Saturday, June 03, 2017


I have been re-reading How Dewey Lost: The victory of David Snedden and Social Efficiency in the Reform of American Education by David F. Labaree. It is a remarkable story of how a nut case's vision of schooling came to rule for most of a century, over the more thoughtful and appealing ideals of John Dewey.

Dewey won the debate among educators and earned world-wide recognition for his ideas. Here in the US, Snedden and the proponents of industrialized education got their way. Those who have been watching the current round of top down schemes to re-shape American education, may see a painful connection.

David Snedden's ideas were strikingly similar to what Woodrow Wilson proposed when he was president of Princeton University and before he became president of the United States.
We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.
Snedden got so carried away with Wilson's vision that he proposed special isolated schools for every conceivable occupation. And so with Wilson's signing of the Smith-Hughes Act in 1918 which granted funding to only certain kinds of manual arts training, it became an accepted purpose of education to engineer society along pre-existing class lines. Tied up in this story are the psychology of G. Stanley Hall and the standardized testing movement.

Unlike Snedden, a man whose name is largely forgotten, Dewey's name lives on to inspire. He was a proponent of manual training for all students, including those who might be destined for college and advanced degrees. The object of Dewey's manual arts training was not to prepare students for particular industrial tasks or occupations, but (in alignment with the ideals put forth by Educational Sloyd), to shape the way students think, learn, and care for each other. The life of humankind is not shaped as much by what we are instructed to think as by what we learn to DO, and what we learn to do can shape the way we think, AND what we feel for one another. Those things that are learned hands on, have the greatest educational impact, meaning and longevity in student's lives. Adults, too, benefit most in their learning by doing real things.

I am taking a day off from ESSA and invite you to attend the opening day of the new wood shop, tomorrow, June 4,  3-6 PM

Today I'll be catching up on yard work and begin reading through edited texts for my book on making box guitars.

Make, fix and create...

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