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Monday, November 29, 2010

The Classical Style of Education

For the past six to eight months, I have been mentioning in my blog that I am currently in Graduate School. I have been working towards a master’s degree in Education, focusing on Curriculum and Instruction. So far the classes that I have been taking have been fairly typical Education courses. Read this book, write this paper, be prepared to discuss this in class, etc.

Thankfully the class that I am currently taking does not fit this mold at all. To say this course has been earth shatter is an understatement. It is one of those classes that you look back on fondly and talk about it to your children. It has been challenging and has completely changed my philosophy of Education, and the teaching technique that I would use in the classroom. The class focuses on the educational trends of the 20th century in the United States.

Though the topic is not that earth shatter, the way it has been discussed is. In this class I have studied John Dewey, who single handedly had the biggest impact on the American Educational system. Dewey theorized that the best way to teach students was to allow them to experiment and interact with the subject matter. They would also take a proactive role in their learning. This is the foundation of the modern philosophy of education and the main goal of this philosophy of education is to help students get a good job. Though I did not realize it till now, I have always felt that this is wrong. Students are growing and developing, and they need more mentoring by an adult than taking the leadership role themselves. Because how would a student know that what they completed is correct unless someone who has already done it tells them?

After discussing this, my professor introduced and described the classical style of education and its main proponent, Mortimer Adler. Alder argues that we need to revise our educational system and return to the teaching style of Plato and Aristotle were the main goal of education was to create virtuous citizens. Virtuous citizens? What a complete 180-degree turn from the modern philosophy of John Dewey. The belief is that if you teach your citizenry how to be virtuous, that will by definition help improve society.

The main teaching style Adler would use in his teaching methodology was the study of the classics. For example if a student were to study economics, Adler would have that student read The Wealth of Nations and The Communist Manifesto and be prepared to discuss the two works critically. The goal with this teaching philosophy would be teaching students critical thinking, something that they will need to use for the rest of their life. Now not to be completely basis, the modern philosophy of education developed by John Dewey can teach this crucial skill, however it is not being used in this way currently.

The public education system of the United States is in a critical state. According to The New York Times: 1.2 million students drop out of high school each year. The United States is ranked 9th in Mathematics and 11th in Science according to The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. If the United States wishes to remain on the cutting edge of technology, and a superpower, we need to get these rankings up. Unfortunately our schools are not preparing students to improve. Rather schools are under incredible pressure to increase their standardized test scores, because these scores are crucial for their funding. A major flaw with these tests is they only measure how well a student does on that test. They do not measure anything else. What happens if you have a student who is brilliant, but does not take tests well? Is that student then stupid?

The classical style of education would help remedy this problem. By getting students to think critically about a subject, to challenge their belief system, and by having them discussing it with their peers, we giving them all the tools they will need to succeed later in life. How many times in our lives have we been faced with a problem, which forces us to change strategies on the fly? I for one have never experienced a problem in real life that makes me choose between letter A,B,C, or D. If we do not look in the mirror right now and realize that America’s public schools are in need of fundamental change, then America is in serious trouble.

Change and results will not happen over night. It may take decades, but I promise that over time we will produce more well rounded students, and students who are ready to discover new theories and take this country into the next century. But the change needs to come from the people, if we do not demand it, it will not happen. So I guess what I am saying is the ball is in our court now, what are we going to do?