This short commentary piece describes how the celebrated Scripps Howard Spelling Bee promotes and encourages traditional education philosophies. Clyne notes how the children involved are bright, talented, and confident in their educational abilities, and ascribes this to the role of traditional education values rather than progressive ones.
Quotes on Philosophies on Education & How Children Learn
"I do not like those distinctions between schools and academies which result in giving different and separate education to the richer and to the poorer nobility. All, being equal under the constitution of the state, ought to be educated together and in the same fashion; and if it is impossible to set up an absolutely free system of public education, the cost must at least be set at a level the poor can afford to pay. Would it not be possible to provide in each school a certain number of free scholarships, that is to say, supported at state expense, of the sort known in France as bursaries? These scholarships, given to the children of poor gentlemen who have deserved well of the country, given not as an act of charity but as a reward for the merit of the father, would thus become honourable, and might produce a double advantage well worth considering. To accomplish this, nominations should not be arbitrary, but made by a form of selection of which I shall speak hereafter. Those who have been chosen would be called children of the state, and distinguished by some honorific insignia which would give them precedence over other children of their own age, including even the children of magnates.
In every school a gymnasium, or place for physical exercise, should be established for the children. This much-neglected provision is, in my opinion, the most important part of education, not only for the purpose of forming robust and healthy physiques, but even more for moral purposes, which are either neglected or else sought only through a mass of vain and pedantic precepts which are simply a waste of breath. I can never sufficiently repeat that good education ought to be negative. Prevent vices from arising, and you will have done enough for virtue. In a good system of public education, the way to accomplish this is simplicity itself: it is to keep children always on the alert, not by boring studies of which they understand nothing and which they hate simply because they are forced to sit still; but by exercises which give them pleasure by satisfying the need of their growing bodies for movement, and which in other ways will be enjoyable.
They should not be allowed to play alone as their fancy dictates, but all together and in public, so that there will always be a common goal toward which they all aspire, and which will excite competition and emulation. Parents who prefer domestic education, and have their children brought up under their own eyes, ought nevertheless to send them to these exercises. Their instruction may be domestic and private, but their games ought always to be public and common to all; for here it is not only a question of keeping them busy, of giving them a robust constitution, of making them agile and muscular, but also of accustoming them at an early age to rules, to equality, to fraternity, to competition, to living under the eyes of their fellow-citizens and to desiring public approbation. Therefore the prizes and rewards of the victors should not be distributed arbitrarily by the games-coaches or by the school-officials, but by the acclamation and judgment of the spectators; and you can be sure that these judgments will always be just, above all if care is taken to make the games attractive to the public, by presenting them with some ceremony and with an eye to spectacular effect. Then we may assume that all worthy people and all good patriots will consider it a duty and a pleasure to attend."
"The relativism of the Progressives is a crucial point for their educational theories. If there is no truth, it is appropriate to inquire what education is about. Why should children be sent to school? Why should there be a huge educational establishment? ... The point here is that the relativistic position served as the point of departure for the undermining of traditional education. If there is no truth, the teacher who lectures to his class is indoctrinating or propagandizing them. If nothing is established, the giving and grading of examinations is a spurious undertaking. If there is nothing enduring, the teaching of subject matter is surely a waste of time."
"I believe that the image is the great instrument of instruction. What a child gets out of any subject presented to him is simply the images which he himself forms with regard to it.
I believe that if nine tenths of the energy at present directed towards making the child learn certain things, were spent in seeing to it that the child was forming proper images, the work of instruction would be indefinitely facilitated."
"When a man fits himself in America to teach history or chemistry, it scarcely seems to occur to him, or rather it scarcely seems to occur to those who prescribe his studies for him, that he ought to study history or chemistry. Instead, he studies merely 'education'. The study of education seems to be regarded as absolving a teacher from obtaining any knowledge of the subjects that he is undertaking to teach. And the pupils are being told, in effect, that the simple storing up in the mind of facts concerning the universe and human life is a drudgery from which they have now been emancipated; they are being told, in other words, that the great discovery has been made in modern times that it is possible to learn how to 'think' with a completely empty mind. It cannot be said that the result is impressive. In fact the untrammeled operation of the effects of this great American pedagogic discovery is placing American schools far behind the schools of the rest of the civilized world."
"This Alice in Wonderland reversal of reality has been accomplished largely by virtue of the rhetorical device that I have called 'premature polarization.' Discovery learning is labeled 'progressive,' and whole-class instruction 'traditional.' Under such descriptors, one mode is assumed to be active and engaging, the other passive and boring; one holistic and indirect, the other step-by-step and direct. As a result of such terminological polarization, the term 'direct instruction,' which is the mode advocated by a number of teachers and educational specialists, has come in for some heavy criticism from anti-traditionalists: The distinction, however, between direct and indirect instruction is an unfortunate simplification of some complex issues. It overlooks, for instance, the different pedagogical requirements for procedural learning and content learning and thus neglects the different pedagogical emphases needed at the different ages and stages of learning. Effective procedural learning requires 'overlearning,' and hence plenty of practice. Content learning is amenable to a diversity of methods that accommodate themselves to students' prior knowledge, habits, and interests."
"Too many middle level teachers continue to buy into the myth that young adolescents are so distracted by their social, emotional, physical, and psychological development that they have no interest in learning, and that there is no point in challenging them. . . . There are also too many middle school teachers who lack the necessary subject matter knowledge necessary to engage students in higher levels of learning and who demonstrate little interest in their own professional development to acquire the knowledge and skills they need."
"After reviewing the arguments mustered by the phonics and whole-language proponents, can we make a judgment as to who is right? Yes. The value of explicit, systematic phonics instruction has been well established. Hundreds of studies from a variety of fields support this conclusion. Indeed, the evidence is so strong that if the subject under discussion were, say, the treatment of the mumps, there would be no discussion."
"I know of no research that explains this finding, but I shall hazard the guess that individualized, learner-centered instruction must be extremely boring to most students most of the time, since, by mathematical necessity, they are not receiving individualized attention most of the time. It may also be the case that the slow pace and progress of less structured teaching may fail to engage and motivate students. A teacher must be extraordinarily talented to know just how to interact engagingly with each individual child. Given the strong motivation of young children to learn about the adult world, the best way to engage them is by a dramatic, interactive, and clear presentation that incidentally brings out the inherent satisfaction in skill mastery and interest in subject matter."
"The middle school movement of the late 1980s had as its ideological antecedent the notion that academics should take a back seat to such progressive pedagogical techniques as self-exploration, socialization, and group learning. Filling this content void is a disproportionate regard for student self-esteem and identity development, education in egalitarian principles, and attention to students' physical, sexual, social, and mental health. And the result? A precipitous decline in academic achievement."