Heavy holiday reading
The holidays are upon us. I’m sure what you’re all really dying for over the holidays is some reading to really sink your teeth into—something dense with substance, thick with controversy, heavy with the weight of the human condition.
Well, I live to serve. Find below reading on Cognitive Load Theory vs. Progressive Education, an in-depth academic paper on Montessori’s moral philosophy, and more.
Philosophy of Education
Why So Many Kids Struggle to Learn (essay) — Natalie Wexler summarizes one major trend in the education discourse: the argument that progressive learning philosophies have blocked the implementation of research that backs direct, explicit instruction. The idea is that the basic model of cognition from cognitive science, specifically the way that memory is parsed into a limited “working” portion and an unlimited longer-term store, should be pushing us to help students get the basics into memory as part of freeing up their capacity for competent conscious thought.
This is the most thoughtful case for “traditional” education, for overt, teacher-directed instruction. To the extent that you are naturally skeptical of such views, drawn towards more discovery-oriented or constructivist approaches, you should be extra-motivated to read this essay. This is the argument that your instincts are backwards and that the true cutting edge is more conservative.
The Moral Philosophy of Maria Montessori (academic paper) — Philosopher Patrick Frierson offers a clear and powerful account of Montessori’s views on ethics and moral development, from the foundations of concentrated work to the edifice of human solidarity. He draws heavily on her most philosophical works, such as the first volume of The Advanced Montessori Method (also published as Spontaneous Activity in Education) A true gem and must-read for anyone interested in Montessori, moral philosophy, or both. One of those essays that’s so good that I wish I had written it.
Culture of Knowledge, Culture of Work (Montessorium essay) — My piece on work and knowledge as the cultural foundations of the Montessori classroom. This is a piece that we’ve used internally for years as a philosophical guide to the sort of learning environment that truly fosters the foundations of agency.
History of Education
Education: Its Data and First Principles (book, 1920) — T. Percy Nunn was an early 20th-century British educator who worked out in detail a different approach to teaching algebra and trigonometry to students. This book, free and online, is his more theoretical work, is a phenomenal and philosophical treatment of the relationship of education to the developing individual.
It influenced Montessori’s thinking and even terminology, and was the source of some of her more Jungian influences. But it’s worth reading at least the first two chapters independently of that, to access a philosophically instinct of a quality that has really faded over the last century.
Schools Cancel Classes to Give Teachers and Students Mental Health Days (article, WSJ) — A combination of educator burnout, students stress, and union advocacy are leading school districts to add extra closure days on short notice. I tweeted a long thread, not so much about the crookedness of this particular tack, but about how insane it is that we all just accept that schools are mental health disaster zones. Insofar as this is true, leaders in education should be the ones leading the charge on fixing it, on making schools a joyous place, centered around the elevating work of growing up.
See you next week. One more newsletter before the new year.
Matt Bateman, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Montessorium
More Montessorium Content
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Public Schools Exacerbate the Culture Wars
One of the strongest and most persistent arguments for compulsory public schools has always been that they foster cultural and civic unity. But, looking around at the US today, public schools are a major, maybe the major force for division in US society.
The Intellectual Environment of John Dewey, Part V: The Problem of Influence
In denying some sort of transcendent grounding of the individual mind, Dewey dismissed the possibility of constructive personal influence and example.