This post is a follow-up to Boyd K. Packer on Humanism in Education. In 1953, Frederick F. DeArmond traced the history of progressive education in America to John Dewey and a dedicated group of Columbia University teachers:
The progressive education movement in America began with the philosopher John Dewey. Dewey and his followers believed that education should be tied more closely to the business of living, and that the schoolroom should be as nearly as possible society in miniature. They held that the natural impulses of children could be given more rein; a child develops best, they claimed, if he tastes a great deal of victory and very little of defeat.
From this beginning there grew up at Teachers College, Columbia University, a small group called the “Frontier Thinkers,” men dedicated to the Dewey doctrine. Conspicuous names in the group were William Heard Kilpatrick, George S. Counts, Goodwin Watson, Jesse Newlon, Harold Rugg, and George W. Hartmann. They were fervent disciples of reform, and their influence was profound.
The reforms they advocated proved heady ideas for inexperienced or inept teachers, and in the hands of school administrators they could all too easily be carried to unwise and perverted extremes. That, in fact, is just what happened. It was John Dewey’s misfortune that the teaching profession followed his innovations not wisely but too well.1
John Dewey “was a leading proponent of the American school of thought known as ‘pragmatism’.” The adherents of this philosophy “claim that an ideology or proposition is true if it works satisfactorily, that the meaning of a proposition is to be found in the practical consequences of accepting it, and that unpractical ideas are to be rejected.”2 Mr. Dewey was also a co-signatory to the first Humanist Manifesto in 1933.3
According to Mr. DeArmond, the “Deweyites preached that education should be made a pleasant diversion for the students instead of an onerous task.” Additionally,
Emphasis away from the essential skills — the three R’s — allowed young minds to grow up in a wilderness of weeds. Old-fashioned teachers had insisted on the value of discipline, both mental and moral. When discipline as an educational cornerstone was abandoned, the drill feature was taken out of education. But it turned out that without drilling the average student did not learn to read, write, spell, or figure with facility.
“Power politics” were also inserted into the educational process:
But there was an even more dangerous aspect to the “progressive” movement. Along with their revolutionary methods of teaching, the Frontier Thinkers coupled strongly socialist or collectivist ideas.4
At a meeting held at Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1933, with Harold Rugg as chairman, power politics was first injected into education. The profit system was asserted to be an excrescence on the body politic, as John Dewey had long believed it to be. At that meeting the Progressive Education Association was made a conscious instrument for attacking the existing system with the object of introducing a new social order in the United States.
Plans for a new curriculum and a new policy of indoctrination in the classroom were evolved. Social studies were to be the propaganda vehicle, the medium for the new short cut to implant “social consciousness” in pupils. Instead of the disciplines of biology, physics, and chemistry, a mongrel subject called “general science” took its place on the curriculum. Civil government, economics, and history also fell before the onslaught.
Nor were these men mealy-mouthed about the means they proposed to use. “I believe we can work with the Communists and at other times with the socialists,” Dr. Newlon suggested. Dr. Rugg proceeded with a series of textbooks and teachers’ manuals, which through widespread distribution in school systems subtly sought to discredit the traditional free-market economy in this country.
The group penetrated the previously conservative National Education Association, which later announced officially that “dying laissez-faire must be completely destroyed.” So efficiently did P.E.A. go about it’s self-appointed reform task that the British radical Socialist Harold Laski congratulated the organization on its educational program for a socialist America. “It could be implemented in a society only where socialism was the accepted way of life,” he said, “for it is a direct criticism of the ideas that have shaped capitalistic America.”
In conclusion, he wrote:
The final indictment of education today is that it has produced a generation that is uncritical of easy panaceas and a ready prey to the demagogue. There appears to be no correlation between the extent of a citizen’s education and his resistance to popular fallacies. It is as easy to sell a “bill of goods” to the college man as to the half-literate laborer in the cotton rows.
John Dewey thought he had found a short cut to a system that would train students to think. It has not worked. Says Canon Bernard Iddings Bell: “The products of our schools, for the most part, are incompetent to think and act intelligently, honestly, and bravely in this difficult era.” Surely no more sweeping indictment of progressive education could be uttered.
- Savior’s Appearance to Lorenzo Snow
- Salt Lake Temple Foundation Stones
- Scriptural Meaning of the Word Endowed
- CIA Asset Susan Lindauer
- Nibley on Book of Mormon Geography
- Hegelian Dialectic
- Brigham Young’s Vision of Joseph Smith
- Four Corners of the Earth
- Kolob and the Sagittarius Star Cloud
- Kirtland Temple Pentecost
- Jedediah M. Grant’s Vision of the Spirit World
- Second Coming: A Planet or Comet
- Gadianton Robbers
- Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner Testimony
- American Welfare State
- Great Depression and Current Recession Compared
- United States Constitution