Today there are two main schools of thought. One uses the “factory- conveyor belt” model promoted by John Dewey who is known as the Father of American Education and the other is traditional, equal opportunity, self-directed learning aka: Classical, Classical Liberal Arts, child-directed or Leadership Education.
It is generally agreed that John Dewey (1859-1952), is the Father of American Education and the “greatest American educator” ever. He is a developer of education reform and an unabashed social engineer. His is the name you will hear quoted over and over when defending the Common Core standards. Dewey and his contemporaries’ social theories are a large part of teacher training today.
Biography from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “John Dewey (/ˈduːi/; October 20, 1859 – June 1, 1952) was an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. Dewey is one of the primary figures associated with the philosophy of pragmatism and is considered one of the founders of functional psychology. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Dewey as the 93rd most cited psychologist of the 20th century. A well-known public intellectual, he was also a major voice of progressive education and liberalism. Although Dewey is known best for his publications about education, he also wrote about many other topics, including epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, art, logic, social theory, and ethics.” The overriding theme of Dewey’s works was his profound belief in democracy, be it in politics, education or communication and journalism. As Dewey himself, stated in 1888, while still at the University of Michigan, “Democracy and the one, ultimate, ethical ideal of humanity are to my mind synonymous.”
After thirty years in the education field and hundreds of hours of hands-on training, I have come to understand clearly what is behind the philosophy shift in education. Unfortunately, it is not the entirety of John Dewey’s ideas on how a child should be educated for the great good of society. Supporters of Common Core are fond of stating how it’s Dewey’s philosophy [conveyor belt model] that trains conditioned response in an effort to “collapse student’s cognitive framework” to have them better conform to the “one, ultimate, ethical ideal of humanity, thus making them more equipped for their future workforce.” This shift in education is a direct response to move away from equal opportunity and knowledge based skills and into equality and equal outcomes to further what the “Common Core” developers call “twenty-first-century learning”.
How exactly do Common Core developers define “twenty-first-century learning?
A quick Google search has the term “21st-century skills” being generally used to refer to certain core competencies such as collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving that advocates believe schools need to teach to help students thrive in today’s world for the betterment of the workforce they will enter. In a broader sense, however, the idea of what learning in the 21st century should look like is open to interpretation—and controversy. You can read a few opinions here: www.edweek.org/tsb/articles/2010/10/12/01panel.h04.html
The other traditional educational philosophy believes, as much of history proves, that each child has a natural, innate spark of unique individuality and genius. The role of education is to free that spark to allow humans to reach their highest individual potential. Thereby enabling each person’s individual gifts and potential to play a role in propelling society forward, whether within the family, different workforce capacities, entrepreneurship or skill-based professions.
When asked to define “twenty-first-century education” Steve Hargadon Founder, Classroom 2.0; Social Learning Consultant, Elluminate said, “Twenty-first-century learning will ultimately be “learner-driven.” Our old stories of education (factory-model, top-down, compliance-driven) are breaking down or broken, and this is because the Internet is releasing intellectual energy that comes from our latent desires as human beings to have a voice, to create, and to participate. The knowledge-based results look a lot like free-market economies or democratic governments (think: Wikipedia). Loosely governed and highly self-directed, these teaching and learning activities exist beyond the sanction or control of formal educational institutions. I believe the political and institutional responses will be to continue to promote stories about education that are highly-structured and defined from above, like national standards or (ironically) the teaching of 21st-century skills. These will, however, seem increasingly out-of-sync not just with parents, educators, and administrators watching the Internet Revolution, but with students, who themselves are largely prepared to drive their own educations.”
In my mind and experience, freedom for students to drive their learning, guided by their own innate gifts and choice in mentors, allows all involved in the education process the ability to cultivate an education to match an individual’s life mission! Over the last three decades, I have seen and lived with students educated this way. A self-directed learner loves to learn! They are better able to not only master content while producing, synthesizing, and evaluating information from a wide variety of subjects and sources while demonstrating the three R’s. They also demonstrate the three C’s: creativity, communication, and collaboration which nurtures a natural sense of self-reliance, creativity in problem-solving and economic literacy as well as civic responsibility that universally chooses to operate within a moral compass that understands what is best and a win-win for all and the natural environment. After-all, at the bottom line of humanity, what is best for one must be a win-win for all, if it is to be truly “best for the one”. Self-directed learning which goes by a few names: Classical Liberal Arts, mentorships, apprentices and Leadership Education is an educational philosophy and a methodology by which the great individuals and minds throughout history have been educated.
We just need to look to the hundreds of thousands of families and professionals who are applying those same approaches and principles in the homeschool and alternative education world, which for the time being, is not beholden to government schooling-conveyor belt philosophy, to see the virtue in child-centered self-directed education.
“All men who turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.” ~Sir Walter Scott
We have known for a long time that it was the extraordinary, far-reaching vision of America’s founding generation that produced the freest nation on earth and some of the most creative and greatest minds of civilization. We have come to understand that the classical approach which cultivates a love of learning, and encourages disciplined, rigorous habits, along with freedom in educational choice and self-reliant liberty based experiences, is what gave this founding generation such brave and remarkable vision. I believe the loss of that knowledge and virtue poses a clear and present danger to our generation because liberty cannot perpetuate itself.
Take a look at this short list of self-directed homeschooled learners just to give you a broader idea how they fit into so many facets of society:
- Artists: Claude Monet, Grandma Moses, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt Peale,
- Athletes: Michelle Kwan, Jason Taylor, Tim Tebow, Serena Williams, Venus Williams,
- Authors: Agatha Christie, Alex Haley, Beatrix Potter, C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Hans Christian Anderson, Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Atwood, Mark Twain, Phillis Wheatley, Pearl S. Buck, Robert Frost, Virginia Woolf
- Business: Andrew Carnegie, Colonel Harland Sanders, Dave Thomas, Joseph Pulitzer, Ray Kroc C
- Composers: Felix Mendelssohn, Irving Berlin, John Philip Sousa, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Entertainers: Alan Alda, Charlie Chaplin, Christina Aguilera, Dakota Fanning, Hanson, Hillary Duff, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Justin Timberlake, LeAnne Rimes, Louis Armstrong, Whoopi Goldberg
- Explorers: Davy Crockett, George Rogers Clark
- Inventors: Alexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin, Cyrus McCormick, Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright, Wilbur Wright,
- Military Leaders: Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, John Paul Jones, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Perry
- Photographers: Ansel Adams
- Presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Washington, Grover Cleveland, James Garfield, James Madison, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John Tyler, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, William Henry Harrison, Woodrow Wilson
- Religious Leaders: Brigham Young, Dwight L. Moody, Joan of Arc, John & Charles Wesley, William Carey
- Scientists: Albert Einstein, Blaise Pascal, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Pierre Curie
- Statesman: Alexander Hamilton, Daniel Webster, Patrick Henry, William Jennings Bryan, William Penn, Winston Churchill
- United States Supreme Court Judges: John Jay, John Marshall, John Rutledge, Sandra Day O’Connor
- Women: Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, Clara Barton, started the Red Cross, Florence Nightingale, nurse, Martha Washington, wife of George Washington, Susan B. Anthony, women’s rights leader
Throughout history Americans typically demanded better schools, not ideologically driven schools. American’s liberty-mindedness was at the core of all education endeavors. Today, this demand seems to be changing as we become increasing comfortable in our creature comforts and fear our ability to hold on to them. While being afraid of the decline in our social structures and human development, we are becoming less patient with societies cries. We seem to be fatigued and immune to the political bantering and financial corruption that keeps the culture going round. Today we see a blatant push re-define society and our humanity to a one size fits all mentally that has all citizens on the same page, no matter the cost to individual freedom.
The one size fits all, educational Common Core creation has been decades in the making and is a direct response to the efforts of those social engineers who only adopted the structural model of what John Dewey taught and disregarded the rest. The developers of the Common Core agreed that cooperation was the highest virtue, sociology was the future, psychology provided the essential truths of life, God was dead, religion was obsolete, the family must be belittled, and patriotism, honor, and other old-fashioned virtues must be slowly ground down to nothing. These social engineers were not primarily concerned with teaching new information. The Common Core has at its foundation inculcating new attitudes.
The problem is many of us see through the education façade. The Common Core’s report card shows that it is a poorly designed, age inappropriate, gap-ridden, and ineffective academic standard whose results speak for themselves. No matter how those who believe in it try to excuse the poor results, it is dumbing down our children and denying them the critical education needed to carry our society forward.
On his web site Improve-Education.org, Bruce Deitrick Price an author and education reformer, explains theories and methods. “Speaking roughly of the modern period 1950-2000, educations top people had to practice a delicate ingenuity. They wanted curricula that created leveling, not excellence. So they had to come up with one cleverly designed method after another, wrap each one in gaudy lingo, and sell them to parents of America, who have been conditioned in the mindset that the education experts know best; two famous examples being Look-say and Reform Math.”
Unfortunately, passionate educators were trapped in the psychological indoctrination and sociological transformation that came along with the new cognitive science ideas. The Education Establishment, I would submit, continues only part of Dewey’s dream today.
Chapter One of, LEADERSHIP EDUCATION: THE PHASES OF LEARNING explains Dewey vs. Deweyism… “Dewey’s ideas on good teaching and personalized curriculum were not adopted or applied as much as his structural model, and the application of the structural elements was perhaps not exactly as he intended. This split is a tragedy and has led too much of the failure of modern education. In the chart below, we will compare the teachings of Dewey that have been implemented and those that have been ignored.”
- DEWEY’S MODEL THAT WAS APPLIED:
- The structure, model, and environment teach more than curriculum content.
- Factory like buildings.
- Halls, lockers, and bells.
- Classes segregated by age.
- Experts who are also rulers.
- Rewards and punishments to prod learning.
- DEWEY’S MODEL THAT WAS IGNORE:
- Parents are the primary instructors.
- Teachers should reinforce and build on child’s home values.
- Teachers should individualize learning to each child.
- The best way for a child to learn is to play.
- Teachers should guide rather than demand.
“The differences are distressing. School buildings modeled after factories instead of homes are Dewey’s legacy; not teachers who closely observe each child and help him make sense of the world while remaining rooted in the values of his home life. The class system is reinforced from kindergarten on, with the higher grades serving as, the higher classes. We have an aristocratic oligarchy in the middle of most American neighborhoods: a public school structure where the masses are kept in by fences and the Homecoming King and Queen are elected by “clique” or “mob” popularity. And out of this, we expect children to grow up to be truly informed and autonomous adults! We have applied all the wrong lessons of Dewey, or at least, all of his lessons wrongly. In the school system built upon the applied principles of the Dewey model, everyone is expected to fit in…” Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning pg: 16
Ask teachers, and you will find that they are not living the “teaching dream.” Teaching to test, one size fits all classroom model where students are even drugged to be able to perform in the environment, and how they must attend an endless array of Professional Development (PD) classes. Having to constantly discard the wonderful new education gimmicks from a few years ago and start all over with the latest new thing. But the old ideas and the new ideas are all equally not sitting well with our students and parent’s minds and hearts. Could it be because, at the bottom of the theories, there is the obsession with indoctrination, not education?
I left traditional teaching back in 1990 and was trained in alternative approaches: Montessori, Waldorf, and the Classical Liberal Arts. My heart broke when I discovered public school education had less to do with inspiring a love of learning and enhancing a child’s innate abilities and talents through tried and true, natural human development approaches. And instead had so much more to do with conditioning a certain mindset in the name of education and the “good of society.”
Which brings us back to the main theme: Which philosophy would you like your child educated under? If those who adopted part of the Father of Education’s ideas weren’t interested in education as you and I understand the term, this means most of what has come under the theme of “Dewey’s theories” was in fact intended to subvert and diminish traditional education.
Could it be that academics got in the way of social engineering? If Bobby knew the capital of France, but Cindy did not, you have introduced a division into the classroom, and thus into society. What if, John Dewey’s peers were not interested in whether a student knew about the capital of France if this bit of trivia got in the way of their social plans? When you see it from this point of view, everything we see in the school system today makes sense and is logical.
This at least answers why we have 50 million functional illiterates and why high school graduates can’t multiply seven times eight. It’s why most American kids can’t find Japan on a map, or know who the main representatives in the US are. Its why even simple knowledge like “what is a moon” is probably not part of the lives of most Americans.
I would also contend this social engineering is why we are victims of an entitlement psychology that is running rampant in our younger population and creating a generational divide like we haven’t seen before in history. Sure, there have been gaps in generations but not such core differences in moral philosophies from parent to child. I also believe the major problem in all of American education is dishonesty. They should just have told us they wanted to fundamentally change our cultural values. Maybe the entire Dewey philosophy would have been voted in then.
One thing there is no argument about is that schools could do and be better, at less cost! There is example after example of this truth in alternative education and private schools who rank some of the highest in academic achievements. You can also take a look at individual family homeschools who receive accolade after accolade for producing excellence in academic and social achievement and can spend less than a small religious or private school tuition a year on children’s education. Some less than a few hundred dollars per year using the public domain and community resources to school their young.
Those of us who have lived and worked in alternative education and the homeschool community for the last three decades have come to learn it only takes an hour or so a day and a very little bit of money to give a child a superior education and deeply held character development! We’ve seen fist hand that children don’t have to go through the negative drama, social class structure, be drugged to focus their ADHD brains, nor have to ”find themselves” by trying this and that in order to grow into highly educated whole people in their early twenties. People who know themselves well and who know what their life mission is and how they will contribute to society to make the world a better place!
Few within education will tell the truth about how the current public educational structure is failing our children and families and has been doing so for a few generations now. Many don’t even know the truth because they were educated with this indoctrination and are caught up in the semantics about any aspect of public education. Most adults believe, the system worked for me so it will work for this generation or we are successful because our test scores are higher than… fill in the blank. I ask, “What do high test scores really mean about a human’s development, anyway?” And what makes adults today think the learning environments our children spend their days in are the same as the ones they grew up in?
Why won’t the Education Establishment of today tell the facts about Whole Word, Reform Math, Constructivism, Cooperative Learning, self-esteem, Learning Styles, Common Core, or just about anything else they do in the public schools? There are many lies, but the big lie is that we are following John Dewey’s ideal and that the conveyor belt approach applied based on his model is in our children’s and society’s best interest and development. John Dewey was a great educator but was he also a social reformer. He was a titan at articulating how we might implement social engineering, and part of his educational ideal represents this social reform. Understanding what was thrown away in Dewey’s philosophy about great education is not what is traditionally understood by most of us who went into teaching because we wanted to make a real and positive developmental difference in children’s lives!
The simple truth is if we could strip away the educational misrepresentations and work with the actual reality, human progress would be assured!
Or, we can keep muddling along as victims of a great philosophical debate on what the role of education is and what collective mindset will make our society better.
The choice is ours! We don’t have to be victims! We can easily raise our children within our family values and with superior education by voting with our feet and Opting Out of the current educational system, while we still have the freedom to do so!