By Clare Lubiner, Alex Fiske
Sarah Bokland
Government 375

Since the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, there have been considerable efforts at reform. Most of these efforts, however, have been in the direction of E.D. Hirsch's "conservative educational policies". These conservative ideas strive for increased academic rigor and higher standards. They emphasize greater test achievement and more "subject centered" ideologies. These reform efforts have been somewhat successful, but they fail to address the emotional and social growth of students. L. Steinberg recently wrote a book discussing what he termed "the real problem" in education today. He suggests that the root cause of the educational crisis is that "America's students are largely disengaged from the serious business of education" (Steinberg, 1996). He found that students do not take their work seriously, their extra-curricular activities often compete with, rather than complement, their in-school activities, their peers discourage hard work, and parents are often just as disengaged as their children from the schools. As a response, we plan to assess existing "child-centered" education programs and to determine whether progressive approaches can be applied to all students.

Child-centered education has challenged the traditional teaching methods of "subject-centered" education in an attempt to recognize the differences between students and create a learning environment suitable for each child's needs. In addition to teaching the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, the original doctrine of the Progressive Education Association offered the following principles as necessary elements of education:

Child-centered education philosophy claims that it can meet the needs of all children. Individual education programs have been used extensively to enhance the learning processes of both disabled and gifted students. The problems faced by these children in traditional classrooms have encouraged a move to specialized education that meets the children's particular needs. The success of such programs for special needs children invites the question, shouldn't all children receive the attention and encouragement individual education programs provide?

Rudolf Steiner, a Progressive educator of the early twentieth century advocated a child-centered teaching approach for all children, not just those with special needs. The Waldorf Schools were founded on the premise of Rudolf Steiner's belief in treating every student as a special individual. Individualized education recognizes the differences in the way that children learn and attempts to enhance the intellectual and creative talents of these students.

Child-centered programs designed to help children at the extremes of the educational spectrum, both gifted and disabled, have proven extremely effective. The individualized attention these children receive through smaller student to teacher ratios, greater appreciation of their talents, consistent assessment of development, and resources dedicated to their needs should be a model for the education of all children. Can we incorporate the strengths of a "child-centered" approach to improve American education system?

Government 375: Educational Reform and Ideology