Monday, September 21, 2009

The Old Progressivism, redux

On my office wall for many years I've had posted a copy of "The Principles of Progressive Education," a seven-point 1924 document written on behalf of the Progressive Education Association by, I am told, Eugene Randolph Smith, a progressive educator who was founding head of both the Park School of Baltimore and Beaver Country Day School, outside Boston.

Mirroring the troubling national rise in politically intemperate speech, I have noted in recent weeks that the U.S. citations on the Google Alerts I receive on "progressive education" are getting weirder and more shrill. Progressive education, as usual, is blamed for all kinds of things and related to atheism, ignorance, socialism, and even (my late favorite) to a progressive educational plot to decrease literacy in America--the blogger who came up with that one found a Dewey quote, or rather a quote from a book about Dewey, that supported this wacky notion. So much for rigorous use of evidence.

I thought it might be time to trot out the 1924 Principles, which graced the inside cover of the PEA's magazine for five years or so and which pretty seriously fail to live up to any of the exciting, crazy things that are being imputed to it by 2009 blogsters.

I'll quote the entire document after the break.

"The Principles of Progressive Education

"I. Freedom to Develop Naturally. The conduct of the pupil should be governed by himself according to the social needs of his community, rather than by arbitrary laws. Full opportunity for initiative and self-expression should be provided, together with an environment rich in interesting material that is available for the free use of every pupil.

"II. Interest, the Motive of All Work. Interest should be satisfied and developed through: (1) Direct and indirect contact with the world and its activities, and use of the experience thus gained. (2) Application of knowledge gained, and correlation between different subjects. (3) The consciousness of achievement.

"III. The Teacher a Guide, Not a Task-Master. It is essential that teachers should believe in the aims and general principles of Progressive Education and that they should have latitude for the development of initiative and originality. Progressive teachers will encourage the use of all the senses, training the pupils in both observation and judgment; and instead of hearing recitations only, will spend most of the time teaching how to use various sources of information, including life activities as well as books; how to reason about the information thus acquired; and how to express forcefully and logically the conclusions reached. Ideal teaching conditions demand that classes be small, especially in the elementary school years.

"IV. Scientific Study of Pupil Development. School records should not be confined to the marks given by teachers to show the advancement of the pupils in their study of subjects, but should also include both objective and subjective reports on those physical, mental, moral and social characteristics which affect both school and adult life, and which can be influenced by the school and the home. Such records should be used as a guide for the treatment of each pupil, and should also serve to focus the attention of the teacher on the all-important work of development rather than on simply teaching subject matter.

"V. Greater Attention to All that Affects the Child's Physical Development. One of the first considerations of Progressive Education is the health of the pupils. Much more room in which to move about, better light and air, clean and well ventilated buildings, easier access to the out-of-doors and greater use of it, are all necessary. There should be frequent use of adequate playgrounds. The teachers should observe closely the physical conditions of each pupil and, in cooperation with the home, make abounding health the first objective of childhood.

"VI. Co-operation Between School and Home to Meet the Needs of Child Life. The school should provide, with the home, as much as is possible of all that the natural interests and activities of the child demand, especially during the elementary school years. These conditions can come about only through intelligent co-operation between parents and teachers.

"VII. The Progressive School a Leader in Educational Movements. The Progressive School should be a leader in educational movements. It should be a laboratory where new ideas, if worthy, meet encouragement; where tradition alone does not rule, but the best of the past is leavened with the discoveries of today, and the result is freely added to the sum of educational knowledge."

I won't comment at length here other than to say I don't see anything crazy here, or for that matter many things that are far removed from what has become educational best practice in the age of New Progressive education. Don't think there's anything here that most of us wouldn't happily and proudly stand by today, 85 years after this was written. Perhaps what's most disturbing is that many of these ideas would seem new to some of our colleagues.

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