I think the sensible approach would be to recognize that both teachers and students have an important role to play in the educational enterprise. Blaming only one side is ... well ... one-sided.
The current philosophy that dominates American education, Zoch demonstrates, is a strange concoction that has produced our current woeful situation. Behaviorists (James B. Watson, Edward L. Thorndike, and B. F. Skinner) encouraged the view that students were simple, passive, and easily manipulated. According to behaviorist principles, it is no longer “incumbent upon the student to do what is necessary to succeed,” for it is the responsibility of the teacher “to find the right stimulus that will cause a student to respond as desired.” In the behaviorist worldview, the environment is all, and the student is passive and as helpless as an infant.
Along come John Dewey, William Heard Kilpatrick, Colonel Francis Parker, G. Stanley Hall, and other progressives, whose philosophies relieved students of responsibility to make the necessary effort to learn unless they wanted to. Like the behaviorists, Dewey saw the classroom environment (created by the teacher) as ultimately determinative of whether students learn. Kilpatrick and other leading progressives thought that if teachers could discover children’s natural interests, then learning would be easy and fun. Hall worried that studying hard was actually dangerous to children’s health. The possibility that a student might “struggle and strain” to learn something not of his own choosing was foreign to progressive theorists. Indeed, they emphasized the importance of joy, not effort. Zoch shows that progressive dogmas about natural learning are clearly in conflict with the Jamesian philosophy of effort and insists that parents and teachers teach “the will to succeed” by setting clear expectations and demanding effort, not accepting laziness.
Zoch argues that the progressive philosophy, like behaviorism, puts the onus on the teacher to be perfect, imaginative, ingenious, and all-powerful. Both philosophies assume that the teacher can and must create exactly the right environment or the student will not learn. Furthermore, if the teacher follows progressivist dictates, she will never exercise authority in the classroom but will appeal instead to the children’s needs and interests. The teacher must be not only entertaining but also able to individualize instruction for each child, who is expected to learn at his or her own pace and in accordance with his or her individual learning style. The problem, Zoch says, is that teachers are expected to work hard to motivate kids, but kids aren’t expected to do anything other than wait for the teacher to motivate them.