The other night I watched the original 1947 Miracle on 34th Street, and it pushed me over an edge on which I have been teetering for a while. No, I did not give up my belief in Santa Claus, but one little phrase–a phrase I’ve heard again and again whenever an unruly or strange child (little Susan Walker may be oh-so ruly, but the rationalism imposed on her by her mother is truly bizarre) appears in a film: little Susan attends “a progressive school.” Ah, that explains everything–in Susan’s case, why she can’t play imaginative games or appreciate a bedtime song and why her spelling is just a bit iffy. It’s nice that Mr. Kringle comes along to put things right in her life.
But it’s time to move beyond “progressive education.” Some years back I cooked up the term “New Progressivism” to try to cast constructivist teaching and some of the attitudes associated with it in its most rational and intentional forms in a light that accentuates its modernity while acknowledging its spiritual and conceptual heritage. Over the past couple of decades I have watched these efforts grow into something that looks and sounds a whole lot like best practice. But “progressive education”–including many of its practitioners–can’t seem to escape a host of unfortunate associations with “alternative,” “permissive,” and groovy ungrounded-ness; a few “progressive” educators–whom I think are not progressive at all, in the sense that Dewey, Smith, and the founders of the movement meant it–even embrace and seem to celebrate this anarchic version. Face it, “progressive education” is a term that is more confusing than clarifying.
This blog is going to try to synthesize some of the writing I’ve been doing for several years. I’ve kind of petered out on the New Progressivism, although I stand by all that I wrote there. My interest in school culture and school leadership has expanded beyond professional development, and so Admirable Faculties seems too narrow a concept to embrace the range of topics I hope to explore here.
Ultimately, what I’m interested in is the changing nature of schools (in particular independent schools) and schooling. While you can pile list onto list of the attributes of the “modern school” or the “school of the future,” what I am most sure of–and I write this as the child and grandchild of educators–is that wherever education is going, the institutions we’re going to be transforming and building will not be like my father’s–or your father’s or any of our fathers’ and mothers’–school.