The curriculum and the teaching method that are ideal for children have long been in dispute and remain so. Favorite methods range from Montessori to Steiner to traditional classroom lecture, recital and ABCs; the same diversity holds for the perfect content – factual, moral and political.
Many, also, are the professional luminaries who enlighten us on these questions, each confident of this or that solution.
Up to a point, this variety seems quite understandable and even healthy. Long observation of schools of education at various universities convinces me that method and content in pedagogies for children are as little matters of science as are law and the visual arts. We can sometimes (to a degree) recognize the rare classroom teaching genius, but such heroes tend to be inconspicuous in education school.
Nor is their gift always obvious even when they have made it to the classroom. Happily, the great run of teachers are at least competent – and bless them.
The great diversity of teaching style and substance is plainly cordial to the issue of parental choice. Even John Dewey appears to have thought so, and almost said it. That great guru of schooling would be an interested observer of our current debate over the empowerment of low-income parents to choose for their own child.
In his definitive “My Pedagogic Creed,” written in pre-voucher days, Dewey offered these foundational pearls:
“ … the school life should grow gradually out of the home life; … it should take up and continue the activities with which the child is already familiar in the home.”
“ … it is the business of the school to deepen and extend his sense of the values bound up in this home life.”
Today’s public school professional might snicker. Dewey could have foreseen very little of life as it would come to be lived in the “inner city” of today where home is too often a place and environment to be escaped. Yet, is it absurd to wonder that one detriment of that very urban crisis may be the conscriptive style of those city schools whose leaders have, in the last hundred years, seemed more in tune with Plato, who despised the contribution of the home and parent, than with Dewey?
What would be the level of responsibility and authority among low-income parents of the city today if, during the 20th century they had, like the rest of us, experienced the dignity and responsibility of the choice of school for their own children?
But, conceding the civil calamity wrought by the urban school of the 20th century and today, might our trusting of today’s parents merely risk compounding the consequences? If we try to fix it all by trusting the poor, will the newly empowered parent prove already hopelessly corrupted, making the urban scene even worse with his new options? No doubt there would be plenty of parental mistakes; these could be expected as the fruit of our long disabling of the poor.
Worse, several generations of mistrust might prove to have been dehumanizing beyond repair. Can we be certain of the effect of the sudden experience of authority? Still, choice would at least allow the parent to learn by mistake and experience. Mothers and fathers have done well so far with the opportunities already given them in various states to decide for their own child.
I see no alternative but the adoption of systems of subsidized choice that are designed, step by step, year by year, to reach at last a universal empowerment of the poor. America cannot afford another century of the present regime of abduction by the state. The social structure of our public schools is poisonous, but it can be fixed. It will take time and patience, but there is no alternative.