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Progressive Education

What is the history of Progressive Education?

Progressive education and progressive schools like The Oaks have their roots in the 19th-century reform movement called “Progressivism.” This movement came in reaction to the problems created by the rapid urbanization and industrialization in the United States during that time period. “Progressivism” had a profound impact on politics, culture, journalism, social services, and education.

One of the key concerns of Progressivism was the quality of life of children. Efforts were made to improve health care and nutrition, build playgrounds and recreation centers, place limits on the hours and conditions of child labor, make education freely available to every child, and fundamentally change the nature of schools and schooling.

Chicago, during this time, was the center of the Progressivism movement. Francis Parker, Clara Bell Baker, and John Dewey were some of the key reformers in the area of education. John Dewey was influential in changing the focus of education from the school to the student. This was the beginning of student-centered education. He believed that an authoritarian and formal school environment was inadequate preparation for life in a “vibrant democracy.” Dewey understood that children were naturally “playful and curious,” and held that it was through these qualities that the most meaningful learning could take place. At the University of Chicago Laboratory School, Dewey and others developed curricula and methodologies that focused on activities and projects that encouraged discovery, investigation, and real-world experiences. At its core, progressive education is meant to foster active citizenship and thinkers engaged in improving life in a democratic society.

How do Progressive schools differ from traditional schools?

Traditional schools and progressive schools both aim to equip students with academic skills and foster the development of productive and engaged citizens. More traditional schools tend to rely on a defined set of knowledge that students are expected to master. At traditional schools, good citizenship is often equated with following the rules or conforming to a set of behavioral expectations. Progressive schools like The Oaks strive to ensure that the innate sense of wonder and discovery that all children have when they enter school is cultivated into a love of learning that will last a lifetime. Progressive teachers stand beside their students and guide them on the path to taking ownership of their education. Students in progressive schools are required to explore and question the world around them, past, present, and future, and to engage with others with an understanding of different perspectives. In addition, academic and practical skills are integrated into meaningful contexts. Most importantly, students in progressive schools learn to take responsibility, not only for their individual actions, but also for the community at large. The goal is for graduates to meet life's challenges with optimism and compassion, allowing them to contribute positively and work collaboratively in any environment.



Education is not a preparation for life, but a part of life itself."
- John Dewey