Minding American Education: Reclaiming the Tradition of Active Learning

Minding American Education: Reclaiming the Tradition of Active Learning by Martiin Brickman.

Martin Brickman (Teachers College Press, 2003) has written a wonderful history of the alternative vision of a lineage of American thinkers who challenged conventional education to be more than sitting down and taking tests. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, John Dewey, John Holt, and George Dennsion, are among those featured. From the book:

Edgar Friedenberg makes the crucial point that engagement with specifics and greater freedom to learn are actually more thought provoking and sustaining than are traditional methods: "Our insistence that concrete experience form the basis for education opened Romantic critics to the charge of being anti-intellectual, which was frequently and vituperatively made. Conventional schooling, I would argue, is far more weakly rooted in the intellect than alternative schooling, since it depends so heavily on conventional wisdom and officially certified facts."
Holt wrote the most effective critique of the ways our schools do business not through sweeping indictments of capitalist society and the "system," but by describing in detail self-defeating actions of both teachers and students in the classroom. No one at the time—or since, for that matter—has successfully refuted his data and analysis, so there was every reason to believe that in a rational world his critique would be heeded. That his book had not permanent effect on educaiton in the way that, say, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring affected agriculture or Ralph Nader's Unsafe At Any Speed affected auto safety suggests the extent to which education has become a system that cannot learn about itself.