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Example research essay topic: Education And Egalitarianism In America - 2,346 words

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... s. The new methods, combined with the physical organization of the school, represented the direct opposite of Pestalozzi's belief that the child's innate powers should be allowed to develop naturally. Rather, the child must be lopped off or stretched to fit the procrustean curriculum. Subjects were graded according to difficulty, assigned to certain years, and taught by a rigid daily timetable. The amount of information that the child had absorbed through drill and memorization was determined by how much could be extracted from him by examinations. Reward or punishment came in the form of grades.

At the end of the 19th century the methods of presenting information had thus been streamlined. The curriculum had been enlarged and brought closer to the concerns of everyday life. Book learning had been supplemented somewhat by direct observation. And psychological whipping in the form of grades had perhaps diminished any physical whipping. In one respect, however, the schools of the late 19th century were no different from those, say, of the Middle Ages: they were still based on who adults thought children were or should be, not who they really were. Before the 20th century, the ideas of such men as Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Froebel, and, in the United States, Francis W. Parker (1837-1902) had caused little more than rumblings beneath the floor of the traditional schoolhouse.

Because of John Dewey (1859-1952), they gathered force, and in the 1920s and 1930s new and old ideas collided right in the middle of the classroom. Some of the schools, where neat rows of subdued children had sat immobilized in their bolted-down seats listening to a teacher armed with textbook, lesson plan, grade book, and disciplinary ruler, became buzzing places where virtually everything moved, including the chairs. The children were occupied in groups or worked by themselves, depending on what they were doing. Above all, they were always doing: reading a favorite book, writing, painting, or learning botany by tending, observing, and discussing the plants they were growing. The teacher moved around the room, asking and answering questions, giving a child the spelling of a word he wanted to write or the pronunciation of a word he wanted to read, and in general acting as a helpful guide for the children's chosen activities. The chattering and noise and activity were signs that the children were excited about and absorbed by what they were doing.

They were, in fact, learning by doing. Dewey maintained that the child is not born with a ready-made faculty called thinking, which needs the exercise of repeated drill to make it as strong as the adult faculty. Nor, he said, is the mind a blank tablet on which knowledge is impressed. Mind thinking or intelligence is, according to Dewey, a developing, growing thing. And the early stages of growth and of knowledge are different from the later stages. The development of the mind begins with the child's perception of things and facts as they are related to himself, to his personal, immediate world. A dog is his dog or his neighbor's dog; it is something furry and warm, something to hug, feed, and play with.

The child may recognize the fact that though his neighbor's dog looks different from his, they are both dogs. When he sees a wolf at the zoo, he may decide that his dog is a nicer and friendlier animal than the wolf. The child's zoological knowledge is thus organized around his own experiences with particular animals and his perceptions of similarities and differences between those experiences; it is psychologically organized knowledge. The last step in the growth of intelligence is the ability to organize facts logically, that is, in terms of their relationship to one another. The formulated, logically organized knowledge of the zoologist is that both the wolf and the domesticated dogs belong to the family Canidae, order Carnivora; that the dogs belong to the genus Canis and species familiaris; and that one dog belongs to the sporting breed spaniel, the other to the working breed collie. Presented to the child in this form, however, the study of zoology has no relation to the animals he plays with, feeds, and observes. His own experience outside of school does not bring the information to life, and the information does not enrich and extend his own experience.

It represents another world entirely a world of empty words. All he can do, therefore, is memorize what he reads and is told. He is not developing the power to think. To stimulate the growth of intelligence rather than stifle it, as Dewey saw it, education must begin not at the end but at the beginning of the growth process; that is, with activity that engages the whole child mentally, socially, physically, and emotionally. In the school, as in his extra-curricular activities, it is the process of doing something that has meaning for the child handling, making, growing, observing. The purpose of the school, however, is not to re-create an environment of relatively random activity but to create an environment where activities are carefully chosen to promote the development of intelligence. Carefully selected and guided, they become nets for gathering and retaining knowledge. Instead of presenting children with an already packaged study of elementary science, Dewey might well have recommended that they study life in an aquarium. The child's natural curiosity should lead to such questions as, "Why does the fish move his mouth like that? Is he always drinking?" His search for the answer will lead his intelligence in the same direction as that taken by the scientist the direction of formulated conclusions based on observation of the phenomenon.

He will be learning the method as well as the subject matter of science; learning to think as a scientist does. Moreover, the inquiry process need not be confined to one narrow area of knowledge but can be guided naturally by the teacher into investigations of fishing and then, conceivably (depending on the maturity of the young learner), of the role of the sea in the life of man. The barriers between "subjects" thus break down as the child's curiosity impels him to draw upon information from all areas of human knowledge. Books, films, recordings, and other such tools serve this end. Learning the skills reading, writing, spelling, and arithmetic can be made meaningful to the child more easily if he is not forced through purposeless mechanical exercises, which, he is told, are important as a preparation for activities in later life. He should be led to discover that in order to do something he recognizes to be important right now, he needs certain skills. If he wants to write a letter, he must know how to spell; if he wants to make a belt, he must know how to measure the leather correctly. Of course, Dewey was not suggesting that in order to learn an individual must restate the whole history of the human race through personal inquiry.

While the need for a background of direct experiences is great in elementary school, as children get older they should become increasingly able to carry out intellectual investigations without having to depend upon direct experiences. The principle of experiencing does apply, however, to the elementary phase of all subjects even when the learner is a high-school or college student or an adult. The purpose is to encourage in the learner a habitual attitude of establishing connections between the everyday life of human beings and the materials of formal instruction in a way that has meaning and application. The measuring and comparative grading of a student's assumed abilities, processes that reflect the educator's desire to assess the "results" of schooling, are incompatible with Dewey's thinking. The quantity of what is acquired does not in itself have anything to do with the development of mind. The "quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers," he wrote, "is the measure of educative growth." Because it is a process, learning is cumulative, and cannot be forced or rushed.

For Dewey, the educative growth of the individual assures the healthy growth of a society. A society grows only by changes brought about by free individuals with independent intelligence and resourcefulness. The beginning of a better society, then, lies in the creation of better schools. At about the same time that a few pioneering schools of the 1920s were trying to put Dewey's theories into practice, the "testing" movement, which started in about 1910, was working up steam. The child had first become the object of methodical scientific research in 1897, when experiments conducted by Joseph M. Rice suggested that drill in spelling did not produce effective results.

By 1913 Edward L. Thorndike had concluded that learning was the establishment of connections between a stimulus and a response and that the theory of mental faculties was nonsense. Alfred Binet, in 1905, published the first scale for measuring intelligence. During the 1920s, children began to be given IQ (intelligence quotient) and achievement tests on a wide scale and sometimes were carefully grouped by ability and intelligence. Many of the spelling and reading books they used, foreshadowing the 1931 Dick and Jane readers, were based on "controlled" vocabularies. After the shock Americans felt when the Soviets launched the first space satellite (Sputnik) in 1957, criticism of the schools swelled into loud demands for renewed emphasis on content mastery. The insistence on cognitive "performance" and "excellence" accomplished four things.

It increased competitive academic pressures on students at all levels. It stimulated serious and sustained interest in preschool education, which manifested itself in various ways from the revival of the Montessori method in the 1960s to the preschool television series Sesame Street in 1969. In addition, it created a new interest in testing, this time in such forms as national assessments of student performance, experiments with programmed materials, and attempts to gauge when children could begin to read. And it stimulated interest in the application of technology and instructional systems to education as a means of improving student instruction. It was practical to open up new avenues of education... the United States was in competition with the Soviet Union.

The Space Race was well on its way and America needed to change the way they learned. And practicality was the key. From the 18th century onward, as knowledge of the world increased, new subjects had been added and old ones split up into branches. Later, new combinations of courses resulted from the attempt to put the scattered pieces of knowledge back together again. The purpose was to make knowledge more rational and meaningful so that it could be understood instead of mechanically memorized. It also encouraged young learners to begin to think and inquire as scholars do. In other words, many of the new programs developed for use in the schools, particularly in the 1960s, stressed the inquiry approach as a means of mastering a body of knowledge and of creating a desire for more knowledge.

Resistance to the 1954 United States Supreme Court decision terminating segregation placed the schools in the middle of a bitter and sometimes violent dispute over which children were going to attend what schools. By 1965, when a measure of genuine integration had become a reality in many school districts, the schools again found themselves in the eye of a stormy controversy. This time the question was not which children were going to what schools but what kind of education society should provide for the students. The goal of high academic performance, which had been revived by criticisms and reforms of the 1950s and early 1960s, began to be challenged by demands for more "humane," "relevant," and "pressure-free" schooling. Many university and some high-school students from all ethnic groups and classes had been growing more and more frustrated -- some of them desperately so -- over what they felt was a cruel and senseless war in Vietnam and a cruel, discriminatory, competitive, loveless society at home. They demanded curriculum reform, improved teaching methods, and greater stress and action on such problems as overpopulation, pollution, international strife, deadly weaponry, and discrimination.

Pressure for reform came not only from students but also from many educators. While students and educators alike spoke of the need for greater "relevance" in what was taught, opinions as to what was relevant varied greatly. The blacks wanted new textbooks in which their people were recognized and fairly represented, and some of them wanted courses in black studies. They, and many white educators, also objected to culturally biased intelligence and aptitude tests and to academic college entrance standards and examinations. Such tests, they said, did not take into account the diverse backgrounds of students who belonged to ethnic minorities and whose culture was therefore different from that of the white middle-class student. Whites and blacks alike also wanted a curriculum that touched more closely on contemporary social problems and teaching methods that recognized their existence as individual human beings rather than as faceless robots competing for grades.

Alarmed by the helplessness and hopelessness of the urban ghetto schools, educators began to insist on curricula and teaching methods flexible enough to provide for differences in students' social and ethnic backgrounds. In this way, egalitarianism entered into the education system. Rather than keeping whites and blacks segregated in the schools, egalitarianists provided a way for the two groups to co-exist equally. In this case, the standards were raised instead of lowered in order to promote this new equality. Previously, whites and blacks studied on very different levels. Unfortunately, blacks were not given the same opportunities as whites were...

and they did not receive the attention needed to improve the environment in which they studied. Things changed, however, when egalitarianists raised the standards to promote equality. Clearly, the American education system has changed drastically over the years. From one-room schoolhouses to acres of college campus... from Pestalozzi to Dewey... from simple religious studies to graduate programs, education has been influenced by many different factors, such as egalitarianism, wisdom of the heart, and most importantly, practicality.

"Necessity is the mother of invention", they say... Just as practicality is the mother of educational reform. Bibliography:.

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Research essay sample on Education And Egalitarianism In America

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