I recently returned from a two-week heads of school fellowship program sponsored by the Klingenstein Center at Columbia University, Teachers College in New York City. This scholarship program offered an amazing opportunity for 20 US and international heads of school to interact, network and “talk education” for an uninterrupted two-week period.
During our time together, we discussed technology integration, research techniques and worked closely with Klingenstein graduate students. The program also included an extended study of educational philosophy, examining the great thinkers such as John Dewey and Michelle de Montaigne. We rediscovered that many of the current ideas about twenty first century education are not new, but were convincingly argued hundreds of years ago. For example, John Dewey, the great American educator, talks about the importance of experiential learning, through a story about learning to swim:
The school itself must be a vital social institution to a much greater extent than obtains at present. I am told that there is a swimming school in a certain city where youth are taught to swim without going into the water, being repeatedly drilled in the various movements which are necessary for swimming. When one of the young men so trained was asked what he did when he got into the water, he laconically replied, “Sunk.” The story happens to be true; were it not, it would seem to be a fable made expressly for the purpose of typifying the ethical relationship of school to society. Dewey 1909, Moral Principles of Education)
And as if predicting current conversations about how we are educating students for jobs that don’t yet even exist, Dewey anticipates this idea over one hundred years ago!
New inventions, new machines, new methods of transportation and intercourse are making over the whole scene of action year by year. It is an absolute impossibility to educate the child for any fixed station in life. (Ibid)
Michelle de Montaigne, the great French philosopher, discussed the inadequacy of teaching for the sake of recall or repetition with a more “organic” analogy of learning in his, On Educating Children:
Let the tutor not merely require a verbal account of what the boy has been taught but the meaning and the substance of it: let him judge how the child has profited from it not from the evidence of his memory but from that of his life. Let him take what the boy has just learned and make him show him dozens of different aspects of it and then apply it to just as many different subjects, in order to find out whether he has really grasped it and made it part of himself, judging the boy’s progress by what Plato taught about education.
Spewing up food exactly as you have swallowed it is evidence of a failure to digest and assimilate it; the stomach has not done its job if, during concoction, it fails to change the substance and the form of what it is given. (De Montaigne 1579, On Educating Children
The Klingenstein Heads of School Fellowship Program was a unique opportunity for heads of school to interact with each other and with the accomplished professors from Teachers College. It was a opportunity for peers to dialogue, debate and philosophize about our educational beliefs in an ideal setting, where one could sense the presence of John Dewey–a former professor at Teachers College for many years.
Returning to my school, the International School of Prague, I feel professionally refreshed, reinvigorated and grateful to be working in such an exceptional educational environment.
(A major focusing task of the Klingenstein Heads of School Fellowship Program was for each of us to write a research paper on an area of professional interest. Fellowship participants researched a variety of topics, from board governance, to meaningful student assessment, to technology integration. In my next blog installment I will share excerpts from my paper, Reshaping Schools for the Twenty First Century.)