About Dewey to Delpit


This blog is named for John Dewey, father of progressive education, and for Lisa Delpit, author of Other People’s Children and critic of progressive education. The opposition is simplistic and careless: the progressivism that Delpit reacted against was not really Dewey’s progressivism, but a much more Romantic educational movement that dominated American public schooling the 1960s and 70s. But who can resist alliteration?

The name is meant to reflect three things. First, the purpose of this blog is to cross ideological lines. The prevailing factionalism in discussions of education has ugly consequences for public understanding and for the conditions of schools themselves. Invidious and simplistic depictions of teachers unions, charter schools, policy initiatives, and so on obscure and confuse the real issues and discourage productive cooperation. This blog seeks to talk about education from a point of view that rises above factionalism—that recognizes the merits and complexities of both progressive and No-Excuses education, the value of standardized assessments and the immeasurability of deep comprehension, the benefits of school-choice and school autonomy and the dangers of introducing market forces into public education.
My first full-time teaching post was at a Romantic-Progressive private school serving affluent students in Brooklyn Heights; my second was on the opposite end of the pedagogical spectrum, at a No-Excuses charter school, serving low-income students in Harlem. It is an indication of the breadth of the divide between educational camps that, among my hundreds of teacher acquaintances, there is only one other who has worked both in the strict regimentation of an inner-city charter and the loose Romanticism of an affluent urban private school. Working on either side of that divide has given me, I hope, a wider perspective, an ability to see how all contention, as Jane Adams told John Dewey, arises from misunderstanding.

Second, this is a blog about pedagogy, not policy. I do write posts that bear on policy questions, but always from a point of view grounded in classroom experience and pedagogical principles. I am not an economist and I’m not a policy wonk; I’m an educator. Like both Dewey and Delpit, I’m interested in how children learn and think.

I believe that good education policy begins with good pedagogy, and any serious discussion about the former must be grounded in the latter. That’s a position that many would endorse but few adhere to. Real educators—teachers, I mean—are accorded precious little authority in education debates; our perspective is considered uniquely suspect, at once selfish in its motives and soft in its logic. My goal is to inject a little pedagogy into the discussion and to show how detailed knowledge of classrooms and schools can provide valuable insight into every aspect of education, from teacher training to vocational tracking.

Third, this blog is committed to the idea that philosophy matters. Dewey was a philosopher. Delpit is not known as one, but her ideas are broad and theoretical; her outlook is, in part, a philosophical one. For both Dewey and Delpit, philosophical principles have direct and immediate application in the classroom. In Dewey’s words, “If philosophy is ever to become an experimental science, the construction of a school is its starting point.” The writing in this blog is grounded in a framework of pedagogical theory. That framework is not an abstract gloss or an intellectual game; it is a source of immediate, concrete insight. It is by examining our underlying and often unspoken philosophical beliefs that we can see past ideological divisions and begin to untangle the historical and political knots in which our school system is bound.


Given how much work goes into each of these posts, how slowly I produce them, and how non-time-sensitive their content is, I am providing the following list of selected posts for the reader’s perusal. If you are new to this blog but like what you’ve read and want to read more, here are some of my favorite posts.

School Observations
·         An innovative literacy curriculum at PS 126 in Chinatown (an ongoing series)

Pedagogy – lessons from my own teaching experience

Editorials – prescriptive writing about specific issues in education
·         How teacher training should work (1 post)

1 comment:

  1. The other day i was thinking of the expression "a picture is worth 1000 words. 1000? {i believe my thought fits in here.} Depending on the vividness and specificity of the words-the efficiency of the words-500 might do, rather than 1000. Or even 300. When one writes like Dewey, or you, or your father, its conceivable that just a few words could get the picture across better than the picture.