New Topic: Education

Recent posts have tried to describe reasons why intelligent, informed, well-meaning people might believe either in creation or in evolution.  These arguments haven’t necessarily been the only arguments out there, or the ones that advocates of creation or evolution prefer.  They have merely been my attempts to construct reasons for such differing beliefs.

In upcoming posts, I’ll try to do a similar thing with a new topic: education.  There is not as clear a divide in educational thinking these days; there is not a single bright line dividing educational ideas the way there is between creation and evolution.  Nevertheless, I’ll try to
describe two competing themes that run through educational thinking.  I’ll call them  traditionalism and progressivism.

The labels are tricky, since what I’ll be calling “progressive” thinking about education has a long and influential tradition of its own stretching back to the nineteenth century.  This is the chain of thinking that runs through Pestalozzi, Froebel, Vygotsky, and Dewey all the way through James Banks, Michael Apple, and Paolo Friere.

Traditionalist thinking is also hard to define, since many of its adherents claim to be the true progressives.  Still, there is a clear body of thinking that can be labeled traditionalist; an educational ideological tradition that has fought against progressivist changes since the opening of the twentieth century.

In general, I’ll look at traditionalism as the notion that education is about the transmission of ideas and values.  Traditionalists argue that schools exist to instill a set of information and morals into children.  In addition, traditionalists in this usage insist that a reform of schooling will lead to a general reform of society as well.  By bringing schools back to the “Three Rs,” traditionalists hope to bring American society back to its Godly, patriotic roots.

In contrast, progressives see formal, institutional education—the kind of thing that school is supposed to do—as properly being about discovery and transformation.  Progressives try to view children as persons in their own right, with a rich body of experiences that must be used in order to construct knowledge.  School should facilitate that knowledge construction in each individual, in this view.  School should also work to transform both individuals and society as a whole.  Schools, in the progressive view, have the unique ability to make society less racist, less unequal, and less authoritarian.

It is a muddy field.
American educational thinkers have tended to draw from both sides of these competing visions of education to formulate proposals for improvement in education.  In the upcoming posts, I’ll try to sketch out reasons why advocates of both sides might have reasonable,
intelligent beliefs, even though the two may disagree entirely.