72-year old Alice Palmer sharper than mayor-elect

Former Illinois State Senator Alice Palmer

How great to read this letter from former State Senator Alice Palmer in today’s Sun-Times. Mrs. Palmer was an original legislative supporter of local school councils, and at age 72, she is still on top of the issues — and more knowledgeable about education than the guy who’s about to take over Chicago’s schools:

“Enough with threatening and punishing Chicago public schoolteachers and administrators!

“I wonder how many of the decision makers and pundits have ever taught young people for a sustained period of time or run a school. Students are not widgets, and teachers are not assembly line supervisors.

“And standardized tests as singular measures of learning merely show what the student has retained in that moment — a snapshot, not a portrait — and certainly not a good yardstick of what a good teacher can impart.

“When all is said and done, learning — as John Dewey said — is thinking and doing. The 19th century approach to education that largely continues to be the model — sit in a seat most of the day, read the next, listen to presentations, then get tested on what was read and heard — is outdated and numbing.

“We need a 21st century educational philosophy. We might consider project-organized and problem-based learning, a successful education model designed by Denmark’s Aalborg University. Students learn to analyze and define a problem, then set about marshaling their skills and talents within an interdisciplinary framework, under the teacher’s guidance, to solve the problem.

“People learn at different paces and in different ways. Using problems as a starting point for learning can highlight every learner’s strengths. Imagine engaging a youth in addressing issues in Chicago’s neighborhoods, for example.

“The goal is to help the coming generations be knowledgeable, to continue to learn for a lifetime, and teachers and school administrators, as well as parents and communities, can be partners.”

Alice J. Palmer,
former state senator

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Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.