Last year I saw Winslow Homer’s Country School at an art gallery in St. Louis; now a poster of the painting hangs in Room 204. That teacher in the one room schoolhouse and I are in the same business. We know that children are not all the same and they don’t all learn at the same rate. Children have different readiness levels and different gifts. They need different approaches to master the material at hand. She knows, as I know, that children can help each other. We are a community of learners. We need each other.
These are just some of the old fashioned ideas out there that are too hip to go away. The current contemporary talk of standards, accountability, and assessment pedals fast in our media, but there is something about the conversation that doesn’t make sense. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for standards, accountability, and assessment; those think-tank words are ideas that can help us see and tackle complicated issues. But the language of “policy talk” does not teach or inspire or illuminate the path of creative critical thought for children. Policy is not practice.
In 1871, as Winslow Homer put the finishing touches on the teacher standing in her schoolroom, there was a 12 year old boy in Vermont who would grow up to think and name how we can make education more effective through practice. His name was John Dewey and he is considered to be the father of “hands-on” learning. He was passionate about inquiry-based learning and schools as creative communities that foster informed citizenship. People have been writing intelligently about how children learn best ever since.
Right now a lot of people are writing about how to best test state standards in order to measure Annual Yearly Progress. That’s important, too. It’s just not the same thing.