By my brilliant colleague Bill Schubert
The heart and soul of progressive education is much more than simple catering to the surface interests of children. It taps the desire of every human being to imagine and create meaningful lives. We all wonder what is worth needing, knowing, experiencing, doing, being, becoming, overcoming, sharing, and contributing. Children are no exception to such wondering, questioning, and constructing who they are. It is reflected in the essence of their play which is their serious and joyful work. Progressive education affords opportunity for learners and teachers to extend this wondering on journeys to become more fully human and contribute to the betterment of the world. Concepts such as more fully human and betterment of the world are not settled, always problematic, and always in the making. Thoughtful reflection on them with others builds community. To pursue such questions requires development of skills and knowledge. So the basics are surely part of a progressive education. However, they are not learned in advance and later applied; rather, they are learned because it becomes clear to learners that skills and knowledge are essential to the quest – the journey of growth.
Some say that a progressive orientation requires a separate curriculum for each student and is therefore impractical. However, when students learn that they can consider together paths to becoming better human beings, their efforts often coalesce around great human concerns: birth, love, death, success and failure, justice, prejudice, anxiety, angst, tradition, beauty, goodness, and more. In such concerns shared interest is discovered. Projects emerge and are pursued by individuals and often by small groups. These projects lead to others and continue far beyond school and throughout life.
Progressive education is contingent upon relationships based on curiosity, wonder, care, empathy, and love. It focuses on building capacity, perceiving strengths, not primarily on identifying and remediating deficits. The value of progressive education resides in individual and group understanding, accomplishment, achievement, joy of study, and increased capacity to engage in lived experience, not in test results. Progressive education seeks continuously heightened edification, meaning-making, and construction of worthwhile lives, not in the banality of competition (national, school, interpersonal).
Indeed, the basic curriculum question (What is worthwhile?) is the guiding pursuit of progressive education. Students and teachers address that question on a daily basis as it morphs and transforms through myriad situations.
Check out how kids themselves appropriate and re-imagine those stupid test questions: