

Speaking of ideology, full disclosure: I am a conservative (of the Red Tory variety), pro-Israel, pro-free speech and pro-free scholarship. And, if I was still an academic, I might even write a rebuttal to Peto’s premise. But, that said. She has the right to her views which are no more ideological than those who disagree with her.

For more information, read the ShalomLife article and/or check out some of these Google sources.

Job research “before” attending college

Originally published in May 2010, I thought I would update this article for those who are currently considering attending a private career/vocational college in the fall of 2012.

Post started here: This post is for all those who are considering applying for admission to any post-secondary institution, whether it is a public university, a public college or a private career college. My message is this: It is your responsibility to figure out if the major or program you want to take is likely to provide a job when you are finished.

True, it would be helpful if all post-secondary institutions didn’t offer programs unless they knew jobs were available, but no one can be that certain.  But, unlike a university degree, where skills can be generalized to any number of occupational fields, public and private career college programs tend to be very job specific.

The Importance of Preliminary Research

So, doing preliminary homework is crucial. Why? Because if you put all your time and money (student loans) into something only to find out, once you have graduated, that there are no jobs, not only will you be unemployed but you will owe a ton of money.

And, if you can’t pay that money back and default, it will have serious consequences all around. It will be a black mark on the college you attended, whether it was private or public. And, it will adversely affect your credit rating, which in turn can make it difficult to rent an apartment, let alone get further financing for a vehicle or anything else.  

Continue reading

Online post-secondary “guides”

The Internet has changed how you make decisions about which post-secondary program you will take. It used to be that you had to go a university library, sit at a table and go through each and every calendar to see what was what.

Now, all you have to do is follow the links, beginning with an online guide such as this one to Canadian universities across Canada.  Once there, you only have to click on the province of your choice and follow the options available. This particular guide has everything at your fingertips. For example, scroll down the main page and you will find MBA and Law programs, as well as entire sections on career planning, graduate resources and a job and employment directory.

The Toronto Star also has an entire “post-secondary” section about colleges and universities in the greater Toronto area. As with the Canadian guide, there are articles on career planning, financial issues, scholarships and opportunties to volunteer. See also the “Tool Kit” in a sidebar on the right. It contains tips on such subjects as how to budget, how to find an apartment and/or how to find a part-time job.

Applying to Graduate School? If yes, a reminder that the process is more than about marks. Make an appointment to speak to a departmental representative. But, even before that, examine, online, who does what type of research. The bottom line is that there MUST be a faculty member who is involved in the area of research you identify on your application before you can be accepted — because no one can be accepted without a faculty advisor. So, find out what research is being done in your department of choice and then gear your application and departmental meeting to a “problem” that is within those areas.

Here are other post-secondary links as well. As the old Bell slogan said — let your fingers do the walking.