To the Editor:
I was astonished to read the Commentary “John Dewey for Today” by Timothy Knowles, Stephen Raudenbush, and Henry S. Webber (July 18, 2007), in which the University of Chicago pledges to commit its enormous educational resources to help the Chicago public schools and American public education in general. Implied somewhere in the mass of academic rhetoric—or perhaps in the editors’ headline—was that this is what Dewey would be doing today, were he still alive.
First, what universe are these people living in? Nowhere in the piece is there a mention of the No Child Left Behind Act, the Bush administration’s assault on public education that is prohibiting any parent, teacher, principal, school board member, academic professor, or university president from seriously advocating, much less practicing, the kind of progressive schooling that Dewey and his followers have been trying to institute in this country for the past 100 years.
Second, if the Chicago people want to know about the dangers of NCLB and what truly Dewey-esque schooling would look like, they need only go to the next page in that issue of Education Week and read the magnificent Commentary “Goodbye, Mr. & Ms. Chips” by Nancy Ginsburg Gill. How does the university propose to allow Ms. Gill’s progressive teachers to survive and flourish?
Third, if the authors are truly worried about helping poor and minority children get the kind of rich, rounded education that privileged children in private progressive schools still get, and that some suburban public school kids used to get pre-NCLB, they should go immediately to Washington and loudly petition Congress to do away with that law and replace it with a federal program that would provide our underfinanced, besieged, unfairly criticized, and unjustly punished urban school districts with the resources they need to offer every child a truly progressive education that might make a difference in his or her life.
And finally, the Chicago people need to remember that it is our wonderful, “advanced,” elite colleges and universities, with their elaborately selective and intellectually discriminatory admissions requirements, their SATs and other such tests, their antiquated, anti-progressive teaching methods, and their almost total control over the K-12 curriculum, that are very much at the heart of the problem, rather than being the possible solution.
Educator, heal thyself before advising others.
Senior Research Associate
Institute for Responsive Education
A version of this article appeared in the August 15, 2007 edition of Education Week