Sunday, August 7, 2011

Should Public Schools Be “Student-Centered”?

Self praise is ridiculous. If you flatter yourself for some inconsequential thing, you are foolish; if for some wicked thing, you are mad. And if you praise yourself for a good thing, you are ungrateful. -- Erasmus
Student-centered schooling can be profoundly undemocratic, if it puts the interests of the kid first to the neglect of the interests of the people -- the 250 million or so voters, taxpayers, parents, et cetera, who are also legitimate stakeholders in education. Public schools are just that -- public -- owned by the people, not just by pupils and professionals.

On the other hand, student-centered learning can be terribly unkind, if it means silencing the teacher's voice. Why on earth would we want to? "Teacher-talk" is not a dirty word. On the contrary, there is a much-needed beauty in the elder sharing knowledge and skills with the younger. Any version of "humanistic education" that devalues the teacher can hardly be humane at all. Most teachers are living worthwhile lives and gaining worthwhile learning. For the teacher not to share that learning whenever it is curriculum-appropriate is misguided, and a misguided guide on the side is not likely to be going on the right road!

Student-centered learning can also be unwise if it devalues the parents. True, there are plenty of dysfunctional families out there. But to assume that parents and guardians are ignorant or brutal is simply arrogant. As politically exploited as the concept is, a cavalier dismissal of "family values" in favor of educational bandwagons is the mistake of either a new teacher or of an old professor! There is very little evidence that the parents or the public want the children to be running things.

Student-centered learning can be unwise if the promotion of “critical thinking” undermines respectful living. Respect for parents, for other adults, and for one another all go hand in hand. Of course we should teach the kid to think well, and not to follow every pronouncement of authority nor every appeal to sentiment. But reason and venom have very little in common. An ultracritical theory that assumes sordid motives of "the other guy" isn't critical at all; it is just prejudice in a new disguise

For references and to examine these issues further, see STUDENT CENTEREDNESS: reconsiderations

--- WAC

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