Atendendo a algumas respostas apreciativas e inúmeras ignorativas, aqui está......

05 fevereiro 2010

Playing to learn

Dear Susan Engel,

I read your article in the NYTimes and I have a question. I am not an education expert but I agree with the ideas you discussed - they certainly apply, mutatis mutandis, to teaching engineering at the university level, which is what I do. Learning the facts is indispensable, and students must be taught things - we cannot expect each one of us to reinvent the knowledge of thousands of years. However, learning does not happen by ticking off items in a list, not in a university, not in high school, and even less in elementary school.

But how typical is learning by repetition of what happens in elementary school in the US? I have 2 daughters in 3rd and 5th grade in Brookline, Massachusetts, public schools, and they don't seem to "... spend tedious hours learning isolated mathematical formulas or memorizing sheets of science facts that are unlikely to matter much in the long run." On the contrary, their experience seems to me a richer version of the fairly progressive education I had in Brazil in the 70s, and vastly improved over what most other parents remember. There are some boring moments in their education, but altogether they seem to be constructing relevant knowledge in an integrated and natural way.

Is Brookline among the counterexamples to the bad tendencies that you identified? An exception to the rule of rote learning? Or is there something I am missing?

Thanks for your interesting article, yours,

Felipe Pait


Dear Felipe,

Thanks for writing. Your daughters are lucky, and I'm not surprised, since
you live in Brookline. There are some wonderful schools sprinkled throughout
the country, and in even the worst schools, some wonderful teachers who buck
the current trends. But the over all emphasis these days is on improving
test scores at all costs, and drilling children with specific information
and isolated skills.

But it's heartening to be reminded that nevertheless, good teaching and
learning are happening in some schools.


Susan Engel
Department of Psychology
Class of 1959 Director of the Program in Teaching
Williams College
Williamstown MA 01267
413 597 4522

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