A Primer on Progressive Education

Gleason Street, the fictional school in GREATER GOOD, exists in the lineage of “progressive education.” There are loads of resources out there that discuss the nuances of progressive ed in great detail, but lets begin with an overview. For this purpose, Wikipedia is a good launchpad:

Progressive education is a pedagogical movement that began in the late nineteenth century; it has persisted in various forms to the present. The term progressive was engaged to distinguish this education from the traditional Euro-American curricula of the 19th century, which was rooted in classical preparation for the university and strongly differentiated by social class. By contrast, progressive education finds its roots in present experience. Most progressive education programs have these qualities in common:

• Emphasis on learning by doing – hands-on projects, expeditionary learning, experiential learning
• Integrated curriculum focused on thematic units
• Integration of entrepreneurship into education
• Strong emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking
• Group work and development of social skills
• Understanding and action as the goals of learning as opposed to rote knowledge
• Collaborative and cooperative learning projects
• Education for social responsibility and democracy
• Highly personalized learning accounting for each individual’s personal goals
• Integration of community service and service learning projects into the daily curriculum
• Selection of subject content by looking forward to ask what skills will be needed in future society
• De-emphasis on textbooks in favor of varied learning resources
• Emphasis on lifelong learning and social skills
• Assessment by evaluation of child’s projects and productions

In the 1960s-70s, the number of progressive schools went through a national decline for a number of reasons — some of which are applicable to our own exploration of education and governance in the play. These include:

• The economy: The oil crisis and recession made shoestring schools less viable.
• Non-implementation: Schools failed to implement a model of shared governance
• Interpersonal dynamics: Disagreement over school goals, poor group process skills, lack of critical dialogue, and fear of assertive leadership

In the modern moment, the numbers of progressive schools are on the rise, and are connected to wider regional accrediting bodies. In Massachusetts, the Association of Independent Schools of New England is the central membership organization both accrediting and representing the needs of the independent and progressive school ecology. (And a reminder, that progressive schools and independent schools are not exactly the same.)

Cuts in funding for public education in many states have led to the founding of an unprecedented number of independent schools, many of which have progressive philosophies. The charter school movement has also spawned an increase in progressive programs. Most recently, public outcry against No Child Left Behind testing and teaching to the test has brought progressive education again into the limelight. Despite the variations that still exist among the progressive programs throughout the country, most progressive schools today are vitalized by these common practices:

• The curriculum is more flexible and is influenced by student interest
• Teachers are facilitators of learning who encourage students to use a wide variety of activities to learn
• Progressive teachers use a wider variety of materials allowing for individual and group research.
• Progressive teachers encourage students to learn by discovery
• Progressive education programs often include the use of community resources and encourage service-learning projects.

All grayed-box text has been culled from Wikipedia

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