Table Of Contents
- About the author(s)/editor(s)
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Chapter 1. Introduction
- Part I – “Schools of Tomorrow”
- Chapter 2. The City and Country School: A Progressive Paradigm
- Chapter 3. The Dalton School: The Transformation of a Progressive School
- Chapter 4. The Weekday School at Riverside Church: Progressive Education in a Religious Institution
- Chapter 5. The Laboratory School at the Institute of Child Study: Child Study as Progressive Education in Ontario
- Chapter 6. “A Laboratory of Learning”: Alabama State Teachers College Laboratory High School
- Chapter 7. “The Answers Come from the People”: Education for Democracy at Highlander Folk School
- Part II – Schools of Today
- Chapter 8. Central Park East (CPE 1): An Experiment in Public Progressive Education
- Chapter 9. Enter the Alternative School: The Life of Central Park East Secondary School
- Chapter 10. The Learning Community Charter School: The Founding and Evolution of a Progressive Charter School
- Chapter 11. A Look into KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program): Culture through the Prism of Progressive Schools
- Chapter 12. Progressive Education: Lessons from the Past and Present
- Series index
Progressive schools from both the past and the present hold important lessons.1 In order to elucidate these lessons, this book documents the histories of a collection of schools that have implemented progressive educational practices. The project of chronicling the stories of progressive schools began with John and Evelyn Dewey’s 1915 book, Schools of To-morrow. Semel and Sadovnik continued this work with the 1999 book “Schools of Tomorrow,” Schools of Today: What Happened to Progressive Education. This current publication expands upon the tradition of documenting progressive schooling practices in hopes of providing guidance for those interested in shaping the future of progressive education.
Our approach to this text is similar to that taken by the Deweys in their 1915 book. As John and Evelyn Dewey note in the preface to Schools of To-morrow,
This is not a text book of education, nor yet an exposition of a new method of school teaching, aimed to show the weary teacher or the discontented parent how education should be carried on. We have tried to show what actually happens when schools start out to put into practice, each in its own way, some of the theories that have been pointed to as the soundest and best ever since Plato, to be then laid politely away as precious portions of our “intellectual heritage.”2 ← vii | viii →
When Semel and Sadovnik began work on “Schools of Tomorrow,” Schools of Today: What Happened to Progressive Education in 1988, the vision of simply showing what happens when progressive schooling is put into practice guided much of the work. The idea for the 1999 book began in the office of the late historian of education Lawrence A. Cremin while Semel was working on The Dalton School: The Transformation of a Progressive School. Professor Cremin urged her to begin work on a comparative history of the early progressive schools in order to remind contemporary reformers of the practices that began in these and to ensure that their histories would not be forgotten. We only wish he was here to see the way that this project has grown over the years.
As it was conceived in Cremin’s office, the book was only to examine some of the schools founded in the early twentieth century. Based on discussions, as well as feedback from audiences at AERA and AESA, the 1999 book expanded to include some contemporary schools. The current book further develops the original vision of “Schools of Tomorrow,” Schools of Today. In most respects, this book is a second volume to Semel and Sadovnik’s 1999 “Schools of Tomorrow,” Schools of Today: What Happened to Progressive Education—it chronicles the history of ten schools, six that were founded in the early twentieth century and four that were founded more recently. All but two of these schools are new to “Schools of Tomorrow,” Schools of Today (the histories of the two schools also included in the 1999 book, The Dalton School and The City and Country School, have been updated).
Instead of focusing on what has happened to progressive education over its century-long history, the current volume asks where progressive education is today in hopes of better understanding where it may be headed tomorrow. The schools in this book range from elite, independent schools to urban public charter schools; some are in high demand and have long waitlists, while others had to close because of low enrollment or financial issues; some were directly inspired by Deweyan progressive philosophies, while others don’t specifically label themselves progressive; but all of the schools have been shaped by progressive educational ideals and have been subject to shifts in society and changes in the education system. Progressive education in the twenty-first century looks different than it did in the twentieth century—we present the histories of ten schools to not only help understand how progressive schooling has changed, but also to see the ways that progressive schools have responded to the shifting demands of our society.
Progressive educational philosophy and pedagogy exists alongside of other schooling practices and within a social, political, and economic context that is ← viii | ix → specific to its geography and its historical moment. The authors of the chapters in this book seek to identify the progressive practices present in the individual schools that they chronicle. Where these authors see progressive schooling, others, including ourselves, may not. Our goal is not to decisively judge what is progressive and what is not, but rather to create a dialogue between the authors of each chapter who bring their own visions of progressive schooling, the editors who seek lessons from this collection of schools, and the readers who will relate the text to their own ideas and experiences.
As a volume in the History of Schools and Schooling series, this book seeks to look to the past for what it can teach us today. School reformers often reinvent the wheel with little or no knowledge that many of their practices have rich historical precedents. The history of education is too often overlooked by contemporary practitioners, policy makers, and reformers. The lessons from the past about how progressive education has responded to changes in society hopefully will inform contemporary debates about schooling and show progressive education’s role in the twenty-first century.
1. Sections of this preface are adapted from Susan F. Semel and Alan R. Sadovnik, “Schools of Tomorrow,” Schools of Today: What Happened to Progressive Education (New York: Peter Lang, 1999).
2. John Dewey and Evelyn Dewey, Schools of Tomorrow (New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1915).
This book exists because of the collaborative efforts of many individuals. First and foremost, this book would not have been possible without the assistance of our team at Peter Lang. Chris Myers, our editor, has provided leadership and support from the beginning stages of this project. Additionally, we want to thank Phyllis Korper and Bernadette Shade, who have provided invaluable advice and guidance throughout the production process.
Additionally, there are a number of individuals who have been helpful in providing our contributors with access to archives, including the photos seen in this text. We want to extend our gratitude to Peter Mutarelli of the Weekday School at the Riverside Church, Beth Softness of the Dalton School, Kate Turley of the City and Country School, Richard Volpe from the Laboratory School at the Institute of Child Study, Susan Williams of the Highlander Center, and Howard Robinson of the Alabama State University Archives.
Most importantly, we must thank our contributing authors for their commitment to this project and their meticulous research. Without their hard work, this book would not exist. We also want to thank the contributors for their patience and perseverance throughout the production stage of this book. While the process has been long, the product is certainly worth the time and effort.
The City and Country School Archives
The Weekday School at Riverside Church Archives
Highlander Folk School Archives
Central Park East Secondary School Archives
Few educational movements have been as maligned and misunderstood as progressive education.1 A few years before the publication of Semel and Sadovnik’s “Schools of Tomorrow,” Schools of Today: What Happened to Progressive Education, critics of American education such as E. D. Hirsch placed the blame of the putative failure of American schools on progressive education,2 although significantly, he often avoided the word “progressive.” Echoing the conservative critique made by scholars such as Arthur Bestor in the 1950s,3 Hirsch and his Core Movement followers saw progressive education as the enemy of academic rigor because of its allegedly “soft pedagogy,” which places the needs and interests of the child ahead of a rigid content-oriented curriculum. Nevertheless, we currently find a renewed interest in child-centered practices in public and private education, much of it reminiscent of the child-centered practices found in some of the earliest progressive schools at the turn of the twentieth century. Those who now champion these progressive practices rarely acknowledge and may be altogether unaware of their historical antecedents.4 This book, therefore, addresses both the current critics of progressive education and its practitioners, and in so doing provides examples of progressive schools that worked and continue to work, as well as those that failed. ← 1 | 2 →
More specifically, this book documents some of the child-centered progressive schools founded in the first half of the twentieth century and provides histories of some more contemporary examples of progressive practices. Its title, similar to Semel and Sadovnik’s 1999 book, evokes John and Evelyn Dewey’s 1915 book, Schools of To-Morrow,5 which examined early examples of schools explicitly designed to promote growth in children. Not coincidently, one school discussed in Dewey’s book is the first school in Part I of this book: The City and Country School. Part I discusses, in all, six progressive schools founded in the first part of the twentieth century, tracing them from their beginnings to their present, or until their regrettable demises. Part II examines four more contemporary schools, showing how progressive practices gained momentum from the 1960s onward, albeit sometimes without a clear historical perspective. These schools include both district public and public charter schools, all of which are in some way a part of the small schools movement developed in the 1980s.
Part I discusses the following schools: The City and Country School in New York City, by Susan F. Semel, one of the few remaining schools that consciously, and often successfully, works to reflect the philosophy of its founder in its curriculum and pedagogy; The Dalton School in New York City, by Susan F. Semel, illustrative of an institution sensitive to the demands of the marketplace and what we term the progressive paradox: democratic education for the elite; The Weekday School at The Riverside Church in New York City, by Amita Gupta, a private school affiliated with the progressive interracial, international, and interdenominational Riverside Church in Harlem; The Laboratory School at the Institute of Child Study in Ontario, by Theodore Christou and Panayiotes Tryphonopoulos, a progressive school with a deeply embedded theory of child development; the Alabama State College Lab High School, by Sharon G. Pierson, a school dedicated to college preparatory education for African Americans during the Jim Crow era; and The Highlander Folk School, by Laura Westhoff, a radical school for adults, which provided “training” for generations of community organizers fighting for social justice.
Part II examines the following schools founded from the 1960s on: Central Park East Elementary School in New York City, by Bruce Kanze, the first school founded by Deborah Meier, one of the pioneers of the progressive small school movement in the 1980s; Central Park East Secondary School, by Alia Tyner-Mullings, the school founded by Meier as she expanded to the upper grades and the subject of filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s documentary High School II; the Learning Community Charter School in Jersey City, New ← 2 | 3 → Jersey, by Elizabeth Brown, a parent-founded charter school based largely on the work of Deborah Meier and her mentor, Lillian Weber of the City College of New York; and TEAM Academy in Newark, New Jersey, by Andrew R. Ratner and Ali Nagle, one of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools, a charter school management organization committed to social justice and a rigorous college preparatory education for low-income students of color, but with highly structured and what some describe as authoritarian pedagogic practices.6
Several recurring questions and themes, emerging from the histories of all these schools, underscore the importance of studying school histories in the light of particular reform movements, in this case, progressive education:
• What happened to progressive education in the schools dating to the first part of the twentieth century? What factors contributed to their stability and change, including leadership, the market (especially for private schools), philosophy, neighborhood, and the relationship between the politics of educational reform and its impact on the schools? Most importantly, how do the histories of these schools relate to the zeitgeist of the times?
• How do the schools founded from the 1960s onward reflect some of the pedagogic practices of the earlier schools? To what degree were or are these schools aware of the progressive schools that preceded them? To what extent do they consciously mirror their practices? As with the earlier schools, what are the factors that contribute to educational stability and change? In particular, what is the relationship between the politics of educational reform and its impact on the schools?
• How progressive was (and is) progressive education, with respect to issues of equity? Given the fact that a large number of the early child-centered schools were private (the exception in Part I is Lab High) and served a mostly affluent white population (the exceptions in Part I are Lab High and Highlander), the issue of progressive education and equity emerges. Since all four of our more recent examples are public schools serving more diverse populations, issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and religion also appear. In addition, as two are district public schools and two are public charter schools, they provide important examples for the ongoing debates about charter schools. To what degree, then, was (and is) progressive education reserved for the upper-middle classes as Basil Bernstein has suggested?7 To what degree did (and does) progressive ← 3 | 4 → education disadvantage African American, Latino, and working-class students, as Lisa Delpit suggests?8 And to what degree can progressive education work for low-income children?
• Can schools like KIPP and other charter schools, such as those in the Uncommon Schools Network, committed to equality of opportunity and social justice but with non-progressive pedagogy be considered progressive? Conversely, can schools that don’t reach a diverse student body but maintain a progressive pedagogy be considered progressive?
• Given Dewey’s belief that education should balance the needs of the individual and the community, how has progressive education addressed this charge and has it been successful in meeting this goal?
• What lessons from the past and present do these schools provide for school reform? How does the history of education provide important insights for contemporary practice?
A Short History of Progressive Education
In the early decades of the nineteenth century, the First Industrial Revolution produced immigration and urbanization of unprecedented proportions followed in due course by enough poverty and oppression to attract social reformers willing to reveal and challenge the evils of American industrial life.
But if the beginning of the nineteenth century brought social problems, its close brought even more. The Second Industrial Revolution centered this time on steam-driven and electrically powered machinery. Factories gave way to huge corporations, under the control of such captains of industry as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Immigrant labor, of course, sustained both revolutions.
At the start of the nineteenth century, most immigrants came from the northwestern part of Europe—namely Great Britain, Scandinavia, Germany and the Netherlands. After 1890, an increasingly large proportion came from southern and eastern Europe, and they brought languages and customs dramatically different from those of the previous group. They settled in closely crowded substandard living quarters in urban areas and found work in factories. Thus, by the turn of the century, American cities contained enormous concentrations of both wealth and poverty. Indeed, the gap between rich and poor had never been as great as it was at the close of the nineteenth century. ← 4 | 5 →
The purpose of education has been seen in a variety of ways: religious, utilitarian, civic, and, with Horace Mann in the Common School era, social mobility. The common school had been born in an age of reform, but between 1900 and 1914 a new reform movement, the Progressive Movement, swept the country. Progressive reformers insisted upon government regulation of industry and commerce, as well as the conservation of the nation’s natural resources; moreover, progressive reformers insisted that national, state, and local governments become responsive to the welfare of its citizens rather than to the welfare of corporations. The progressive reformers had a sweeping agenda, including the secret ballot and universal schooling. Just as reformers like Horace Mann in the nineteenth century had looked to schools as a means of addressing social problems, so reformers once again looked to schools as a means of preserving and promoting democracy within the new social order.
John Dewey and Progressive Education
An important American philosopher whose influence on education remains strong today, John Dewey (1859–1952), moved to the forefront of these reformers. The list included “Fighting Bob” La Follette, governor of Wisconsin and architect of the “Wisconsin Idea,” which harnessed the expertise of university professors to the mechanics of state government; settlement workers, like Jane Addams and Lillian Wald; and municipal reformers and labor leaders, such as Henry Bruere and John Golden. Thus, progressive education, the movement John Dewey has become associated with, can best be understood, as both historians Lawrence Cremin and Richard Hofstadter remind us, as part of “a broader program of social and political reform called the Progressive Movement.”9
Just as the schools today are undergoing a transformation due in part to rapidly changing technology, altered lifestyles, and new, massive waves of immigrants, it could be argued that the schools at the turn of the century were undergoing a similar transformation in their time. In 1909, for example, 57.8 percent of the children in schools in thirty-seven of our largest cities were foreign born.10 Suddenly, teachers were faced with problems of putative uncleanliness (bathing became part of the school curriculum in certain districts), and they began to teach basic socialization skills. Just how these socialization skills have come to be interpreted, whether malevolently by radical historians or benevolently by liberal and conservative historians, is beyond our concern here. What we consider instead is how Dewey proposed ← 5 | 6 → to shape education to meet these challenges and how his progressive disciples interpreted his ideas so as to alter the course of schooling in this country.
Although born and raised in Vermont, by 1894 John Dewey had become thoroughly enmeshed in the problems of urbanization as a resident of Chicago and chair of the Department of Philosophy, Psychology and Pedagogy at the University of Chicago. Distressed with the abrupt dislocation of families from rural to urban environments, concerned by the loss of traditional ways of understanding the maintenance of civilization, and anxious about the effects unleashed individualism and rampant materialism would have upon a democratic society, Dewey sought answers in pedagogic practice.11
Dewey argued in “My Pedagogic Creed,” “The School and Society,” and “The Child and the Curriculum”12 for a restructuring of schools along the lines of “embryonic communities” and for the creation of a curriculum that would allow for the child’s interests and developmental level while introducing the child to “the point of departure from which the child can trace and follow the progress of mankind in history, getting an insight also into the materials used and the mechanical principles involved.”13
Dewey believed that the purpose of education was growth, but within the context of a democratic society. Thus, for Dewey, school was “that form of community life in which all those agencies are concentrated that will be most effective in bringing the child to share in the inherited resources of the race, and to use his own powers for social ends.”14
To test and implement his ideas, Dewey created the Laboratory School at the University of Chicago. There, children studied basic subjects in an integrated curriculum since, according to Dewey, “the child’s life is an integral, a total one” and therefore, the school should reflect the “completeness” and “unity” of “the child’s own world.”15 Dewey advocated active learning, starting with the needs and interests of the child; he emphasized the role of experience in education and introduced the notion of teacher as facilitator of learning, rather than the font from which all knowledge flows. According to Dewey, the school was—or should be—a “miniature community, an embryonic society”16 and discipline was a tool which would develop “a spirit of social cooperation and community life.”17
Dewey’s form of pragmatism, instrumentalist and experimentalist, was founded upon the new psychology—behaviorism—and the philosophy of pragmatism. His ideas were influenced by the theory of evolution and by an almost eighteenth-century optimistic belief in progress, but for Dewey, in the attainment of a better society through education. Thus, the school became an ← 6 | 7 → “embryonic community” where children could learn skills experientially as well as from books, in addition to traditional information, which would enable them to work cooperatively in a democratic society.
Dewey’s ideas about education, often referred to as “progressive,” proposed that educators start with the needs and interests of the child in the classroom, allowed the child to participate in planning his or her course of study advocated project method or group learning and depended heavily upon experiential learning.
Dewey’s progressive methodology rested upon the premise that children were active, organic beings, growing and changing, and required a course of study which would reflect their particular stage of development. He advocated both freedom and responsibility for students, since he considered both to be vital components of democratic living. He believed that the school should reflect the community in order to help graduates to assume societal roles and to maintain the democratic way of life. In short, Dewey venerated democracy and believed it could be more perfectly realized through an education that continually reconstructed and reorganized society.
Dewey’s vision of schools was rooted in the social order; he did not see ideas as separate from social conditions. He fervently believed that philosophy had a responsibility to society and that ideas required laboratory testing—hence the importance of the school as a place where ideas can be implemented, challenged, restructured, and reconstructed with the goal of improving the social order. Moreover, he believed that school should provide “conjoint, communicated experience”—that it should function as preparation for democratic social life.
In accord with the progressive political atmosphere of the turn of the century, Dewey viewed the role of the school within the larger societal milieu to which they belonged. Thus, we can understand Dewey’s vision of schooling as part of the larger project of social progress and improvement. While he was certainly concerned with the social dimensions of schooling, he was also acutely aware of the school’s effects on the individual. Thus, his philosophy of education incorporated a need to balance the social role of the school with its effects on the social, intellectual, and personal development of individuals. In other words, Dewey believed that schools should balance the needs of society and community, on the one hand, and the need of the individual, on the other. This tension, or what the philosopher of education Maxine Greene18 terms the “dialectic of freedom,” is central to understanding Dewey’s work. ← 7 | 8 →
The key to Dewey’s vision is his idea that schools should integrate children into a democratic society, not just any type of society. In other words, Dewey premised this view of integration on the school as an embryonic democratic society itself, with cooperation and community as its goals. Dewey did not believe, however, that the school’s role was to integrate children into a non-democratic society; rather, he believed that if schools instilled democratic and cooperative values in children, they would be prepared as adults to help democratize the social order. While he managed to articulate this central function of schools, he failed to solve the problem of integrating diverse groups into a community without sacrificing their unique characteristics. But one can hardly fault him, since this problem is still hotly debated.
As the historian of education Diane Ravitch19 noted, Dewey’s philosophy of education was often misunderstood and misapplied. It was often misapplied as in Charles Prosser’s “life adjustment education” and whenever learning through experience became simply vocational education. It was often misapplied, as well, in regard to freedom, with individual freedom often confused with a license that takes precedence over other, more structured, processes. Finally, it often became distorted by tailoring education to social class (for example, vocational education for the poor). Despite these distorted applications, Dewey’s philosophy of progressive education remained central to all subsequent educational theory. For Dewey, the role of the school was to be “a lever of social reform”—that is, to be the central institution for societal and personal improvement—by balancing a complex set of processes.
In a progressive setting, the teacher is no longer the authoritarian figure from which all knowledge flows. Rather, the teacher assumes the peripheral position of facilitator—encouraging, offering suggestions, questioning, and helping plan and implement courses of study. The teacher also writes the curriculum and must have a command of several disciplines in order to create and implement that curriculum.
Dewey observed that children learn both individually and in groups, and he believed that children should start their inquiries by posing questions about what they want to know. Today we refer to this method of instruction as “problem solving” or “inquiry method.” Dewey’s laboratory school relied on books often written by teachers and students together, and field trips and projects, which reconstructed some aspect of the course of study. These methods became, in turn, the basis for other progressive schools founded in the Deweyan tradition. ← 8 | 9 →
Some of these schools abandoned formal instruction and dispensed with traditional blocks of time for specific discipline instruction. Regiments of desks bolted to the floor were replaced with tables and chairs that could be moved about and grouped as needed. Children could converse quietly with one another, could stand up and stretch if warranted, and could pursue independent study or group work. What might at first appear as chaos to a visitor used to formal pedagogy might actually be a carefully orchestrated classroom with children learning in non-traditional yet natural ways. Individualized study, problem solving, and the project method replaced lock-step learning and rote memorization.
Progressive schools generally follow Dewey’s idea of a core curriculum, or an integrated curriculum. A particular subject matter under investigation by students—like whales—yields problems to be solved using math, science, history, reading, writing, music, art, wood or metal working, cooking and sewing; all the academic and vocational disciplines are integrated in an interconnected way. Progressive educators generally start with contemporary problems and work from the known to the unknown, or what we have come to call in social studies education, “the curriculum of expanding environments.” Progressive educators also tend to resist a fixed curriculum; rather, the curriculum will change as the social order changes or as children’s interests and needs change.
Some lingering controversy centers on Dewey’s ideas about the traditional discipline-centered curriculum. Some contemporary scholars20 believe that Dewey’s emphasis on the need for the curriculum to be related to the needs and interests of the child suggests that he rejected traditional subject matter and favored a child-centered curriculum based on imagination and intuition. Others, including Howard Gardner,21 believe that Dewey proposed a balance between traditional disciplines and the needs and interests of the child. We concur with Gardner’s reading of Dewey and believe that Dewey thought that an integrated curriculum provided the most effective means to this balance.
Strands of Progressive Education
Indisputably, John Dewey made important contributions to both philosophy of education and pedagogic practice, especially if we examine what happened in the field of education subsequent to Dewey’s early work. And as we do so, we should keep in mind just how rapidly education had expanded in this period. ← 9 | 10 → For example, in 1870 about 6.5 million children from ages five through eighteen attended school; in 1880, about 15.5 million children attended school. By 1900, thirty-one states had enacted compulsory education laws. Thus, whatever occurred in schools was sure to influence large numbers of Americans.
While few can dispute Dewey’s influence among educational reformers, most of them would agree that Dewey was often misread, misunderstood, and misinterpreted. Thus, his emphasis upon the child’s impulses, feelings, and interests led to a form of progressive education which often became synonymous with permissiveness, and his emphasis upon vocations ultimately provided a rationale for the “life adjustment” curriculum reformers.
- XII, 419
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Softcover)
- Publication date
- 2016 (March)
- Progressive schools City school Progressive education Public education Country school
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XII, 419 pp., num. b/w ill.