Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Martin Bickman on the Needless War Between Traditionalists and Progressives

Some blog followers might be interested in a recent discussion-list post “Martin Bickman on the Needless War Between Traditionalists and Progressives” [Hake (2012)]. The abstract reads:

ABSTRACT: University of Colorado English Professor Martin Bickman at his website states (paraphrasing): “While my book Minding American Education [Bickman (2003)], see, won a national academic award, I soon discovered that meaningful educational change happens primarily at the local levels, working student to student and teacher to teacher.”

Bickman drew from his book in a piece in the Los Angeles Times which he had meaningfully titled “The Needless War Between Traditionalists And Progressives And How To End It,” but which was changed by an editor to the snappy but senseless “Won't You Come Home John Dewey?” [Bickman (2004) at - scroll to the APPENDIX]. Therein Bickman wrote [paraphrased for brevity; bracketed by lines “bbbbb. . . . .”):

One of the reasons this continuing conflict between traditionalists and progressives is so heartbreaking is that, around the turn of the last century, John Dewey was able to create resolutions both in a philosophic and practical sense. He looked out on an educational landscape torn between similar apparently competing philosophies:

(a) that centered on the notion of “child-study” and the person of G. Stanley Hall, with a Rousseau-like sentimentality about nature and children, more concerned with what it saw as health and wholeness than with intellectual growth; and

(b) that centered on high academic achievement as defined and organized by curricula and textbooks, led by William Torrey Harris, more concerned with the standard curriculum - arithmetic, geography, history, grammar and literature - the “five windows of the soul,” as Harris called them - that rescued the young mind from its immediate narrowness.

Instead of enlisting on one side or the other, Dewey in a crucial 1902 article, “The Child and the Curriculum” at, conceptualized each position so that it would no longer seem a matter of the child versus the curriculum. [My italics.]

To access the complete 19 kB post please click on

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University
Links to Articles:
Links to SDI Labs:

“Education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience; that the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing.. . . .[[page 434]]. . . . [It does not mean, as it is often misunderstood,] that we have no choice save either to leave the child to his own unguided spontaneity or to inspire direction upon him from without. But [it recognizes] that no such thing as. . . . . insertion of truth from without is possible. All depends upon the activity which the mind itself undergoes in responding to what is presented from without.. . . . [[page 357]]. . . .”
- John Dewey (1974) - as quoted by Ansbacher (2000)

“. . . .there are several ways to distinguish those who advocate a concept-driven reform curriculum from those who remain defenders of a skills-oriented traditional curriculum. . . . . .They represent different value systems. I believe that rational, reflective discussion and exploration of these issues can bring the two sides closer together. . . . . . . I am told that California schools educate one-seventh of the students in this country. There is too much at stake to continue the fighting, to take a chance on sacrificing the mathematical education of our children by not reaching some agreement on what that education should be.”
- Judith Sowder (1998)

“An exclusive focus on basics leaves students without the understandings that enable them to use effectively. A focus on 'process' without attention to skills deprives students of the tools they need for fluid, competent performance. The extremes are untenable. So, why have so many people taken extreme positions, and why are things as polarized as they are? More important, what might be done about it?. . . . . . . I remain convinced that there is a large middle ground. . . . . . .One way to reclaim the middle ground, suggested by Phil Daro (2007), is to define it clearly-to specify a set of propositions that will call for some degree of compromise from reformers and traditionalists alike. That middle ground would be broadly encompassing, containing propositions that most people would find reasonable (or at least livable). The short-term goal . . . must be to capture the middle ground for the majority. Efforts must be made publicly to identify the extremists for what they are and to marginalize them. The math wars have casualties-our children, who do not receive the kind of robust mathematics education they should.”
-Alan Schoenfeld (2004)

REFERENCES [URL’s shortened by and accessed on 29 August 2012.]
Ansbacher, T. 2000. “An Interview with John Dewey on Science Education,” Phys. Teach. 38(4): 224-227, April; online to subscribers at A thoughtful and well-researched treatment showing the consonance of Dewey’s educational ideas with the thinking of most current science-education researchers (as quoted straight from Dewey's own writings, not from the accounts of sometimes confused Dewey interpreters).

Daro, P. 2007. “Math wars peace treaty,” online at

Dewey, J. 1974. John Dewey, On Education: Selected Writings, edited and with an introduction by Reginald D. Archambault. University of Chicago Press, publisher’s information at information at, note the searchable “Look Inside” feature.

Hake, R.R. 2012. “Martin Bickman On The Needless War Between Traditionalists and Progressives,” online on the OPEN AERA-L archives at Post of 29 Aug 2012 10:41:56-0700 to AERA-L and Net-Gold. The abstract and link to the complete post are being transmitted to several discussion lists.

Schoenfeld, A. 2004. “The Math Wars,” Educational Policy 18(1): 253-286; online as a 164 kB pdf at

Sowder, J.T. 1998. “What are the ‘Math Wars’ in California All About? Reasons and Perspectives,” Phi Beta Kappa Invited Lecture; online as a 98 kB pdf at , thanks to Professor Bowen Brawner of Tarleton State University.

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