Differences between Traditional and Progressive Education

Differences between Traditional and Progressive Education

Traditional     Progressive
School is a preparation for life.     School is a part of life.
Learners are passive absorbers of information and authority.     Learners are active participants, problem solvers, and planners.
Teachers are sources of information and authority.     Teachers are facilitators, guides who foster thinking.
Parents are outsiders and uninvolved.     Parents are the primary teachers, goal setters, and planners, and serve as resources.
Community is separate from school, except for funding.     Community is an extension of the classroom.
Decision-making is centrally based and administratively delivered.     Decision-making is shared by all constituent groups.
Program is determined by external criteria, particularly test results.     Program is determined by mission, philosophy, and goals for graduates.
Learning is linear, with factual accumulation and skill mastery.     Learning is spiral, with depth and breadth as goals.
Knowledge is absorbed through lectures, worksheets, and texts.     Knowledge is constructed through play, direct experience, and social interaction.
Instruction is linear and largely based on correct answers.     Instruction is related to central questions and inquiry, often generated by the children.
Disciplines, particularly language and math, are separated.     Disciplines are integrated as children make connections.
Skills are taught discretely and are viewed as goals.     Skills are related to content and are viewed as tools.
Assessment is norm-referenced, external, and graded.     Assessment is benchmarked, has many forms, and is progress-oriented.
Success is competitively based, derived from recall and memory, and specific to a time/place.     Success is determined through application over time, through collaboration.
Products are the end point.     Products are subsumed by process considerations.
Intelligence is a measure of linguistic and logical/mathematical abilities.     Intelligence is recognized as varied, includes the arts, and is measured in real-life problem-solving.
School is a task to be endured.     School is a challenging and fun part of life.
Source: Robert G. Peters, with thanks to the books Schools of Quality, by John Jay Bonstigl, and In Search of Understanding, by Martin C. Brooks and Jaqueline Grennon, Independent Schools.

Bulletin of the
University of Bra

Series VII: Social Sciences • Law • Vol. 4 (53) No.
2 – 2011
Lucian RADU
This paper is focused on Progressivism, as a reacti
on against the
American traditional school in order to accomplish
the purpose of
connecting education to the realities imposed by th
e rapid changes of the
American society. Progressivism was developed by Jo
hn Dewey’s pedagogic
theory, being based on Pragmatism, a specific Ameri
can philosophy, and on
instrumentalism, one of its variants to which John
Dewey conferred its
climax. Experience represented the core concept of
his philosophy. After
revising this philosophical current, the paper will
deal with John Dewey’s
pedagogic theory insisting on the method of solving
problems as a general
method of instruction. The importance of the two sc
hools (Dalton Plan and
Winnetka), both based on the progressive theory, wi
ll be highlighted.
Progressivism opened a new era in American Educatio
n based on an active
education, which took into account the students’ in
dividualities, stimulating
teachers’ creativity and focusing on a practice bas
ed education.
Key words:
progressivism, pragmatism, instrumentalism, active
Faculty of Letters,
University of Bra

1. Introduction
Progressivism is a constituent part of
New Education
, based on pragmatism, and
it constituted a revolution in American
education, with an outstanding specificity.
It is an educational current of American
origin, and all the other orientations that
have been profiled in the second half of the
century (humanism, social meliorism, and
social efficiency) have emerged as
reactions reported to it.
Progressivism, an educational movement
that occurred at the beginning of the
twentieth century as a reaction to the
traditional school in the United States of
America, sought to establish an
educational system adjusted to the pace of
the American societal development.
It was based on John Dewey’s
educational theory, having as a starting
point the pragmatism, a specific American
philosophical current and its variant,
instrumentalism, to which John Dewey
conferred the widest expression.
Dewey’s work is one ‘
of the most
profound and comprehensive theoretical
syntheses developed in this century
’ [7].
He made major contributions in almost
all areas of the spirit: in philosophy
(pragmatism), in pedagogy (progressivism),
in logic (instrumentalism), in psychology
(functionalism), in aesthetics (aesthetic
naturalism), in axiology (empiric
congnitivism), and so on. Dewey was
inspired by his predecessors C.S. Peirce
and W. James. The rigor of Peirce’s
rational realism influenced Dewey greatly,
while from W. James he took the ‘
of radical empiricism and the thrills of
aspiration to the universal’
[7]. The
fundamental coordinates of Dewey’s work
Bulletin of the
University of Bra

ov. Series VII • Vol. 4 (53) No. 2 – 2011
are Darwinism (the transition principle)
and Hegelianism (the dialect principle).
These have generated an original
conception which, as we mentioned, Viorel
Nicolescu called ’
transactional naturalism
Although in
From Absolutism to
(his intellectual
biography), Dewey declares a detachment
from Hegelianism, he acknowledges in
Hegel ‘
a permanent presence’
in his

The synthesis made by Hegel between
the subject and object, between matter and
spirit, between divine and human, was not
a simple intellectual formula; it operated
as a huge relief, as a liberation’
As for Darwinism, the changes induced
by it impose a new logic: ‘
When Darwin
said about species such as Galileo said
about the Earth, ‘et pur si muove’, he
promoted genetic and experimental ideas
to the rank of real organon of formulating
questions and finding explanations
’ [5].
In fact, Dewey’s philosophy is nothing
but ‘
the penetration of the scientific ideas
in American philosophic thinking; the
exclusion of fixity of species from nature;
the inclusion of man and intelligence in
nature; adopting a new biological vision
upon intelligence
’ [8]. Furthermore,
Morton White would notice in
Origin of
Dewey’s Instrumentalism
, that the latter
became a pragmatist, an idealist who
assimilated the results of modern biology,
psychology and social sciences.
As a leading representative of
pragmatism and its variant,
instrumentalism, John Dewey was about to
conclude that his primary vocation was
Considering the significance of the
epistemological side that characterizes his
philosophy, we often find it in the reference
works as naturalist-instrumentalism’.
Viorel Nicolescu, in the introductory
study to
Foundations for a Science of
, believes that, although
‘naturalist-instrumentalism’ grasps the
essential side of Dewey’s philosophy,

transactional naturalism is the most
adequate explanatory principle of the
philosophic system built by John Dewey’
[7]. Although the terms mentioned bear
some specific nuances, fundamental
features of pragmatism can be identified in
2. Features of Pragmatism
Pragmatism ‘
is a specifically American
philosophy, as western movies and big
cars are specifically American
’ [10]. There
still exists a great paradox because, while
European philosophy has always looked at
American influences with reserve,
especially in this area, and has considered
pragmatism to be a philosophical concept
of American origins, American philosophy
claims to follow the European peculiarity
of this philosophical orientation.
Dewey specifies in this respect that
Santiago Charles Sanders Peirce, the
founder of pragmatism, not only borrowed
the term ‘
’ from Kant, but as the
latter sought ‘
to establish the law of
practical reason in the a priori area,
Peirce also sought to interpret the
universal concepts in the area of
’ [7].
Above all, ‘experience’, a fundamental
and unifying concept is the core of
Pragmatism. Each experience is based on
the interaction between subject and object,
between self and its world and represents
only the result of the integration of human
being into the environment Experience
includes action and knowledge. The first
one acts on the environment modifying it
and the second means understanding the
connections within an object, which
determine its applicability in a given
situation. The process of knowing
develops when the human being is in a
problematic situation. The dual nature of


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