Progressive Education

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Initial notes from

  the term “progressive education” has been used to describe ideas and practices that aim to make schools more effective agencies of a democratic society. Although there are numerous differences of style and emphasis among progressive educators, they share the conviction that democracy means active participation by all citizens in social, political and economic decisions that will affect their lives. The education of engaged citizens, according to this perspective, involves two essential elements:
  (1). Respect for diversity, meaning that each individual should be recognized for his or her own abilities, interests, ideas, needs, and cultural identity, and
  (2). the development of critical, socially engaged intelligence, which enables individuals to understand and participate effectively in the affairs of their community in a collaborative effort to achieve a common good.
  These elements of progressive education have been termed “child-centered” and “social reconstructionist” approaches, and while in extreme forms they have sometimes been separated, in the thought of John Dewey and other major theorists they are seen as being necessarily related to each other.
  Parker’s Work (from http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory)
  Late-nineteenth-century Chicago, home of a new university and one of the first settlement houses, Hull House, was unusually receptive to new ideas. It is no surprise, therefore, that it became a major center for the development of progressive education, the ideology that would become a dominant form in American educational thought for much of the twentieth century.
  Parker came to Chicago in 1883 as principal of Cook County Normal School and its Practice School. Before coming to Chicago, Parker had developed an approach to education that rejected rote learning and enlisted the natural curiosity of children in the schooling process. John Dewey was also dissatisfied with traditional forms of schooling and when he came to the University of Chicago in 1894, he enrolled his children in Parker’s school. A frequent visitor at Hull House, Dewey was deeply influenced by Jane Addams’s social concerns. With his wife, Alice, Dewey established a laboratory school at the University of Chicago in which he could evaluate new approaches to teaching. He was greatly aided in this enterprise by Ella Flagg Young, who had been assistant superintendent of schools in Chicago before becoming a faculty member at the University of Chicago; she supervised the instruction in the lab school. Parker (whom Dewey thought of as “the father of progressive education”) also joined the faculty at Chicago in 1901, shortly before his death.
  Progressive philosophy was based on an optimistic view of human nature. Progressive schools avoided the regimentation that characterized most schools of the era. The children who attended progressive schools learned in informal settings. These schools enlisted the spontaneous interests of the pupils and adapted the curriculum to the interests and needs of each child. The authoritarian approach was replaced by a more democratic mode and the ultimate goal, in Dewey’s terms, was for the classroom to be an “embryonic community” that would provide a model for a more democratic larger society.
  After Parker’s death in 1902 and Dewey’s departure from Chicago, their ideas continued to influence educational practices for many years. The school Parker founded and that bears his name is still in existence; so is Dewey’s lab school. Young went on to become superintendent of schools in Chicago from 1909 to 1915. Carleton Washburne (whose mother had worked for Parker and who was also a friend of Dewey) served as superintendent of the suburban Winnetka schools. In the 1920s and 1930s, under the leadership of Washburne, Winnetka became a much-visited model of how progressive practices could be implemented. With Flora J. Cooke (who had taught Dewey’s son in the first grade at Cook County’s elementary school) and Perry Dunlap Smith (a former student at Parker’s school) Washburne founded the Winnetka Teachers College to prepare teachers to teach in the progressive tradition. After he left Chicago in 1904, Dewey devoted less of his attention to educational issues, but he continued to write about educational matters and served as president of the Progressive Education Association.
  By the 1940s, progressive ideology and rhetoric (but not necessarily progressive practices) had become (in historian Lawrence Cremin’s words) the “conventional wisdom” in American classrooms. In the cold-war atmosphere of the 1950s, however, educational progressivism came under serious attack. Progressive education was seen as endorsing Dewey’s relativist ethics and as being insufficiently patriotic. Progressive curricula were held responsible for a lag in preparation for scientific and technological careers, culminating in the Sputnik crisis of 1957.
  In the late 1960s and early 1970s, progressive ideas reemerged in the “open classroom” movement whose ideology was more closely tied to the romanticism of the 1960s than the ideas of Dewey and Parker. That movement proved to be short-lived. A new reaction against progressive ideology emerged with the recession and tax revolt of the 1970s, followed by the publication of the report A Nation At Risk (1983), which led to a new emphasis on basics, national learning standards, and improving results on standardized tests, all of which went counter to the ideas of Dewey and Parker.
  See references to early feminist pragmatists’ influences for example here:( and throughout article.-referencing is extensive.
  Influential partipants in movement
  Jane Addams
  (Laura) Jane Addams (September 6, 1860-May 21, 1935) won worldwide recognition in the first third of the twentieth century as a pioneer social worker in America, as a feminist, and as an internationalist.
  She was born in Cedarville, Illinois, the eighth of nine children. Her father was a prosperous miller and local political leader who served for sixteen years as a state senator and fought as an officer in the Civil War; he was a friend of Abraham Lincoln whose letters to him began «My Dear Double D-‘ed Addams». Because of a congenital spinal defect, Jane was not physically vigorous when young nor truly robust even later in life, but her spinal difficulty was remedied by surgery.
  In 1881 Jane Addams was graduated from the Rockford Female Seminary, the valedictorian of a class of seventeen, but was granted the bachelor’s degree only after the school became accredited the next year as Rockford College for Women. In the course of the next six years she began the study of medicine but left it because of poor health, was hospitalized intermittently, traveled and studied in Europe for twenty-one months, and then spent almost two years in reading and writing and in considering what her future objectives should be. At the age of twenty-seven, during a second tour to Europe with her friend Ellen G. Starr, she visited a settlement house, Toynbee Hall, in London’s East End. This visit helped to finalize the idea then current in her mind, that of opening a similar house in an underprivileged area of Chicago. In 1889 she and Miss Starr leased a large home built by Charles Hull at the corner of Halsted and Polk Streets. The two friends moved in, their purpose, as expressed later, being «to provide a center for a higher civic and social life; to institute and maintain educational and philanthropic enterprises and to investigate and improve the conditions in the industrial districts of Chicago»1.
  Miss Addams and Miss Starr made speeches about the needs of the neighborhood, raised money, convinced young women of well-to-do families to help, took care of children, nursed the sick, listened to outpourings from troubled people. By its second year of existence, Hull-House was host to two thousand people every week. There were kindergarten classes in the morning, club meetings for older children in the afternoon, and for adults in the evening more clubs or courses in what became virtually a night school. The first facility added to Hull-House was an art gallery, the second a public kitchen; then came a coffee house, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, a cooperative boarding club for girls, a book bindery, an art studio, a music school, a drama group, a circulating library, an employment bureau, a labor museum.
  Francis w. Parker in Chicago Years (1896-1904)
  Ella Flagg Young in Chicago years (1896-1904) –worked with Deweys in lab school
  Alice Chipman Dewey
  John Dewey
  Students , colaborators, appreciators who later spread the word/did something
  Jane Addams — Settlement House
  Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  William H. Kilpatrick
  Margaret Namburg (the Child and the World)
  George Counts — politically oriented progressive educator
  Elsie Ripley Clapp (1882-1965)
  Lucy Spraque Mithcell (1878-1967)
  Took classes from Dewey at Teachers College, later she and husband were personal friends of Deweys
  Bank Street School
  Boyd Bode: Progressive Education at the Crossroads (1938)
  Caroline Pratt: I Learn from Children (1948)
  Carlton Washburne : What is Progressive Education (1952)
  Goodlad: Non Graded schools (late 1950’s)
  Theodore Sizer’s network of “essential schools”
  Elliot Wigginton’s Foxfire Project (
  Deborah Meier’s student centered Central Park East schools
  Paul Goodman, George Dennsion… free school movement
  Herb Kohl, George Dennison : Open Classroom Movement
  Alfie Kohn

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