K-12 Education Through the Lens of the Progressive World-View & Values

Note: This is the third post on a discussion of progressive and conservative values and how they impact education in America. In this post we will explore the progressive world-view and its values, and try and understand why the progressive ideals ought to form the foundation for American K-12 education.

Progressive values should set the ideals of teaching, and learning in American society.  Unfortunately, the “cloud of authoritarianism looms over education, making it very difficult to design instruction around progressive values. In this post we examine education through the lens of the progressive world-view.

Progressive and conservative approaches to education have competed with each other in America for more than a century.  The conservative view has dominated American education, but we’ll also find that the progressive view has impacted American education in powerful ways at different times during this period.  We’ll examine the foundations of the progressive view and then apply our findings to the nature of education, including teaching, learning, and curriculum development.

Progressive World View

In order to understand how world-views can be used to examine education, we are using the cognitive modeling and cognitive theory of metaphor by George Lakoff.  Lakoff in his book Thinking Points:

formulated the nation-as-family metaphor as a precise mapping between the nation and the family: the homeland as home, the citizens as siblings, the government (or the head of government) as parent.  The government’s duty is to citizens as a parent’s is to children: provide security (protect us); make laws (tell us what we can and cannot do); run the economy (make sure we have enough money and supplies); provide public schools (educate us).

World view refers to the culturally-dependent, generally subconscious, fundamental organization of the mind,” according to William W. Cobern, who has done extensive research on world-view and how it impinges science teaching.  One’s world view predisposes one to feel, think and act in predictable way, according to Cobern.  World-view inclines one to a particular way of thinking.

My argument about trying to explain the current state of schooling in the U.S., will take into consideration two different political and social world-views, the conservative world-view, and the progressive world-view.  Both world-views have played significant roles in American history, including public education.  In the most recent post on this blog, we looked at the conservative world-view.You might want to read that post first, before going on with one.

In this post we’ll examine the progressive world-view and how progressivism affects schooling.

Nurturing Family & Progressive Morality

In Lakoff’s research, the nation-as-family conceptual metaphor can be used to help us understand our political worldview, and in my argument, this will also enable us to explain how progressive values differ from conservative values, and how they affect education in America.

In Lakoff’s research he has shown that this conceptual metaphor produces two very different models of families: a “strict father” family and a “nurturant parent” family.  In his view this creates two fundamentally different ideaologies about how the nation should be governed.  I am suggesting that these two views can teach us about how education in America should be organized and “governed.”
Continue reading “K-12 Education Through the Lens of the Progressive World-View & Values”

Guest Post by Ingvar Stål: Humanistic Science Inquiry-Oriented Teaching in Finland

Note: This is the second post by Dr. Ingvar Stål, Senior lecturer in physics, chemistry, and science at the Botby Junior High School. In his first post, which you can read here, Dr. Stål gave us an overview of the Finnish educational system, which provides a basic education to all Finnish citizens ages 7 to 16, as well as a higher education.  In the first post, Dr. Stål helped us understand the overall structure of the Finnish educational system, beginning with basic education, grades 1 – 6, followed by lower secondary, grades 7 – 10, and upper secondary, 11 and 12.

Dr. Stål teaches at Botby School, Helsinki, Finland.  He conducts teacher training courses in science at Turku ( 92,6 miles or 149,02 km from Helsinki), School Resources.  He is also doing research in Science Education for his second doctorate at Interdisciplinary Science Education, Technologies and Learning (ISETL), School of Education, University of Glasgow, UK ( 1098,8 miles or 1768,3 km from Helsinki) under supervision of Professor Vic Lally.

In this post, Dr. Stål writes about the methods that science teachers use in Finnish classrooms by comparing the behavioristic teaching of school physics, which is teacher-centered (TCM) to the humanistic science inquiry oriented (HSIO) method, which student-centered (SCM).  This post is based on a research paper by Dr. Stål which you can read in full here.

By Dr. Ingvar Stål

In class, regardless of the country there is always a central figure – the teacher. The teacher knows how to work with students, in order to involve them in teaching process. The teacher is responsible for the organization of curriculum content for the students.  Therefore, the teacher must have appropriate education for this activity.

Finnish Science Teachers and Teaching

Dr. Ingvar Stål, science teacher and researcher, Botby School, Helsinki, Finland. Copyright © Botbyscience.com | Ingvar Stål 2008-2009

In the Finnish comprehensive school, teachers still have a respectable position in society. The education of physics teachers takes about 5 years and is carried out by local universities, and as additional training to obligatory specialization.

After this training teachers receive a Mastes Degree in a subject and a Teaching Certificate. For example, a teacher may have a Masters Degree in Physics and Certificate of Teaching in Physics at Lower Secondary and Upper Secondary Schools. In order to receive this certificate candidates must have at least 60 credits in Pedagogy Studies and Practice.

In recent years in the Finnish comprehensive schools there has been a shortage of Physics teachers. In the Finland-Swedish comprehensive school year 2008 only 57,1 % physics teachers had a Teaching Certificate [1]. There are several reasons for the physics teacher shortage: lack of candidates, preference to work as a physics teacher at upper secondary school due to problems with discipline and low level of curriculum content, low salary compared to the amount of work and responsibilities.

The common responsibilities of science teachers are as follows : teaching, preparation of lab work and demonstrations, ordering of material and instruments, design of assessment tests for students, maintain contact with students’ parents.

The teaching process in school physics is a teacher-centered activity. It means that the teacher is the presenter of physics content and students are the recipients.  In the Finnish comprehensive schools, the teaching of school physics and others school sciences is a variation of the three stage model of teaching: Initiation-Response-Evaluation (IRE [2]), and is described as the Teacher-Centered Model TCM [3, 4].
Continue reading “Guest Post by Ingvar Stål: Humanistic Science Inquiry-Oriented Teaching in Finland”

The Radical Idea of Helping Students Construct Their Own Ideas

Helping students construct their own ideas is considered by some educators a subversive idea that runs counter to the present impetus of the Race to the Top and NCLB Waivers. These Federal programs, especially NCLB, have created a narrowing of the curriculum, a data-driven, test-based school culture, and the despicable use of student tests as the main criterion of teacher accountability.

The theory of learning that underlies these Federal reform efforts is behaviorism.  It’s a theory that is very good if you want to teach behaviors.  But it is a theory that tends to retard the teaching of thinking.  When we want our dog to sit, we hover a treat over the dog’s head and move it backwards so that the dog sits.  Do this a few times adding the work sit, and you have it.
Continue reading “The Radical Idea of Helping Students Construct Their Own Ideas”

Hip Hop Generation: Humanizing Urban Science Education

The current wave of reform in science education is not in the best interests of the diverse cultures that comprise the population of the United States.  The reform is standards- and test-based, and seeks to create schooling that ignores differences in people, and instead creates an outline of what is to learned for all students regardless of where they live.

During my career as a teacher, I have been an advocate for humanistic education, which is a person-centered approach in which teachers create environments that are experiential and ones in which discovering, valuing, and exploring underscore the activities of students.

While doing research for the first edition of the Art of Teaching Science, I became aware of Dr. Christopher Emdin, through his research in science education.  In particular it was Emdin’s research that focused on science education in urban classrooms.

In the first publication that I found written by Dr. Emdin, entitled Exploring the context of urban science classrooms the concepts of corporate and communal classroom organizations were introduced.

Corporate vs Communal Teaching

Corporate classroom organization occurs when students and teachers are involved with subject matter and functioning that follow a factory or production mode of social interaction.  The primary goal in corporate classes is to maintain order and to achieve specific results, such as scores on achievement tests.

Communal classrooms involve students and teachers working with subject matter through interactions that focus on interpersonal relationships, community and the collective betterment of the group.

Hip-Hop Generation

Find Christopher Emdin's Book on Amazon

Recently Dr. Emdin published a ground-breaking book entitled Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation.  The book provides essential tools for the urban science educator and researcher, according to the publisher.  But it is much more than that.

Christopher Emdin say this about the philosophy that under-girds his book:

In urban classroom, the culture of the school is generally different from the culture of the students.  In addition, a majority of students are either African American or Latino/a while their teachers are mostly White.  Culturally, urban youth are mostly immersed in a generally communal and distinctly hip-hop based way of knowing and being.  By this, I mean that the shared realities that come with being socioeconomically deprived areas brings urban youth together in ways that transcend race/ethnicity and embraces their collective connections to hip-hop.  Concurrently, hip-hop is falsely interpreted as being counter to the objectives of school, or seen as “outside of” school culture.

In the current conversation about educational reform, and in particular, science education reform, the thinking reflected in Emdin’s book should be fundamental reading for science teachers and teacher educators, as well the corporate types that are aggressively pushing the corporate take over of schooling which relies on a very traditional model of teaching.

Hip-Hop and Reform of Education

As I pointed out at the beginning of this piece, my interest was piqued after reading Emdin’s research comparing and contrasting the corporate vs the communal organization of classrooms.  I would expand this to include whole school systems.

The danger we face is that American education is being led to adopt and solidify, through common standards and common assessments, a corporate management style of classrooms and schools.  Teachers and students are together in the service of reaching the goals and objectives (standards) set by outside groups (although only one group wrote the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics and English/Language arts & the same company is writing the common science standards—Achieve, Inc.).  To meet these standards, the same organizations have developed bubble type achievement tests, and mandated that all students should reach the same level of proficiency regardless of where they live.

Emdin’s approach is to encourage classrooms that are organized as communal systems in which teachers and students work with subject matter through interactions that focus on interpersonal relationships, community, and the collective betterment of the group.

It is obvious that the corporate approach would see hip-hop as something outside of schooling, and reject it as a legitimate form of communication inside education.  Of course, this is a huge mistake.  One of the biggest problems that beginning teachers have who are hired to teach in urban classrooms is their lack of knowledge of their students’ culture, and how to work with students in a culture very different than their own.

The county in which I live in Georgia just turned down the superintendent’s request to hire 50 Teach for America Teachers and place them in south Cobb schools, which reflect the urban culture described above, especially since most of the students in these schools are Latino/a.  The decision needless to say was a controversial one.  The TFA is a large corporate entity that places “teachers” in full time teaching positions in urban schools.  However the TFA teachers have no prior training in teaching other than a four week summer program prior to employment.  TFA will tell you that their teachers help urban students learn more (on achievement tests) than other beginning teachers.  There is little to no evidence to support this.  But because TFA teachers are from prestigious schools and are bright and smart, the common sense notion is that they are the kind of teachers needed for urban schools, like the schools in South Cobb.

Not so according to many teachers in Cobb County and its school board.  Not only is there is a budget shortage in Cobb (as in most other districts), but by hiring 50 TFA teachers would mean that 50 experienced teachers would have to go.  Those who embrace the TFA mantra tell us that they will deliver the best and the brightest, and the most inexperienced professionals for America’s urban schools.   Its not solving the problem, and the teachers and school board in Cobb made the right decision.

Communal Teaching and Reform

The kind of teaching environment that Emdin suggests for urban schools is a communal one.  Communal classrooms involve students and teachers working with subject matter through interactions that focus on interpersonal relationships, community and the collective betterment of the group.  This type of teaching requires not only an understanding of the student’s culture, but the courage and willingness to create classrooms that are based on relationships, empathy, and understanding, and there is substantial evidence that in order to do this the best and most experienced teachers are needed.  Putting unlicensed and inexperienced teachers in urban classrooms is more of an experiment being carried out by TFA rather than a solution to urban schooling.

Emdin provides insight for us as to go about being a teacher in urban classrooms.  Because Emdin places great emphasis encouraging teachers to understand their urban students and he says this:

…it is necessary to understand how students know, feel, and experience the world by becoming familiar with where students come from and consciously immersing oneself in their culture.  This immersion in student culture, even for teachers who may perceive themselves to be outsiders to hip-hop, simply requires taking the time to visit, observe, and study student culture.

Dr. Emdin suggests that classrooms should be viewed as a “space with its own reality.”  In particular he urges us to focus on the “experiences of hip-hop participants as a conduit through which they can connect to science.”  Using the concept “reality pedagogy” teaching in the urban classroom means creating a new dialogue in which the student’s beliefs and behaviors are considered normal, and that the experiences within the hip-hop culture can actually be the way to learning science.

You might want to follow this link to a review of Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation by Jose M. Rios in Democracy & Education.

What do you think about Dr. Emdin’s ideas about teaching and learning in the urban classroom?  What experiences would you like to share with us about teaching?

The Consequence of Banning High-Stakes Testing in (Science)

American education in general, and science education specifically have been radically and negatively impacted by high-stakes testing.

High-stakes testing, as set forth in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), is the idea that the pressure of such tests will increase student achievement.  But one of the major studies cited here finds that the pressure created by high-stakes tests has no important influence on academic performance (Nichols, Glass & Berliner, 2005).

In this study, which was published in 2005, the researchers found that:

  • States with greater proportions of minority students exert greater pressure, and thus will disproportionately affect minority students.
  • High-stakes pressure is negatively associated with students in middle school moving on to the last year of high school.  The result is that many kids are kept back, or simply drop out of school.
  • Increased pressure did not result in gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test for elementary or middle school students.

These researchers conclude that

there is no convincing evidence that the pressure associated with high-stakes testing leads to any important benefits for students’ achievement. They call for a moratorium on policies that force the public education system to rely on high-stakes testing.

In another research study, Noddings reported that

although evaluation of student learning is required for accountability, high stakes testing is not required and may even be counterproductive. It also questions whether the goals of the ‘No Child Left Behind Act’ are reasonable and contends that, if they are not, there may be no justification for imposing punishments and sanctions on children and schools unable to meet them. Moreover, high stakes testing may be incompatible with many defensible aims – among them, critical thinking.

These two important ideas, that high-stakes testing has not been shown to improve student achievement, and that high-stakes testing is not required to assess student learning lead us to support the notion that

The consequence of eliminating high-stakes testing would be the immediate removal of the pressure on students and teachers to be controlled by a Federal policy that is deeply flawed, and based on a factory mentality of education that does not fit with 21st Century society.  The implementation of high-stakes testing has had more impact on what and how teachers teach than any curriculum innovation of the past 50 years.  Teachers are pressured to teach to the test, and in a case reported yesterday on this blog, Florida science teachers are throwing out hands-on and inquiry activities so that they can spend more time teaching to the end of year test (FCAT).

The consequence of eliminating high-stakes testing would mean that the likely hood that cheating on tests, by students and teachers would go by the wayside.  According to the Georgia Governor’s three-volume report, the Atlanta cheating scandal was caused by “a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation that spread throughout the (Atlanta) district.”  That culture of fear was directly related to the pressure put on administrators, teachers, and students to make sure students scored high on the end-of-year tests at any costs.

The Atlanta scandal is not the first time cheating has happened.  In their book, Collateral Damage, Nichols, and Berliner report that cheating in American schools has occurred because it helps one gain advantages or avoid negative consequences.  In the present NCLB environment, schools can be sanctioned, or taken over, teachers fired, and students told they should go somewhere else to get a better education.

In the Atlanta case, cheating was widespread, and had gone on for several years, all during the enactment period of the NCLB Act.  So far, eleven educators’ teaching licenses have been revoked, and each faces criminal charges.  Another 180 teachers and administrators face sanctions and criminal charges.

I am not condoning the behavior of the educators in Atlanta, but I am using this case to reflect on the research that was done by Nichols, Glass and Berliner in 2005,  and their conclusion calling for a moratorium on policies that force the public education system to rely on high-stakes testing.

The consequence of eliminating high-stakes testing in science would enable science teachers to focus on science standards that encourage innovation, creativity and science-inquiry.  Teachers would also be free to relate science to the lived experiences of their students, to involve students in engaging scientific projects, and use the wealth of resources and curricula that have been developed by the leading science educational organizations in the Nation such as TERC and the Concord Consortium.

Science teaching, as well as other areas of the curriculum, would flourish with the banning of high-stakes tests.

But how would students and teachers be assessed if we didn’t use high-stakes tests.  That’s for tomorrow.


High-Stakes Testing and Student Achievement: Problems for the No Child Left Behind Act, Sharon L. Nichols, Gene V. Glass and David C. Berliner, Arizona State University, Education Policy Studies Laboratory, 2005

High-Stakes Testing: Opportunities and Risks for Students of Color, English-Language Learners, and Students with Disabilities, Jay P. Heubert, Teachers College, Columbia University