Friday, December 10, 2010

Week 13: What It Means To Be Progressive

To say that my new school is based on the philosophy of progressive education is an understatement. The school was founded on the philosophy of progressive education and acknowledges this approach not only as a philosophy but also as an active practice.

So what is progressive education? Well, it’s an approach to educations that is focused on the student’s experience with the material where teachers do not instruct but rather facilitate learning through creativity and discovery.

Now it’s not like this is a brand new approach to learning. Socrates’ discussion based learning set a similar tone but in American it was educators like Dewey who looked at the state of education and felt that things needed to change.

In the early 20th century learning in school was mostly an act of imitation and regurgitation as opposed a process of active thinking and creative problem solving. The progressive movement sought to change this and American education has felt the influence of this movement ever sense.

How does this translate to the music classroom?  Well instead of teaching a percussion part, I have students compose their own percussion parts and discuss the results.  Trust me, it’s a lot faster for me to teach a percussion part to a song rather than have the students "explore" and it would save me a lot of headaches. But it’s worth the extra time to provide an avenue for a more meaningful educational experience.

Now, there are some things students need to learn by rote and not taught through a progressive approach. However, when we are teaching in a more “traditional” way the child-centered perspective of the progressive approach reminds us to teach the students not the subject.

We live in a time when our schools are put under scrutiny from all sides, from how they are run, how we teach, to what is taught. In the midst of test scores, teachers accountability discussions, charter schools and college entrance numbers we need to ask ourselves what kind of educational experience do we want for our children?

Would you rather be lectured to or participate in a discussion? Would you rather be directed how to do something or have time to figure it out yourself? Would your rather spend a school day reciting information or truly interacting with it?  All of your answers are probably the latter which are all progressive approaches. 

Once we realize that a progressive philosophy of education is what we want for our children then we need to make sure everything that surrounds what goes on the classroom from test scores to report cards reflect a progressive approach. We need to work from the classroom out and not the other way around.   Progressive education reminds us not to focus on the destinations but to value the journey.

We all die, it's how we live that makes life meaningful.  It's the time we spend everyday with our children that teaches them how to make that life meaningful.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not an educator, but it would seem that going too far in that direction has led to the problems we face right now with things like "no child left behind." Tilting too far one way leads to the tilt too far back the other way. It makes sense to teach in this manner things like music, art, philosophy and perhaps the writing elements of English, but how do you learn Math, Science and History without instruction? I think you already address this concern by saying there are some things students should learn by rote. To me we should be striving for a healthy mix. Even things that are taught by rote can be made interesting by the proper teacher. I have a German teacher friend that dresses up some of her language memorization drills using lesson planners based on the Family Guy. Education seems a microcosm to me of what we need to solve as a society overall. We need a way to recognize the value in multiple approaches/opinions and to utilize each within the situation that best calls for it.