Saturday, May 20, 2017

Forgotten Heroes of American Education edited by J. Wesley Null and Diane Ravitch

After reading left Back by Diane Ravitch, I was interested in Forgotten Heroes of American Education edited by J. Wesley Null and Diane Ravitch Because it had her name on it. However this is a completely different animal. It is not written by her, nor even primarily edited by her. Rather it's a collection of essays put together by J. Wesley Null of educational reform critics. She helped out a bit in the editing when she found out he was including one of her favorite critics, William Bagley. He was referenced to a small extent in her book Left Back, but this anthology gives him prime consideration. 

Since it is a collection of short essays, it is difficult to summarize. But I will try to boil them down to their central points. 

An opening essay by Ravitch proposes that nothing less than the foundation of education is at stake and this book is a necessary tool if we are to restore education to its primary function. She states, "The dominant philosophy that feeds the profession of teaching today is not the only option. There is an alternative. The time has arrived for a new vision. I want everyone who picks up this book to know that this volume — in no uncertain terms — supplies the best and most reliable foundation for this new vision." (xix ) After reading most of the book, (more on that later) I'm not sure it will accomplish what it attempts to accomplish. It's a bit esoteric and although its insights still prove true, it is devoid of much of the context necessary to truly absorb the principles. 

That being said, the authors referenced definitely have much to teach us. Ravitch worries that readers will recoil at the title "Hero" being given to these authors. Yet she makes a startlingly insightful point. "We love in a time that rejects the idea of heroes. Without heroes, however, we never get heroism. Without heroes, we never get ideals and virtues. And without heroism and ideals, our nation will not prosper socially, culturally, politically, morally, or economically...Without heroes, we cannot get better at what we do." (xxvi -xxvii ) Our culture is in the business of destroying heroes. We hold them to the impossible standard of "Perfect" and lament as icon after icon is found to have feet of clay. We are telling our children that no one upholds our values perfectly and therefore it is not even worth the try. What kind of a message is that! For this insight alone, the book was worth it!

Half of the book focuses on the writings of William C. Bagley. Null describes him as a hero who, "time and again, in the course of a long career as a teacher of teachers, ... Stood up and debated those whose ideas were harmful to American education. He was a staunch defender of high academic standards, discipline in the classroom, clear thinking, and common-sense approaches to education children." (1)

Craftsmanship in Teaching (1908) details Bagely's vision of the teacher as a craftsman who is always working to improve his craft. He takes the vow of devotion to his artistry, fidelity to his calling, acceptance of poverty and a life of service, as well as a commitment to idealism. Despite the difficulties, Bagley has no room for the cynic in the teaching profession. Teachers must treat their craft as if it is the most important thing in the world and convey this attitude to their students. One important insight Bagley gives concerns the desire of teachers to have their students like them. To this, Bagley replies, "Let me say that this is beside the question. It is not, from his standpoint, a matter of the pupils liking their teacher, but of the teacher liking his pupils. That, I take it, must be constantly the point of view. If you ask the other question first, you will be tempted to gain your end by means that are almost certain to prove fatal, — to bribe and pet and cajole and flatter, to resort to the dangerous expedient of playing to the gallery; but the liking that you get in this way is not worth the price that you pay for it." (15) Wow. Here is where I want more! What does that look like?

Ideals versus Generalized Habits (1904) describes the still current idea that we should shoot for the results and eschew the hard work necessary to get there. Null states that over the generations, educators had believed that learning hard subjects like Latin taught the habits and skills of self-discipline, logical thinking, and good study habits. But modern research had "proved" that there is no transfer. That is learning Latin teaches a student Latin and that's it. However, Bagley makes the case that a hard-won habit, leads more easily to another habit, and eventually to the ideal for which we strive. So learning to work hard in one area, if not teaching the specific skills necessary for another, at least teaches the value and ideal of hard work. 

The School's Responsibility for Developing the Controls of Conduct (1907) Furthers this idea of developing habits. In order to create habits that transfer, schools must create a prejudice for those habits. "Far more fundamental than the technical facts are the prejudices in favor of dogged persistence, unflinching application, relentless industry, and a determination to conquer, whatever the cost." (32) Otherwise, we think we can rely on reason alone to get us to the habit of being good. But Bagley counters, "We are either good by habit or we go to the bad very quickly." (29) Habits take hard work to inculcate, however. 

Optimism in Teaching (1908) discusses the propensity to become discouraged in the profession of teaching, as the task of civilizing each new generation seems a daunting challenge. Yet there is a case to be made for optimism. It is given to today's teacher the opportunity to bring the principles of Western Civilization to the widest audience yet with the advent of universal education. We have the privilege and honor of passing on what has been bequeathed to us from Aristotle forward. 

The Ideal Teacher (1908) was a commencement speech that Bagley gave to newly graduated teachers. He defined the ideal teacher as someone who "would combine, in the right proportion, all of the good qualities of all of the good teachers that we have ever known or hear of. The ideal teacher is and always must be a creature, not of flesh and blood, but of imagination..." (50) he describes a teacher he ran across who was once a man of adventure, seeking his fortune across the West. Although he had little education, Bagley states, ""It were far better if we who were supposed to be competent to the task of education should sit reverently at the feet of this man, than that we should presume to instruct him For knowledge may come from books, and even youth may possess it, but wisdom comes only from experience, and this man had that wisdom in far greater measure than we of books and laboratories and classrooms could ever hope to have it. He had lived years while we were living days." (54) What a testament to the true mark of an ideal teacher, wisdom.

Education and Utility (1909) addresses the idea of a useful education. Bagley believes an education is useful to the extent it teacher the rewards of effort, problem-solving, and perspective. We fail students when we neglect to teach them the rewards of hard work. Of a particularly onerous task he had to accomplish when a boy, Bagley says, "That experience not only taught me the necessity for doing disagreeable tasks, -- for attacking them hopefully and cheerfully, -- but it also taught me that disagreeable tasks, it attached in the right way, and persisted in with patience, often become attractive in themselves." (62) Since life is a series of disagreeable tasks, it is of unlimited benefit to learn to persist.While we don't intentionally give students difficult tasks, we let them know that no progress is possible without it. Because of currents in the water of educational theory, he cautions, "Of so much I am certain, however, at the outset; if the pupil takes the attitude that we are there to interest and entertain him, we shall make a sorry fiasco of the whole matter..." (65) We need to systematically teach how to get hold of knowledge when needed, how to master it, how to apply it, and how to go further to discover previously unknown facts. 

The Scientific Spirit in Education (1910) is an essay in which Bagley still believes that modern science can be helpful to educational theory. Increasingly he began to see this as an error and relied on the social and moral aspects of educational theory instead. But at this time, he believed different educational theories should be subjected to the scientific method. Test them fairly and see which ones most accomplish the goals of education. He felt too many theories were just that and had no actual counterpart in the real world. In abandoning tradition wholesale, the new educational theorists were courting disaster. He thought a more scientific approach would eliminate prejudice either for the old or the new.

The Future Training of Teachers (1913) shows that even at this early date, teachers were not being trained in how to teach, a lament I make frequently. He regrets that rather than transmitting what we know about effective teaching from generation to generation, we continue to "relearn the lessons of the past through the same blind, stumbling process." (87) Plus he lamented that teacher are forced to pay for their own training and then offered low pay when they actually get a job. 

Some Handicaps to Education in a Democracy (1916) points out some of the obstacles the field of education faces in a democracy like America. Education is so decentralized and schizophrenic in its implementation in the name of local control, that it is very hard to see what actually works and then to scale that. He also laments the low opinion of teaching and teachers in the society and wishes the culture would begin to appreciate the hard work required to pass on civilization to the next generation and treat the profession accordingly. At the same time, he recognizes a dangerous progressive strain in educational theory. Perhaps this is part of the cause of the situation he laments. People want quick cure-alls and educational charlatans are ready and willing to provide them. Bagley preaches the unpopular message of hard work, "Real freedom, the only kind of freedom that does not sink one in hopeless individualism, is not the kind that comes as a gift, but the kind that comes as a conquest --  the freedom that has been bought at the price of sacrifice and effort. And real freedom must be won anew by each generation and by each individual. There is nothing more heavily fraught with peril than the notion that this payment can be escaped or that the spiritual capital that the past has accumulated can support the spiritual life of the present and the future. We must in truth stand upon the shoulders of those who have gone before; but we must stand, not recline; and standing, we too must pay the price.." (99)

The Distinction Between Academic and Professional Subjects (1918) looks at the ways that the professionalization of teachers led to an unhealthy focus on research and intellectualism rather than the mundane tasks of teaching teachers and moral philosophy. He calls for a program or specific subject matter classes taught in the way the teacher would be expected to teach. In addition, the teacher candidate should have knowledge of students gained from actual interaction with real pupils in training schools. These laboratory schools would provide role model teachers for the teaching candidates to emulate. Imagine! Teaching teachers in a systematic way. 

Education and Our Democracy (1918) continues themes addressed earlier including the lack of a national idea of what education is trying to accomplish, how to accomplish that, and how to teach teachers to teach. 

The Status of the Classroom Teacher (1918) in Bagley's opinion is that teaching as a profession is not held to be a "real job." Therefore people don't need to spend years preparing for it or be able to make a living doing it. Bagley muses that maybe the federal government should get involved. 

The Nation's Debt to Normal Schools (1921) give credit to the schools in the trenches of teaching teachers to teach. He states, "If the schooling of your children has been more humanely governed, more intelligently directed, more mindful of children's needs and children's capacities than was your own schooling, you have the American normal school to thank in large part for the fact." (128) He is happy to see the normal schools extending their mission to teaching high school teachers and providing a bridge between the older normal schools that catered to grammar school and the university.

*Projects and Purposes in Teaching and in Learning (1921) addresses the latest in educational theory, Project-Based Learning. Although this seems the latest and greatest today, Bagley claims this has been going on for at least a generation. He sees it as a dangerous phenomena because of some of the assumptions it makes. First, it makes too much of a blurring between the lines between disciplines. This is one of those things that needs moderation. All learning is connected, but at the same time, there are distinctive disciplines that need to be taught systematically and coherently. It also assumes that PBL leads to better retention and transfer of skills to other areas. Bagley worries that PBL destroys the idea of knowledge for knowledge sake. Everything must be made practical. Ironically, he finds PBL to be impractical and leads to the abdication of adult authority in the learning process. The point of an education is not to solve problems, exclusively, but rather, "it furnishes foundation, backgrounds, perspectives, points of view, attitudes, tastes, and a host of other things that determine conduct in a very real fashion... Only a small fraction of it is made up of items of skill and items of information which one deliberately uses in solving what most people call problems." (137)

Preparing Teachers for the Urban Service (1922) offers two basic beliefs Bagley has for training teachers. "I believe that the prime function of education is to conserve and extend upon as nearly a universal scale as possible what is best thought of as the spiritual heritage of mankind -- the skills, the traditions, the ideas, the ideals, and the standards of conduct that have been wrought out of the experience of the race." The teacher must love the heritage he has been bequeathed, and also understand the difficulty in passing that on to a pupil. (142) In addition, he believes that teaching should be compared to the production of fine art rather than a mechanistic skill. 

The Army Tests and the Pro-Nordic Propaganda (1924) refutes a book that had just come out by Carl C. Brigham. In it, Brigham proposes that the new IQ tests done by the army were legitimate tests of intelligence, that different scores meant there were different native intelligence levels, and that the Nordic race had the highest intelligence. Bagley counters this with his own beliefs. He holds that the IQ tests are actually measures of the quality of an education the student received. Between the races, he sees a lot of overlap in intelligence scores and shows a closer correlation to the quality of schools rather than race. Additionally, he believes it is impossible to determine the intelligence level of a race and once again points to the quality of the school systems in different areas of the country. 

What is Professionalized Subject-Matter? (1928) continues to address one of Bagley's chief concerns, how to teach teachers. I love this particular essay because he lays out a practical solution. Teacher should be taught how to teach in subject matter classes. In other words, their history classes should be teaching them history in the way they should teach history to their students. I love this. It models the behavior. But what is going on instead in subject matter classes is that the professors think that the budding teachers will be taught how to teach in some other class. Bagley calls this thinking, "George, in the ed school, will do it." These "George" classes, however, never happen. And teachers are not getting the training they need. He disdains the idea of a "general method" to teaching and firmly believes that the best methodologies are subject specific. "Techniques which are merely 'fastened on' to subject-matter instead of growing out of the very nature and function of subject-matter have not helped us much in the past nor will they help us much in the future."(165)

The Teacher's Contribution to Modern Progress (1929) points out the necessity to educate the masses. In fact, Bagley warns that uneducated masses are fertile ground for totalitarians. For most of human history, education was available only to the elites. Bagley praises universal education and the teachers who work day in and day out in the trenches educating the whole population. "What is seems to guarantee is a reasonable measure of social order, a reasonable measure of patience in discussion and deliberation, a reasonable measure of adaptability to changes that are either desired or inevitable... the education of the masses can ensure the continuance of order and of orderly institutions even if leadership is not forthcoming. And this seems to be a fairly significant service. What the future needs is a self-perpetuating, self-governing, self-controlled democracy, and it is a folly to dream that this can be achieved without paying the price." (186) 

Teaching as a Fine Art (1930) states that since teaching deals with the subtleties and nuances of the human mind, it is the hardest of all the sciences. In fact, Bagley recognizes that we may never fully comprehend how and why students learn. Therefore, we should treat teaching as an art form, constantly to be worked at and perfected. 

The Upward Expansion of Mass Education (1930) explains Bagley's concern that although he praises universal education, it has unfortunately led to a dumbing down of curriculum. And as Progressives have become ever more involved, education has gotten worse. Rather than simply making a great education available to all who would avail themselves of it, the educational establishment worked to make it "attractive, pleasant, and profitable to all." (194) Because high school and college are not mandatory, it became a numbers game. He points to five dispiriting developments:
1. elimination of comprehensive exams
2. elimination of promotional requirements
3. abandonment of coherent curriculum
4. lowering of standards to reflect averages
5. dependence on a charismatic teacher to insure order and industry, rather than achievement for its own sake, pride in good workmanship, and respect for law and order.

What Does the Dominant American Theory of Education Imply for the Redirection of the Professional Education of Teachers? (1933) delineates Bagley's worries that at Progressives are taking over education and Project-Based Learning is becoming more prevalent, the question becomes, how do we teach teachers? At this time, we are abandoning subject matter, so why should teachers learn subject matter? Teaching has become a muddle to Bagley and he worries that Ed schools will not know what to do.

The Ideal Preparation of a Teacher of Secondary Mathematics from the Point of View of an Educationist (1933) describes the ways in which a teacher should become very proficient in his own subject as well as another, related field. But should, at the same time, work to have a well-rounded education so he can see how all knowledge fits together. "In short, instead of multiplying what we are calling integrated courses crossing many subject-matter lines, I should prefer to safeguard the essential unity within the field but to have teh teacher so well equipped that he can point out to the learner teh relationships between his field and the fields of his colleagues. This will effect the end that the integrationists have in mind, I believe, and at the same time prevent the catastrophe that befalls the learner when the fusion courses become confusion courses." (213)

*Modern Educational Theories and Practical Considerations (1933) continues Bagley's attacks on Progressive education. Although he advocates for some limited amount of freedom for the students to pursue their interests, he fears that Progressives have taken this idea too far and all learning is devolving to what they call "activity programs," or in today's parlance Project-Based Learning. He calls this "an educational theory which encourages the belief that there is no difference between the work attitude and the play attitude [which] not only flies in the face of the plainest facts of experience, it is also charged with social dynamite." (219) Interestingly, in tracking what made teachers most successful, the single most important characteristic was the study of Latin in high school. Although he was not a Classist, this finding caused him to look into what made classical education so successful. He discovered, "In all history, perhaps, no body of educational practices has so well integrated the rights of the individual with the welfare and progress of society. It was a balanced, high-minded education, consciously designed to produce men who would be worthy of the name, "free," and competent to the serious duties of responsible citizenship in a social order in which collective action was determined by the collective will of the free citizens." (221) From this system, we got a Golden Age unparalleled in human history. 
However, Bagley fears that the Progressives are working against all that. "The tenets of the [Progressive] theory imply that freedom is a gift. In the history of the race, true freedom — whether freedom from personal thralldom or freedom from fear, fraud, want, superstition and error — true freedom has never been a gift but always a conquest. In one way or another each generation must make this conquest for itself if it would truly free." (223) He points to the work of another critic, Dr. Kandel, who has pointed out that the biggest advocates of an individualized education, where the students decide their own curriculum based simply on utility, now lament the destruction of society at the height of the Great Depression, which they blame on too much focus the individuals place on themselves. "Today the Progressives are shocked to look out on American society well-nigh wrecked on the rocks of individualism. But do they look back on their own teaching over the past two decades!" (223) It's absolutely amazing to see that Bagley called what today we call the latest in educational theory over 80 years ago!

Are Essentialists the True Progressives (1938) addresses the centuries-old battle between Progressive education and Essentialism. Null defines the Essentialists as those who "argued in favor of teachers teaching an organized curriculum to all students, the necessity for a reasonable degree of system in the organization of curriculum, sound teacher education, and teh desirability for teachers to teach a body of core democratic principles to each generation of young Americans." (235) Bagley believes that since it is Essentialist who are able to produce results which satisfy the criterion that would allow students to "live consistently as far as is humanly possible with the ideals of clear thinking, including an unwillingness to be swayed by prejudices or by the temptations to ignore facts that do not happen to fit one's preconceived theories" (243) they are then the true Progressives. 

Latin from an Educationist's Point of View (1941) decries the movement to rid the schools of Latin based on bad science and bad ideology. Therefore, he begs the Classicists to make their case. Bagley was not a Classicist, but over the course of his lifetime, he came to regret this deficiency. He states, "It has been a severe handicap to me throughout my professional life. Indeed, a keen awareness of this deficiency long since convinced me that the attitude toward the classics of many of my fellow-workers in the professional study of education was shortsighted and, in some of its consequences, little less than tragic." (259) While opposition to teaching Latin has its roots in the Seventeenth Century, the advent of universal education meant that standards had to be relaxed. Latin was an easy target. While acknowledging that not everyone has the mental acuity to master Latin, he believes the studies that show "that those who study Latin to the point of reasonable mastery acquire a mental equipment that gives them a distinct advantage over those who miss this discipline." (262) Bagley laments that his fellow educators disregard this fact because it does not jive with their preconceived notions.

Null then moves onto other Progressive Education critics. At this point the essays became a little too dense for me, and without the context hard to process. However, some stood out. I summarize a few of those here.

Isaac Kandal is the first critic Null turns to after Bagley.

Is the New Education Progressive? (1936) discusses an idea that is all the rage today, child-centered education, but was already well in place in 1936. Kandal faults the Progressives and their educational agenda for failing to actually train up the students. It is chaotic with no end goal in sight. Kandal believes that only a traditional teacher with a teacher-led classroom can instill the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for true progress.

Prejudice The Garden Toward Roses? (1936) continues the attack on progressive education. It sounds great, but like so many ideas that sound great, they often fail in practice. Even Dewey was starting to sound the alarm, but his theories had gotten away from him and he was too late. Kandal believes the attacks on traditionalism as boring and ineffective were straw men arguments and didn't reflect the reality of what had been going on in the classroom. But Kandal wasn't a purist. He believed in Essentialist philosophy with some progressive methodology that actually worked.

*Address at St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University (1940) is an excellent essay decrying the loss of faith and therefore the loss of a connection to each other and the Golden Rule. This prescient speech points to the connection between this loss and Nazism as well as other notorious -ism's. 

The Fantasia of Current Education (1941) takes on progressive education for always the the new even when it makes no sense. They are enthralled by novelty.

The Cult of Uncertainty (1943) attacks progressive education for its obvious failures and has led to the lack of Americans to self-govern.

Character Formation: A Historical Perspective (1959) shows that while the focus and methods have varied over time, education was always assumed to inculcate the moral values necessary for the continuation of civilization. 

Null has also included writings from Chalres DeGarmo, David Felmley, William Torrey Harris, Charles Alexander McMurry, William Ruediger, Edward Austin Sheldon, as well as a few essays from the progressive giant John Dewey, himself. Because the focus is criticism of progressive education, these can become a bit repetitive. That's why I didn't summarize them all. I found Kandal even more enlightening and easy to follow than Bagley. But overall, I really enjoyed reading some excellent intellectuals and their prescient commentary that is so relevant today. 

*Particular favorite essay

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