Progressive Education Wrong From the Beginning Indictment/Background

Paul Richardson 2010

Introductory Remarks
I have no idea how many of you were in high school when John Kennedy was elected president. I do remember how thrilled I was while listening to his 1961 inaugural address. I wasn¶t so thrilled later but the inaugural was a special time. I want to quote from his speech that day. [T]he same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe²the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God. We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans. . . unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world. Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This much we pledge²and more. In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility²I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it²and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you²ask what you can do for your country. I would ask you to remember his words as you read the three part call to stand on principle and finally correct the education system that inflicts so much harm on our children, year after year. Also, it is worth pondering on how far away we have moved from the high value placed on our founding principles as related by JFK in only 50 years.

Indictment/Background ³I can¶t conceive of a greater social evil.´ E.D. Hirsch Jr. The Making of Americans Below are two references showing our educators¶ attitude about content rigor separated by almost a century. When taken together it is easy to see that there has been no movement at all away from the disastrous progressive education doctrine that has so greatly weakened our nation¶s education performance and hence competitiveness for about a century. Our economy is a huge flywheel that winds down slowly even when the driving force is taken away or reduced. The current economic malaise indicates that the slowing is starting to be serious and bodes poorly for our future if we don¶t take immediate action. The harm being done to our kids and our country is catastrophic. If we don¶t wake up and eliminate this ³won¶t work, can¶t work´ Progressive education doctrine from our schools, we deserve the reduction in living standards that will result. The two excerpts relate education attitudes now and at the turn of the Twentieth Century. They make the point that the Progressive education doctrine is still at full strength in our education system. While both examples are focusing on math, the Progressive approach is equally harmful in reading and all other subject areas as well. Excerpt from Is There an Algebra Overkill? By John W. Myres (2010) Education Week The current fixation with algebra, requiring, for instance, one or two years of it to graduate from high school or prescribing it for 7th and 8th graders without exception, strongly suggests the examination of an algebra requirement. No doubt, algebra is a steppingstone to higher mathematics and quite necessary in professions that require extensive knowledge of math. Too, it offers insights not only into numbers, but also into general problem-solving separately. It is also reasonable for most students to have some experience with it before they leave school. The difficulty, however, is assuming that algebra, in itself, will greatly increase everyone's ability to do the kind of mathematics that most people do in ordinary life.

Most people add, subtract, multiply, and divide, using whole numbers, fractions, decimals, and percentages. They purchase food and clothing, balance checkbooks, create budgets, verify credit card charges, measure the size of rooms, fulfill recipe requirements, and even understand baseball batting averages or horse-racing odds. These activities don't require a real knowledge of algebra.

Excerpt from A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century by David Klein (2003) With roots going back to Jean Jacques Rousseau and with the guidance of John Dewey, progressive education has dominated American schools since the early years of the 20th century. That is not to say that progressive education has gone unchallenged. Challenges increased in intensity starting in the 1950s, waxed and waned, and in the 1990s gained unprecedented strength. A consequence of the domination of progressivism during the first half of the 20th century was a predictable and remarkably steady decrease of academic content in public schools. [emphasis added] The prescriptions for the future of mathematics education were articulated early in the 20th century by one of the nation's most influential education leaders, William Heard Kilpatrick. According to E. D. Hirsch, Kilpatrick was "the most influential introducer of progressive ideas into American schools of education." Kilpatrick was an education professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, and a protégé of John Dewey. According to Dewey, "In the best sense of the words, progressive education and the work of Dr. Kilpatrick are virtually synonymous." Kilpatrick majored in mathematics at Mercer College in Macon, Georgia. His mathematical education included some graduate work at Johns Hopkins University, but his interests changed and he eventually attended Teachers College and joined the faculty in 1911. In his 27 years at Teachers College, he taught some 35,000 students and was described by the New York Post as "the million dollar professor" because the fees paid by his students to the college exceeded this amount. In some instances there were more than 650 students in a single one of his auditorium sized classes. His book, Foundations of Method, written in 1925 became a standard text for teacher education courses across the country.

Reflecting mainstream views of progressive education, Kilpatrick rejected the notion that the study of mathematics contributed to mental discipline. His view was that subjects should be taught to students based on their direct practical value, or if students independently wanted to learn those subjects. This point of view toward education comported well with the pedagogical methods endorsed by progressive education. Limiting education primarily to utilitarian skills sharply limited academic content, and this helped to justify the slow pace of student centered, discovery learning, the centerpiece of progressivism. [emphasis added] Kilpatrick proposed that the study of algebra and geometry in high school be discontinued ³except as an intellectual luxury.´ According to Kilpatrick, mathematics is ³harmful rather than helpful to the kind of thinking necessary for ordinary living.´ In an address before the student body at the University of Florida, Kilpatrick lectured, "We have in the past taught algebra and geometry to too many, not too few." In 1915 Kilpatrick was asked by the National Education Association's Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education to chair a committee to study the problem of teaching mathematics in the high schools. The committee included no mathematicians and was composed entirely of educators. [emphasis added] Kilpatrick directly challenged the use of mathematics to promote mental discipline. He wrote, "No longer should the force of tradition shield any subject from scrutiny...In probably no study did this older doctrine of mental discipline find larger scope than in mathematics, in arithmetic to an appreciable extent, more in algebra, and most of all in geometry." Kilpatrick maintained in his report, The Problem of Mathematics in Secondary Education, that nothing in mathematics should be taught unless its probable value could be shown, and recommended the traditional high school mathematics curriculum for only a select few. It was not surprising that mathematicians would object to Kilpatrick's report as an attack against the field of mathematics itself. David Eugene Smith, a mathematics professor at Teachers College and renowned historian of mathematics, tried to stop the publication of Kilpatrick's report as a part of the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, the full report of the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education, and one of the most influential documents for education in the 20th century. Smith charged that there had been no meeting of the math committee and that Kilpatrick was the sole author of the report. Moreover, Kilpatrick's committee was not representative of teachers of mathematics or of mathematicians.

Nevertheless, Kilpatrick's report was eventually published in 1920 by the U.S. Commissioner of Education, Philander P. Claxton, a friend of Kilpatrick. Hopefully you see the point but I want to make it anyway to make sure you do. Did you catch the Progressive¶s core value, ³subjects should be taught to students based on their direct practical value,´ or ³we have taught too many algebra and geometry, not too few´ stated in Klein¶s article and reiterated by Myres as, ³The difficulty, however, is assuming that algebra, in itself, will greatly increase everyone's ability to do the kind of mathematics that most people do in ordinary life.´ This statement shows that current educators still use the Progressive mantra invoking their view of ³practical value´ as the excuse for dumbing down our education system. You see the deception there of ³most people do in ordinary life´ as if educators have an accurate view of the present or particularly the future requirements. This is an attempt to reduce the algebra requirement so that the educators can go back to their easy ways of going through the motions with no quality control on whether they actually taught the kids anything worthwhile. The algebra requirement is justified and important if you factor in the requirements to qualify for high paying jobs in the future. [see second Freidman quote below] The two examples point to an abject failure of the Progressives who control our education system nearly 100% to recognize that life is changing. In the rising global meritocracy, our kids cannot compete without a much higher level of education. The Progressives who believe in central control of a credulous populous by ³educated on the side´ expert elites are happy with the way they have controlled the dumbing down of our education system over the last century. They are delusional because they fail to realize that making the country unable to compete takes them down along with the country. However, they remain tightly focused on their original aim to create a credulous populous which is easily swayed by their expertise. They purposely did not want to provide a robust education that would lead to independent thinkers. The progressive education methods gained full traction by the late 1960s when most children who were graduating had been exposed to the progressive methods for their whole school careers. At that time achievement plummeted in SAT verbal scores for example. Since then our

students have achievement levels in literacy, math and science that are uncompetitive with their best global peers as a direct result of the Progressive education takeover. Quotes from The World is Flat, Tom Friedman The sense of entitlement, the sense that because we once dominated global commerce and geopolitics²and Olympic basketball²we always will, the sense that delayed gratification is a punishment worse than a spanking, the sense that our kids have to be swaddled in cotton wool so that nothing bad or disappointing or stressful ever happens to them at school is quite simply, a growing cancer on American society. And if we don¶t start to reverse it, our kids are going to be in for a huge and socially disruptive shock from the flat world. Comments from a high end systems designer, ³Were Congress to pass legislation to stop the flow of Indian labor, you would have major software systems that would have nobody who knew what was going on. It is unfortunate that many management positions in IT are filled with nontechnical managers who may not be fully aware of their exposure«I am an expert in information systems, not economics, but I know a high-paying job requires one be able to produce something of high value. The economy is producing the jobs both at the high end and low end, but increasingly the high-end jobs are out of reach of many. Low education means low-paying jobs, plain and simple, and this is where more and more Americans are finding themselves. Many Americans can¶t believe they aren¶t qualified for high-paying jobs. I call this the µAmerican Idol problem.¶ If you¶ve ever seen the reaction of contestants when Simon Cowell tells them they have no talent, they look at him in total disbelief. I¶m just hoping someday I¶m not given such a rude awakening.´ Coming Segment 2²The Realities

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