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:
Progressive education can be traced back to the works of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, both of whom are known as forerunners of ideas that would be developed by theorists such as Dewey. Locke believed that "truth and knowledge... arise out of observation and experience rather than manipulation of accepted or given ideas".:2 He further discussed the need for children to have concrete experiences in order to learn. Rousseau deepened this line of thinking in Emile, or On Education, where he argued that subordination of students to teachers and memorization of facts would not lead to an education.
In Germany, Johann Bernhard Basedow (1724-1790) established the Philanthropinum at Dessau in 1774. He developed new teaching methods based on conversation and play with the child, and a program of physical development. Such was his success that he wrote a treatise on his methods, "On the best and hitherto unknown method of teaching children of noblemen".
Christian Gotthilf Salzmann (1744-1811) was the founder of the Schnepfenthal institution, a school dedicated to new modes of education (derived heavily from the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau). He wrote Elements of Morality, for the Use of Children, one of the first books translated into English by Mary Wollstonecraft.
Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) was a Swiss pedagogue and educational reformer who exemplified Romanticism in his approach. He founded several educational institutions both in German- and French-speaking regions of Switzerland and wrote many works explaining his revolutionary modern principles of education. His motto was "Learning by head, hand and heart". His research and theories closely resemble those outlined by Rousseau in Emile. He is further considered by many to be the "father of modern educational science" His psychological theories pertain to education as they focus on the development of object teaching, that is, he felt that individuals best learned through experiences and through a direct manipulation and experience of objects. He further speculated that children learn through their own internal motivation rather than through compulsion. (See Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic motivation). A teacher's task will be to help guide their students as individuals through their learning and allow it to unfold naturally.
Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel (1782-1852) was a student of Pestalozzi who laid the foundation for modern education based on the recognition that children have unique needs and capabilities. He believed in "self-activity" and play as essential factors in child education. The teacher's role was not to indoctrinate but to encourage self-expression through play, both individually and in group activities. He created the concept of kindergarten.
Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841) emphasized the connection between individual development and the resulting societal contribution. The five key ideas which composed his concept of individual maturation were Inner Freedom, Perfection, Benevolence, Justice, and Equity or Recompense. According to Herbart, abilities were not innate but could be instilled, so a thorough education could provide the framework for moral and intellectual development. In order to develop a child to lead to a consciousness of social responsibility, Herbart advocated that teachers utilize a methodology with five formal steps: "Using this structure a teacher prepared a topic of interest to the children, presented that topic, and questioned them inductively, so that they reached new knowledge based on what they had already known, looked back, and deductively summed up the lesson's achievements, then related them to moral precepts for daily living".
John Melchior Bosco (1815-1888) was concerned about the education of street children who had left their villages to find work in the rapidly industrialized city of Turin, Italy. Exploited as cheap labor or imprisoned for unruly behavior, Bosco saw the need of creating a space where they would feel at home. He called it an 'Oratory' where they could play, learn, share friendships, express themselves, develop their creative talents and pick up skills for gainful self-employment. With those who had found work, he set up a mutual-fund society (an early version of the Grameen Bank) to teach them the benefits of saving and self-reliance. The principles underlying his educational method that won over the hearts and minds of thousands of youth who flocked to his oratory were: 'be reasonable', 'be kind', 'believe' and 'be generous in service'. Today his method of education is practiced in nearly 3000 institutions set up around the world by the members of the Salesian Society he founded in 1873.
While studying for his doctorate in Göttingen in 1882-1883, Cecil Reddie was greatly impressed by the progressive educational theories being applied there. Reddie founded Abbotsholme School in Derbyshire, England in 1889. Its curriculum enacted the ideas of progressive education. Reddie rejected rote learning, classical languages and corporal punishment. He combined studies in modern languages and the sciences and arts with a program of physical exercise, manual labour, recreation, crafts and arts. Abbotsholme was imitated throughout Europe and was particularly influential in Germany. He often engaged foreign teachers, who learned its practices, before returning home to start their own schools. Hermann Lietz an Abbotsholme teacher founded five schools (Landerziehungsheime für Jungen) on Abbotsholme's principles. Other people he influenced included Kurt Hahn, Adolphe Ferrière and Edmond Demolins. His ideas also reached Japan, where it turned into "Taisho-era Free Education Movement" (Taisho Jiyu Kyoiku Undo)
In the United States the "Progressive Education Movement", starting in the 1880s and lasting for sixty years, helped boost American public schools from a budding idea to the regular norm. John Dewey, a principal figure in this movement from the 1880s to 1904, set the tone for educational philosophy as well as concrete school reforms. His thinking had been influenced by the ideas of Fröbel and Herbart. His reactions to the prevailing theories and practices in education, corrections made to these philosophies, and recommendations to teachers and administrators to embrace "the new education", provide a vital account of the history of the development of educational thinking in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Dewey placed so-called pragmatism above moral absolutes and helped give rise to situational ethics. Beginning in 1897 John Dewey published a summary of his theory on progressive education in School Journal. His theoretical standpoints are divided into five sections outlined below.
Education according to Dewey is the "participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race" (Dewey, 1897, para. 1). As such, education should take into account that the student is a social being. The process begins at birth with the child unconsciously gaining knowledge and gradually developing their knowledge to share and partake in society.
The educational process has two sides, the psychological and the sociological, with the psychological forming the basis. (Dewey, 1897). A child's own instincts will help develop the material that is presented to them. These instincts also form the basis of their knowledge with everything building upon it. This forms the basis of Dewey's assumption that one cannot learn without motivation.
Instruction must focus on the child as a whole for you can never be sure as to where society may end or where that student will be needed or will take them.
"Education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed" (Dewey, 1897, para. 17) Dewey felt that as education is a social construct, it is, therefore, a part of society and should reflect the community.
"Education is the process of living and is not meant to be the preparation of future living", (Dewey, 1897), so the school must represent the present life. As such, parts of the student's home life (such as moral and ethical education) should take part in the schooling process. The teacher is a part of this, not as an authoritative figure, but as a member of the community who is there to assist the student.
According to Dewey, the curriculum in the schools should reflect that of society. The center of the school curriculum should reflect the development of humans in society. The study of the core subjects (language, science, history) should be coupled with the study of cooking, sewing, and manual training. Furthermore, he feels that "progress is not in the succession of studies but in the development of new attitudes towards, and new interests in, experience" (Dewey, 1897, para. 38)
The method is focused on the child's powers and interests. If the child is thrown into a passive role as a student, absorbing information, the result is a waste of the child's education. (Dewey, 1897). Information presented to the student will be transformed into new forms, images, and symbols by the student so that they fit with their development and interests. The development of this is natural. To repress this process and attempt to "substitute the adult for the child" (Dewey, 1897, para. 52) would weaken the intellectual curiosity of the child.
For Dewey, education, which regulates "the process of coming to share in the social consciousness," is the "only sure" method of ensuring social progress and reform (Dewey, 1897, para. 60). In this respect, Dewey foreshadows Social Reconstructionism, whereby schools are a means to reconstruct society. As schools become a means for social reconstruction, they must be given the proper equipment to perform this task and guide their students.
The American teacher Helen Parkhurst (1886-1973) developed the Dalton Plan at the beginning of the twentieth century with the goal of reforming the then current pedagogy and classroom management. She wanted to break the teacher-centered lockstep teaching. During her first experiment, which she implemented in a small elementary school as a young teacher in 1904, she noticed that when students are given freedom for self-direction and self-pacing and to help one another, their motivation increases considerably and they learn more. In a later experiment in 1911 and 1912, Parkhurst re-organized the education in a large school for nine- to fourteen-year-olds. Instead of each grade, each subject was appointed its own teacher and its own classroom. The subject teachers made assignments: they converted the subject matter for each grade into learning assignments. In this way, learning became the students' own work; they could carry out their work independently, work at their own pace and plan their work themselves. The classroom turned into a laboratory, a place where students are working, furnished and equipped as work spaces, tailored to meet the requirements of specific subjects. Useful and attractive learning materials, instruments and reference books were put within the students' reach. The benches were replaced by large tables to facilitate co-operation and group instruction. This second experiment formed the basis for the next experiments, those in Dalton and New York, from 1919 onwards. The only addition was the use of graphs, charts enabling students to keep track of their own progress in each subject.
In the nineteen-twenties and nineteen-thirties, Dalton education spread throughout the world. There is no certainty regarding the exact numbers of Dalton schools, but there was Dalton education in America, Australia, England, Germany, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, India, China and Japan. Particularly in the Netherlands, China and Japan, Dalton education has remained in existence. In recent years there has been a revival of international interest, particularly in England, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Rudolf Steiner (1869-1925) first described the principles of what was to become Waldorf education in 1907. He established a series of schools based on these principles beginning in 1919. The focus of the education is on creating a developmentally-appropriate curriculum that holistically integrates practical, artistic, social, and academic experiences. There are more than a thousand schools and many more early childhood centers worldwide; it has also become a popular form of homeschooling.
Maria Montessori (1870-1952) began to develop her philosophy and methods in 1897. She based her work on her observations of children and experimentation with the environment, materials, and lessons available to them. She frequently referred to her work as "scientific pedagogy", arguing for the need to go beyond observation and measurement of students, to developing new methods to transform them. Although Montessori education spread to the United States in 1911 there were conflicts with the American educational establishment and was opposed by William Heard Kilpatrick. However Montessori education returned to the United States in 1960 and has since spread to thousands of schools there.
In July 1906, Ernest Thompson Seton sent Robert Baden-Powell a copy of his book The Birchbark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians. Seton was a British-born Canadian-American living in the United States. They shared ideas about youth training programs. In 1907 Baden-Powell wrote a draft called Boy Patrols. In the same year, to test his ideas, he gathered 21 boys of mixed social backgrounds and held a week-long camp in August on Brownsea Island in England. His organizational method, now known as the Patrol System and a key part of Scouting training, allowed the boys to organize themselves into small groups with an elected patrol leader. Baden Powell then wrote Scouting for Boys (London, 1908). The Brownsea camp and the publication of Scouting for Boys are generally regarded as the start of the Scout movement which spread throughout the world. Baden-Powell and his sister Agnes Baden-Powell introduced the Girl Guides in 1910.
Traditional education uses extrinsic motivation, such as grades and prizes. Progressive education is more likely to use intrinsic motivation, basing activities on the interests of the child. Praise may be discouraged as a motivator.
21st century skills are a series of higher-order skills, abilities, and learning dispositions that have been identified as being required for success in the rapidly changing, digital society and workplaces. Many of these skills are also defining qualities of progressive education as well as being associated with deeper learning, which is based on mastering skills such as analytic reasoning, complex problem solving, and teamwork. These skills differ from traditional academic skills in that they are not primarily content knowledge-based.
Edmond Demolins was inspired by Abbotsholme and Bedales to found the École des Roches in Verneuil-sur-Avre in 1899. Paul Robin implemented progressive principles at the orphanage at Cempuis from 1880 to 1894. This was the first French mixed school, and a scandal at that time. Sebastien Faure in 1904 created a libertarian school 'La Ruche' (the Hive).
Hermann Lietz founded three Landerziehungsheime (country boarding schools) in 1904 based on Reddie's model for boys of different ages. Lietz eventually succeeded in establishing five more Landerziehungsheime. Edith and Paul Geheeb founded Odenwaldschule in Heppenheim in the Odenwald in 1910 using their concept of progressive education, which integrated the work of the head and hand.
Janusz Korczak was one notable follower and developer of Pestalozzi's ideas. He wrote The names of Pestalozzi, Froebel and Spencer shine with no less brilliance than the names of the greatest inventors of the twentieth century. For they discovered more than the unknown forces of nature; they discovered the unknown half of humanity: children. His Orphan's Home in Warsaw became a model institution and exerted influence on the educational process in other orphanages of the same type.
In Spain, the Escuela Moderna was founded in 1901 by Francisco Ferrer, a Catalan educator and anarchist. He had been influenced by Cecil Reddie. The Modern Schools, also called 'Ferrer Schools', that were founded in the United States, were based on Escuela Moderna. As in Spain the schools were intended to educate the working-classes from a secular, class-conscious perspective. The Modern Schools imparted day-time academic classes for children, and night-time continuing-education lectures for adults.
In Sweden, an early proponent of progressive education was Alva Myrdal, who with her husband Gunnar co-wrote Kris i befolkningsfrågan (1934), a most influential program for the social-democratic hegemony (1932-1976) popularly known as "Folkhemmet". School reforms went through government reports in the 1940s and trials in the 1950s, resulting in the introduction in 1962 of public comprehensive schools ("grundskola") instead of the previously separated parallel schools for theoretical and non-theoretical education.
The ideas from Reddie's Abbotsholme spread to schools such as Bedales School (1893), King Alfred School, London (1898) and St Christopher School, Letchworth (1915), as well as all the Friends' schools, Steiner Waldorf schools and those belonging to the Round Square Conference. The King Alfred School was radical for its time in that it provided a secular education and that boys and girls were educated together.Alexander Sutherland Neill believed children should achieve self-determination and should be encouraged to think critically rather than blindly obeying. He implemented his ideas with the founding of Summerhill School in 1921. Neill believed that children learn better when they are not compelled to attend lessons. The school was also managed democratically, with regular meetings to determine school rules. Pupils had equal voting rights with school staff.
Fröbel's student Margarethe Schurz founded the first kindergarten in the United States at Watertown, Wisconsin in 1856, and she also inspired Elizabeth Peabody, who went on to found the first English-speaking kindergarten in the United States - the language at Schurz's kindergarten had been German, to serve an immigrant community - in Boston in 1860. This paved the way for the concept's spread in the USA. The German émigré Adolph Douai had also founded a kindergarten in Boston in 1859, but was obliged to close it after only a year. By 1866, however, he was founding others in New York City.
William Heard Kilpatrick (1871-1965) was a pupil of Dewey and one of the most effective practitioners of the concept as well as the more adept at proliferating the progressive education movement and spreading word of the works of Dewey. He is especially well known for his "project method of teaching". This developed the progressive education notion that students were to be engaged and taught so that their knowledge may be directed to society for a socially useful need. Like Dewey he also felt that students should be actively engaged in their learning rather than actively disengaged with the simple reading and regurgitation of material.
The most famous early practitioner of progressive education was Francis Parker; its best-known spokesperson was the philosopher John Dewey. In 1875 Francis Parker became superintendent of schools in Quincy, Massachusetts after spending two years in Germany studying emerging educational trends on the continent. Parker was opposed to rote learning, believing that there was no value in knowledge without understanding. He argued instead schools should encourage and respect the child's creativity. Parker's Quincy System called for child-centered and experience-based learning. He replaced the traditional curriculum with integrated learning units based on core themes related to the knowledge of different disciplines. He replaced traditional readers, spellers and grammar books with children's own writing, literature, and teacher prepared materials. In 1883 Parker left Massachusetts to become Principal of the Cook County Normal School in Chicago, a school that also served to train teachers in Parker's methods. In 1894 Parker's Talks on Pedagogics, which drew heavily on the thinking of Fröbel, Pestalozzi and Herbart, became one of the first American writings on education to gain international fame.
That same year, philosopher John Dewey moved from the University of Michigan to the newly established University of Chicago where he became chair of the department of philosophy, psychology and education. He and his wife enrolled their children in Parker's school before founding their own school two years later.
Whereas Parker started with practice and then moved to theory, Dewey began with hypotheses and then devised methods and curricula to test them. By the time Dewey moved to Chicago at the age of thirty-five, he had already published two books on psychology and applied psychology. He had become dissatisfied with philosophy as pure speculation and was seeking ways to make philosophy directly relevant to practical issues. Moving away from an early interest in Hegel, Dewey proceeded to reject all forms of dualism and dichotomy in favor of a philosophy of experience as a series of unified wholes in which everything can be ultimately related.
In 1896, John Dewey opened what he called the laboratory school to test his theories and their sociological implications. With Dewey as the director and his wife as principal, the University of Chicago Laboratory school, was dedicated "to discover in administration, selection of subject-matter, methods of learning, teaching, and discipline, how a school could become a cooperative community while developing in individuals their own capacities and satisfy their own needs." (Cremin, 136) For Dewey the two key goals of developing a cooperative community and developing individuals' own capacities were not at odds; they were necessary to each other. This unity of purpose lies at the heart of the progressive education philosophy. In 1912, Dewey sent out students of his philosophy to found The Park School of Buffalo and The Park School of Baltimore to put it into practice. These schools operate to this day within a similar progressive approach.
At Columbia, Dewey worked with other educators such as Charles Eliot and Abraham Flexner to help bring progressivism into the mainstream of American education. In 1917 Columbia established the Lincoln School of Teachers College "as a laboratory for the working out of an elementary and secondary curriculum which shall eliminate obsolete material and endeavor to work up in usable form material adapted to the needs of modern living." (Cremin, 282) Based on Flexner's demand that the modern curriculum "include nothing for which an affirmative case can not be made out" (Cremin, 281) the new school organized its activities around four fundamental fields: science, industry, aesthetics and civics. The Lincoln School built its curriculum around "units of work" that reorganized traditional subject matter into forms embracing the development of children and the changing needs of adult life. The first and second grades carried on a study of community life in which they actually built a city. A third grade project growing out of the day-to-day life of the nearby Hudson River became one of the most celebrated units of the school, a unit on boats, which under the guidance of its legendary teacher Miss Curtis, became an entrée into history, geography, reading, writing, arithmetic, science, art and literature. Each of the units was broadly enough conceived so that different children could concentrate on different aspects depending on their own interests and needs. Each of the units called for widely diverse student activities, and each sought to deal in depth with some critical aspect of contemporary civilization. Finally each unit engaged children working together cooperatively and also provided opportunities for individual research and exploration.
In 1918 The National Education Association, representing superintendents and administrators in smaller districts across the country, issued its report "Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education." It emphasized the education of students in terms of health, a command of fundamental processes, worthy home membership, vocation, citizenship, worthy use of leisure, and ethical character. They Emphasized life adjustment and reflected the social efficiency model of progressive education.
From 1919 to 1955 the Progressive Education Association founded by Stanwood Cobb and others worked to promote a more student-centered approach to education. During the Great Depression the organization conducted an Eight Year study evaluating the effects of progressive programs. More than 1500 students over four years were compared to an equal number of carefully matched students at conventional schools. When they reached college, the experimental students were found to equal or surpass traditionally educated students on all outcomes: grades, extracurricular participation, dropout rates, intellectual curiosity, and resourcefulness. Moreover, the study found that the more the school departed from the traditional college preparatory program, the better was the record of the graduates. (Kohn, Schools, 232)
By mid-century many public school programs had also adopted elements of progressive curriculum. At mid-century Dewey believed that progressive education had "not really penetrated and permeated the foundations of the educational institution."(Kohn, Schools, 6,7) As the influence of progressive pedagogy grew broader and more diffuse, practitioners began to vary their application of progressive principles. As varying interpretations and practices made evaluation of progressive reforms more difficult to assess, critics began to propose alternative approaches.
The seeds of the debate over progressive education can be seen in the differences of Parker and Dewey. These have to do with how much and by whom curriculum should be worked out from grade to grade, how much the child's emerging interests should determine classroom activities, the importance of child-centered vs. societal-centered learning, the relationship of community building to individual growth, and especially the relationship between emotion, thought and experience.
In 1955 the publication of Rudolf Flesch's Why Johnny Can't Read leveled criticism of reading programs at the progressive emphasis on reading in context. The conservative McCarthy era raised questions about the liberal ideas at the roots of the progressive reforms. The launching of Sputnik in 1957 at the height of the cold war gave rise to a number of intellectually competitive approaches to disciplinary knowledge, such as BSCS biology PSSC physics, led by university professors such as Jerome Bruner and Jerrold Zacharias.
Interestingly, some of the cold war reforms incorporated elements of progressivism. For example, the work of Zacharias and Bruner was based in the developmental psychology of Jean Piaget and incorporated many of Dewey's ideas of experiential education. Bruner's analysis of developmental psychology became the core of a pedagogical movement known as constructivism, which argues that the child is an active participant in making meaning and must be engaged in the progress of education for learning to be effective. This psychological approach has deep connections to the work of both Parker and Dewey and led to a resurgence of their ideas in second half of the century.
In 1965, President Johnson inaugurated the Great Society and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act suffused public school programs with funds for sweeping education reforms. At the same time the influx of federal funding also gave rise to demands for accountability and the behavioral objectives approach of Robert F. Mager and others foreshadowed the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2002. Against these critics eloquent spokespersons stepped forward in defense of the progressive tradition. The Open Classroom movement, led by Herb Kohl and George Dennison, recalled many of Parker's child centered reforms.
Progressive education has been viewed as an alternative to the test-oriented instruction legislated by the No Child Left Behind educational funding act.Alfie Kohn has been an outspoken critic of the No Child Left Behind Act and a passionate defender of the progressive tradition.
Taxpayer revolts, leading to 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:
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was one of the most effective practitioners of the concept of progressive education. He expanded Santiniketan, which is a small town near Bolpur in the Birbhum district of West Bengal, India, approximately 160 km north of Kolkata. He de-emphasized textbook learning in favor of varied learning resources from nature. The emphasis here was on self-motivation rather than on discipline, and on fostering intellectual curiosity rather than competitive excellence. There were courses on a great variety of cultures, and study programs devoted to China, Japan, and the Middle East. He was of the view that education should be a "joyous exercise of our inventive and constructive energies that help us to build up character."
Seikatsu tsuzurikata is a grassroots movement in Japan that has many parallels to the progressive education movement, but it developed completely independently, beginning in the late 1920s. The Japanese progressive educational movement was one of the stepping stones to the modernization of Japan and it has resonated down to the present.