Old Ideas Made New Again, pp. 9 of 10

The lesson continued when the city council decided not to install a traffic light at that corner and sent a clear explanation of their reasons to the class. The students learned that in decision-making there are many factors to take into account, in this case traffic flow and the location of other traffic lights. Despite not having won the argument, they didn’t feel defeated.  They felt empowered, knowing that working together they could talk to power.

No one, realistically, expects all classrooms at all times to reflect these elements of authentic instruction, or to be exemplars of the experiences Dewey urged for learners. But all students should have some, preferably a lot, of learning experiences in which they are engaged, in age appropriate ways, in constructing knowledge and exploring ideas. They should have experiences, at least some of the time, with disciplined inquiry, even young children. And they should have the opportunity to occasionally at least, engage in real world activities. And at least some of the time, can’t they engage in constructing knowledge, in disciplined inquiry and real world activity, all in one project? Yes, schools are preparing young people for the future, for the unknown.  But we should also be engaging them in the unknown today. It’s not about something they will do later, only after they get all the basics mastered. As Dewey pointed out, if it’s not meaningful and engaging now, we have no assurances it will be meaningfully and expertly applied later.

An important challenge for teachers is not to get into the rut of “what works.” And that is scary. If students are doing well on exams, and parents are satisfied, how can we expect teachers to change? And yet the best teachers I know have always said, “It’s not good enough.” They keep learning how to do this difficult job even better. To change doesn’t mean you are not teaching well; rather, it’s about taking a little or a big step better. Teaching 40 young people in a classroom is a daunting task.  Balancing competing demands is a very real struggle. But I urge us to keep asking questions, keep being thoughtful teachers and not to lose sight of the long range goals for those kids we care about very much.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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