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The Promise and Failure of Progressive Educatioon

Posted By: William Goetz on February 16, 2005
I think progressive education has succeeded more than one and even "expert ones" think. The problem is that it has succeeded in ways that did not fit tight prescriptions set up by the reformers. The second problem is that experts and ideological critics who have taken advantage of the confusion to promote their own agenda have not visited enough classrooms and "lived" in enough schools.

I was basically a practitioner for forty-four years and the best representation I have found is in Herbert M. Kliebard's The Struggle for the American Curriculum (1986) where he traces the historical development of the "struggles" for the curriculum and the "hybrid" curriculum it has created. There is much traditionalism and much progressivism in the curriculum today. Who decides how much? The schools do and the mix varies but who better to make that decision?

Ravitch noted as much in The Troubled Crusade (1983) where she wrote
"Progessive concepts proved to be particularly appropriate in easing the transition to mass secondary education." Unfortunately she forgot about this when she wrote her notorious Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms that was basically a savage ideological attack on public schools. My experience is based on thirty years as a teacher/supervisor in public schools and fourteen as an adjunct at state universities that includes visits to over a hundred schools in central New Jersey over that fourteen period. I covered much of ths in more depth in my essay review of Left Back that appeared in Teachers College Record in September 2002.

William W. Goetz, EdD.
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 The Promise and Failure of Progressive Educatioon by William Goetz on February 16, 2005
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