Sylvia Ashton-Warner Morris Freedman - Essay

Morris Freedman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Spearpoint,] Sylvia Ashton-Warner's report of her experience in an "open" primary school in Colorado, is delightful, literate and personal. She knows she is a good teacher; she is openly pleased or displeased with herself and with others, or with the whole shebang; and she unselfconsciously and meticulously records her teaching triumphs and failures.

But the book is more than a record of her slow and sometimes impatient progress toward order and discipline in the face of their opposites … and toward the development of a teaching that is successful, to the degree that it is also a learning. Working "organically" with the children, she is also aware of the organic tie between the American classroom, or whatever it may be called, and the great American outside….

[Despite her] emphasis on and exploitation of uniqueness, Miss Ashton-Warner, like any teacher, is tempted to make generalizations to ease her work. Every so often she looks for a ready umbrella under which to crowd her charges. She suggests, for example, that the failure of her children to question her on occasion comes from their watching television so much and having to accept everything they're told by the tube since, obviously, they can't answer back or question back. That's just not right: I've heard children talk back to sets, and I certainly used to have to answer myself for something said or shown on the screen….

This very occupational failing underscores Miss Ashton-Warner's thorough professionalism. Unexamined teaching, she has learned, is unfulfilled teaching; her experience has taught her the importance of always probing one's own teaching powers, even when the probing is inadequate. Throughout the book she can therefore be found pausing to reflect on the whole process of teaching, sometimes simply, sometimes with implications that illumine larger human encounters…. (p. 30)

Morris Freedman, "A Feel for Teaching," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1972 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 167, No. 11, September 23, 1972, pp. 30-1.