Schools across the country are banning the Silly Bandz bracelets. The problem? As one Houston teacher put it: “They are a distraction, students are slapping them, trading, and checking out who has what on their arm instead of taking care of the business of school.”
It may well be the bracelets are distracting from school work in many places. But the ban is also an ironic twist on the progressive Dewey-21st Century Skills education philosophy that is fashionable among educators. According to Dewey, school should both reflect life and prepare the student for adult life:
From the standpoint of the child, the great waste in the school comes from his inability to utilize the experiences he gets outside the school in any complete and free way within the school itself; while on the other hand, he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning in school. That is the isolation of the school–its isolation from life. When the child gets into the schoolroom he has to put out of his mind a large part of the ideas, interests and activities that predominate in his home and neighborhood. So the school being unable to utilize this everyday experience, sets painfully to work on another tack and by a variety of [artificial] means, to arouse in the child an interest in school studies …. [Thus there remains a] gap existing between the everyday experiences of the child and the isolated material supplied in such large measure in the school.
Collecting and trading desired items sounds just like the kind of thing Dewey would embrace. Students would learn about commerce and the potentially mutual benefits of trade. But schools not only refuse to take advantage of these opportunities to teach students useful lessons about the world, they insist on banning the items altogether.
Maybe schools are preparing students for the world as they wish it would be — with a lot of collaboration but little commercial trade — rather than the world as it is and almost certainly will continue to be.