Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Review of Stout's "Feel Good Curriculum"

Here is a review I recently wrote about another highly reccomended book, Maureen Stout's "Feel-Good Curriculum." It is a very good indictment of an overly progressive education, a la ED Hirsch


Maureen Stout's book, "The Feel-Good Curriculum," would make a good companion to the works of ED Hirsch, author of "The Knowledge Deficit." These two authors' theses are much the same: over the past forty-or-so years, the "progressive" changes in American education have led to the decline of academic standards, the over-valuing of (a misguided view of) self-esteem, and and the turning out of students ill-prepared for the disciplined nature of the "real world."

Stout is a professor of education at UC Berkley, and like her philosophical kin Hirsch, is interested not only in demonstrating these saddening trends but in exploring their ideational roots. While the usual suspects (Dewey, Thorndike), she also links non-educators like psychologist Carl Rogers and Erik Ericksson with the "child-centered," whole child," and "self-actualization" movements in education.

These movements changed virtually everything about schooling. Instead of teaching students basic academics, their primary goals were not wo help the child reach self-actualizaiton (whatever THAT means!). Instead of seeing discipline as necessary for an ordered school, it was now seen as an antiquated stifler of student enthusiasm.

...And, as Stout points out, the movement kept on going, becoming more and more extreme despite yielding worse and worse reults. As an educator, I found myself oscillating between chuckling and containing anger as I read about current trends in educaiton - Vygotskyan cooperative learning, social (rather than standards-based) promotion, educators as facilitators rather than instructors - that I sadly recognize all too well. And as an educator, I can attest that these are trends that need to be rethought and revamped, but never seem to be; Stout hits these problems right on the head in writing about these problems, not only identifying THAT, but WHY, they are problems.

Stout ends with a section on how we can turn some of these effects around (and her suggestions sound much like those of ED Hirsch). She does not advocate a return to the dark ages where students memorize rote passages and are paddled for misbehavior. She advocates a return to standards-based, rather than "outcome-based" educaiton, readjust our views on the value of discipine, and maybe get rid of the "progressive" idea of self-esteem that equates it with "feeling good for no good reason" rather than an earned feeling of accomplishment.

This is a very, very good book. Those who read it will either be challenged to re-examine cherished views or be further outraged by problems they know too well. Either way, it is not a book to be missed.

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