Opus 9 – Coda: My dissertation study

Good, better, best.
Never…rest.
Until your good is better, and your better is best.

~ Source Unknown ~

Among the many concepts of contemporary American education is the lack of clarity in educational direction. This study was undertaken to see if Herbert Spencer’s views on the concept of progress could shed some light on this concern.

The focus of this study was to explicate Herbert Spencer’s views on the concept of progress, to show how they relate to his social and educational theories, and to consider their educational implications.

Herbert Spencer, from a naturalistic position, viewed man as part of and continuous with nature.  He argued that through adaptation and adjustment, growth, development and movement is inevitable and fundamental to nature, to human life, and basic to all progress.  Spencer’s position on progress, and in turn education was essentially that of movement from homogeneity to heterogeneity, with emphasis on individuation and mutual dependency. It was found Spencer’s social and educational theories relate to his views on the concept of progress, in that individuation and mutual dependency acknowledges and accepts a unique, diversified and pluralistic society that requires equitable social arrangements both in the classroom and in society.

While it is recognized and acknowledged that Spencer’s views come from a nineteenth-century English perspective, some implications for contemporary American education were found.  The first was that there needs to be an interdisciplinary approach to subject matter and a reconciliation between  learning and life.  That is, as subject matter moves from specialization toward mutual dependency, curricular effort becomes an integrated and interdisciplinary one.  This implication was made in the context of a second and much larger one, namely, for educational progress there must exist an equilibrium, harmony and balance between the individual and the subject matter.  There is a need for application of the subject matter to the life of the individual.  That is, subject matter needs to be individuated and relate to the needs of the individual student.  Further, the progression of the subject matter must keep in mind the ability and interest of the individual.  It follows then that teachers must address individual ability and need differences, and every effort must be made toward the adaptation and adjustment of the subject matter and the method to this ability and need difference.  Teaching and learning must proceed from the simple to the complex, from the particular to the general, from the concrete to the abstract.

It was also found that since all that can be learned in the school setting is limited, it becomes necessary to select the subject matter that is regarded as of greatest importance and value at any given time.  In this regard, the study of science was found to be of paramount importance, particularly because as a discipline that teaches and explains the laws underlying phenomena, and as a method that verifies what is observed it enlarges the meaning and perception of experience.

Finally, the conclusion reached was that there must be more responsiveness to the psychological and social needs of the individual than in the past.  For, to be able deal effectively with personality dimensions is as important as becoming skilled in problem solving   This conclusion strongly suggests a need for a holistic approach to teaching and learning.

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