Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Waste in education

Caroline Pratt (1867–1954) founded Manhattan’s City and Country School in 1914. She was a teacher at odds with established practices:

I once asked a cooking teacher why she did not let the children experiment with the flour and yeast, to see whether they could make bread. She said in a shocked voice, “But that would be so wasteful!”

She was no more shocked by my question than I by her answer. That materials used in education should be considered wasted! Ours must be a strange educational system, I thought. And, of course, the more I studied it, the more convinced I became that it was very strange indeed. It was saving of materials, ah yes — but how wasteful of children!

Caroline Pratt, I Learn from Children: An Adventure in Progressive Education . 1948. (New York: Grove, 2014).

8:15 p.m.: And now I remember that City and Country figures in the documentary Nursery University (dir. Marc H. Simon and Matthew Makar, 2008). Yearly tuition at the school ranges from $24,200 to $43,500. What would Caroline Pratt say?


July 28: I didn’t have to read many more pages to get an idea of what Caroline Pratt might think about those numbers. As a young teacher in New York City, she worked three jobs, one in a private school, two in settlement houses. Here is what she says about that work:
The work with [children of privilege] was easier — but it never seemed quite so important as with the others. There was no satisfaction in the private school which compared with the harder accomplishment of offering new opportunities to children who needed them so desperately, and who used them with such intelligence and joy.
I should acknowledge that City and Country does offer need-based financial aid: “A significant portion of our operating budget is dedicated to tuition assistance.”

comments: 2

MK said...

Learning how to bake and education have little to do with each other. Learning a trade (or the rudiments of a trade) is training. Baking bread does not even depend on a recipe but on a formula. That she was shocked by the instructor of cooking only shows that she did not know much about baking at all.

I am sorry to say that I had to serve an apprenticeship as a baker in Germany before I was allowed to go back to school again. The years of apprenticeship were the most miserable years of my life (but I was trained to take over my father's bakery). But they gave me a zest for learning.


Michael Leddy said...

I read the passage as being about experimenting, figuring out how and why things work, without seeing the experimenting as wasteful. There’s a related passage about a child in a classroom taking fifty sheets of paper and making a mark on each. (She apparently wasn’t satisfied with whatever mark she was making.)

Your mandatory apprenticeship makes me think of something from the world of Robert Walser’s writing. I’m glad you found a more congenial path.