To the Editor:
Alfie Kohn, in his Sept. 16, 2009, Commentary “The Value of Negative Learning,” divides education into two discrete camps: traditional (bad) and progressive (good). But in a 1902 article titled “The Child and the Curriculum,” John Dewey wrote that neither side was right. Experience without concepts is superficial, but concepts without immediate connections to experience are useless. Dewey incorporated many of his ideas into his laboratory school at the University of Chicago from 1896 to 1904.
Classroom teachers don’t have the luxury of being theoreticians. They are practitioners who have to make instructional decisions every day for every student. Classrooms that are turned into test-preparation factories are as counterproductive in the long run as those that allow students to study only those topics that are of immediate interest to them.
While it will fail to please public intellectuals, the answer lies in a balance between the two extremes, with individual teachers having the final say. Unfortunately, the accountability movement is slowly eroding whatever voice they have left in promoting learning.
Los Angeles, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the September 30, 2009 edition of Education Week as Classroom Teachers Aren’t Theoreticians