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Theory and Practice of Leadership/1.Learning

John Dewey & Progressive Education.

by Jeonghwan (Jerry) Choi 2009. 6. 24.

Educational Progressivism

Educational progressivism is the belief that education must be based on the principle that humans are social animals who learn best in real-life activities with other people. Progressivistsclaimed to rely on the best available scientific theories of learning. Most progressive educators believe that children learn as if they were scientists, following a process similar to John Dewey's model of learning:

  1. Become aware of the problem.
  2. Define the problem.
  3. Propose hypotheses to solve it.
  4. Evaluate the consequences of the hypotheses from one's past experience.
  5. Test the likeliest solution.

Given this view of human nature, a progressivist teacher desires to provide not just reading and drill, but also real-world experiences and activities that center on the real life of the students. A typical progressivist slogan is "Learn by Doing!"




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 test-oriented instruction legislated by the No Child Left Behind educational funding act.

The term "progressive" was engaged to distinguish this education from the traditionalcurriculum of the 19th century, which was rooted in classical preparation for the universityand strongly differentiated by socioeconomic level. By contrast, progressive education finds its roots in present experience. Most progressive education programs have these qualities in common:

  • Emphasis on learning by doing – hands-on projects, experiential learning
  • Integrated curriculum focused on thematic units
  • 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 rote knowledge
  • Collaborative and cooperative learning projects
  • Education for social responsibility and democracy
  • 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 life-long learning and social skills
  • Assessment by evaluation of child’s projects and productions

[edit]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 that 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 that related knowledge of different disciplines. He replaced traditional readers, spellers andgrammar 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 inChicago, 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 Froebel, Pestalozzi and Herbart, became one of the first 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 became chair of the department ofphilosophypsychology and education. 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-five, he had already published two books on psychology and applied psychology. He had become dissatisfied 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 ofdualism and dichotomy in favor of a philosophy of experience as a series of unified 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.

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 affirmative case can not be made out” (Cremin, 281) the new school organized its activities around four fundamental fields: scienceindustryaesthetics andcivics. The 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 first 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 historygeographyreadingwritingarithmetic, science, art and literature. Each of the units was broadly enough conceived so that different children could concentrate on different 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 the a more student-centered approach to education. During theGreat Depression the organization conducted an Eight Year study evaluating the effects of progressive programs. More 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 influence of progressive pedagogy grew broader and more diffuse, practitioners began to vary their application of progressive principles. As varying interpretations and practices made evaluation of progressive reforms more difficult to assess, critics began to propose alternative approaches.

The seeds of the debate over progressive education can be seen in the differences 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 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 ofSputnik in 1958 at the height of the cold war gave rise to 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 ofJean 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 that the child is an active participant in making meaning and must be engaged in the progress of education for learning to be effective. 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 suffused public school programs with funds for sweeping education reforms. At the same time the influx of federal funding also gave rise to demands for accountability and the behavioral objectives approach of 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. More recently Alfie Kohn has been an outspoken critic of the No Child Left Behind Act and a passionate defender of the progressive tradition. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Taxpayer revolts, leading to cuts in funding for public education in many states, have led to the founding of an unprecedented number of independent schools, many of which have progressive philosophies. The charter school movement has also spawned an increase in progressive programs. Most recently, public outcry against No Child Left Behind testing and teaching to the test has brought progressive education again into the limelight. Despite the variations that still exist among the progressive programs throughout the country, most progressive schools today are vitalized by these common practices:

  • The curriculum is more flexible and is influenced by student interest
  • Teachers are facilitators of learning who encourage students to use a wide variety of activities to learn
  • Progressive teachers use a wider variety of materials allowing for individual and group research.
  • Progressive teachers encourage students to learning by discovery
  • Progressive education programs often include the use of community resources and encourage service-learning projects.

[edit]Education outside of schools

Organizations like the Boy Scouts of America arose amidst concerns of the progressive movement in the United States from people who sought to promote the social welfare of young men through education. After decades of growing interest in and development ofexperiential education and scouting (not Scouting) in the United States, and the emergence of the Scout Movement in 1907, in 1910 Boy Scouts of America was founded in the merger of three older Scouting organizations: Boy Scouts of the United States, the National Scouts of America and the Peace Scouts of California.[6] Its founder, Chicago publisher W. D. Boyce was visiting London, in 1909, when he met the Unknown Scout and learned of the Scouting movement.[7] Soon after his return to the U.S., Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910.[8] Edgar M. Robinson and Lee F. Hanmer became interested in the nascent BSA program and convinced Boyce to turn the program over to the YMCA for development.[9][10] Robinson enlisted Ernest Thompson SetonDaniel Carter Beard and other prominent leaders in the early youth movements. After initial development, Robinson turned the movement over to James E. West who became the first Chief Scout Executive and the Scouting movement began to expand in the U.S.[10][11] As BSA grew, it absorbed other Scouting organizations.

[edit]Recent developments

Changes in educational establishments came about as Americans and Europeans felt they had fallen behind the Soviet Union technologically. A rethinking of education theory followed that, together with the prevailing conservative political climate, helped to cause progressivism to fall from favor.

However, today many schools use progressive education methods, such as hands on activities and science experiments in Junior High Schools. Numerous schools also self-identify as progressive in educational philosophy.

[edit]Ayn Rand's Criticism

Twentieth century philosopher Ayn Rand referred to progressive educators as "theComprachicos of the mind." She accused them of "crippling a child's mind by arresting his cognitive development.".[12][13]

[edit]Schools and Colleges employing the Dewey model of Progressive Education


  • Bank Street College of Education - Founded in 1916, Bank Street is known for its progressive educational approach. Combining current scholarship on child-centered education, psychological development, and practical experience, the College offers three program areas: The Graduate School of Education, Children's Programs, and the Division of Continuing Education. The Bank Street Bookstore specializes in children's books and educational materials for children and educators, and is considered one of the best children's bookstores in New York City.
  • Goddard College - A progressive college founded on the ideals and work of John Dewey. Goddard offers BA, MA and MFA low residency programs in Writing, Education, Psychology, Health Arts, Interdisciplinary Arts and Individually designed programs for working adults. Eight day residencies in Plainfield, Vermont and Port Townsend, Washington
  • Soka University of America - A four year college founded in 2001 in Aliso Viejo, California.
  • Antioch University - A six-campus American university with campuses with campuses in Los Angeles, Seattle, Santa Barbara, Ohio, and New England. It is founded on principles of rigorous liberal arts education, innovative experiential learning and socially engaged citizenship. Antioch College is the result of American educator Horace Mann's dream to establish a college comparable to Harvard but with some notable differences. This college was to be completely non-sectarian and co-educational, and with a curriculum that would not only include the traditional treatment of the classics, but would emphasize science and the scientific method, history and modern literature.
  • Union Institute & University [1] BA program in Montpelier and Brattleboro, Vermont, offering Bachelor of Arts in low-residency and online programs, a leader in progressive student-centered higher education for working adults. Offering Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with concentrations in Women's and Gender Studies, Literature and Writing, Psychology, Education, Historical,Social and Cultural Studies, the Arts, Religious, Spiritual and Holitistic Studies, Environmental Studies, and a Teacher Licensure Program. The low-residency M.Ed. in Montpelier, Vermont is designed for working adults and uses a progressive, student-centered model.

[edit]Further reading

  • Bernstein, Richard J. “John Dewey,” Encyclopedia of Philosophy, New York: Macmillan, 1967, 380-385
  • Kevin J. Brehony, What's Left of Progressive Primary Education. Rethinking Radical Education. A. Rattansi and D. Reeder. London, Lawrence and Wishart: 1992: 196-221.
  • Kevin J. Brehony. "An ‘undeniable’ and ‘disastrous’ Influence? John Dewey and English Education (1895-1939)." Oxford Review of Education 23(4) 1997: 427-445.
  • Kevin J. Brehony "From the particular to the general, the continuous to the discontinuous: progressive education revisited." History of Education 30(5) 2001: 413-432.
  • Bruner, Jerome. The Process of Education. New York: Random House, 1960
  • Bruner, Jerome. The Relevance of Education. New York: Norton, 1971.
  • Cappel, Constance, "Utopion Colleges," Peter Lang, 1999.
  • Cremin, Lawrence. The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education, 1876-1957. New York: Knopf, 1962
  • Dewey, John. Experience and Education. New York: Kappa Delta Pi 1938
  • Dewey, John. Dewey on Education, edited by Martin Dworkin. New York: Teachers college Press, 1959
  • Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. New York: Free Press, 1944.
  • Dewey, John. Experience and Nature. New York: Dover, 1958.
  • Harms, William and De Pencier, Ida. Experiencing Education: 100 Years of Learning at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, 1996
  • Hayes, William, The Progressive Education Movement: Is it Still a Factor in Today’s’ Schools? New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006
  • Flesch, Rudolf, Why Johnny Can’t Read, New York: Harper and Row, 1955
  • Holt, John, How Children Fail, New York: Pitman, 1964
  • Kohn, Alfie. The Case Against Standardized Testing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2000
  • Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999
  • Kozol, Jonathon. Free Schools, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972
  • Kohl, Herb. The Discipline of Hope, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998
  • Kohl, Herb. Teaching the Unteachable, New York Review of Books, 1967.
  • Mager, Robert F. Preparing Behavioral Objectives, Atlanta, Georgia, Center for Effective Instruction, 1969
  • Noddings, Nel. “What Does it Mean to Educate the Whole Child?” Educational Leadership, September 2005, volume 63, no 1
  • Progressive Education Network. www.progressiveed.org
  • Ravitch, Dianne. Left Back: A Century of Battles over School Reform. New York, Simon and Schuster, 2000.

[edit]See also


  1. ^ Barrow Street Nursery School--A private progressive nursery school in the West Village of Manhattan. New York, NY 10014
  2. ^ World Book 2004
  3. ^ /A Brief Overview of Progressive Education
  4. ^ / International Journal of Progressive Education
  5. ^ / Progressive Education: Contrasting Methodologies by Steven Nelson
  6. ^ Peterson, Robert W. (1984). The Boy Scouts: An American Adventure. American Heritage. ISBN 0-8281-1173-1.
  7. ^ Peterson, Robert (2001). "The Man Who Got Lost in the Fog". Scouting (Boy Scouts of America). Retrieved on 2008-06-24.
  8. ^ Rowan, Edward L (2005). To Do My Best: James E. West and the History of the Boy Scouts of America. Las Vegas International Scouting Museum. ISBN 0-9746479-1-8.
  9. ^ "Lee F. Hanmer, 89, A Social Worker"The New York Times. 1961-04-28. Retrieved on 2008-07-06.
  10. a b Peterson, Robert (1998). "The BSA's 'forgotten' founding father"Scouting Magazine. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved on 2006-03-10.
  11. ^ Macleod, David L. (1983). Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, YMCA and Their Forerunners, 1870–1920. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-09400-6.
  12. ^ Rand, Ayn: "The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution", pp. 41-95. Signet, 1975
  13. ^ http://www.aynrand.org/site/News2?JServSessionIdr005=vqt6kzx6s2.app7a&page=NewsArticle&id=6151&news_iv_ctrl=1069