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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Theories of Childhood

Thanks to Brad for recommending "Theories of Childhood: An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget, & Vygotsky" by Carol Garhart Mooney. This 100-page book is an extremely brief summary of five theorists on childhood.

The comments on Dewey were interesting, because the author claims that some of the extreme progressive ideas are misinterpretations, and not what he meant. It raises the issue of reading originals versus trusting secondary sources. The author does not try to defend the authenticity of her interpretation, that's not the focus of the book. Instead, she simply states her interpretation and runs with it.

The author paints a positive picture of Dewey, as a reactionary against traditional, rote learning, calling for a focus on the child's interests and on making learning fun. She claims that Dewey did not say that kids should be allowed to do anything that was fun. Rather, she says, he encouraged specific teaching goals, but wanted them to be taught in a way that interests the child. She gives an example of painting class, where progressive teachers will leave children to their own "creativity", allowing and even encouraging them to do whatever they feel like: paint any objects, in any shapes, any colors, without any purpose except "expressing" themselves. Mooney claims this is a misinterpretation of Dewey, and that he never intended lessons to lack a pedagogical end.

Was that really what Dewey wanted? It's impossible to know, unless one reads more. Was he really rasing valid objections to the established ways without offering new methods, thus leading to him being misinterpreted as wanting to throw out the good with the bad? Or, is Mooney putting lipstick on a pig? Of course it is not enough to say traditional teaching is bad, it is also insufficient to say that one must use the child's interests, but still achieve pedagogical goals; that begs the question: what are those goals.

It's telling that Mooney does not mention any such positives in her summary of Dewey; but then, this book is a very condensed summary, by design.

Overall, it was fairly informative.



  • Hi, glad the link helped, I've been thinking I should re-read that book.

    I'm not sure what to think of Dewey either. Many Montessorians seem to think he was not on all that different of a wavelength than was Maria Montessori.

    By Blogger Brad Williams, at 3:32 PM  

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