Thursday, November 18

Progress?

Jewish school curricula, and the structure of the school day, rarely differ from secular models. Outlandish claim? Maybe. Maybe not. It's a question we're working on in ATID now.

In a recent book, Getting it Wrong From the Beginning: Our Progressivist Inheritance from Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget, philosopher of education Kieran Egan critiques the faulty utilitarian basis of modern general education, tracing the genesis of our status quo to the progressivist movement of the 19th century, and figures like Spencer, Dewey and Piaget--and their utilitarian disregard for the development of the "whole person" which pushes out “useless” subject matter from the curriculum.

Utility, career preparation, and tachlis become the exclusive designers of the curriculum, at the expense of the humanities and the arts, argues Egan. He concludes that what we ought to do is make educational "decisions about your preference turn on the value-saturated business of sorting out what you think is the best way to be human, the best way to live--as Plato put it. The sad fact is that it is only from such a conception that we can derive educational principles" (p. 182).

For sure, Egan isn't the first to throw his stone. Others have done it--and in a lot clearer English (see Bloom, Hirsch, et al). Egan is interesting for our question, because he's frum (a frum Protestant that is) and interested in religious education. For a somewhat critical review of Egan's book--but not his thesis--click here.

Here's a question for you: Since the means of educating are not neutral, how does the form of the school day--to say nothing of the content--effect the inner fiber of what we're teaching? How do implicit assumptions and values conveyed through the general curriculum, and even the Kodesh side, leave their fingerprints on the "whole person"?

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