Sarah Frisbie

The objective of this essay is to articulate a basic understanding of the educational philosophy of progressivism by describing the key principles of this philosophy and describing the major contributions of one key scholar within this particular philosophy.

In order to understand this particular philosophy of education, it is important to be aware of the factors that influenced it. The earliest signs of progressivism can be traced back to ancient Greece with Plato’s insistence that his students acquire years of practical hands on experience through “learning by doing” (Brameld). During the Renaissance, well-known scholar Johann Comenius argued that life itself is a learning process in which individuals gain knowledge through personal experiences encountered in each of life’s phases. The concept of the “child-centered school” was conceived by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau during the French Revolution. And most recently, progressivism was shaped by the Industrial Revolution, the methods of modern science, and the rise of modern democratic societies (Brameld), all of which facilitated transitions from high levels of interdependence of the individual to high levels of independence and freedom with respect to the individual.

Three of the major principles of the progressivism philosophy of education are pragmatism, experimentalism, and individualism. Pragmatism refers to the practicality of what is being learned, the extent to which the concept being learned is relevant or meaningful to the learner, and the process through which the learner acquires a piece of knowledge. Progressivism argues that education should be presented to students in such a way that the content being learned is practical and will enhance students’ skill sets inside and outside of the classroom. Progressivism is also concerned with the concept of “hands on experience” in which the learner is exposed to problem solving in a natural and contextual setting so that the concept being learned can be accurately applied to situations encountered in the real world. Progressivism also argues that educational content should be connected to what the student already knows so that the student can build upon his or her prior knowledge. These aspects of the progressivism philosophy can be traced to the ideas of Plato and Johann Comenius. Experimentalism “holds that men, their skills and intelligence, are the sole reliable guide to their own destinies” (Brameld, 30). This principle ties into the philosophy of progressivism because a major theme in this philosophy is the active participation of the individual in his or her own growth and development. The progressivist would say that participation is important because the extent to which a person is active in his own growth and development can positively or negatively affect the course of his life. This aspect of the progressivism philosophy of education can be traced to the rise of modern democratic societies in which individuals were encouraged to actively participate in government. Individualism refers to the extent that educational content is tailored to the individual needs of each student. Progressivism argues that because each student is unique and learns in a specific way, educational content should be presented in such a way that meets the needs of all students. This aspect of the progressivism philosophy of education can be traced to Rousseau and his idea of a “child-centered school”.

One of the key scholars with regards to the progressivism philosophy of education is John Dewey. Dewey was an educator in the beginning of the 20th century who began to notice that the educational system of that time was not meeting the needs of the children nor of the society in which the children were living and growing up. While technology and science were progressing at a rapid rate, the education that children were receiving, Dewey noticed, was stagnate and static. Through this new educational philosophy Dewey “sought to establish an educational system adjusted to the pace of the American societal development” (Transilvania). While working at the University of Chicago, Dewey voiced his concerns and proposed ideas on how to address these concerns with leading schools reformers of the time, such as Francis W. Parker and Ella Flagg Young. Between 1900 and 1916, Dewey publicized his ideas through works such as The School and Society, Schools of Tomorrow, and Democracy and Education. In the 1920’s, the works and ideas of Dewey had a huge influence in founding not only many schools that were pioneers in implementing the progressive philosophy of education but also the Progressive Education Association. This organization, currently known as the Progressive Education Network, initially concentrated on reforming the educational system of the United States by focusing on a more student-centered approach to education. Beginning in 2007, the Progressive Education Network has held bi-annual national conferences which seek to connect and support educators in their efforts to improve American education with the progressivism philosophy in mind.

This essay has articulated basic understanding of the progressivism philosophy of education by discussing three major principles of this particular philosophy and by briefly describing the contributions made by John Dewey, one of the key scholars related to the progressivism philosophy of education.

Works Cited:

Brameld, T. (1971). Patterns of Educational Philosophy: Divergence and Convergence in
Culturological Perspective. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

Mosier, R.D. (1952). Progressivism in Education. Peabody Journal of Education, 29(5), 274-
281. Retrieved from

Radu, L. (2011). John Dewey and Progressivism in Education. Bulletin of the Transilvania
University of Brasov, 4(52) 2, 2011.