Forgotten Heroes of American Education: The Great Tradition of Teaching Teachers;
Edited by J. Wesley Null and Diane Ravitch
Information Age Publishing, 2006;
Henry T. Edmondson III
ISI Books, 2006
Diane Ravitch, American education's foremost historian and voice of reason, and Wesley Null, a young, reform-minded education professor, are the perfect pair to re-introduce the world to eight educators who long ago foresaw the dangers of "progressive" education. Those men-Bagley, DeGarmo, Felmley, Harris, Kandel, McMurry, Ruediger, and Sheldon-are all but unknown today, Ravitch says, "because in the great pedagogical battles of the twentieth century, they lost." They believed "in the importance of preparing excellent teachers for our schools" and "should not have been forgotten." The rueful tone of Ravitch's foreword is balanced by Null's fire-breathing introduction. "The profession of teaching will continue to decline unless its leaders-especially the profession's younger leaders-read and learn from the authors who produced the essays that are found in this volume." That's because these leaders understood that education is a moral problem, not an intellectual one. Intellectual problems exist so that others can think about more intellectual problems, Null says. Moral problems require decisions that lead people to act. The great framer of many of education's intellectual problems (and contemporary of many of those profiled in Forgotten Heroes) is, of course, John Dewey. The education world still worships at his shrine, but Henry Edmondson doesn't think it should. In John Dewey & the Decline of American Education, he writes that "Dewey is not most interested in the good of students but rather the successful promotion of a political program." That program favored abandoning religion, traditional education, and moral absolutes for scientific experimentation. But Dewey's writings aren't so easily classified-mainly because Dewey's writings are, well, pretty much indecipherable. Edmondson argues that he owes his success to ambiguity: "The obscurity of his writing has conferred upon Dewey a kind of mystique," while enabling just about everyone, Rorschach like, to see in his paragraphs almost whatever they wish." But in his efforts to pin down Dewey's thought, Edmondson draws too many neat connections between our current woes and Dewey's thought. At times he himself was critical of progressive education. Most have long since forgotten Dewey's misgivings with progressivism, which is why Null and Ravitch added these rarely cited essays to the end of their book. Turns out, Dewey himself saw the limits of theory in the classroom. The soul of teaching, Null argues, has been shattered. "The time has long passed," he says, "for us to work together to make it whole again." Forgotten Heroes, not Edmondson's book, is best equipped to make this happen.