Friday, May 25, 2012

Abilities--to do as well as to know...

We think of schooling as having to do with knowledge rather than abilities. Pestalozzi 1746-1827 was one of the early educators in the progressive education movement and Charles A. Bennett noted in his book, History of Manual and Industrial Education up to 1870, that Pestalozzi was also recognized as the father of manual training. He proposed an "alphabet of abilities" that would serve in the same manner as an alphabet of letters, giving students the capacity to do as well as to know.
"In endeavoring to impart to the child those practical abilities which every man stands in need of, we ought to follow essentially the same progress, as in the communication of knowledge, beginning from an alphabet of abilities, if I may so express myself, that is to say, from the simplest practical exercises, which being combined with each other, would serve to develop in the child a general fund of ability, to be applied to whatever purpose circumstances might render it necessary in after-life. Such an alphabet, however, has not yet been found, and that for the obvious reason, that it has not been sought for. I am not inclined to think that it would be very difficult to discover it, especially if the research were made with the same zeal, with which even the most trivial abilities connected with the operation of money-getting were attended to. If once discovered, it would be of essential benefit to mankind."
In a sense, perhaps in response to Pestalozzi's request for an alphabet of abilities, Otto Salomon systematized learning the skills required for woodworking Sloyd, moving from the known to the unknown, the easy to more difficult, the simple to the complex, and the concrete to the abstract. Imagine schooling that placed as much emphasis on what children can do as on what they may be force fed to know. Pestalozzi recognized that "doing leads to knowing" and that if you pay attention to the former, the latter follows.

On another subject, Mitt Romney visited a school in Philadelphia yesterday and claimed that class size makes no difference. If he had perhaps said that class size is not the only thing that matters, he might have spoken the truth, but I can not imagine a child, a parent, or a teacher in the US that would want a higher student to teacher ratio in preference to smaller classes with more individualized attention. It makes me wonder how a mainstream presidential candidate can be so completely out of touch. You can find the Tennessee study commissioned by a Republican governor that sets matters straight here.

Make, fix and create...

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