- Education must prepare students for active participation in a democratic society.
- Education must focus on students' social, emotional, academic, cognitive and physical development.
- Education must nurture and support students' natural curiosity and innate desire to learn. Education must foster internal motivation in students.
- Education must be responsive to the developmental needs of students.
- Education must foster respectful relationships between teachers and students.
- Education must encourage the active participation of students in their learning, which arises from previous experience.
- Progressive educators must play an active role in guiding the educational vision of our society.
"If progressive education doesn’t lend itself to a single fixed definition, that seems fitting in light of its reputation for resisting conformity and standardization. Any two educators who describe themselves as sympathetic to this tradition may well see it differently, or at least disagree about which features are the most important."
Last year, we rewrote the mission statement for Park Day School , and in a section of the statement we try and capture the essence of progressive education: Continuing the legacy of the progressive education movement, Park Day School prepares students to be informed, courageous, and compassionate people who shape a more equitable and sustainable world.
So, on our way to a definition, we want to refer to progressive education as a movement whose intent it is to influence the way students are prepared to exist in the world. The mission statement of Park Day School leans toward the values inherent in the movement: that citizens be "informed, courageous and compassionate people who shape a more equitable and sustainable world." This is a statement of aspiration, which can provide some scaffolding on which to build a definition.
And other progressive schools? Here is a sampling:
The Calhoun School in Manhattan refers to their "approach to education that values intellectual pursuit, creativity, diversity and community involvement."
At Bank Street School for Children (Manhattan), "Education...is experience-based, interdisciplinary, and collaborative. The emphasis is on educating the whole child -- the entire emotional, social, physical, and intellectual being -- while at the same time, the child's integrity as learner, teacher, and classmate is valued and reinforced."
At Wingra School (Madison, Wis.), "Progressive education is about creating an environment in which children's strengths and unique ways of learning are supported. We teach children to be in charge of their learning – to be thinkers, challengers, and wonderers."
The mission of The Common School (Amherst, MA.) is to "develop strong academic and social skills while nurturing each child’s love of learning, respect and compassion for others, and commitment to the environment."
Children’s Community School (Pasadena, CA), "is dedicated to teaching children to think for themselves, collaborate successfully with others, and take responsibility for their own education. Founded on the democratic principles of diversity and citizenship, CCS instills a lifelong love of learning, compassion for self and others, and confidence in one’s ability to explore, discover, and create in a non-competitive environment."
So what are the common threads? And can this begin to bring us to a definition?
I will be visiting scores of progressive schools around the country in the winter of 2013. This will be one of my framing questions in a quest to find a working definition for this approach to education.