Still so little for the mind: The enduring relevance of Hilda Neatby's defense of liberal education in public schools
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Hilda Neatby was disturbed by the education system’s sudden and enthusiastic rush to embrace John Dewey’s philosophical ideas. The reforms being implemented in Canadian public schools in the 1940s and 50s were promising to reduce the amount of rote learning, to place less emphasis on facts in order, apparently, to stimulate conceptual learning, and to increase students’ engagement by immersing them in “discovery learning” methods and by appealing to their individual passions and interests. These terms have not disappeared; indeed, in many Canadian provinces and US states they being re-packaged as the key to “twenty-first century” learning objectives. They rest, ironically, on exactly the same philosophical principles Hilda Neatby criticized more than sixty years ago. Since curriculum “experts” in the twenty-first century continue to advocate that teachers should abandon a genuine liberal education for the sake of Dewey-inspired “discovery learning,” Neatby’s critique is worth reviving as part of the ongoing debate about the purpose of education.