That child-rearing theories have swung back and forth between disciplinarians and children-bonding-with-parents, between child-centered and parent-centered is obvious to middle-age Moms and Dads who think but a moment about their parents and grand-parents. Psychologists and novelists have taught us a great deal about parents’ child-raising practices and how children’s growth physically, emotionally, and intellectually can flourish or get stunted. Still, uncertainty hovers over what is best practice for parents today.
The current mantra among educated elites is to build your children’s self-esteem and make them into happy adults which might explain the media and blogosphere furor erupting among those same elites over Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom recipe for high-performing, anxious, and successful daughters. The furor confirms that in 2011, even certified experts can not tell parents how to raise their children.
Because parental values of what constitutes a good life, character, and behavior drive child-rearing, facts and evidence about child development get drafted to support one view or another, no certainty is in sight for those parents who haunt libraries and bookstores for the most recent guru’s published advice on raising babies and toddlers. The statement that there is no one best way of raising a particular child or children in general continues to challenge mainstream and media wisdom about parenting.
A similar history of expert advice on the best pedagogy that teachers should use has stained the past two centuries of educational policy and practice over what should be taught and how teachers should teach. In the 19th century, adherents of a traditional curriculum borrowed from European schools practiced classroom memorization and recitation in teaching children sitting at bolted-down desks facing slate blackboards. Beginning in mid-century, Lyman Beecher, Calvin Stowe, Henry Barnard, and other reformers challenged rote teaching with an emerging pedagogy that began with the interests and needs of growing children. A later generation of pedagogical reformers, called progressives, pressed forward with a child-centered curriculum and classroom practices that departed significantly from traditional ways of teaching.
Since the late-19th century, then, traditional vs. progressive pedagogies have competed for policy and practitioner attention as the best ways of teaching the young. Today, adherents of “direct instruction,” scripted teaching, and eager followers of “Teach Like a Champion” push a pedagogy that they claim will produce academically high-performing students. Opponents of these variations of traditional pedagogy, seek student-centered ways of teaching where instruction is tailored to address student differences, where students inquire and gain deep understanding of ideas, and where students can explore and create knowledge. Champions of this contemporary progressivism can be found in private and public schools and in those schools where online instruction and “hybrid schools such as “School of One” and the Rocketship franchise are prominent. So the battle between the best ways of teaching persists.
For my entire career of a half-century in public school work as a teacher, administrator, superintendent, professor, and researcher I have maintained that there is no one best way of teaching young children and youth–including graduate students. Just like there is no one best way of parenting, effective teaching uses a full repertoire of traditional and progressive instructional practices.