Unformatted text preview: 2/17/2021 Progressive Education | Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner
Part I: Educational History and Policy Progressive Education 1/25 2/17/2021 Progressive Education | Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner Progressive education is a pedagogical movement that began in the late nineteenth century and has persisted in various forms to the
present. More recently, it has been viewed as an alternative to the testoriented instruction legislated by the No Child Left Behind educational
The term “progressive” was engaged to distinguish this education from
the traditional curriculum of the 19th century, which was rooted in classical preparation for the university and strongly di erentiated by socioeconomic level. By contrast, progressive education nds its roots in
present experience. Most progressive education programs have these
qualities in common:
Emphasis on learning by doing – hands-on projects, expeditionary
learning, experiential learning
Integrated curriculum focused on thematic units
Integration of entrepreneurship in to education
Strong emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking
Group work and development of social skills
Understanding and action as the goals of learning as opposed to
Collaborative and cooperative learning projects
Education for social responsibility and democracy
Highly personalized education accounting for each individual’s
Integration of community service and service learning projects into
the daily curriculum
Selection of subject content by looking forward to ask what skills
will be needed in future society
De-emphasis on textbooks in favor of varied learning resources
Emphasis on lifelong learning and social skills
Assessment by evaluation of child’s projects and productions 2/25 2/17/2021 Progressive Education | Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner Forerunners Progressive education can be traced as far back as to the works of John
Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with both being respectively known as paternal forerunners to the ideas that would be demonstrated by theorists such as Dewey. Locke rst speculated, “truth and knowledge… are
out of observation and experience rather than manipulation of accepted
or given ideas “ (Locke as cited in Hayes, 2007, p. 2). He further discussed the need for children to have concrete experiences in order to
Rousseau furthered this assumption in Emile where he made a standpoint against students being subordinate to teachers and that memorization of facts would not lead to an education. (See:Emile, or On Education) Another forerunner to progressive education was Johann Heinrich
Pestalozzi (1746–1827). His research and theories closely resemble those outlined by Rousseau in Emile. He is further considered by many
to be the “father of modern educational science” (Hayes, 2007, p. 2). His
psychological theories pertain to education as they focus on the development of object teaching, that is, he felt that individuals best learned
through experiences and through a direct manipulation and experience
of objects. He further speculated that children learn through their own
internal motivation rather than through compulsion. (See Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic motivation). A teachers task will be to help guide their students as
individuals through their learning and allow it unfold naturally. (Butts and
The “Progressive Education Movement,” starting in the 1880s and lasting
for sixty years, helped boost American public schools from a budding
idea to the regular norm. John Dewey, a principal gure in this movement from the 1880s to 1904, set the tone for educational philosophy as
well as concrete school reforms. His reactions to the prevailing theories
and practices in education, corrections made to these philosophies, and
recommendations to teachers and administrators to embrace “the new
education,” provide a vital account of the history of the development of
educational thinking in the late nineteenth and early twentieth 3/25 2/17/2021 Progressive Education | Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner centuries.4 Dewey placed so called pragmatism above moral absolutes
and helped give rise to situational ethics.
Hayes, William. (2007). Progressive education movement: Is it still a
facto in today’s schools? Lanham: Rowman & Little eld Education.
Butts, Freeman R. & Cremin, Lawrence A. A history of education in american culture. New York: Henry Hold and Co. John Dewey
Beginning in 1897 John Dewey published a summary of his theory on
progressive education in School Journal. His theoretical standpoints are
divided into 5 sections outlined below.
What Education Is: Education according to Dewey is the “participation of the individual in
the social consciousness of the race” (Dewey, 1897, para. 1). As such, education should take into account that the student is a social being. The
process begins at birth with the child unconsciously gaining knowledge
and gradually developing their knowledge to share and partake in
The educational process has two sides, the psychological and the
sociological, with the psychological forming the basis. (Dewey, 1897). A
child’s own instincts will help develop the material that is presented to
them. These instincts also form the basis of their knowledge with everything building upon it. This forms the basis of Dewey’s assumption that
one cannot learn without motivation.
Knowledge is a social condition and it is important to help students construct their own learning, as stated:
“Hence it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of 4/25 2/17/2021 Progressive Education | Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner conditions. To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and
ready use of all his capacities; that his eye and ear and hand may be
tools ready to command, that his judgment may be capable of grasping
the conditions under which it has to work, and the executive forces be
trained to act economically and e ciently” (Dewey, 1897, Para. 7)
Instruction must focus on the child as a whole for you can never be sure
as to where society may end or where that student will be needed or will
What the School Is “Education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the
school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place
where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be
learned, or where certain habits are to be formed” (Dewey, 1897, para. 17)
Dewey felt that as education is a social construct, it is therefore a part of
society and should re ect the community.
Education is the process of living and is not meant to be the preparation
of future living (Dewey, 1897), so school must represent the present life.
As such, parts of the student’s home life (such as moral and ethical
education) should take part in the schooling process. The teacher is a
part of this, not as an authoritative gure, but as a member of the community who is there to assist the student.
The Subject- Matter of Education According to Dewey, the curriculum in the schools should re ect that of
society. The center of the school curriculum should re ect the development of humans in society. The study of the core subjects (language,
science, history) should be coupled with the study of cooking, sewing
and manual training. Furthermore, he feels that “progress is not in the
succession of studies but in the development of new attitudes towards,
and new interests in, experience” (Dewey, 1897, para. 38) 5/25 2/17/2021 Progressive Education | Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner The Nature of Method Method is focused on the child’s powers and interests. If the child is
thrown into a passive role as a student, absorbing information, the result
is a waste of the child’s education. (Dewey, 1897). Information presented
to the student will be transformed into new forms, images and symbols
by the student so that they t with their development and interests. The
development of this is natural. To repress this process and attempt to
“substitute the adult for the child” (Dewey, 1897, para. 52) would weaken
the intellectual curiosity of the child.
The School and Social Progress Education is the most fundamental method of social reconstruction for
progress and reform. Dewey believes that “education is a regulation of
the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the
adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness
is the only sure method of social reconstruction” (Dewey, 1897, para. 60).
As such, Dewey gives way to Social Reconstruction and schools as
means to reconstruct society (See Social Reconstruction in Education).
Finally, as schools become a means for social reconstruction, our educations must be given the proper equipment to help perform this task and
guide their students.
Dewey, John. (1897). My pedagogical creed. School Journal. 54. pp. 77–
80. Retrieved on November 4, 2011
from William Heard Kilpatrick
William Heard Kilpatrick (1871–1965) was a pupil of Dewey and one of the most e ective practitioner of the concept as well as the more adept
at proliferating the progressive education movement and spreading
word of the works of Dewey. He is especially well known for his “project
method of teaching” (Hayes, 2007, p. 24). This developed the progressive education notion that students were to be engaged and taught so 6/25 2/17/2021 Progressive Education | Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner that their knowledge may be directed to society for a socially useful
need. Like Dewey he also felt that students should be actively engaged
in their learning rather than actively disengaged with the simple reading
and regurgitation of material.
Hayes, William. (2007). Progressive education movement: Is it still a factor in today’s schools? Lanham: Rowman & Little eld Education. Knoll,
Michael (2012). “I had made a mistake”: William H. Kilpatrick and the
Project Method. In: Teachers College Record 114 (February), no. 2, 45 pp. Development in the United States
The most famous early practitioner of progressive education was Francis Parker; its best-known spokesperson was the philosopher John
Dewey. In 1875 Francis Parker became superintendent of schools in Quincy,
Massachusetts after spending two years in Germany studying emerging educational trends on the continent. Parker was opposed to rote
learning, believing that there was no value in knowledge without
understanding. He argued instead schools should encourage and respect the child’s creativity. Parker’s Quincy System called for child-centered and experience-based learning. He replaced the traditional curriculum with integrated learning units based on core themes related to
the knowledge of di erent disciplines. He replaced traditional readers,
spellers and grammar books with children’s own writing, literature, and
teacher prepared materials. In 1883 Parker left Massachusetts to become
Principal of the Cook County Normal School in Chicago, a school that
also served to train teachers in Parker’s methods. In 1894 Parker’s Talks
on Pedagogics, which drew heavily on the thinking
of Fröbel, Pestalozzi and Herbart, became one of the rst American
writings on education to gain international fame.
That same year, philosopher John Dewey moved from the University of
Michigan to the newly established University of Chicago where he be- came chair of the department of philosophy, psychology and education. 7/25 2/17/2021 Progressive Education | Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner He and his wife enrolled their children in Parker’s school before founding
their own school two years later.
Whereas Parker started with practice and then moved to theory, Dewey
began with hypotheses and then devised methods and curricula to test
them. By the time Dewey moved to Chicago at the age of thirty- ve, he
had already published two books on psychology and applied
psychology. He had become dissatis ed with philosophy as pure speculation and was seeking ways to make philosophy directly relevant to
practical issues. Moving away from an early interest in Hegel, Dewey
proceeded to reject all forms of dualism and dichotomy in favor of a philosophy of experience as a series of uni ed wholes in which everything
can be ultimately related.
In 1896, John Dewey opened what he called the laboratory school to
test his theories and their sociological implications. With Dewey as the
director and his wife as principal, the University of Chicago Laboratory
school, was dedicated “to discover in administration, selection of
subject-matter, methods of learning, teaching, and discipline, how a
school could become a cooperative community while developing in individuals their own capacities and satisfy their own needs.” (Cremin, 136)
For Dewey the two key goals of developing a
cooperative community and developing individuals’ own capacities
were not at odds; they were necessary to each other. This unity of purpose lies at the heart of the progressive education philosophy. In 1912,
Dewey sent out students of his philosophy to found The Park School of
Bu alo and The Park School of Baltimore to put it into practice. These schools operate to this day within a similar progressive approach.
At Columbia, Dewey worked with other educators such as Charles Eliot
and Abraham Flexner to help bring progressivism into the mainstream of
American education. In 1917 Columbia established the Lincoln School of
Teachers College “as a laboratory for the working out of an elementary
and secondary curriculum which shall eliminate obsolete material and
endeavor to work up in usable form material adapted to the needs of
modern living.” (Cremin, 282) Based on Flexner’s demand that the modern curriculum “include nothing for which an a rmative case can not be
made out” (Cremin, 281) the new school organized its activities around
four fundamental elds: science, industry, aesthetics and civics. The 8/25 2/17/2021 Progressive Education | Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner Lincoln School built its curriculum around “units of work” that reorganized traditional subject matter into forms embracing the development
of children and the changing needs of adult life. The rst and second
grades carried on a study of community life in which they actually built a
city. A third grade project growing out of the day to day life of the
nearby Hudson river became one of the most celebrated units of the
school, a unit on boats, which under the guidance of its legendary
teacher Miss Curtis, became an entrée
into history, geography, reading, writing, arithmetic, science, art and
literature. Each of the units was broadly enough conceived so that di erent children could concentrate on di erent aspects depending on their
own interests and needs. Each of the units called for widely diverse student activities, and each sought to deal in depth with some critical aspect of contemporary civilization. Finally each unit engaged children
working together cooperatively and also provided opportunities for individual research and exploration.
From 1919 to 1955 the Progressive Education Association founded
by Stanwood Cobb and others worked to promote a more student-centered approach to education. During the Great Depression the organization conducted an Eight Year study evaluating the e ects of progressive
programs. More than 1500 students over four years were compared to
an equal number of carefully matched students at conventional schools.
When they reached college, the experimental students were found to
equal or surpass traditionally educated students on all outcomes:
grades, extracurricular participation, dropout rates, intellectual curiosity,
and resourcefulness. Moreover, the study found that the more the school
departed from the traditional college preparatory program, the better
was the record of the graduates. (Kohn, Schools, 232)
By mid-century many public school programs had also adopted elements of progressive curriculum. At mid-century Dewey believed that
progressive education had “not really penetrated and permeated the
foundations of the educational institution.”(Kohn, Schools, 6,7) As the inuence of progressive pedagogy grew broader and more di use, practitioners began to vary their application of progressive principles. As varying interpretations and practices made evaluation of progressive reforms
more di cult to assess, critics began to propose alternative approaches. 9/25 2/17/2021 Progressive Education | Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner The seeds of the debate over progressive education can be seen in the
di erences of Parker and Dewey. These have to do with how much and
by whom curriculum should be worked out from grade to grade, how
much the child’s emerging interests should determine classroom
activities, the importance of child-centered vs. societal–centered
learning, the relationship of community building to individual growth, and
especially the relationship between emotion, thought and experience.
In 1955 the publication of Rudolf Flesch’s Why Johnny Can’t Read leveled criticism of reading programs at the progressive emphasis on reading in context. The conservative McCarthy era raised questions about
the liberal ideas at the roots of the progressive reforms. The launching
of Sputnik in 1957 at the height of the cold wargave rise to a number of
intellectually competitive approaches to disciplinary knowledge, such as
BSCS biology PSSC physics, led by university professors such
as Jerome Bruner and Jerrold Zacharias.
Interestingly, some of the cold war reforms incorporated elements of
progressivism. For example, the work of Zacharias and Bruner was
based in the developmental psychology of Jean Piaget and incorporated many of Dewey’s ideas of experiential education. Bruner’s analysis
of developmental psychology became the core of a pedagogical movement known as constructivism, which argues that the child is an active
participant in making meaning and must be engaged in the progress of
education for learning to be e ective. This psychological approach has
deep connections to the work of both Parker and Dewey and led to a
resurgence of their ideas in second half of the century.
In 1963 President Johnson inaugurated the Great Society and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act su used public school programs
with funds for sweeping education reforms. At the same time the in ux
of federal funding also gave rise to demands for accountability and the
behavioral objectives approach of Robert F. Mager and others foreshadowed the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2002. Against these critics eloquent spokespersons stepped forward in defense of the progressive tradition. The Open Classroom movement, led by Herb Kohl and
George Dennison, recalled many of Parker’s child centered reforms.
 … 10/25 2/17/2021 Progressive Education | Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a rise and decline in the number of
progressive schools. There were several reasons for the decline:
Demographics: As the baby boom passed, traditional classrooms
were no longer as over-enrolled, reducing demand for alternatives.
The economy: The oil crisis and recession made shoestring
schools less viable.
Times changed: With the ending of the Vietnam War, social activism waned.
Co-optation: Many schools were co-opted by people who didn’t
believe in the original mission.
Centralization: The ongoing centralization of school districts
Non-implementation: Schools failed to implement a model of
Interpersonal dynamics: Disagreement over school goals, poor
group process skills, lack of critical dialogue, and fear of assertive
Al e Kohn has been an outspoken critic of the No Child Left Behind Act and a passionate defender of t...
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