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Forgotten Heroes of American Education: The Great Tradition of Teaching Teachers (Readings in Educational Thought) Paperback – January 1, 2006
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By Richard K. Munro MA, Renshaw Fellow UVA 2004
Null, Wesley and Diane Ravitch, Eds. Forgotten Heroes of American Education , Information Age Publishing, Greenwich Connecticut, 2006
America, all is not lost. In 1987 we had The Closing of the American Mind by the late Allan Bloom followed by E.D. Hirsch's Cultural Literacy, Diane Ravitch's classics Left Back (2000) and The Language Police (2003). 2006 gave us John Dewey and the Decline of American Education by Henry Edmondson and now FORGOTTEN HEROES OF AMERICAN EDUCATION edited by Wesley Null and Diane Ravitch. Here we have essays -some published for the first time- from great American educators of the so-called "Traditionalist/Essentialist" school such as William Bagley, Isaac Kandel, Charles DeGarmo, and Charles Alexander McMurray among others, including the forgotten essays of the John Dewey in which Dewey criticizes the excesses of some of his colleagues of the liberal-romantic-progressive school. Here, in FORGOTTEN HEROES we have great appeals to the traditional foundations of wisdom, learning and education but also appeals to her scientific, cultural as well as her authentically progressive foundations. These thinkers have much to say to 21st century America about curriculum, teacher training, the foundations of a proper educational philosophy, student discipline, and the purpose of formal schooling in a free society. Ravitch and Null have added splendid short biographies and commentaries not to mention a list of recommended readings.
Much of the book is dedicated to the vital and still pertinent essays of William Bagley. Like Victor Davis Hanson, Bagley was no mere ivory tower intellectual; he worked in agriculture and owned his own farm. Bagley had wide experience as a classroom teacher, a principal and superintendent. Bagley favored a free liberal education for all Americans regards of their IQ or future occupation. In "The Army Tests and Pro-Nordic Propaganda" Bagley opposed the determinism, extreme social Darwinism and deep racial supremacy of the 1920's as inhumane, un-American and anti-democratic. Bagley's essays CRAFTSMANSHIP IN TEACHING, THE IDEAL TEACHER and EDUCATION AND UTILITY are literary jewels, well-crafted, lucid and informative. Bagley was right to recognize the profound anti-intellectualism and utilitarianism in liberal/romantic/progressive theory. Bagley is a teacher's teacher: he respects the craft of teaching. Bagley understands that teaching is above all a calling and an act of service, sacrifice and love. Teaching could never be an entirely mercenary profession, though a man would say today taking a "vow of poverty" might be going too far! Bagley was one of the first educators to be concerned about the 'blob' the growing non-teaching bureaucracy which considered the classroom teacher to be at the bottom of the profession. Ever the supporter of high educational standards Bagley made a very strong case that the fundamental factor in academic excellence was based on the quality of the classroom teacher.
Isaac Kandel, another of the "forgotten heroes" made his "Address at St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University" in 1940, unpublished until this volume. In this age of terror this address is very timely. In it Kandel calls for an educational philosophy with integrity based on deep gratitude for the practical wisdom, Natural Rights philosophy of the Founders as well as the true roots of the "dignity of the individual", America's Judeo-Christian heritage. Only by recurring to fundamental principles, Kandel believed, could we hope to preserve our free society. Kandel wrote "The basic principles of democracy are rooted in the religious traditions of Jew and Christian alike." "Man ....cannot live on negation...he needs values that have stood the test of time." "Education, true education, should liberate; it should cultivate the genuinely free man, the man of moral judgment, of intellectual integrity.....intolerance and hatred are the foundations of the new [ totalitarian] ideologies; Love thy neighbor as thyself is the injunction of the Hebrew prophets and of the Golden Rule." These are just some of the gems from Isaac Kandel on a rigorous curriculum: "It is foolish to except a child to grow up in a right social direction along the lines of his own felt wants as it is to expect a man to find his way in unfamiliar territory without a map or a compass. Organized subject matter constitutes that map..." Kandel on low standards: "the harm done American education by the cult of...superficiality is incalculable." Kandel warns that the disunity in America could come again if we fail to provide an education "to inculcate faith in the ideals of democracy....without well-defined content, [there is]... inevitably... a negation of ideals and faith... a repudiation of the inherited forms of culture and of humanity without which the surface changes in the stream of life are mistaken for the waves of the future." Kandel's essay on "Character Formation" (1959) is one of many outstanding contributions. According to Kandel, an important aim in education throughout history is the ideal of character formation. Kandel writes: "with the declining influence of religious institutions....with the extension of mass media...the task of character formation becomes more and more difficult... all these conflicting influences may be added a certain relaxation of standards, both intellectual and disciplinary...the 'get by' attitude." Kandel is so cultivated and yet so moving and so lucid that for his essays alone FORGOTTEN HEROES would be worth it.
Recently I was told the story of a well known professor of education who said: "It doesn't matter what they [teachers] know...All that matters is how they teach." In other words process counts not knowledge, not virtue, not wisdom! So it is true the Deweyite Sophists have taken over the academy particularly in "Teacher Ed"! This is just one true life story of the doctrinaire liberals who dominate in Teacher's Colleges. There Deweyite learning or doctrine -by this I mean the Romantic-progressive school -a traditionless tradition- is practically an established religion. As Hanson, Thornton and Heath have written previously in BONFIRE OF THE HUMANITIES; "... the American academic culture is one of the most glaring failures and embarrassments of modern society itself."
The thesis of FORGOTTEN HEROES is that the tradition of teaching and learning going back to Plato and Aristotle represented by Bagley, Kandel and others has never been extinguished despite the long 20th century ascendancy of Dewey's Liberal-Romantic-Progressive school. The whole point of Bloom, E. D. Hirsch, Null and Ravitch is until teachers improve in quality, and schools improve in discipline and organization all the money in the world will do no good. Disoriented, demoralized American teachers, unprepared by barely relevant teacher education programs, crushed beneath the wheel of a bloated, misguided bureaucracy, unsupported by their own administrations, may have become `weak sisters' (and brothers) in, reading, writing and the ACADEMIC disciplines. Bagley, Kandel and the other FORGOTTEN HEROES knew that well-educated classroom teachers were crucial to the survival and success of the American Republic. FORGOTTEN HEROES OF AMERICAN EDUCATION is truly splendid anthology for specialists or for the general reader. It is not an exaggeration to say FORGOTTEN HEROES is a book that ought to be familiar to every concerned school teacher and wise administrator, every involved parent and thoughtful citizen and every dedicated civic and community leader.
June 22-July 2 2006
Anyone who is involved in the preparation of teachers and is a proponent of such common-sense notions as the paramount role of academic content in teaching, high standards for students, and the teacher's responsibility for academic and moral classroom leadership, should buy this book. Although the most recent essay was penned in 1960, the arguments of these intellectual opponents of the then-emerging progressive conventional wisdom are, for the most part, as fresh today as when written. Carefully reflect upon the essays of such master teachers and scholars as William C. Bagley and Issac L. Kandel who are included in the anthology. Then, if you are involved in teacher education make sure your students experience the genuine intellectual diversity represented in the contents of this book. This is a useful tool in the mounting effort within many education schools to end the progressive intellectual monopoly.