Friday, September 17, 2010

The Story of Schools, Episode 2: 1900-1950

I found this video to be very interesting and informative. I haven’t really spent much time thinking about what school was like over a hundred years ago. So learning about it now, has been very eye-opening. I really enjoyed the stats that they gave at the beginning of each section. I especially enjoyed watching the stats, like percentage of 17-year-olds who graduate high school, improve as the years went on. This particular video put a lot of focus on immigration, IQ tests and change.

In the early 1900s, over 22 million (3 million children) immigrants came to America. The schools had to do something about this, but they weren’t sure what. The schools weren’t big enough to hold all of the students, so a lot of students were only allowed to attend school part time. This doesn’t seem like the students have enough time to truly learn. The schools put a lot of focus on “Americanizing” the immigrant students by having them study how to be Americans while in school. They didn’t have a lot of faith in the minority children and trained them in industrial work, not aware that they might actually be smart kids that just weren’t inspired or challenged enough to reach full potential.

The discussion of IQ testing in this episode was very disheartening. I didn’t like how the impossibly worded questions were used to determine the “quality people” from the less qualified. The test didn’t seem anything to do with what was learned in school. It was also unfortunate how culturally biased the tests were. They were always given in English, so anyone who couldn’t understand English was automatically doomed to fail.

It seemed like educators had a hard time deciding what was important for students to learn while in school. They changed their minds a lot. One of the first major programs was Gary’s “work, study, play” concept. At first, it was a hit. Students were kept busy at all times and even got to learn things that interested them. They had to walk from class to class, which kept them exercising both bodies and minds. Students even got to help run the school, whether in the kitchen, library, etc. However, people soon began to view the Gary plan as preparation for working in the factories and people revolted. They wanted to return to a focus on the pen, paper and book way of learning. So they got rid of the Gary plan and hit the books. Eventually, educators came up with a new program known as the life-adjustment program. This made school more relevant to students’ lives. They take courses on sex, dating, family life, etc.

One guy at the end made a comment about how the approach used towards education is always changing. The way he sees it, educators keep going back and forth between two concepts: traditional and progressive. I think educators are sometimes afraid when it comes to being progressive, but I believe it does a lot for the field of education when certain risks are taken. I think it is crucial that we continue to try new and exciting ideas to get students engaged.

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