Loving Learning

Loving Learning: How Progressive Education Can Save America’s Schools
Tom Little and Katherine Ellison

W.W. Norton & Company

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“. . .a bold solution to our nation’s educational challenges. . .”

Almost every parent in the last three decades has heard horror stories of teachers being forced to “teach to the test” and how their local schools will lose financing from the state if the children’s standardized test scores aren’t raised. Students of all ages seem stressed, depressed, and overwhelmed by constantly filling in bubbles on sheets for computerized testing companies—a multi-billion dollar industry—so much so that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young Americans (and the second leading cause in college-aged youth). A definite lack of joy is found in some classrooms, and employers complain of American workers who demonstrate little creativity, initiative, or ability to solve problems. What can be done to make things better?

Noted educator Tom Little and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Katherine Ellison offer a bold solution to our nation’s educational challenges in Loving Learning. They show us the answer can be found by looking into our past. Do they mean a return to the “3 R’s?” Not exactly. American progressive educators from the late nineteenth century onward have been innovative in their approaches to considering the “whole child” when it comes education. Art, music, shop, home economic, and P.E. classes are creations of the progressive movement, and in recent years these topics are often eliminated due to budgets and biases mandated from politicians. To help children learn to love learning as they develop critical thinking skills—even in the testing mania of the twenty-first century—is the key.

Little, long term head of Oakland’s Park Day School, took a tour of America’s varied public and private progressive schools before cancer claimed him in 2014. He discovered six core strategies that ensure children become life-long learners and independent thinkers. These strategies include attention to the children’s emotions as well as their intellect; reliance on students’ interests to guide their learning; curtailment or outright bans on testing, grading and ranking; involvement in real-world endeavors—from field trips to running an actual farm; an integrated study of topics from a variety of disciplines; and support for children to develop a sense of social justice and become active participants in America’s democracy.

Rote memorization and teaching to standardized tests has obviously failed many students and hasn’t helped America create a better society. The rich legacy of our past and the shining examples from our present in Loving Learning give hope that the best is yet to come.

Reviewer: Cindy A. Matthews