Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ideas in professional development: Twittering an old-time resource

In 1920 Eugene Randolph Smith, head of the Park School of Baltimore, was invited to tell a group of Boston parents about the latest in educational thinking and practice. The parents immediately decided to hire Smith away from Baltimore to build a new school in Boston.

During his 23 years as head of Beaver Country Day School, Smith regularly posted challenging queries and statements for his faculty to discuss and dissect, a model of idea-driven professional development that I love. Late in his life, Smith collected many of these queries and assertions into Some Challenges to Teachers, which was published by Exposition Press in 1963.

In the interest of passing along Smith's challenges, I have created a Twitter account as "Tweetcher" from which I will be tweeting a daily excerpt from Smith's book, compressed into 140 characters where necessary.

So if you Twitter, Tweetcher promises never to clutter your day but to challenge and inspire you in some small way.

A bit more on Eugene R. Smith after the jump.

Smith, a mathematics teacher by training, was a long-time devotee of John Dewey and William Heard Kilpatrick and a fervent progressive. In his years as head of BCDS, Smith was a leading figure in the Progressive Education Association and a major contributor to the Eight-Year Study, which demonstrated the effectiveness of progressive educational methods in preparing students for college. (Unfortunately for the future of progressive education, the study was published just as World War II began, and its lessons were lost in the fog of war and the need for standardized, rigid methods for sorting and training young men and women to build an army and a highly disciplined industrial workforce. See Craig Kridel and Robert Bullough's Stories of the Eight-Year Study: Reexamining Secondary Education in America [State University of New York Press, 2007] for more on the study, its conclusions, and Smith's role.)

Smith also wrote Education Moves Ahead (1924), a summary of progressive educational practice at the time, notable for its foreword by Charles W. Eliot, former president of Harvard--he liked progressive education!

Smith, whose spouse Grace Howard Smith worked by his side as a teacher and administrator throughout his career, left BCDS in 1943. He later taught at Rollins College in Florida. Some Challenges to Teachers, published just a few years before Smith's death, is dedicated to Grace's memory.

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