The Long Ridge School

Head’s Notes: What is Progressive Education?

By Kris Bria

What is Progressive Education?

At The Long Ridge School, we say we are part of the progressive school tradition, but what does that mean?  The roots of progressive education are usually traced back to the philosophers John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and pedagogues Johann Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel. In the United States, John Dewey is credited with the development of progressive education with his writing and establishment of the lab school at the University of Chicago in  1896.  LRS founder Harriet Rowland considered herself part of the progressive school movement, and much of her philosophy lives on in our current programs.  While there is a Network of Progressive Educators, there is no formal affiliation or framework for progressive schools.  However, the essential elements of progressive education that distinguish it from “traditional” education are:

  • focus on educating the whole child as a unique person and learner
  • helping children become good people and citizens as well as good learners
  • the importance of an active, hands-on, experiential learning environment
  • dynamic interdisciplinary, theme-based studies that connect various curriculum areas
  • emphasis on the development of problem solving and critical thinking skills to achieve deep understanding rather than the mere acquisition and repetition of memorized facts, in isolation
  • collaborative learning in a caring community through group projects and experiences
  • use of multiple resources for information, rather than relying only on text books
  • intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, rewards for learning (experiencing the joy of learning-not just the joy of getting an A)
  • expanding a sense of social justice from the individual to global community
  • learning what is important now–not just preparing for future endeavors
  • developing a life-long love of learning

Alfie Kohn and others have published extensive research reviews on the comparative success of students educated in progressive and traditional schools.  In an article in Independent School magazine, Kohn concludes, “Across domains, the results overwhelmingly favor progressive education.  Regardless of one’s values…this approach can be recommended purely on the basis of its effectiveness.  And if your criteria are more ambitious–long-term retention of what’s been taught, the capacity to understand new kinds of problems, a desire to continue learning–the relative benefits of progressive education are even greater.”

Teaching in a progressive school is a very demanding occupation, requiring experience, dedication and creativity to develop a curriculum that engages and challenges all students and responds to their individual interests and styles and rates of learning. Those of us who have chosen progressive education as our careers, experience the joy of watching children become life-long learners every day!


Kris Bria

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