Why Does America Need Progressive Schools?

NewsNotes November 2016

It is undeniable that we are living in an era of change, the pace and revolutionary nature of which is equal to or more rapid than any other era in history. Educators have had the uncomfortable realization that the academic content that has been taught to students will be increasingly accessible through technology, turning the model of traditional education on its head.

In John Dewey’s writing, he strongly argued for a curriculum that is interactive and engages the child’s experience. He wrote that schools should have a curriculum that develops skills to help children think rather than a  curriculum focused on academic content knowledge that is simply transmitted from adult to child. 

Dewey saw that this content information was useful to society only when citizens had the skills to think critically about it and the freedom to use that information to participate in society. This, essentially, forms a recurring theme in his philosophy about education—it is the responsibility of schools to teach and promote democracy. This tenet remains at the heart of progressive schools across America. We don’t know if Dewey predicted that as a result of democracy, access to information would grow exponentially as it has in the last 20 years, but his overall goal of developing rigorous thinking was to help children use these skills as a tool to make decisions and, as a result, develop their individuality. 

Peninsula School’s values are deeply rooted in Dewey’s work. Articles in this edition of NewsNotes provide a glimpse into how staff members used the elections to emphasize the importance of participating in a democratic society. They engaged students in a hands-on introduction to get out the vote initiatives, campaigning, and the election and voting process, all while challenging students to think critically and objectively about the issues and propositions. Through this process, students began to recognize that in order to be an active participant in a democratic society, one must be an informed citizen. 

While the complexities of the election process are more accessible to the older students, learning how to make choices forms the core of active citizenship, and Peninsula is committed to providing time and opportunities for students of every age to make choices and learn from reflecting on the results of those choices. 

It is important to remember that Peninsula School’s values are informed by such great minds as John Dewey, Francis Parker and Maria Montessori. It’s comforting to see that these values are being utilized each day by skilled staff members who are dedicated to helping students develop their full promise of being confident contributors in the world.