Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The One Subject Matter for Education

Think about the terms we often use to refer to what a student studies: "material", or "subject matter". These terms suggest that the subject of study is vacuous and dead. When school education is largely the insistence of disjoint facts with no justification for their importance, is it any wonder students are so utterly non-motivated to learn? If you "master the material" and can execute the algorithm for solving a quadratic equation, but you have no sense for why this is important or when it would be useful, have you really learned anything?

Here's Whitehead:

The solution which I am urging, is to eradicate the fatal disconnection of subjects which kills the vitality of our modern curriculum. There is only one subject-matter for education, and that is Life in all its manifestations. Instead of this single unity, we offer children -- Algebra, from which nothing follows; Geometry, from which nothing follows; Science, from which nothing follows; History, from which nothing follows; a Couple of Languages, never mastered; and lastly, most dreary of all, Literature, represented by plays of Shakespeare, with philological notes and short analyses of plot and character to be in substance committed to memory. Can such a list be said to represent Life, as it is known in the midst of the living of it?

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