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Are There Disadvantages to a Progressive Education?

Authored By: 
George Higgins, Headmaster

First of all, as someone who has worked in education almost 40 years I can’t imagine saying there are disadvantages to education.  There are, however, pros and cons to different styles of education and a popular buzzword in the field over the last couple of decades has been “progressive education.”

Most parents are familiar with traditional education, the style utilized at the high school they most likely attended.  Each teacher had a syllabus for a course and followed that curriculum from September to June.  The focus is on the teacher and the material he/she has outlined for the course.

The progressive education philosophy embraces a more student-centered approach.  While teachers have objectives that they want to cover in a course, the curriculum encourages student input so that their particular interests can be incorporated into the design of the class.  Students learn better through their own experience.  Therefore, learning facts is more supported when students understand through relatable experiences and collaboration with the teacher and other students.

In a progressive high school, the focus is shifted away from the teacher and how they teach, and more on the student and how they learn.  Progressive educators feel that traditional high schools are too rigid and do not model real life.  These educators are concerned with developing good learners as well as good citizens.  By focusing on the whole child, progressive educators feel that they have moved away from the traditional style of teaching students to learn facts.

So the question, traditional vs. progressive education, is a good one for you to consider when looking for a school that meets your child’s needs.  First, consider the classroom environment where your child will learn best.  Also, what is the plan after high school?  The type of college a students wants to enter should influence your decision on the type of high school you choose.

Most colleges tend to embrace a traditional education.  If you feel that your child would learn better in a more progressive environment but will be attending a more traditional college, look for a high school that is a blend of both.  Often, smaller schools with smaller classrooms can incorporate many of the highlights of a progressive education while keeping some of the more formal structure of a traditional education, thus supporting maximum learning in high school while achieving a solid preparation for the rigors of a college campus.