Speaks at Teachers College
Recently, Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, distinguished professor at Stanford
University, addressed serveral hundred professionals
and students at Teachers College, Columbia University, about social reform, educational
justice and teacher equality.
Professor Darling-Hammond emphasized the importance of progressive
education—the kind that is taught and promoted
by Teachers College (TC)—for the future of learning in this country.
Darling-Hammond herself learned to teach at TC, working side by side with serious
scholars. She acknowledged with great warmth, her return to TC, a home where
she began to explore the particular kind of personal learning that allows students
to later find their interests and paths—a kind of teaching committed
to participatory learning and equity in the educational system.
shared anecdotes of her daughter’s
public school experiences: the first took place in a classroom in Maryland,
with a predominantly black student population. The teacher was new and warned
the students not to talk, to be still, and to keep their hands to themselves.
These rules were continually broken by a list of the same names (mostly black
boys) who were continually punished, not necessarily for bad behavior, but
for physically expressing energy. Linda’s daughter, among other children,
reacted with distress often manifested in physical illness.
Soon after, Professor Darling-Hammond enrolled
her daughter in a different school, where the students explored writing their
own books and working through ideas, rather than filling out hours of worksheets
or preparing for success on the next standardized test. This teacher, quite
unlike the last, fostered personal exploration in learning.
called New York City the prototype of this kind of progressive education.
But outside of New York, “Schools
with this kind of vision are battling for their lives.” She explained
that today’s focus on teaching to the standardized test leads to a loss
of the arts: less time for singing, dancing and drawing. High stakes and single
narrow tests, she said, now define important decisions for children, like whether
they can pass from the 3rd to 4th grade. While dehumanizing the classroom experience
and threatening students with one-shot opportunities for failure, they fill
students with a sense of dread, consequently killing confidence and capability.
Those that do poorly on standardized tests—those that need individual
attention—are more likely to be discouraged and drop out of school. Schools
focused on test score ranking are also less likely to discourage these students
in the United States are going down, according to Professor Darling-Hammond.
Nevertheless, standardized testing continues to be enforced and reinstated.
Again, Darling-Hammond returns to the importance of progressive education
to counter these effects. Her advice: “Each
of us must work in our own garden,” with rigorous performance assessments
for individual students and a sacred trust between teachers and children. She
emphasizes the importance of “acknowledging that this work is hard,” and
realizing that “together the costs are substantial but the benefits are
Linda Darling-Hammond is the Charles
E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University, where she launched
the Stanford Leadership Institute and the School Redesign Network.