A work in progress edited by
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)
year, after two decades of rapid and continuous development, the progressive
education movement of the United States reaches a moment of institutionalization
and creates the Progressive Education Association.
on previous critiques of the traditional teacher-centered and curriculum-centered
educational approaches, what was known as "the progressive education
movement" was formed by educational reformers who were particularly active
in the United States from the 1890s to 1930s, promoting the ideas of child-centered
education, social reconstructionism, active citizen participation in all spheres
of life, and democratization of all public institutions. Progressive educators
believed that a new education program, based on the development of cooperative
social skills, critical thinking and democratic behaviors, could play a pivotal
role in transforming a society of greed, individualism, waste and corruption for
one based on compassion, humanism and equality (Rippa 1997).
the early 1900s, the Progressive Movement had come to the forefront of what
Herbert Kliebard has called "the struggle for the American
curriculum." Progressivism consistently challenged traditional ideals
concerning the foundations upon which students' education in schools was based.
The movement was greatly influenced by the writings and lectures of John Dewey,
who in turn was inspired by political and educational theorists such as
Vittoriano da Feltre, Campanella, Comenius, Pestalozzi, Rousseau, and Bronson
Alcott, and by the social theories of people like George Herbert Mead, Auguste
Comte and Thorstein Veblen. He was also deeply influenced by Darwinism, which
contributed to his shift from the focus on the study of philosophy as a
discipline to experimental research.
Indeed, Dewey began to test his theories in the Laboratory School at the University of Chicago, which he had opened in 1896. Even before the end of the previous century, he had published two influential books: My Pedagogic Creed (1897) and The school and Society (1899). In those books, Dewey argued that education was the fundamental method of social progress and reform, and that all reforms that rested only upon the law of the fear of punishment were transitory and futile. Dewey believed that through education society could formulate its own purposes, and organize its own means and resources to move in that direction. Colonel Francis Parker, who was Dewey's friend and shared those ideas, opened a progressive school in 1901 in Chicago.
Dewey was probably the most recognized leader of progressive education, there
were many other important educators who significantly contributed to that
movement during the early half of the 20th century in the United States. Among
them were George Counts, Jane Addams, Margaret Naumburg,
Ella Flagg Young,
Francis W. Parker, Theodore Bramald, William H. Kilpatrick, Harold
Rugg and Marietta Johnson.
The Progressive Movement promoted the idea that students should be
encouraged to be independent thinkers, creative beings, and expressive about
their feelings. This was a sharp contrast from prevalent educational approaches
rooted in social efficiency in the early 1900s, particularly in the United
States. Such approaches, which would be described several decades later by
Callahan in "Education and the Myth of Efficiency" (1962), did
not foster the importance of individualism, creativity and critical thinking,
emphasizing instead classroom control, management, obedience to authority and a
structured curriculum that focused on memorization and rote skills.
The Progressive Movement promoted the idea that students should be encouraged to be independent thinkers, creative beings, and expressive about their feelings. This was a sharp contrast from prevalent educational approaches rooted in social efficiency in the early 1900s, particularly in the United States. Such approaches, which would be described several decades later by Callahan in "Education and the Myth of Efficiency" (1962), did not foster the importance of individualism, creativity and critical thinking, emphasizing instead classroom control, management, obedience to authority and a structured curriculum that focused on memorization and rote skills.
of the main principles fostered in the Progressive Movement were continuity and
interaction. Continuity is the principle that each learning experience be
nurtured by the previous experience. Therefore, from a Progressive standpoint,
the learning process is gradual. The organizational thought process that relates
all experiential processes is something Dewey named the "Logical
Organization of Subject Matter." The second principle, interaction, denotes
the concept that what was learned may possibly need revisions, adaptations, or
be discarded all together because further research has claimed it to be false.
Essentially, from this standpoint, assumptions need to be challenged in the
continual search for absolute truth. Thus the interaction principle encouraged
experimentalism, verification, and reconstruction.
who supported the movement felt there should be less authoritarianism in the
schools, an elimination of set standards for school curriculum, and an emphasis
on teaching what the pupils desired to learn. The Progressive Movement was at
its peak in the 1930's, during the Great Depression. However, the movement did
have its share of critics. Among them were those who felt that education needed
a foundation of basic skills and more discipline, and those who believed that
progressive education was corrupting the minds of youth. By the late 1930s, such
concerns came to the forefront of curriculum theorizing, and also to the public
forum through the Robey investigation of Harold Rugg's
textbooks. During the 1940s and 1950s, in the context of the Cold War, the
attacks on progressive education continued, for example through the work of
Allen Zoll, who published pamphlets such as "Progressive education
increases juvenile delinquency" and "The commies are after your
kids." By that time, the progressive movement had lost its centrality in
terms of influencing school practice. Although many principles of the
progressive movement were partially adopted by educational systems and
institutions in the second half or the 20th century, it would never recover the
prominence that it enjoyed during the first decades, except for a short time
during the 1960s when it rebounded under more radicalized versions, such as the
free school movement, the nongraded classrooms, the deschooling
proposals, and emancipatory education programs in adult education.
retrospect, the Progressive Movement made a lasting impact on education
worldwide. It challenged traditional practices in education and conceptualized
the student as an individual with special interests and needs. Without question,
the child-centered curriculum emerged as a result of the Progressive Movement.
It was within the tradition of Progressivism, too, that the vision of schools as
sites for transforming society was maintained, laying a significant theoretical
foundation for the work of critical pedagogues and radical education theorists
(like Paulo Freire and others) during the last decades of the 20th century.
Rychard, Alfred Lawrence Hall-Quest, & I.L. Kandel, Colliers Encyclopedia,
New York, 1995, volume 8, pages:578a, 587c, 571c, 610b.
Alexander (1997). Education in a Free Society. An American History. NY: Longman.
John Dewey Project on Progressive Education. http://www.uvm.edu/~dewey/
April 28, 2002).
by DS & Natalie
Citation: Schugurensky, Daniel & Natalie Aguirre. (2002). 1919: The Progressive Education Association is founded. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available: http://fcis.oise.utoronto.ca/~daniel_schugurensky/assignment1/1919pea.html (date accessed).
DS Home Page Back to Index Suggest or Submit a Moment
Website © 1996-2005 Daniel Schugurensky. All Rights Reserved.
Design and maintenance by LMS.
Last updated on June 23, 2005.