Monday, April 4, 2011

Neither Fish, nor Flesh, nor Good Red Herring

Every school my kids have attended so far is neither truly progressive, because kids have very little choice in what they do, nor truly traditional, because the academic content is so weak. 

Even curricula that are marketed as "progressive", like Trailblazers Math, contain all the worst aspects of traditional ed: bad homework, scripted lessons that kids are relentlessly marched through, and authoritarian pronouncements on how problems may be solved (no standard algorithms!)   

It seems to me that the biggest stumbling block that prevents schools from achieving true progressive ed is simply this: control.  To be truly progressive, to allow students as much freedom and autonomy as possible, just goes against the grain for educators.   School is a place where kids are told what to do.

The biggest stumbling block that prevents schools from achieving true traditional ed is a pervasive lack of interest in real content.  Professional-class parents are often more concerned about college admissions than learning.  Too many educators don't know what real content looks like, and mistake activity for engagement.


  1. "Neither fish, nor flesh, nor good red herring" is from a glossary published in 1546.

    According to,

    "Fish was eaten by the clergy, flesh by the rich and the dried and smoked herrings by the poor. So this list of the foods eaten by all classes of society was a metaphor for 'encompassing all eventualities'."

  2. PsychMom adds:

    This past weekend a piece in the editorial pages of our local newspaper caught my eye, on a similar track to this. The author of the piece was a teacher who felt that student centered (read progressive)education was basically a silly concept and that "teacher based" education was the only idea that made sense. The kids go to school because the teachers are there to teach them something. What could be more logical?
    I don't know how to make this a link for you directly but this is where it can be found..

  3. Here's a direct link:

    Classrooms in our Schools Should be Teacher-Centred

    I think the author has never actually seen progressive education, but then neither have I.

    Also, just because schools throw around terms like "student-centered" doesn't mean that they are.

    I see a lot of what I'd call "teacher-centered" schooling, in the sense that the teacher does what he does, and if the students don't learn it's assumed to be their own fault.

    If "student-centered" schooling means that the goal is to benefit the students, then I'm all for it.