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Progressive education is a pedagogical movement that began in the late nineteenth century; it has persisted in various forms to the present. The term progressive was engaged to distinguish this education from the traditional Euro-American curricula of the 19th century, which was rooted in classical preparation for the university and strongly differentiated by social class. 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, expeditionary learning, experiential learning
- Integrated curriculum focused on thematic units
- Integration of entrepreneurship into 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 rote knowledge
- Collaborative and cooperative learning projects
- Education for social responsibility and democracy
- Highly personalized education accounting for each individual's personal goals
- 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
- 1 Educational theory
- 1.1 Johann Bernhard Basedow
- 1.2 Christian Gotthilf Salzmann
- 1.3 Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi
- 1.4 Friedrich Fröbel
- 1.5 Johann Friedrich Herbart
- 1.6 John Melchior Bosco
- 1.7 Cecil Reddie
- 1.8 John Dewey
- 1.9 Maria Montessori
- 1.10 Robert Baden-Powell
- 1.11 Comparison with traditional education
- 2 Progressive education in the West
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 Further reading
Progressive education can be traced back to the works of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, both of whom are known as forerunners of ideas that would be developed by theorists such as Dewey. Locke believed that "truth and knowledge… arise out of observation and experience rather than manipulation of accepted or given ideas".:2 He further discussed the need for children to have concrete experiences in order to learn. Rousseau deepened this line of thinking in Emile, or On Education, where he argued that subordination of students to teachers and memorization of facts would not lead to an education.
Johann Bernhard Basedow
In Germany, Johann Bernhard Basedow (1724-1790) established the Philanthropinum at Dessau in 1774. He developed new teaching methods based on conversation and play with the child, and a program of physical development. Such was his success that he wrote a treatise on his methods, "On the best and hitherto unknown method of teaching children of noblemen".
Christian Gotthilf Salzmann
Christian Gotthilf Salzmann (1744–1811) was the founder of the Schnepfenthal institution, a school dedicated to new modes of education (derived heavily from the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau). He wrote Elements of Morality, for the Use of Children, one of the first books translated into English by Mary Wollstonecraft.
Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi
Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746–1827) was a Swiss pedagogue and educational reformer who exemplified Romanticism in his approach. He founded several educational institutions both in German- and French-speaking regions of Switzerland and wrote many works explaining his revolutionary modern principles of education. His motto was "Learning by head, hand and heart". 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” 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 teacher's task will be to help guide their students as individuals through their learning and allow it to unfold naturally.
Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel (1782 – 1852) was a student of Pestalozzi who laid the foundation for modern education based on the recognition that children have unique needs and capabilities. He believed in “self-activity” and play as essential factors in child education. The teacher’s role was not to indoctrinate but to encourage self-expression through play, both individually and in group activities. He created the concept of kindergarten.
Johann Friedrich Herbart
Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776–1841) emphasized the connection between individual development and the resulting societal contribution. The five key ideas which composed his concept of individual maturation were Inner Freedom, Perfection, Benevolence, Justice, and Equity or Recompense. According to Herbart, abilities were not innate but could be instilled, so a thorough education could provide the framework for moral and intellectual development. In order to develop a child to lead to a consciousness of social responsibility, Herbart advocated that teachers utilize a methodology with five formal steps: “Using this structure a teacher prepared a topic of interest to the children, presented that topic, and questioned them inductively, so that they reached new knowledge based on what they had already known, looked back, and deductively summed up the lesson’s achievements, then related them to moral precepts for daily living”.
John Melchior Bosco
John Melchior Bosco (1815 – 1888) was concerned about the education of street children who had left their villages to find work in the rapidly industrialized city of Turin, Italy. Exploited as cheap labor or imprisoned for unruly behavior, Bosco saw the need of creating a space where they would feel at home. He called it an 'Oratory' where they could play, share friendships and develop their creative talents. He taught them various skills for gainful self-employment. With those who had found work, he set up a mutual-fund society (an early version of the Grameen Bank) to teach them the benefits of saving and self-reliance. The principles underlying his educational method that won over the hearts and minds of thousands of youth who flocked to his oratory were: 'be reasonable', 'be kind', 'believe' and 'be generous in service'. Today his method of education is practiced in nearly 3000 institutions set up around the world by the members of the Salesian Society he founded in 1873.
While studying for his doctorate in Göttingen in 1882-1883, Cecil Reddie was greatly impressed by the progressive educational theories being applied there. Reddie founded Abbotsholme School in Derbyshire, England in 1889. Its curriculum enacted the ideas of progressive education. Reddie rejected rote learning, classical languages and corporal punishment. He combined studies in modern languages and the sciences and arts with a program of physical exercise, manual labour, recreation, crafts and arts. Abbotsholme was imitated throughout Europe and was particularly influential in Germany. He often engaged foreign teachers, who learned its practices, before returning home to start their own schools. Hermann Lietz an Abbotsholme teacher founded five schools (Landerziehungsheime für Jungen) on Abbotsholme's principles. Other people he influenced included Kurt Hahn, Adolphe Ferrière and Edmond Demolins. His ideas also reached Japan, where it turned into “Taisho-era Free Education Movement” (Taisho Jiyu Kyoiku Undo)
In the United States 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 figure in this movement from the 1880s to 1904, set the tone for educational philosophy as well as concrete school reforms. His thinking had been influenced by the ideas of Fröbel and Herbart. 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 centuries. Dewey placed so called pragmatism above moral absolutes and helped give rise to situational ethics. Beginning in 1897 John Dewey published a summary of his theory on progressive education in School Journal. His theoretical standpoints are divided into five 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 society.
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 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 efficiently” (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 take themselves.
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 reflect 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 figure, 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 reflect that of society. The center of the school curriculum should reflect 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)
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 fit 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.
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.
Laborschule Bielefeld was founded in 1974 in Germany. The Laborschule explicitly uses democratic concepts as suggested by Dewey. Studies in the last years have proven the successful implementation of these concepts into a living community.
Maria Montessori (1870-1952) began to develop her philosophy and methods in 1897. She based her work on her observations of children and experimentation with the environment, materials, and lessons available to them. She frequently referred to her work as "scientific pedagogy". Although Montessori education spread to the United States in 1911 there were conflicts with the American educational establishment and was opposed by William Heard Kilpatrick. However Montessori education returned to the United States in 1960 and has since spread to thousands of schools there.
In July 1906, Ernest Thompson Seton sent Robert Baden-Powell a copy of his book The Birchbark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians. Seton was a British-born Canadian-American living in the United States. They shared ideas about youth training programs. In 1907 Baden-Powell wrote a draft called Boy Patrols. In the same year, to test his ideas, he gathered 21 boys of mixed social backgrounds and held a week-long camp in August on Brownsea Island in England. His organizational method, now known as the Patrol System and a key part of Scouting training, allowed the boys to organize themselves into small groups with an elected patrol leader. Baden Powell then wrote Scouting for Boys (London, 1908). The Brownsea camp and the publication of Scouting for Boys are generally regarded as the start of the Scout movement which spread throughout the world. Baden-Powell and his sister Agnes Baden-Powell introduced the Girl Guides in 1910.
Comparison with traditional education
Traditional education uses extrinsic motivation, such as grades and prizes. Progressive education is more likely to use intrinsic motivation, basing activities on the interests of the child. Praise may be discouraged as a motivator.
Progressive education in the West
Edmond Demolins was inspired by Abbotsolme and Bedales to found the Ecole des Roches in Verneuil-sur-Avre in 1899. Paul Robin implemented progressive principles at the orphanage at Cempuis from 1880 to 1894. This was the first French mixed school, and a scandal at that time. Sebastien Faure in 1904 created a libertarian school 'La Ruche' (the Hive).
Hermann Lietz founded three Landerziehungsheime (country boarding schools) in 1904 based on Reddie’s model for boys of different ages. Lietz eventually succeeded in establishing five more Landerziehungsheime. Edith and Paul Geheeb founded Odenwaldschule in Heppenheim in the Odenwald in 1910 using their concept of progressive education, which integrated the work of the head and hand.
Janusz Korczak was one notable follower and developer of Pestalozzi's ideas. He wrote The names of Pestalozzi, Froebel and Spencer shine with no less brilliance than the names of the greatest inventors of the twentieth century. For they discovered more than the unknown forces of nature; they discovered the unknown half of humanity: children. His Orphan’s Home in Warsaw became a model institution and exerted influence on the educational process in other orphanages of the same type.
In Spain, the Escuela Moderna was founded in 1901 by Francisco Ferrer, a Catalan educator and anarchist. He had been influenced by Cecil Reddie. The Modern Schools, also called 'Ferrer Schools', that were founded in the United States, were based on Escuela Moderna. As in Spain the schools were intended to educate the working-classes from a secular, class-conscious perspective. The Modern Schools imparted day-time academic classes for children, and night-time continuing-education lectures for adults.
The ideas from Reddie's Abbotsholme spread to schools such as Bedales School (1893), King Alfred School, London (1898) and St Christopher School, Letchworth (1915), as well as all the Friends’ schools, Steiner Waldorf schools and those belonging to the Round Square Conference. The King Alfred School was radical for its time in that it provided a secular education and that boys and girls were educated together. Alexander Sutherland Neill believed children should achieve self-determination and should be encouraged to think critically rather than blindly obeying. He implemented his ideas with the founding of Summerhill School in 1921. Neill believed that children learn better when they are not compelled to attend lessons. The school was also managed democratically, with regular meetings to determine school rules. Pupils had equal voting rights with school staff.
Fröbel’s student Margarethe Schurz founded the first kindergarten in the United States at Watertown, Wisconsin in 1856, and she also inspired Elizabeth Peabody, who went on to found the first English-speaking kindergarten in the United States – the language at Schurz’s kindergarten had been German, to serve an immigrant community – in Boston in 1860. This paved the way for the concept’s spread in the USA. The German émigré Adolph Douai had also founded a kindergarten in Boston in 1859, but was obliged to close it after only a year. By 1866, however, he was founding others in New York City.
William Heard Kilpatrick (1871–1965) was a pupil of Dewey and one of the most effective practitioners 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”. This developed the progressive education notion that students were to be engaged and taught so 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.
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 different 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 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 of philosophy, psychology 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 of dualism 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. In 1912, Dewey sent out students of his philosophy to found The Park School of Buffalo 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 affirmative case can not be made out” (Cremin, 281) the new school organized its activities around four fundamental fields: science, industry, aesthetics and civics. 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 history, geography, reading, writing, arithmetic, 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 a more student-centered approach to education. During the Great Depression the organization conducted an Eight Year study evaluating the effects 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 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 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 war gave 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 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 1965, 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 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.
- 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 shared governance
- Interpersonal dynamics: Disagreement over school goals, poor group process skills, lack of critical dialogue, and fear of assertive leadership
Progressive education has been viewed as an alternative to the test-oriented instruction legislated by the No Child Left Behind educational funding act. Alfie Kohn has been an outspoken critic of the No Child Left Behind Act and a passionate defender of the progressive tradition.
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 learn by discovery
- Progressive education programs often include the use of community resources and encourage service-learning projects.
Education outside of schools
Organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and Camp Fire arose, even amidst concerns by opponents of the progressive movement in the United States, because some people felt that social welfare of young men should be maintained through education alone. After decades of growing interest in and development of experiential 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. Its founder, Chicago publisher W. D. Boyce was visiting London, in 1909, when he met the Unknown Scout and learned of the Scouting movement. Soon after his return to the U.S., Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910. 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. Robinson enlisted Ernest Thompson Seton, Daniel 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. As BSA grew, it absorbed other Scouting organizations.
Developments since the 1950s
Changes in educational establishments came about as US Americans and Europeans began to feel they had fallen behind the Soviet Union technologically after the successful launch of Sputnik 1 in October 1957. A rethinking of education theory following that, along with the subsequent and prevailing conservative political climate, helped to cause progressivism to fall from favor.
- Constructionist learning (Seymour Papert)
- Constitutional economics
- Political economy
- Rule according to higher law
- Student voice
- Experiential education
- Educational philosophies
- Education reform
- Freedom of education
- Humanistic education
- Laboratory school
- Learning by teaching (LdL)
- Learning by doing
- Project Method
- Teaching for social justice
- Minnesota State University, Mankato Masters Degree in Experiential Education
- Democratic education
- Oswego Movement
- Positive education
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