Why History of Education – Herbert M. Kliebard: Reflection

In contrast to the previous article, I found this one insightful and enjoyable.

While I have too many ideas to summarize in such a small space, I will begin by reflecting on Charles Lamb’s story about roast pork. “According to Lamb’s account, certain villagers were accustomed to keeping pigs in their homes. When one of the houses burned down, a villager touched one of the scorched pigs and, upon bringing his fingers to his lips, discovered how tasty roast pig was. Thereupon, the villagers burned down their houses to achieve their goal of roast pork.” (p. 196)

Kliebard goes on to compare this to an American approach toward educational reform. To destroy houses in order to achieve a gain. There are two dangers in this approach, Kliebard warns,

  • You focus on end goals and these goals define whether or not you are successful
  • In burning down established traditions, there are often incidental casualties as well.

As I have emphasized earlier, education is not in dire and desperate straits. Educators genuinely have good enthusiasm and do their best in the classroom. The idea is to work towards growth from experience of successful education, and not to “burn down the house to roast a pig” so to speak.

“In their zeal to break the bonds of what they saw as an inert and ineffective education, many educational reformers of that time failed to see the school as embedded in a nexus of other social institutions, all with their distinctive functions to perform. As a result, many of them tended to overestimate both the power and the responsibility of schooling.” (p. 197)

This is a powerful quote that does reinforce the varied nature in which schooling exists in our society. Primarily, that school exists as not just a place to prepare children for adulthood, it is a daycare so parents can work, a field for learning about socialization, the development of established social hierarchies, skill training for task completion, and more. If we are to talk about revamping the school system, we need to be aware of all consequences, after all “The success of any educational enterprise is to be judged not in terms of whether the ends were accurately anticipated at the outset, but in terms of the worthiness of all  the consequences of the activity including, or perhaps especially, the unintended ones.” (p. 196)

Throughout this article, what strikes me is the emphasis for mastery-based education and learning. The education system needs to reflect the type of learning that is desired. This is emphasized in the line “If the experience of the Dewey school is any guide, we may properly understand goals, then, almost literally as ‘in view’; that is, they are what we see given our present vantage point, but we would be foolish if we did not change direction in line with the new vistas that emerge as we progress to that initially foreseen point on the horizon.” (p. 196)

As well, Kliebard offers a place to begin our inquiry into pedagogical efficacy. “The distinctive and distinguishing purpose of schooling as [Bestor] saw it was intellectual development, and that is not such a bad starting point after all.” (p. 198) If we foster intellectual development along the lines of curiosity, inquiry, understanding and mastery orientations, we can start to develop a responsive and meaningful curriculum

Overall I found this article exciting and insightful. I would ask Kliebard what some other good readings and sources are that expand upon this discussion. In fact, I found the link for some of Dewey’s writings that were exceptionally compelling. They are distributed in the public domain and hosted at a number of sites including this one from Brock university: https://brocku.ca/MeadProject/Dewey/Dewey_1910b/Dewey_1910_toc.html

  • Kliebard, H. M. (Unknown). Why history of education in teacher education? Unpublished manuscript, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI.


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