Saturday, September 19, 2020

child-centered pedagogy

This morning as I was investigating the concept of cultural recapitulation, I read an interesting paper, "The Savage Origins of Child-Centered Pedagogy, 1871–1913," The author suggests that because a number of the proponents of progressive education were racists, therefore progressive education should be best understood as racist in its origins. This would require us to assume the worst of many of the founders of the progressive education movement. 

To focus on the needs and interests of the individual child is the origin of progressive education. And so I'm reminded of the greater minds and hearts, Pestalozzi, and Froebel.

Proposing my own extremely unfair generalization, there are two models of education. One applies a gentle touch and the other the firm hand of authoritarianism. One trusts the student to grow from his or her own natural inclination to grow and learn. The other insists that learning has to be imposed by the "wiser" outside authorities, political and cultural. One trusts the child, the other does not.

Psychologist G. Stanley Hall was one of the racists identified in the paper identified as a proponent of progressive education. He was also one of the founders of modern psychology, so do we then assume that modern psychology is also racist? G. Stanley Hall was also one of the authorities promoting standardized testing upon which much of modern schoolings is based. Should we also assume that standardized testing is inherently racist? There's a great deal of evidence that it is. 

When I was in elementary school we lived for a year in North Little Rock, Arkansas and for fun we would walk to a local quarry and look under rocks to find snakes. There were a lot of them. The bigger the rock, the bigger the snake. But they were not under every rock. And it seems like these days as we attempt to redeem the soul of our nation, there are lots of racists crawling around and there's a need to examine our own hearts.

I was interviewed yesterday by our local paper because of a letter I had written about Confederate flags decorating the graves of former Confederate soldiers buried in our local cemetery. I noted that many of the young men who fought in the Civil War on the Confederate side were conscripts, forced to fight for a cause in which they did not believe, the preservation of slavery and white supremacy. The vote to succeed from the Union was narrow and did not take into consideration the slaves who were not allowed to vote. 

Now, a group of folks is allowed to come each year to "honor" the Confederate dead by placing flags on their graves. But how many of those who were conscripted to fight in the "lost cause of the Confederacy" would feel honored, or if they were alive in modern times feel either embarrassed or ashamed? And how many of their descendants would prefer they be honored for their participation in the "lost cause" rather than for the many other accomplishments of their own lives? Does their conscription to serve a lost cause have to be continued even to this day?

Today I'm working on a video of assembling a simple tool box for kids. So I've got my camera set up in my finish room and I'm taking short videos that will be assembled with minimal editing into a video that will then go directly to youtube for distribution to my students. You will also find it on my youtube channel.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning lifewise.


  1. Well said, Doug. Your words are so much more respectful of those who died for a cause they did not believe in than the false cloak of a racist symbol, which just perpetuates the injustice of their death and the confederacy.

  2. Balaz, it is nice to hear from you. I find it interesting that racism has been an effective tool for the subjugation of the poor regardless of race by pitting the races against each other. You find poor whites voting against their own best interests because they cannot abide giving help to blacks.

    I'm reminded of a zen story in which man whose wife had died asked the monk to read the sutras on her behalf. Wanting to know if his wife alone would receive the benefits, the monk assured him that ALL would benefit when the sutras are read. The man was outraged as he thought the neighbor across the street should be excluded. Racism was a carefully engineered construct intended to benefit wealthy property owners.

  3. "Racism was a carefully engineered construct intended to benefit wealthy property owners."

    With the abolition, British slave owners got compensation for the loss of "their" slaves paid by the (poor) British tax payers.
    Nowhere were slaves compensated for their mistreatment.
    Worse, St Domingue Republic was forced to compensate former French owners. In other words: former slave had to pay the compensation.

    References to be found in the book "Capital and Ideology" from Thomas Piketty - Harvard University Press.