Tuesday, February 01, 2005

What would John Dewey do?

Jenny D. had this to say the other day:

Brink: Think harder about this. Why did Robert F. Kennedy support a testing/standards regime like NCLB back in 1965? Why do people in Utah and Idaho hate NCLB? Maybe it's a really progressive law. It's not perfect, needs tinkering. (emphasis mine)

She got one thing right: it needs tinkering. Secretary Spellings said so herself yesterday. But progressive?! A progressive law? Please.

The word progressive has many different meanings, but in education, progressive means something specific. It refers to the educational philosophy outlined by John Dewey in Democracy and Education (and later, and much more concisely, in Experience and Education).

Progressive education advocates a vibrant school with a curriculum that follows the interests of students, emphasizes active learning and deep understanding, and encourages assessment through close observation by well-trained teachers.

No Child Left Behind is not that. Curriculum has been dumbed down as the educational enterprise has been reduced to the lowest common denominator of reading and math competency. Teachers and administrators must focus single-mindedly on the tests. Or else.

Call NCLB what you want, but please don't call it progressive. It's an insult to John Dewey and to those of us who consider ourselves progressive educators.


Blogger Jenny D. said...

No, I didn't mean that NCLB was progressive in terms of Dewey's notion of progressive education. What I meant was, NCLB is progressive as a policy instrument. It is progressive because it demands equity for all citizens regardless of background, race, etc.

The court decision abolishing segregation was a progressive piece of law. So was Title IX (although admittedly the devil is in the enactment). One could argue that Title I by itself is not progressive because it merely hands out money but does not call for a remedy. That's why NCLB is more progressive. It hands out money and calls a remedy.

In NJ, the 1999 Abbott v. Burke decision was also progressive because although the state's high court mandated more funding for poor districts, it also insisted that poor districts put forth programs that would remedy the problems.

5:35 AM  
Blogger EdWonk said...

We have linked to this post at our entry titled, "Carnival Of Education Info And Extra Credit Assignment." It can be seen here:


5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dewey's Progressive ed is the primary cause of today's ed crisis. Dewey stressed the social (as in socializing rather than educating), the emotional (as in follow feelings not reason) and the concrete as opposed to the conceptual. Indeed, Dewey's Progressive pedagogy is thoroughly anti-conceptual. It teaches social conformity & subjectivity, and creates in its students a range-of-the-moment mentality.

What can you expect, though, from one of the key proponents of "act-first-think-after" Pragmatism? For both James & Dewey, reason was a process of "actualizing" truth (i.e., one's beliefs)through trial & error action; thus concepts were the result, not of objectiviely identifying the facts (i.e., reality), but of "reformating" reality based upon emotions (for James, the emotions of the individual; for Dewey, those of the group's, i.e., of society's).

In other words, for James & Dewey, objectivity was a myth -- truth & facts, a matter of whim (emotionalism).

Stop me when any of this begins to sound familiar. (See social constructivism, the Process method, etc., etc., & their results, e.g., dumbed-down curricula, multiculturalism, political indoctrination, student violence -- Columbine, etc. -- and so on).

Educators suggesting that (post)modern ed needs more of Dewey's Progressivism (i.e., Pragmatism), then, is like a doctor suggesting that a patient dying from arsenic poisoning needs more arsenic.

Steven Brockerman, MS
Elementary & Middle School Curriculum Coordinator
(A large private school system of 10,000 students)

9:39 AM  
Anonymous stat said...

Steven Brockerman, MS

Totally agree with your comments. Why is it that progressives are now running education??!!

Go to:

I have comments under stat

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

It's about time that progressivism is more prominent in the school enterprise. To suggest progressivism is poisoning shows that one knows nothing about the way a child learns. The child-centered approach that encourages interaction has proven to successfully retain knowledge more than 80% more than any sort of uni-modal, teaching-centered approach that is our current system. The world has seen drastic changes as technology continues gain momentum, and no longer is the teacher all-knowing like he/she once was. For this reason, teaching children HOW to think as oppose to WHAT to think (which is fundamental to progressivism) is the most beneficial thing for students today. Furthermore, it encourages children to be independent thinkers whereas our current education system teaches children OUT of creativity and to think in a box. Anyone against progressivism should really reconsider their facts, because it truly is a magical movement.

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4:47 AM  

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