- Why memorize something you can just look up, like multiplication facts?
- Why waste time learning the important social movements, political names, dates, and terms of the past and present?
- Why waste time learning anything when each student can learn a little bit and then “jigsaw” teach each other?
- What point is there in having a teacher to teach and impart knowledge when kids can construct their own knowledge?
- Why waste time actually learning anything when students can just sit back and pretend they know things?
Has anyone ever tried to get to the top of a staircase when the stairs have been taken away, it is pretty hard to reach the top. This analogy is apt, progressive educators think that students should be on the top floor with little care as to how they will get there or even if they can get there.
All the way back to John Dewey, the king of American pedagogy, progressive educators have complained that requiring children to learn facts throws students “into a passive, receptive, or absorbing attitude. The conditions are such that he is not permitted to follow the law of his nature; the result is friction and waste.”
According to Dewey, and all who buy into the theory of constructivism, who by the way, are the federal government and nearly all state education institutions. They think that children construct their own knowledge through experience and reflection.
Higher level thinking and hands-on activities are the primary methods to help children “construct their own knowledge”.
The progressive education theorists leave aside research and general common-sense to further their agenda. They’ve never quite had an answer to this important fact: one cannot really know anything if one doesn’t know anything.
[In other words, you have to have steps (facts) to reach the top of an incline (achieve high-level thinking).]
However true that statement may be, progressive educators don’t let it stop them. Whole Language was a debacle which proved that many students (especially at-risk students) cannot learn language without actually learning the components of language like phonics.
What Does the Research Say?
In 2000, a National Reading Panel released its findings, stating that there are five essential components that must be taught in an effective reading program:
1. phonemic awareness
3. reading fluency,
4. vocabulary development, and
5. reading comprehension
In addition, the whole Fuzzy Math or the New New Math movement, hasn’t brought us students who can deal with higher-level math because they’re too busy performing low-level math on their fingers or using multiplication charts; students can’t even see the big picture of a simple word problem, let alone complicated, abstract mathematics in which other nations excel.
To progressive educators, memorizing is unnecessary and keeps students from concentrating on, in their words, more important things. This underpinning of progressive education hasn’t gone away even though it hasn’t worked; many parts of whole language and new math are still around under the guise of a balanced approach.
FYI: CSCOPE is a constructivist (progressive) teaching method in which whole language and “Fuzzy Math” are used. As of the date of this writing, May 27, 2013, CSCOPE lessons
Piaget, a well-established behavior theorist, developed stages that showed the progression from infant minds to adult minds. Young children, especially elementary school students, go through a very long, concrete stage where they are less able to think in abstract terms and instead operate on a fact-based world, a concrete outlook on life. Facts have usually been taught during this stage: the alphabet, sounds, numbers, body parts, addition, and multiplication. They like learning new things, parts of a whole. This doesn’t mean students shouldn’t be taught how to think abstractly or shouldn’t be exposed to higher-level thinking skills. But, to look at the whole language example, students were taught the whole before they knew the parts and they really never learned the parts on their own, they had to be taught them. Bloom’s Taxonomy, a very logical hierarchy of learning, begins with knowledge and then eventually leads to higher level thought processes of comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and then finally to evaluation. These steps are not arbitrary, they should not be skipped. Even Vygotsy, the creator of social constructivism, applied the concept of building on some sort of knowledge foundation to his theory. In essence, even the theorists behind constructivism, which is the overarching pedagogy behind progressive education, see the importance of knowledge.
Again, learning starts at knowledge….the progressive education theorists want to skip over that basic necessity of education, the absence of which only leads to an education with large gaps or an extremely superficial understanding of the particular subject. How often have we seen people who argue a position that is vague and inarticulate? Sure, they appear to be operating in an area that is outwardly thought to be higher level, but they sure aren’t ready for it and it shows. Of course, when students thoroughly understand content, they should be given opportunities to take that information to another level. However, many public education students aren’t getting the opportunity to learn from the very start.