In response to conversations and readings in regard to student-centered versus knowledge/society-oriented education, it is logical to reflect on the balance of how information is deemed worthy of instruction. Student centered education is focused on the individual student, building on their ability to continue to intellectually grow and “focus on practical instruments and scientific approaches to solve problems” (Scheuerman, 2014). In the early twentieth century, a time when American culture was changing quickly, student-centered progressivism was a motivating concept for pedagogical models. Many minorities were seeking equal rights in education and Native Americans were becoming United States citizens. Vocational training was also becoming more prominent in schools. As time progressed, after WWII, the United States was in an era of more educational reform, a time of promoted consumerism, a national race to technological and military advancement, and quickened urban development. The G.I. Bill of Rights was even giving common people opportunities to seek out higher education, further promoting an interest in university level degrees. The factors of this time period promoted a new era in American education, focusing on a movement of social change. Education was evolving in unfamiliar ways to promote a fact-driven, society approach to teaching, college entrance testing was becoming a common occurrence, and minorities were still fighting the battle for equal rights.
Education has continued to evolve with society and the knowledge centered on this evolution has continued to change. Knowledge therefore, is information that may be adjusted or just become inaccurate with time. If one were to live for hundreds of years and teach in an American culture, their pedagogical philosophies and strategies would require continued adjustment. If one were to teach in a career span of ten to fifty years, this would still be the case. Therefore, there should be a balance of student-centered and society-centered education in the classroom. As worded by Dewey (1897), “if we eliminate the social factor from the child we are left only with an abstraction; if we eliminate the individual factor from society, we are left with only an inert and lifeless mass.” There has been a surge of change in a globalized and technologically advanced modern era. Knowledge is not static, it evolves and the effective educator will have to evolve with it. Tolstoy (1860) brought up an applicable observation to this point:
A beautiful school for a Russian village of the steppe, which satisfies all the wants of its pupils, will be a very poor school for a Parisian; and the best school of the seventeenth century will be an exceedingly bad school in our time. On the other hand, the very worst school of the Middle Ages was in its time better than the best in our time, because it better corresponded to its time, and at least stood on a level with the general education, if not in advance of it, while our school stands behind it.
Tolstoy’s observations from the nineteenth century mirror many similar observations made about education today, as we compare and critique our schools, within our communities and across our nation. Moreover, one educational model may be somewhat sufficient in a particular circumstance but may be a failure in another. It is important that as time moves on, teachers continue to remain flexible and reflective about their teaching. As time moves on, teachers should adjust with new knowledge presented to them.
Dewey, J. (1897). My pedagogical creed. The school journal.
Scheuerman, R. (2014). Session 8: Progressivism and intellectual development. Personal Collection of (Scheuerman, R.), Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA.
Tolstoy, L. (1860). On popular education. Yasnaya, Polyana.