Schoolhouse Politics: Lessons from the Sputnik Era

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9780674792401: Schoolhouse Politics: Lessons from the Sputnik Era

"Schoolhouse Politics" tells the story of an experiment in curriculum design that was developed in the 1960s and called "Man: A Course of Study" (MACOS). In an attempt to teach anthropology to ten-year-olds, Jerome Bruner and his colleagues designed an elementary school course that combined fieldwork on the social behaviour of baboons, a film-based enthnographic study of an Eskimo tribe, and "hands-on" classroom materials. MACOS was hailed as an original and exciting way to promote science literacy and to teach young people how to think like social scientists. Teachers and students alike expressed enthusiasm for the course, and it achieved nationwide distribution and widespread recognition as one of the outstanding social science curriculum projects of the period. Yet by 1975, MACOS had been driven from the schools, a casualty of a small but vocal group of conservatives critical of its content and methodology. Peter Dow, the MACOS project director, offers an insider's account of those days of federally funded scholar-led curriculum innovation and of the ensuing controversy that undermined MACOS. In their attempt to close the gap between the "frontier of research" and the ordinary classroom, the MACOS team learned a great deal about the relationship between scholarship and teaching, the nature of the learning process, and what happens in a classroom when conventional textbooks are replaced by primary sources and a wide variety of media. MACOS demonstrated the power of student-directed learning, of alternative strategies for stimulating inquiry, and of nondidactic approaches to instruction. But the experience of designing and distributing the course also taught these innovators lessons about educational politics and the economics of American textbook development and publishing. In the 1990s as in the 1960s, there is public pressure to "fix" the school systems. By documenting the educational debates of an earlier era. "Schoolhouse Politics" raises questions that speak to the present dilemma while offering a cautionary perspective to reformers of the 1990s who can ill afford to be naive about the politics of educational reform.

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Peter Dow
Published by Harvard University Press (1991)
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Published by Harvard University Press (1991)
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