Dear Diane, Agreed. Most people's ideas—good and bad—are adapted by others in ways that would surprise the original author. Sometimes the "followers" have improved on the original, but it hurts when they have massacred it. Which is another way of agreeing with you that Dewey's ideas have not always led where he hoped they would. Ditto for Jean Piaget, from whom American educators borrowed the idea of cognitive "stages" and tried to figure out how to rush children onto the "next stage" faster. Sometimes the original idea is partially to blame—clearly containing the seeds of its own distortion....

Dear Deb, It is valuable to reconsider the history of progressive education not just as an arcane matter, but to see how good ideas go astray. You identify with the Deweyan tradition, but it is informative to see how much trouble Dewey had trying to keep his followers from distorting his ideas. One of the things that we learn from history is how easily the best of ideas gets distorted, hijacked, misinterpreted. This is one reason that my favorite book of Dewey's is "Experience and Education," where he tries to correct the misunderstandings of his writings, especially among his disciples. ...

Dear Diane, I’m reminded that for 50 years the USSR claimed to be a democracy (and its rulers socialists), and so did England (for some of that time), Sweden, and … Dewey. In other words, studying the common roots of progressivism historically is valuable, yet it leads us only so far—it risks lumping together disparate meanings and movements. That does not negate the value of books (like yours) that try to track their common and uncommon histories. It’s well to remember that Progressive was a word used by Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, the inventors of standardized testing, populists, both...

Dear Deborah, You choose to set aside the "complex idea of nomenclature," but I don't. Not out of orneriness, but because I wrote a book about the varieties of progressivism, as did Lawrence Cremin ("The Transformation of the School"). Educators who saw themselves in the mainstream of progressivism, and who at the time were acknowledged as such, were responsible for the advent and mass production of standardized testing and intelligence testing; for tracking of students into academic and vocational education; and for such extremes as "life adjustment education," where the intellectual stuff was withheld from all but about 20 percent ...

Dear Diane, Amen. Right on target. And well said, to boot. So, let's leave Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg for a while, although it's hard to do. The amazing thing is—as you note—the complete lack of accountability behind their schemes. Like many a revolutionary the object seems to be to ensure that the past is smashed and cannot be put together again, in the hopes that something new and glorious will emerge out of the ashes. The only hint we have about the "new" is that it should be market driven, "competitive", and rest largely on test scores—or...

The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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