the long view: adaptive methods (22 October 2013)

Rigid methods do not equate to successful results. As the scientific method replaced religious doctrine as the basis for social truth in the twentieth century, this mistaken assumption took root.  In the most pernicious circumstances, like the struggle for women’s equality, these two approaches to knowledge reinforced a pervasive ignorance.  The myth of Eve’s complicity with Satan in the Garden of Eden drove one narrative.  The systemic exclusion of women from science education maintained the other.

Cartesian methods emphasized a frustrating and draconian strategy that repeated failure yielded more reliable facts. Breakthroughs became the domain of genius – a rare occurrence at best.  Rote learning became the extension of this conclusion, and teachers understood children as blank slates to be filled with their own limited insights. Paolo Freire most famously and eloquently challenged this set of presumptions.  Each student presented his or her own unique bundle of knowledge when entering the classroom that must be honored by every teacher.  The best teachers could recognize the deep individuality of every student and adapt capably to facilitate their learning in an infinite variety of ways.

Teachers, in this sense, are not the pinnacles of classroom achievement.  They become, instead, the floor.  By the end of an academic year, students should be no less capable in a specific subject than their teacher is.  Abolishing homework (and using classrooms as experiential laboratories for collaborative exploration) works towards thisgoal.  More importantly, this strategy energizes both the teachers and the students by challenging them with new information and inquiries on a daily basis.  The shared classroom returns the joy to learning and abandons the formulaic reductionism of modernist, industrial schools.

This revolutionary approach to education enables students to move at their own pace and make their own specific contributions to the classroom projects.  Incorporating multimedia tools into each lesson helps each team share their work with other teachers and learners worldwide.  By the junior high school years, these learning teams will raise the standards of academic performance month-by-month and year-by-year.  Instead of incessant commercials on a region’s transportation infrastructure, the latest questions and new data will challenge passersby.

Imagine the fundamental questions and newest insights about the nature of the universe, the evolving global economy, and the difficult problems faced by elected officials listed on billboards, buses, trains, and murals.  Art and music serve crucial functions to raise the critical engagement of their audiences with the surrounding world.  Duluth, Minnesota raised the bar by questioning racial advantages with a publicity campaign in 2012.  What would a similar effort contain in southeastern Pennsylvania?

Dr.Walter Greason is the Executive Director of the International Center forMetropolitan Growth and author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended theCivil Rights Movement in New Jersey.  His work is available on Twitter,Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (

Author: waltergreason1

Public Figure.

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