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Educational “Progressivism” is Anti-Individual
Educational “Progressivism” is Anti-Individual

Educational “Progressivism” is Anti-Individual

Group-think, “consensus,” determines truth, Dewey said — and in consequence the trend in education is to focus on and push “group work.” Having students — our very children — alone reading or writing is anathema to the “progressivist” program. Their program does not focus on the full intellectual flowering of the individual (again, that’s our children we’re talking about!), does not focus on the full development of the cognitive virtues, powers and strengths of the individual for her own sake. After all, the Deweyians believe, in the individual there is no truth. Truth to them is in social interaction. Yes, there is some individual work today — but only as an artifact of the past, only to “satisfy” people until the “progressivists” complete their program of “social change.” If, that is, they are allowed to complete it; if, that is, they are not challenged; if, that is, no one stands up for rights, reason, reality and the individual. Some people stand up for the right things, thank goodness. In “Solitude: A Flashlight Under the Covers” (Education Week, Published Online: May 27, 2009), Diana Senechal writes to remind people of the value of individual work:
Online social networks are not the only forces tearing away at solitude. Schools bombard students and teachers with the rhetoric and practice of group work. Students must learn “communication and collaboration,” according to proponents of so-called 21st-century skills. Teachers must “facilitate,” according to proponents of the workshop model. State standards include a substantial social component in every subject; one could easily have a “standards based” math lesson with no math at all, only group processes. Schools seem to have forgotten that students need ample quiet time for thinking, reading, and puzzling over problems. Even a whole-class discussion can be much more quieting and contemplative than a room buzzing with little groups. It is not at all good to be visibly “engaged” at every moment; one also needs room to collect one’s thoughts and separate oneself from one’s peers. Why is this not recognized?
I don’t know what Mrs. Senechal’s standards and philosophy are. Maybe she’s just a different form of “progressivist;” maybe she follows Dewey, just differently than most. Maybe not. I don’t know. I don’t know if she defends and advocates reason, individualism and objectivity, or just “time for solitude.” But philosophically, education should be recognized as being about training the individual mind to work alone, to work in and of itself (by which, of course, I mean objectively; I do not mean the mind should work “in and of itself” by reality-denying introspection or by subjective self-observation). Dr. Montessori had the right view: she worked to develop each individual mind’s ability to know reality independently and each individual’s competence to live and act in the world. The ability to understand, empathize with, get along with, and care about other people is a part and a consequence of this independence. (Take, for example, early Americans. They were world-renowned for their independence, and also for their charity and benevolence. We naturally, in contrast, rebel against being forced against our will to “help” others. Slave plantations and Communist Russia, for example, were not happy places.) Individual work should be primary, group work secondary. Yes, there is value in talking to others and we can learn something from others — but that is not the motive of Deweyians for group work; they say, not that we can each learn some truth from other individuals (the ones who know the truth), but that truth is a social construct. They Deweyians want socialization for its own sake, regardless of the quality of it. Socialization to them is a fundamental. The objective fact — opposite to what Dewey would say – is that we each get tremendous value from living with and among other people (the ones who care about truth and life, that is). Yes, do some group work — if it helps each individual, if it’s a win-win thing. But the socialization should be to help each individual, not to spite each individual and to immerse the individual in “group think.” Mrs. Senechal also makes the very good point that:
Also, recognize teaching as a thinking profession. There is no reason for teachers to sit in groups filling out Venn diagrams during professional-development sessions when they could be doing something more interesting on their own.
Yes. Teaching is an intellectual profession. It is not a means of “social change” or “social justice” — i.e., of some form of “brain washing” or “indoctrinating” children. Teaching should be reserved for those who value and practice the skills of reasoning and objectivity. Teaching is properly a profession for those who will teach students how to reason and choose values each for himself. Education is about training a person’s conceptual faculty and getting them ready, cognitively, for adult life. A teacher’s role is and should be determined by this context and goal. Education is not primarily about socialization, which is the parents’ job, and the job of the child himself. A teacher should not trespass on a child’s or a parent’s values. Reality — and hence success at living — is the opposite of the Deweyian program. The individual mind is the locus of truth and creativity. And reality is the standard of truth. (What’s more, if there is nothing inside an individual, there is nothing to share and no means for understanding or empathizing with the thoughts and feelings of another.) By not developing the powers of the individual to think and act for herself, “progressivism” in education undercuts the individual’s ability to survive and to know the truth, and therefore undercuts a whole society’s ability to survive and be governed by truth.

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