What we can learn from Louisa May Alcott's dad

A reluctant trip to Concord on Patriot's Day actually turned into an inspiring look at the beginnings of modern pedagogy and a preview of what we might do with the resources at our disposal.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

I took advantage of a clear spring Patriot's Day to head for Concord, Mass, with relatives and about half the family. Our destination? The so-called Little Women House (officially, Orchard House), home of Louisa May Alcott. This was not a day trip about which I was particularly excited, but my wife got it in her head that we should see it. Whatever. Seeing as how I now have a little woman, I relented and off we went.

After the tour, I have to admit that my tune had entirely changed. Not only was I hoping that this little girl

would turn out even a little bit like Miss Alcott, but I had a new respect for her Dad, Bronson Alcott, who basically invented everything from recess to student-teacher interaction.

According to the Orchard House website,

Most often remembered as the “Father of Little Women,” Amos Bronson Alcott is usually forgotten as a leader in educational reform. He was not only a teacher and Superintendent of Concord Schools, but also a founder of one of the first adult education centers in the United States

Still relevant today is the idea of experiential learning, again attributed to Mr. Alcott:

“Observation more than books, and experience more than persons, are the prime educators.”

So even in the 19th century, Amos Bronson Alcott was laying the stage for an educational revolution that is still going on today. Today, however, we have extraordinarily powerful technology that can enable and expand upon his vision of an interactive classroom in which students are active participants, rather than recipients of knowledge imparted by a sage-on-a-stage.

Interactive whiteboards, student response systems, Web 2.0 technologies, and even mere word processors allow students to express themselves, explore and synthesize, and learn with and through others. While Alcott was considered quite radical in his time ("What, ask students for their opinions? Nonsense!" exclaimed our tour guide), imagine what he or his friends, Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne might have done with the sort of technology we have today that can connect peers, learners, teachers, and creators. Then again, imagine what Louisa May Alcott might have done if she'd been able to push out e-books of her far less known (but arguably far more interesting) gothic thrillers to her audience?

The sky's the limit, folks. We just need to agree to embrace the tech, enable our students, and push them to create, grow, and learn using every tool at our disposal. Bronson Alcott would have wanted it that way.

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