I volunteer in a classroom of second graders and today I was baffled as I watched some students breeze through an activity while other students struggled to even grasp the concept of the same activity. In traditional classrooms settings the students do the same activities and are assessed in the same way, widening the gap in student performance due to their individual aptitudes for different types of work and learning.
I quoted John Dewey in my last post to say that education was a process and lifestyle more than an end goal. I discussed how education is a model to prepare students for higher education. Often schools fail to tread education as a learning process and lifestyle, but more of a final destination. This past week, I’ve read a few of the works of famous American philosopher and education reformer John Dewey. His progressive ideas and suggestions, especially in “My Pedagogic Creed” stirred my thoughts on our education system.
John Dewey describes school as a social institution that should serve as a community to foster relationships and prepare students for their future. Although the future can’t be predicted, students can be empowered to use their own abilities to handle whatever society brings in the future. This requires society to take into account that students are not all strong in the same areas. Howard Gardner proposed seven types of intelligence, so how can we teach students in one way? Obviously some of these intelligences, such as musical or bodily-kinesthetic, are less useful in commonplace occupations but should still be acknowledged, especially while the child is young. Ideal education would be modeled specifically to the individual and children should be free to explore their interests as well as learn in a hands-on, experimental way. As Dewey explains in, “The Child and the Curriculum”, the subject matter must intervene with the children’s own experiences.” While math, science, history, and other core subjects are extremely important, young children often can’t learn unless the material is made interactive and applicable to their own lives.
The teachers’ role also would be different in this kind of setting. They would be working as a guide for the child’s learning, rather than a lecturer or controller. Kids do not have the same capacity for processing and understanding that adults have, yet so often, they are taught in the same way. “Lecturing” or talking at students starts at a young age and causes many students to be uninterested and unengaged in their schooling. Kids, however, need to be participating in their education and be taught according to their own abilities and interests.
For my early elementary school, I attended a Montessori school that I feel modeled many of Dewey’s core ideals. We worked at our own pace and decided what activities we would do when. When I was old enough, I worked with my teachers to create my own schedule for the week. Almost every lesson we did was a hands-on activity and I worked side by side my peers in a community setting. With so much freedom I sometimes wonder how I left Montessori school and was still at the same academic level as most of my peers who did not attend this same kind of school. I think the very important goals of Dewey were similar to Maria Montessori’s: the social aspect of a child’s education should be promoted in addition to the academic. Interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence are often neglected or undermined in the system of education, even though they play into all students’ everyday life in their schooling and their future. Whether the student excels relationally, mathematically, artistically, or linguistically, they should be brought up at an early age to explore and cultivate their strengths as well as receiving a truly well rounded education.