The missing element, part 2

Continuing from here. Passive vs active, facts vs experience, in education. Here’s a sharp comparison from the early ’30s.

RCA was promoting the passive version in a sneaky way.


Radio has added to the plan of teaching a third dimension through which it may project a living personality into the school room or allow the student to seemingly be present at the enactment of an historical event. It may instantly transport the student to any part of the world, where, as in a great laboratory, he may know and share the thrill of discovery and the satisfaction of achievement. It has made modern education a newly vitalized force, its instruction glowing with reality.

Through the radio, a course in music appreciation by a world famous musician may be brought to the children of a distant school where, perhaps, there was no music at all before. A prominent government official may tell of the function of his department in the affairs of state or discuss the problems of the day. The distinguished scientist may explain the advance made in the treatment of disease or in the utilization of natural resources. The famous explorer may describe his experiences from the far outposts of civilization. School today has become a place of communion with the greatest personalities of the age.

Vitalized? No, devitalized.

Glowing with reality? No, glowing with unreality. The Greatest Personalities are unreal and unachievable.

Music appreciation is the opposite of singing. There was plenty of music in the ordinary schoolroom.

A scientist explaining his “advances” is the opposite of learning a skill. Every skill involves experimentation, systematic or otherwise.

A famous explorer describing his experiences is the opposite of exploring your own territory.

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Here’s a well-written account of the active approach, as encouraged and funded by the WPA school lunch program. (From Marjorie Barton’s book ‘Leaning on a Legacy’ about WPA in Oklahoma, not online.)

Methods of food preparation varied by the size of the school. The one-room rural school was given commodities to make stew, cornbread and biscuits. At the West/East Cloudy School near Rattan, a former teacher said that the stew was put on the stove in the morning and by lunchtime was not only ready, but creating hunger pains. She said the students loved to help with the preparation. Everyone brought their own bowl and took turns washing dishes.

WPA recognized one basic fact: Humans are designed to be USEFUL. People want to make things. People need to be needed. Previous ‘relief’ programs were not satisfying this basic need. WPA gave every conceivable skill a chance to be useful and honest. Most of the work created long-lasting improvements in human life, work, nutrition, and recreation. The workers could look at their COMPLETED RESULT with satisfaction, and future generations continued to appreciate and USE the COMPLETED RESULT. Real work, real order, real value, and above all real beauty.

Now we’ve returned massively to the previous ‘relief’ programs. For 40 years we’ve been offshoring jobs. In 2020 we simply prohibited useful work. Universal Basic Income guarantees that people will be useless, which is a sneaky form of genocide.

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Calibrating: In fairness, RCA was selling a helper for active learning at the same time that it was promoting passive learning. The same booklet includes an ad for the Radiola 86, a radio and phonograph and RECORDER.

Students could record their own songs or narrate their own explorations, and preserve the result for posterity.