Saturday, December 13, 2008

Origins of The New Progressivism

That we are in the era of The New Progressivism occurred to me a few years back, when I whipped up the following presentation to kick off a professional development event. (It's clear that I could perhaps have used one of those Edward Tufte seminars on PowerPoint design, but that's another story.)

The point here is pretty clear, I hope: that New Progressives draw on their forebears for a number of basic values and ideas, but that a mindless devotion to the dicta and practices of Dewey et al. is not what we're all about.

For example, a good part of the focus of the New Progressivism is on curriculum and assessment, with standards playing a large role in this work. While the Old Progressives would applaud this, I think it's safe to say that their understanding of asssessment, in particular, was rudimentary in comparison to the work that both theorists and classroom educators have been doing in this area for a decade or more. Very early educational progressives were also much more interested in the idea of differentiation as a social tool--to enable educational stratification that would support a more intentional separation of students based on vocational potential (for lack of a better term)--than as a pedagogical tool to help all students succeed at a high level; exceptions to this notion did exist, of course.

Anyhow, this show marks the first appearance in my work of New Progressivism as a concept; it was three years later that what I saw as the pervasively New Progressivist content of the National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference inspired my Education Week essay.

The "Third Culture" idea was an attempt to put a name on the idealistic expectations we have for the comportment and belief structures of our students--that in school, and we hope because of school, students will aspire to a more intellectually engaged approach to the world at large and a more socially and ethically circumspect approach to novelty and difference. This set of behaviors represents a "third culture" after the First Culture of the dominant popular culture (think South Park, perhaps) and the Second Culture of their own household and family heritage. The idea needed more work then and still does, but it is an attempt to come up with a shorthand way of discussing the values proposition (!) that progressive education seems to be espousing in the 21st century.

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