Psychologist Paul Woodring of Western Washington College of Education believes that the great debate over the U.S. public schools may be out of hand. "Critics have loudly denounced the schools as godless, Communistic, unAmerican, unenlightened and subversive, while the defenders have counterattacked with charges that the critics themselves are fascist, reactionary and, of course, unAmerican, unenlightened and subversive." Nevertheless, he is convinced that there is something wrong with U.S. education. Last week, in a new book called Let's Talk Sense About Our Schools (McGraw-Hill; $3.50), Woodring tells what. There is good reason, says he, for the fact that the "philosophy which underlies the new education is unacceptable to a large number of Americans."
The trouble with the pedagogues, Woodring says, is that they started out as reformers and ended up as dogmatists. They now not only refuse to listen to their critics, they also brook no disagreement among themselves. "An examination of the professional journals...quickly reveals that...any real disagreement on fundamental issues is never tolerated...A teacher may read dozens of such journals without finding a single article which questions the validity of pragmatic principles." As a result, says Woodring, today's teachers seldom realize what a distorted set of principles they hold. Items:
¶ John Dewey's well-worn "learning by doing" slogan has come to mean little more than that "children move around more and read less." The modern educationalists have apparently forgotten that "if the child is to gain an understanding of the history of Western civilization, the 'doing' involved must include a great deal of reading, talking, listening, looking at pictures, and just plain thinking. Perhaps he can learn a little by building a mud replica of a medieval castle on a sand table, but it is very doubtful if the time is as profitably spent as it would be in reading a good history book."
¶ Dewey said, "Education is growth," but the meaning of this became "so confused that many teachers took it to mean that learning was no longer important, that Dewey had discovered something called 'growth' which was neither maturation nor learning but which superseded both...Two distinct concepts had been replaced by one fuzzy one."
¶ Dewey said, "Education is a social process." This was taken to mean that "all educational activities must be social in nature...The child who preferred the contemplative life must at all costs be brought out of his seclusion and thrust into strenuous social activity. If he wished to read poetry when other children were playing drop the handkerchief, the teacher first made an effort to entice or force him into the more social activity, and if this failed, she sent out a call for the school psychologist...The statement that education is a social process is a dangerous and misleading half-truth. Some education is social; some education must be solitary and individual."