-Major proponents include Alfie Kohn
If the Humanistic Theory were to be described in casual conversation as “back to basics,” Progressivism might be described as “learn by doing.” It’s important to note that there are various ways to look at the Progressive Theory of education. It can be analyzed as an exclusive movement or can be analyzed in reference to the aforementioned Humanist Theory. I will present the theory in both ways by discussing the foundations of Progressivism and then discussing the major points of departure from Humanist Theory.
Inarguably, the seminal figure of Progressivism is John Dewey. The following quote by Dewey provides insight into the goals of Progressivism. Dewey said, “What avail is it to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul, loses his appreciation of things worth while, of the values to which these things are relative; if he loses desire to apply what he has learned and, above all, loses the ability to extract meaning from his future experiences as they occur?
Dewey held four principles that were fundamental to the development of Progressive education:
1. Education is actual living and not merely getting ready for eventual living.
2. Education is the process of growing
3. Education is the constant organization and reorganization of previous experience.
4. Education is a social process, and to promote and further this process the school must be democratic.
Modern Progressive Theorists influenced by Dewey are at odds with Humanists. For example, Alfie Kohn in his book, The Schools Our Children Deserve, writes that traditional teaching and tougher standards are the two most dominant forces in the current educational system. And he points out several points of departure from traditional ways of thinking. These include:
-Viewing learning not as the deliverance or transmission of knowledge from teacher to student but as an active process fostered in a communal setting under the premise of experience.
-Moving from a teacher centered classroom to a student centered one where students’ questions and thoughts help shape the curriculum
-The capacity to find and use information is more important than the information itself. The primary purpose of learning is not to get the right answer
As Dewey’s initial quote describes, the goal of Progressivism is to no longer allow schooling to be something that is done to students. For when schooling is viewed as a transmission of knowledge and students are exempt from any sort of democratic process to determine the form of their education, students lose interest in true learning. Students must play an active role in the democratic process of determining what and how they learn so that that they are motivated to do so.
An aside: In his book, Kohn has included a section titled, Poor Teaching for Poor Kids which discusses the dangers of traditional education in poor urban schools. He mentions that when things get tough, there has been a tendency to revert back to traditional methods and teach lower level curriculum in the name of standards. This idea is mentioned in the article found on the left-hand side of the blog titled, Grades Rise, Reading Skills Do Not.