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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
many cases, schools seem to be functioning as well as ever, but the challenges and expectations have changed quite dramatically (e.g., Bruer, 1993; Resnick, 1987).
Consider the goals of schooling in the early 1800s. Instruction in writing focused on the mechanics of making notation as dictated by the teacher, transforming oral messages into written ones. It was not until the mid to late 1800s that writing began to be taught on a mass level in most European countries, and school children began to be asked to compose their own written texts. Even then, writing instruction was largely aimed at giving children the capacity to closely imitate very simple text forms. It was not until the 1930s that the idea emerged of primary school students expressing themselves in writing (Alcorta, 1994; Schneuwly, 1994). As in writing, it was not until relatively recently that analysis and interpretation of what is read became an expectation of skilled reading by all school children. Overall, the definition of functional literacy changed from being able to sign one’s name to word decoding to reading for new information (Resnick and Resnick, 1977); see Box 6.1.
In the early 1900s, the challenge of providing mass education was seen by many as analogous to mass production in factories. School administrators were eager to make use of the “scientific” organization of factories to structure efficient classrooms. Children were regarded as raw materials to be efficiently processed by technical workers (the teachers) to reach the end product (Bennett and LeCompte, 1990; Callahan, 1962; Kliebard, 1975). This approach attempted to sort the raw materials (the children) so that they could be treated somewhat as an assembly line. Teachers were viewed as workers whose job was to carry out directives from their superiors—the efficiency experts of schooling (administrators and researchers).
The emulation of factory efficiency fostered the development of standardized tests for measurement of the “product,” of clerical work by teachers to keep records of costs and progress (often at the expense of teaching), and of “management” of teaching by central district authorities who had little knowledge of educational practice or philosophy (Callahan, 1962). In short, the factory model affected the design of curriculum, instruction, and assessment in schools.
Today, students need to understand the current state of their knowledge and to build on it, improve it, and make decisions in the face of uncertainty (Talbert and McLaughlin, 1993). These two notions of knowledge were identified by John Dewey (1916) as “records” of previous cultural accomplishments and engagement in active processes as represented by the phrase “to do.” For example, doing mathematics involves solving problems, abstracting, inventing, proving (see, e.g., Romberg, 1983). Doing history involves the construction and evaluation of historical documents (see, e.g., Wineberg, 1996). Doing science includes such activities as testing theories