Pushing School Reforms That Have Failed Us Before

“Youth United for Change, an organization of young adults advocating for better public education in Philadelphia, recently released a report titled “Pushed Out: Youth Voices on the Dropout Crisis in Philadelphia.” It argued that many city students don’t voluntarily quit school, but rather are forced out by boring teachers, an irrelevant curriculum, and a prison-like school environment.

To keep kids on the path to graduation, the group argues, education must be made more interesting, engaging, fun, and hands-on. Group collaboration, project-based learning, problem-solving, and creativity should be favored over traditional lectures and teacher-led instruction. Students should play a bigger role in choosing their courses and shaping the curriculum, with electives that address topics relevant to the lives of young people.

While some of the ideas in the report have merit, school leaders should not fall into the trap of emphasizing entertainment over instruction. Progressive education reformers have made that mistake before.”

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Pushing school reforms that have failed us before”.  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Pushing School Reforms That Have Failed Us Before

  1. Josh

    Okay, where to begin? First of all, it is not uncommon for people to lump Freire in with “progressive” teaching, but really its not accurate. Freire stood for and practiced Critical Pedagogy, the practice of a critical-consciousness at work in one’s interactions with the world. This is very different from Dewey’s progressivism and the constructivist movement you speak of. Freire taught illiterate farmers in Brazil how to read so they could pass the literacy test to vote in the military controlled anti-democratic country that fell to a coup. Yes, one can use Freire’s philosophy and techniques to guide educational practice, and this would be progressive, but you have failed to acknowledge the larger tradition of Critical scholarship that has come from his work. Multiculturalism and hands on learning are tenents of democratic education. i.e. students are thought of as people, not rote retention machines… but remember, Freire’s first thesis was Education for the Practice of Freedom, and it involved calling on students to name the world, the elements of its complex situations, and to solve problems and act in new ways that were/are directly implicated in living. Believe me, we have never seen a mass adoption of Freirean pedagogy in American schooling, not like the thousands of literacy projects Freire developed in Brazil. Multiculturalism cannot truly be practiced in schools when the predomination of texts and readings and standardized curricula are written by about and for Anglo-Americans. There is no authenticity in our texts and materials. No real letters, diaries, speeches, artifacts, relics, or literature that was really present at significant times in history. We don’t read the words of those who discovered DNA, we read some editors’ summaries and culturally alien quips…. Thank you for bringing attention to the enlightenment movement in education, but please consider unraveling the knot a little more to differentiate who’s who and what’s what, before categorizing all of it to failure. Fact is, newer techniques are at work in the best k-12 schools in the country, but the problem is in the city we don’t have the same situation to deal with. More needs, less resources, bigger challenges that ultimately cripple innovative educational designs and practice. I applaud Kristin Graham for cracking the shell on one of the most crucial issues preventing quality teaching in her upcoming articles…. Right On!

  2. Josh

    In fact, Freire warns about permissiveness and undisciplined study. His dialogical method was a step in literacy acquisition, not the whole shebang. The point is, you’re right, instruction can’t be all student-centered, nor can it be all materials/text centered, Freire’s model illuminates the role students play as subjects in reality and as agents in their own subjectivity in light of the reality that is studied. Problem-posing is not “entertainment”. When reading, writing, dialogue, inquiry, and presentation of learned understandings are used in the problem-posing/solving process, they are even more meaningful… especially when elements of students’ lives are directly involved in the study. This is simple good practice. Active learning, total engagement and participation, real-world authentic applications, I can’t imagine schooling without these things… Cognitive and educational psychologists have been saying the same thing for decades…

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