The world lost a giant of an educator on July 26th when Vivian Paley passed away at age 90. Paley was the only kindergarten teacher ever named a MacArthur genius. Her example as an educator, documented in her numerous moving and inspirational books, gave voice to young teachers. Her poignant shared self-reflection tackled poverty, racism, gender, power, peace, community, rejection, literacy, democracy, fantasy, play, and love in the classroom and beyond. Paley led through kindness, common sense, and an affection for the inner lives of children. Her work is relevant for educators and parents, regardless of the age of child you support.

“To her, teaching was not about meeting a bunch of core requirements that you can quantify; it was about being a human being.” – John Hornstein in the NY Times Obituary of Vivian Paley

I tried in vain to convince Ms. Paley to participate in Constructing Modern Knowledge, but she saw a photo of a computer on our web site and declined. My powers of persuasion were unpersuasive, even when I listed all of her friends who had participated in the past. I sure wish I could have shared Ms. Paley with our community.

In The Children’s Machine, Seymour Papert stressed the importance of sharing learning stories as a way of reforming education in a humane learner-centered direction. Vivian Paley was a master of documenting and sharing learning stories.

I strongly urge you to read several of the books listed below, but if you are allergic to books, listen to Vivian Paley on This American Life talking about how she allowed five year-olds to address issues of friendship, empathy, and even bullying with one simple rule, “You can’t say, you can’t play.” (11 minutes)

In The Classrooms All Young Children Need: Lessons in Teaching from Vivian PaleyPatricia Cooper authored a terrific analysis of analysis of Paley’s work as a “pedagogical model organized around two complementary principles: a curriculum that promotes play and imagination, and the idea of classrooms as fair places where young children of every color, ability, and disposition are welcome.” (Cooper, Patricia M. The classrooms all young children need: Lessons in teaching from Vivian Paley. University of Chicago Press, 2009.)

If you are an educator unfamiliar with the name Vivian Paley or her work, that is a great shame and diminishes your craft.

 

Vivian Paley authored thirteen books, here are my top five favorites.

Here is one more for good measure, A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play.

“She helped children use the tools they have, which are imagination, sympathy and make-believe, to understand themselves and each other,” said Dr. Joshua D. Sparrow, executive director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center in Boston, which studies child development. – NY Times Obituary of Vivian Paley

Check out all of Vivian Paley’s remarkable books on Amazon.com


Veteran educator Dr. Gary Stager is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Learn more about Gary here.

Is Howard Gardner the most misunderstood and misappropriated educationalist (his preferred term) in the world today or he just the only theorist most educators have heard of?

Today, two different pieces of reading started me thinking about Howard Gardner.

At first glance, the Beloglovsky and Daly book represents an impressive way of teaching learning theories to preservice and inservice educators. They identify a half dozen or so leading learning theorists, provide a brief description of their theories, and then through field examples, explore how those theories may be actualized in classroom practice. My initial thought was, “Why doesn’t anyone take a similar approach to educational psychology for elementary and secondary teachers?” Seriously!

It seems odd that the least paid and respected folks in education, early childhood teachers, seem to receive the richest exposure to learning theory. But, I digress.

Howard Gardner is one of the seminal theorists used in Early Learning Theories Made Visible and the author’s explanation and application of his multiple intelligences theory is a bit of a mess. (Discussions of multiple intelligences theory are often a confusing mess.) It seems as if the authors were so desperate to avoid wading into the fake controversy regarding “learning styles,” popular across social media and ed schools who hate children, that they initially just call the theory MI, assuming that all of their readers know what MI means. Then predictably, many of the examples of MI in the book are about pedagogy, not learning. In any event, the Early Learning Theories Made Visible is impressive and a worthy addition to your library, even if the first chapter could have benefited from a critical friend.

I highly recommend reading the new Harvard profile of Howard Gardner. Long-form interviews of thoughtful experts blessed with rich lives and professional success are always a great read.

One comment in that profile stood out for me.

“I’ve been able to write a lot. I wrote three books when I was in graduate school, which was very unusual. I’m more a book person than an article person.” (Howard Gardner)

Gardner’s thoughts on his written output made me think. Perhaps such prolific writing has obscured his ideas?

Gardner’s best ideas might be the ones reducible to a t-shirt slogan. For example, Multiple intelligences theory simply means that intelligence cannot be measured in one way.

Less might indeed be more.

Postscript

I highly recommend that everyone read an incredibly important and sadly overlooked anthology,”MI at 25: Assessing the Impact and Future of Multiple Intelligences for Teaching and Learning.” This book contains essays by experts making cogent thoughtful arguments for and against multiple intelligences theory.

References

Beloglovsky, M., & Daly, L. (2015). Early Learning Theories Made Visible: Redleaf Press.

Mineo, L. (2018). The Greatest Gift You Can Have is a Good Education, One that isn’t Strictly Professional. Experience.  Retrieved from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/05/harvard-scholar-howard-gardner-reflects-on-his-life-and-work/

Shearer, B. (2009). MI at 25: Assessing the impact and future of multiple intelligences for teaching and learning: Teachers College Press.


Veteran educator Dr. Gary Stager is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. Learn more about Gary here.

I hold Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige of Lesley University (aka: Matt Damon’s mother) in great esteem, but was alarmed by her recent contribution to The Answer Sheet in the Washington Post. Dr. Carlsson-Paige makes a critical error all-too common among progressive educators. She confuses modernity with an attack on childhood.

I have asked the Valerie Strauss, editor of The Answer Sheet, for an opportunity to write a full rebuttal. In the meantime, here are the comments I whipped together and published on the web site, along with a stray one or two.

Dr. Carlsson-Paige is correct that most “educational” software is crap, but she jumps to some conclusions that I find quite disappointing and wrong. Her intergenerational panic conflates a great number of issues and will alarm parents well-conditioned to overreacting.

She identifies the drop in creativity (citation would have been nice) in children between kindergarten and sixth grade).  Could this not be due to the dramatic changes in schooling that Carlsson-Paige rightly rails against, such as the narrowing of curriculum, endless test-prep, drill & practice and lack of arts education? Perhaps, technology has slowed the decline in creativity, however that is measured, being caused by school. Children building and LEGO programming robots, making movies, composing music, designing worlds in Minecraft, sewing wearable computers, playing with Squishy Circuits (conductive and non-conductive clay), programming their own video games, collaborating with others over great distances are demonstrable evidence of childhood creativity.

It is quite possible that school has a greater prophylactic impact on creativity than the Internet.

It is hideously simplistic to privilege one media over another, especially when decrying the death of creativity or loss of innocence. For example, nobody ever questions the cognitive value or impact on creativity of a kid holding a Hotwheels car and saying, “Vroom Vroom,” over and over again for hours at a time. We value that activity, right? Do we have any evidence that it is more beneficial than a toy with batteries or Internet connection? Does a wooden toy increase creativity more than one made of plastic? If drawing with a crayon is better than drawing with your finger on a screen, why is it so? How do we know? Is drawing with a crayon better for childhood development than drawing with chalk?

If a child was shown a photo of Mom and Dad on a screen or able to video chat with them (as is possible in the real world of the child), would that somehow be worse than carrying a physical photo? Would a cherished video clip of mother and child harm a child’s ability to develop resilience?

What role are parents playing in the overregulation of children’s play through overprotection and over-scheduling? What is the impact of homework on play? What has silent lunch and the end of recess done to children’s creative development?

Why not evaluate the quality of the activity rather than superficial aspects of the medium?

Television is passive, but Dora the Explorer may have value beyond its tranquilizing effect. Surely, there are incredibly engaging ways in which computers can and are used by children. Educators should do much better job of bringing those rich modern experiences to children.

How can having the ability to answer any question you wonder about instantly be bad for children? If you make simple things easy to do, you make complexity possible.

In my humble opinion, we visit great violence on the development of young people by dishonoring or ignoring the world and milieu in which they live. Nostalgia is no substitute for reason.