“One error still prevails to a ruinous extent, namely: the neglect of cultivating and developing the powers of the mind, while every thing is attempted to be done by taxing memory with the weight of names and abstractions, allowing no play for thought, and exciting no interest whatever in the child’s mind. It seems as if many of our teachers and book makers, from the highest to the lowest departments, forget that children have minds, and suppose that the only powers they will ever possess, are to be imparted by teachers, whereas the teacher ought to know that he cannot impart a single iota of power. The most he can do, is, to develop powers already in existence, and because the attempt has been made rather to create than to cultivate, the mind of man has, in many cases, been actually cramped and weakened rather than strengthened at school.” – Report of Mr. Lewis, Superintendent of Common Schools of Ohio (1839)
Even 180 years ago, consideration was given by some to the student’s role in education. At this time much of the philosophy of public education was based on the Prussian system, designed to produce compliant, devoted citizens, who live their lives without the ability to think for themselves.
Mr Lewis was a rare exception in cultivating the philosophy on which our educational system is structured. We still mindlessly follow tenets of the Prussian educational system. For example, students sit for long hours, learning to comply with the physical discipline that is expected of them. Memorization is one of the lingering remnants of this system. After decades of mindless memorization and regurgitation, many teachers are starting to question this when confronted with the reality of how information can be procured on the internet.
I teach anatomy and physiology to high school students. For several years, I taught as my predecessor did. Drills, worksheets and memorization took center stage in my classroom. In a school of 800-900 students about 60 students signed up for this course. After a decade of honing my craft and making some fundamental changes, enrollment increased to as many as 225 students registered for this course, I credit this success to following the very same principles touted by “Mr. Lewis” almost 200 years ago.