Progressive Education

Progressive Education

A movement based on connectivism & communities of practice -the networks we create for meaningful relationships, collaboration, & learning.

A pulsating web of autonomous engagement.

Growing and Expanding Progressive Education w/ David Buck – YouTube

Progressive education recognizes the innate worth of every individual, treating them with dignity, respect, and purpose, unlocking their potential for action and contribution in their communities through rich, hands-on experiences.

Chris McNutt, Human Restoration Project

Seven Systems for Progressive Education

  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
  • Experiential Learning & PBL
  • Critical Pedagogy & Democratic Classrooms
  • Cross-disciplinary Planning
  • Multimodal Literacy
  • Self-Determination Theory
  • Reflective Thinking & Feedback
Human Centered Interdisciplinary Subject – Holistic Think Thank
Seven Systems for Progressive Education

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Experiential Learning & PBL

Critical Pedagogy & Democratic Classrooms

Cross-disciplinary Planning

Multimodal Literacy

Self-Determination Theory

Reflective Thinking & Feedback
Holistic Human-Centered Interdisciplinary Subject. Towards Interdisciplinary Learning

A progressive education is designed to enlighten and empower, as both John Locke and John Dewey believed (Gibbon 2015). Principles of progressivism are timeless pathways that support children to take their place in a democratic society by engaging them actively. This can only happen when educators see value in understanding childhood as they support cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development, and foster empathy and relationships.

Timeless Learning : How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools

We believe that educators of this century need to be creators – able to develop and support contextual learning opportunities that connect learners with each other through transdisciplinary experiences. Progressive curricula in this century’s world must affirm the importance of how to learn more than what to learn. Rather than starting with a laundry list of specified standards tied to objectives to be measured with machine tests, we see kids as learning how to find the information and expertise they deem critical, whether on the Internet, from friends, print media, or adults. Being literate in this century is so much more than simply comprehending what one reads, listens to, or sees. Children have to learn how to determine the credibility of those around them and the reliability and trustworthiness of information shared with them. It’s not just building a sense of digital, or even traditional, literacy but more importantly, human literacy.

Timeless Learning : How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools

The term progressive education was born out of the American Progressive Era. This was the time period between the end of the Civil War (1865) and World War I (1917) and it was defined by “dramatic, accelerated growth as industrialization took off” (Campbell, 2000, p. xiii). At that time there was a burst of material development and innovation, millions of immigrants streamed into the country, cities doubled in population, entire systems of industry were created, huge disparities between rich and poor emerged, systems of government proved corrupt, and tremendous environmental destruction occurred (Campbell, 2000; Bruce & Eryman, 2015). Much like today, “Americans were aware that their society was in transition, and they endlessly discussed the implications of this realization” (Campbell, 2000, p. xiii). The progressive education movement grew out of that unique time in history and was one response to the rapidly changing world.

Today, progressive education “is defined in different ways, but generally it aims to develop self-actualizing individuals who can take charge of their own lives and participate fully in the creation of a greater public good” (Bruce & Eryman, 2015, p.1). Early progressive education philosophers and reformers included: Francis Parker, John Dewey, Ella Flagg Young, William H. Kilpatrick, Caroline Pratt, and Lucy Sprauge Mitchell. “They conceived students as active learners with an experimental disposition, in large part because they saw those qualities as necessary for a rapidly expanding economy with dramatic social changes” (Bruce & Eryman, 2015, p. 4). The pioneers in the movement envisioned progressive educators as scientists who had “an attitude of eager, alert observation; a constant questioning of old procedure in the light of new observations; a use of the world, as well as of books, as source material; an experimental open-mindedness” (Mitchell, 1931, p. 251). They saw progressive schools as “sites in which the education process itself was more democratic, with the assumption that democratic schooling was a necessary precondition for a democratic society” (Bruce & Eryman, 2015, p. 7).

Progressive with a Capital P? | Human Restoration Project | Dr. Amber Strong Makaiau

As Jim Nehring at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell observed, “Progressive schools are the legacy of a long and proud tradition of thoughtful school practice stretching back for centuries”—including hands-on learning, multiage classrooms, and mentor-apprentice relationships—while what we generally refer to as tradition- al schooling “is largely the result of outdated policy changes that have calcified into conventions.”

…schools can be characterized according to how closely they reflect a commitment to values such as these:

  • Attending to the whole child: Progressive educators are concerned with helping children become not only good learners but also good people. Schooling isn’t seen as being about just academics, nor is intellectual growth limited to verbal and mathematical proficiencies.
  • Community: Learning isn’t something that happens to individual children—sepa- rate selves at separate desks. Children learn with and from one another in a caring community, and that’s true of moral as well as academic learning. Interdependence counts at least as much as independence, so it follows that practices that pit stu- dents against one another in some kind of competition, thereby undermining a feel- ing of community, are deliberately avoided.
  • Collaboration: Progressive schools are characterized by what I like to call a “work- ing with” rather than a “doing to” model. In place of rewards for complying with the adults’ expectations, or punitive consequences for failing to do so, there’s more of an emphasis on collaborative problem-solving—and, for that matter, less focus on behaviors than on underlying motives, values, and reasons.
  • Social justice: A sense of community and responsibility for others isn’t confined to the classroom; indeed, students are helped to locate themselves in widening circles of care that extend beyond self, beyond friends, beyond their own ethnic group, and beyond their own country. Opportunities are offered not only to learn about, but also to put into action, a commitment to diversity and to improving the lives of others.
  • Intrinsic motivation: When considering (or reconsidering) educational policies and practices, the first question that progressive educators are likely to ask is, “What’s the effect on students’ interest in learning, their desire to continue reading, thinking, and questioning?” This deceptively simple test helps to determine what students will and won’t be asked to do. Thus, conventional practices, including homework, grades, and tests, prove difficult to justify for anyone who is serious about promoting long- term dispositions rather than just improving short-term skills.
  • Deep understanding: As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead declared long ago, “A merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God’s earth.” Facts and skills do matter, but only in a context and for a purpose. That’s why progressive education tends to be organized around problems, projects, and questions—rather than around lists of facts, skills, and separate disciplines. The teaching is typically in- terdisciplinary, the assessment rarely focuses on rote memorization, and excellence isn’t confused with “rigor.” The point is not merely to challenge students—after all, harder is not necessarily better—but to invite them to think deeply about issues that matter and help them understand ideas from the inside out.
  • Active learning: In progressive schools, students play a vital role in helping to de- sign the curriculum, formulate the questions, seek out (and create) answers, think through possibilities, and evaluate how successful they—and their teachers—have been. Their active participation in every stage of the process is consistent with the overwhelming consensus of experts that learning is a matter of constructing ideas rather than passively absorbing information or practicing skills.
  • Taking kids seriously: In traditional schooling, as John Dewey once remarked, “the center of gravity is outside the child”: he or she is expected to adjust to the school’s rules and curriculum. Progressive educators take their cue from the children—and are particularly attentive to differences among them. (Each student is unique, so a single set of policies, expectations, or assignments would be as counterproductive as it was disrespectful.) The curriculum isn’t just based on interest, but on these chil- dren’s interests. Naturally, teachers will have broadly conceived themes and objec- tives in mind, but they don’t just design a course of study for their students; they de- sign it with them, and they welcome unexpected detours.

For most people, the fundamental reason to choose, or offer, a progressive edu- cation is a function of their basic values: “a rock-bottom commitment to democracy,” as Joseph Featherstone put it; a belief that meeting children’s needs should take pre- cedence over preparing future employees; and a desire to nourish curiosity, creativity, compassion, skepticism, and other virtues.

Fortunately, what may have begun with values (for any of us as individuals, and also for education itself, historically speaking) has turned out to be supported by solid data. A truly impressive collection of research has demonstrated that when students are able to spend more time thinking about ideas than memorizing facts and practicing skills—and when they are invited to help direct their own learning—they are not only more likely to enjoy what they’re doing but to do it better. Progressive education isn’t just more appealing; it’s also more productive.

“Progressive Education: Why it’s Hard to Beat, But Also Hard to Find” by Alfie Kohn

Further reading,