Wednesday, April 7, 2010

At least someone from Chicago had a clue....

I should say that no subject in itself has a distinct pedagogical value. The value of any subject is in relation to all other subjects.

Colonel Francis W. Parker

Principal of the Cook County Normal School
Report of the Committee of fifteen (1895)

For a variety of good reasons, we are, as a faculty, designing a new environmental science course, integrating traditional divisions into one course. It's exciting designing a course from scratch.

We get to blend our disciplines--biology, physics, chemistry, geoscience--into a year's worth of science aimed at freshmen who do not (yet) plan to nab a Nobel Prize in science.

Specialization in high school science may have made sense in 1895, when the Committee of fifteen developed the class divisions we still use today, before specialization got so, well, specialized.

While it's cute to watch videos of children spout off scientific language, it becomes dangerous when ignorant folks confuse this with knowledge.

Charlie's Playhouse was founded by a Dr. Kate Miller, a scientist who now stays at home to be with her kids. I'm sure her heart's in the right place, and her science is sound. She's not just another huckster exploiting children to sell something.

Still, the video of children sanctimoniously spouting off mostly bad science (with the exception of one child's succinct description of natural selection) illustrates how science evolves into dogma. Using cute kids and bouncy music to sell ideas, even good ones, saddens me.

If we taught science as a discipline, as a way of looking at the world, instead of the fragmented approach we take today, I bet Charlie's Playhouse would thrive without the marketing gurus on their advisory board.


Kate said...

Did you know that the someone from Chicago founded the school that I teach at? It's named after him. I should send you a copy of his Talks on Pedagogics. Smart man. Also knew enough to hire smart people in 1901 when he started the school. We still use his idea of the central subject to craft certain curriculum. Other classwork has gone the way of specializing. It's a difficult tension, but one that we work hard to keep balanced.

That's why I teach in the middle school. We connect the disciplines whenever we can. Tomorrow, if this fever that has plagued me for four days has finally gone, I will join some colleagues at the Oriental Institute at the U of C to think about ways to connect.

I will send you that book if you want.

doyle said...

Dear Kate,

I took a cheap shot at Chicago--I should have directed it at Arne.

Please get better. Soon.

I would love to read the book--it might take me a month or two to get through it, we're (as you know) in the bus season now with exams coming up. I envy the interconnectedness in middle school. We need to recapture it in high school. Disconnected classes makes no sense.

Kate said...

Hey, doyle -

No offense taken re: Chicago via the Colonel. We all were skeptical of the Chicago miracle while it was "happening." Duncan's just a CEO - he don't know squat about teaching or students.

Francis Parker doesn't get the headlines, but he knew his stuff. I'll send you the book for your summer reading. Nothing like 19th century non-fiction - although, some seems dated, so much is spot on.

Fever finally gone. Thanks for your well wishes. Lasted five days of a lovely break. I guess I was supposed to rest.