I just stumbled across the following article, which is so good that I’m going to blog a bunch of different excerpts about it:
Gilbert Sewall, “Lost In Action: Are time-consuming, trivializing activities displacing the cultivation of active minds?, American Educator (Summer 2000).
Flip to any lesson in any up-to-date textbook. You’ll find projects and activities at the core of the editorial apparatus. The most ambitious of the nation’s new secondary-level history textbooks, McGraw-Hill/Glencoe’s American Journey—whose authors include a former president of the American Historical Association and a Pulitzer Prize winner—features a Taffy Pull, complete with a recipe and an invitation for students to relive the social event of the 1800s and early 1900s.
Hands-on enthusiasts claim that traditional pedagogy and content are at the center of the “interest” problem. They assume project- and activity-based learning to be superior forms of instruction, kinder and more humane than the opposite, which is often lumped under the term “verbal learning.” Language and letters, the many-splendored world of mathematics, the vast terrain of history and science, at least in pure form, according to this outlook, are limiting, boring, and possibly emotionally harmful to children.
Traditional classroom activities and content lose out — crowded and trimmed in order to accommodate projects. There’s only so much school day, and projects and activities consume time greedily. To make room, time allotted to reading, writing, listening, critical dialogue, and directed inquiry inevitably shrinks. Serious learning takes a back seat.