Essay: Education Canada Option B: Progressive

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¶ … Education Canada

Option B: Progressive Education in North America and Canada

Discuss the history of progressive education in North America, beginning with John Dewey. How has progressive education been implemented in Canada? How "progressive" has progressive education been in Canada?

Defining educational standards and conditions in Canada is particularly challenging given the splintered nature of Canadian education. Indeed, the variance between educational systems from one province to another are significant and have a determinant impact on the educational philosophy in action, the body of resources available to execute this action, the cultural expectations driving the identity of the school and even the language in which lessons are imparted. The result is that attempting to define any single aspect of Canada's educational history, tradition, present-day philosophy or projected innovations is daunting and rife with nuance and discrepancy. This is even more so the case where progressive education is concerned. An inherently malleable approach to defining and implementing educational standards, progressive education has functioned as an alternative to traditional pedagogical approaches since its emergence in the 20th century. It is thus that, our discussion hereafter reveals, some aspects of the progressive educational philosophy are inherently well-suited to the educational parameters in Canada. As an umbrella approach to the goals and practices of the educational system, progressivism provides the flexibility and susceptibility to adaptation that are necessary to serve with any continuity across the provincial boards. As the discussion conducted hereafter denotes, the history of progressive education in North America has seen it through various stages of evolution, but that this flexibility of approach is what makes its implications so directly suitable to the needs of the Canadian educational system, if such a body may even be identified under such as single, unifying term. The account hereafter considers the origins and history of progressive education with specific reference to some of its most important theorists and figures. This discussion addresses the manner in which this approach has been implemented and thrust toward actual progress.

As we proceed with this discussion, it is with the understanding the progressive education had initiated as a response to perceived shortcomings in the way that traditional education has been approached. In many ways, there has been a fundamental failure on the part of mainstream public education to provide a nurturing, supportive or intellectually pragmatic educational experience for students. The goals of standardization, evaluation and uniformity seem often to obstruct important avenues of personal development, drawing a line between one's educational needs and one's emotional, psychological and social development. And simultaneously, the absence of a singular definition or framework for progressivism denotes a history where the lack of standardization in places such as Canada is only magnified. This impetus for further discussion is highlighted in the article by Axelrod (2005) which reports of its report that "drawing from original research on the history of schooling in Toronto, it contends that historians and educational commentators have simplified the educational debates and struggles of that era. Rather than a case of either progressive or traditional education, school policy was an amalgam in which educators were using available and emerging tools to address the perceived instructional needs of a ballooning population. They employed what they thought worked. But they did so within the political culture and dominant values of the province and the times. The analysis has implications for historiographical approaches to progressive education and school reform." (Axelrod, 1)

At the root of the well-defined educational systems in the United States and Canada, a tug-of-war would emerge between this flexibility and desire to achieve more central control in formulating practical approaches to classroom teaching and learning. In a vast majority of public-school contexts, this still remains true. However, the early 20th century would witness a flurry of philosophical counterpoints to this approach, with a mode of so-called progressive education in particular taking issue with the disconnect between education and these other crucial elements of personal growth. The discussion here reveals a history and impact which denote a distinctly positive philosophical approach to engaging the child, but which also underscores the way that changing cultural mores are calling into question just how 'progressive,' progressive education actually is today.

The definition of progressive education reveals its orientation as something of an ideological counterculture in its field. Indeed, "during most of the twentieth century, the term 'progressive education' has been used to describe ideas and practices that aim to make schools more effective agencies of a democratic society. Although there are numerous differences of style and emphasis among progressive educators, they share the conviction that democracy means active participation by all citizens in social, political and economic decisions that will affect their lives." (JDP, 1) This constitutes the overarching mission of that which can be labeled progressive education and denotes a direct relationship between the philosophy of the educational institution and the learning atmosphere, instructional style and curricular content to which the student in question is exposed.

In many ways, this research process would reveal, progressivism in education has never truly been inducted into the mainstream educational system in North American, where discourse on this approach to teaching and learning first gained any level of acclaim. Quite to the contrary, research tends to illustrate that the progressive philosophy is something of a reaction to the policies which drive mainstream educational values. As the John Dewey Project -- named for one of the core progenitors of the progressive ideology -- denotes, mainstream education is largely inclined toward goals of cultural uniformity and the standardization of evaluation methods. To the perspective of progressive advocates, this is an approach which tends to marginalize creativity, stifle true learning potentials and impede upon the healthy social, emotional and psychological development of children. Thus, "the term 'progressive' arose from a period (roughly 1890-1920) during which many Americans took a more careful look at the political and social effects of vast concentrations of corporate power and private wealth. Dewey, in particular, saw that with the decline of local community life and small scale enterprise, young people were losing valuable opportunities to learn the arts of democratic participation, and concluded that education would need to make up for this loss." (JDP, 1)

This would initiate a process by which Dewey and his peers would attempt to resolve the impasse through empirical research on both the developmental realities facing children and on the need for educational pragmatism in addressing these. To Dewey's perspective, there was a fundamental conflict in the degree to which social control, ideological uniformity and intellectual narrowness were reflected in mainstream schooling. Dewey would argue that "multiple styles of teaching are needed to address the diversity of intelligences, talents and learning styles. Teachers must educate the 'whole child.'" (CS, 1) This denotes an approach to education that perceived psychological, social and emotional needs as being inherently related. The tendency therefore is to invoke a more nurturing, personalized and supportive atmosphere for all children.

Increasingly, this approach would take on important political implications in the early 20th century, where advocates in North American education were truly battling against a cultural conservatism being passed on to our children. A disciple of Dewey, William Heard Kilpatrick would take up the mantle for progressive education, writing a great deal on the subject in the 1920s and 1930s with the goal of promoting a greater reflection of democratic principles than was observable in schools. Accordingly, "characteristic of Kilpatrick's efforts to understand ideas and practices holistically, and to come to grips with their significance in social and political spheres, he came to think of philosophy as helping to form a generalized 'point-of-view' or 'outlook on life.' In his Philosophy of education, for example, Kilpatrick compares democratic with dictatorial points-of-view. He follows this by discussing the different educational agendas that follow from such basic political emphases." (Beyer, 6)

As the progressive dialogue continued into the middle part of the century, its advocates began to represent a certain splintering of approaches. The democratic emphasis in educational approach taken by Kilpatrick is countered by the distinctly individualistic nature of Montessori's ideas. During her career as an educator and a theorist of early childhood development, Maria Montessori would offer a series of literary examinations of trends in education as they differed from the actual needs of students. Her progressive reasoning would elevate the Italian educational icon to a figure of defining necessity to the development of many of the special education beliefs and practices still in place in educational systems around the world today. Many of her crucial intellectual development theories are evident in the Absorbent Mind, in which she would engage in a discussion of the ways that conventional public education programs have tended to diverge from the genuine needs of both the 'normal' and the special education student.

Montessori decries the absence of any educational standards designed to induce children into education from birth and to keep individuals educationally inclined throughout adulthood. The fundamental problem impacting the actual practices implemented in the diffusion of public education is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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