Wednesday, February 17, 2016

what does it mean to be "progressive."

My student Oen finished his panjo, and then asked if he could show it to another class and then to the head of school. He plans to share it with his family.

The following is from Pestalozzi who was the educator most responsible for the progressive education movement:
I wish to wrest education from the outworn order of doddering old teaching hacks as well as from the new-fangled order of cheap, artificial teaching tricks, and entrust it to the eternal powers of nature herself, to the light which God has kindled and kept alive in the hearts of fathers and mothers, to the interests of parents who desire their children grow up in favour with God and with men. (Pestalozzi quoted in Silber 1965: 134)
It is a mistake to think of "progressive" as having something to do with progress. If that was the case and progressive meant "progress," those schools that are trying to push greater implementation of digital technology would be called progressive. Instead, progressive refers to the process and order through which children naturally progress. Progressive education is based on attending to the individualized interests and needs of the individual child and not on externalized implementation of manipulative stuff according to the dictates of society and state. I know I may have said that awkwardly, but forgive me. Sometimes I'm simply frustrated with what has become of American education and my facility with words fails me.

In any case, we must wrest education from the outworn order of doddering hacks, and most particularly from the new-fangled devices that do little to stimulate the child's relationship to community, family, and nature. I'll leave the God part to the theologians among us.

The point of progressive education is that it begins with the needs and interests of the child and takes into consideration and allows for the natural development of the individual child. In thinking of this, I was reminded of Procrustes who had a bed designed to fit every guest. If you were too tall, it cut your legs off. If you were too short, it stretched you to fit. The Greek story of Procrustes has long been used to describe the institution of education.

I want to thank reader Knud for writing and sharing his own journey into the philosophy of educational sloyd. (And I agree with Knud that Sloyd is a philosophy and not simply a method of work). My own journey is made richer and far more coherent when it is shared with friends. One of the things that Knud shared was the text of the letter in which John Dewey had invited Otto Salomon to visit in the US. That the trip never took place may not have had much consequence. In any case, the evidence of that letter is presented in Dewey's own words:
Miss Langley has written you inviting you to give some instruction in Sloyd here during our summer quarter. I am writing to reinforce, if possible, her invitation;

Hoping that you are able to do America and this Institution the honor of this visit, I remain,

Yours very truly,
John Dewey
Like so many educators at that level of importance (the world's rock star), Dewey seemed to approach learning as though  he was the first to witness it, whereas, Salomon enjoyed promoting all those educators upon whose lives and observations his own philosophy was based. He did that through weekly lectures in about 5 languages, and was quite busy during the summer months attending to students from all over the world, including from Japan, the US and Cuba. He would have found Dewey's invitation to visit during the summer to have been impractical and Salomon's instructions in Sloyd were provided by his teachers, not by himself.

What I wrote a few days back has been sent in to Wood Magazine, for a section called "Unvarnished." I've no idea as yet when it will be published, but it will include photos from my wood shop at the Clear Spring School.

Make, fix, create, and share with others the joy of learning likewise.

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