David-All I can say is that I have visited a variety of schools around the country that have successfully found various combinations of factors that are effective in creating engaged lifelong learners. No, they’re not public schools because one-size-fits-all standards are the antithesis of learner-centered education. And no, there’s no one “formula” that works for everyone, nor should there be if we recognize what Todd Rose is telling us in his book The End of Average. There is absolutely no reason why the methods used in these schools couldn’t be the norm in public education — except for the will to do it and the glittering generalities that policy makers have used to convince the public that what they are doing is in the best interest of children. And the public, having been educated in a system that focuses on the acquisition of “knowledge objects” at the expense of deeper thinking just accepts what they are told.
If you want to get really frustrated about ignoring progressive education, you can go back well before Papert and Dewey to Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Froebel, and Montessori . Your comment about the oversimplification of Papert’s thesis is exactly the same thing that happened to Piaget. Here’s an article on that topic. It isn’t that educational policy makers don’t know that learner-centered education is more effective in developing the whole learner. Those are the schools to which they send their own children — while at the same time doubling down on one-size-fits-all standardized education for “other people’s children.” (Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan not only attended the University of Chicago Lab School founded by John Dewey, but send his own children there!) They don’t “see or acknowledge” the research supporting learner-centered education because they don’t WANT all learners to develop their full potential. They don’t WANT people who ask questions and demand answers based on facts. Sorry, I know this sound paranoid, but what other explanation is there for mandating a system that creates complain, obedient worker bees for society — which has been the goal of public education since the Industrial Age.
I agree with you! “That’s not right!” So what can we do about it? That is why it is so important for those of us who see through the fog to find ways to educate parents…and yes…traditional teachers. We must make them aware of the many successful “alternative/progressive” schools around the county (and the world.) We have to vividly demonstrate the damage being done to our children and to their future. What is being foisted on the public is no less than educational malpractice and too often, child abuse. But the task may not be as impossible as it seems. Social research corresponding to a Nobel Prize winning idea in chemistry has demonstrated that, if between 5–10% of a “population” begins to put pressure on the system, the system must shift to relieve the pressure. We saw this in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rapid fall of the Communist Bloc when enough people rebelled to stress the system. We’ve seen it more recently in the shift of mainstream thinking about topics such as homosexuality and gender identification. As Peter Gray, the author of Free to Learn suggests, we need to make self-directed learning common enough that nearly everyone knows someone who has experienced it in some form. They will see that these people are not only literate, but head and shoulders above traditionally educated children in terms of their sense of agency and self-confidence. That is what will make it “acceptable” and pave the way for a shift in public education. That is NEVER going to happen if we wait for a top-down directive. This will definitely take an “education revolution” similar to what happened with the Opt Out movement. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve got to keep stirring the pot to reach parents with the story of what is already occurring in many schools and could easily be transferred to public education if we take back control of those schools from those who favor mediocrity and obedience.