Monday, April 11, 2011

Dewey Defeats Montessori

As much as I am embracing these new, "outside-the-box", paradigm-shifting, digitally presented and open-ended concepts, I maintain that my fundamental ideas are timeless and go as far back as human cognitive development. This is of course, the theme under whose spell I was when I started this blog. To give some substance to this idea, I take you back a hundred years--almost literally a century.

I've done a lot of reading of late, trying to track down a picture of both John Dewey and Maria Montessori. What would have made this easy would have been if the two were clearly and diametrically--opposed. However, as in most situations looked at honestly, things are rarely so black-and-white. The more I read about these two, their times, their practices, the more muddled the comparisons get. Be that as it may, however, by starting off from the perspective that the so-called "Montessori method" still exists outside the mainstream today, one can go back to the nineteen-teens and find a loosely appropriate showdown beween these two career educators.

One more problem with discussing this so-called "Montessori Method"--as Montessori was never trademarked, there are no accepted defined standards. Thus, through the years, the practice of so-called Montessori Method may differ greatly from one school to the other. Still, I think it can be reasonably agreed upon that the application of self-directed learning is at the heart of the idea.

Accounts of John Dewey are voluminous. Educator, philosopher, psychologist, Dewey was a highly-educated man who certainly left his mark on the world of education in the early part of the 20th Century. There are defenders and critics of Dewey far and wide and, to be truthful, the more I read about the man the more I find myself in the latter camp. In fact, sitting here right now, Dewey strikes me as a self-important time-waster whose ultimate motive was dedicated to his own survival, and whose ideas have ultimately crippled American education at a time when it is most practically necessary. Do I have proof to back this up? No, not yet, at least but, seeing as how this is just a BLOG, I'm just going to throw that out there for now.

Montessori, an Italian physician and educator herself, was a contemporary of Dewey's. And, while many of her ideas have been borrowed over time--today's concept of a "children's museum" is clearly emblematic of the sort of hands-on, self-directed model endorsed by Montessori-- the concept of a school environment that is self-directed for children today appears to exist only for a select group of private, liberal, often upper-class people as opposed to public education as a whole.

While Dewey is clearly the giant in his area and using him allows me to come up with my oh-so clever entry title, the real "bad guy" in this comparison is one of Dewey's lackeys, William Heard Kilpatrick, whose The Montessori System Examined, published around in 1914, was a withering attack on Miss Montessori and her schools. It is fair to say that this method has yet to recover and why it only seems to exist today for the elite.

As I read more about self-directed learning and Problem-Based Learning as it applies to the emerging world of technologically-driven education, I am discovering that it as often useful to look to the past for ideas. Ironic as that sounds, it is helpful to re-examine old concepts in a new light. I think Miss Montessori and her Method may have their day in the sun yet.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Dog Ate My Cloud?

Week 2 of the blog and I still have no idea what shape this project will take. I mean...I have some ideas but I've put off the "heavy lifting" of reading the textbook, I still am wrapping my brain around the ISTE and NETS-T nd NETS-S applications. I feel that, in the good ole' analog paradigm, I'm falling behind. And yet, my mind does not stop thinking about our changing world and the opportunities that these changes will present to those of us willing to endure the pains of this transformation.

I wrote my entry last week whilst enjoying the satisfying baked goods and coffee at the Panera Bread in downtown Evanston, IL. In communication with Dr. Lubelfeld, I remarked on the simple wonder of this. I did that, last week, out of choice. We have wireless Internet at home, but the otherwise most welcome company of my wife and my 5 year old daughter and my 6 month old son would create too much distraction for me. Tonight, however, even had I decided to stay at home, I would not have had that choice, and would need to have headed out elsewhere out of necessity, as our cable system is shot, and our provider cannot make a call--where one adult is home--until Tuesday.

And so it followed that as I was biking down the 6 or so miles toward Lincoln Park--I took the opportunity to include some modest exercise in an otherwise sedentary day--I thought quite a bit about the concept of homework, against the backdrop of a web-based world. In the Analog World (say, in 1994), a 39 year old Masters Degree student would do his homework at home. As with today, he might go to the local coffee shop, as the non-stop coffee and general atmosphere that coffee shops provide have long made them conducive to studying, even before the Internet became wireless. Other than this, though, this student wouldn't have too many options besides perhaps the library, which also would serve the purpose of providing reference. No matter what, however, he always kept his homework with him. Physically. On his person. Even if he was, relative to his time, technically savvy by having his homework on the good ole' 3 1/2" floppy disk or--really showing off now--a LAPTOP COMPUTER--the homework was still his physical property about which he would need to be vigilant in its protection.

So I made the realization, over the course of this analysis, that almost all of my homework is web-based. It's "out there". It's on the cloud. Homework is no longer something which we can "lose", right?

Well, sure enough, as I settle in to the Panera Bread on Diversey, I get settled in to check in to my classroom and begin to open my textbook and review our e-classroom session last Tuesday (I recall, from this session, how Dr. Lubelfeld keep metnioning "The Cloud" and wanted to revisit our entire conversation as a class and continue pondering it) only to find....that my school's website is down!

I'm not sure if this qualifies as irony or just as an example of me getting my comeuppance from the Gods of the Analog World but, in any event, it's forced me to make the realization that perfection is still an abstraction. Nonetheless, the thought for today is clouds. Even when they're gray and stormy.

Sign of the times...when you google "cloud", Cloud Computing appears as the first hit as the second hit is a definition of the literal cloud in our physical sky.