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...

Dear Deb, I hope you won't hold my Texas origins against me. I have lived in NYC since 1960—save for a 3-year detour to Washington, D.C.—and my first book was a history of the New York City public schools. I have been writing about these schools for about half my life, so, yes, I have a strong and continuing interest in what happens here. We don't usually say, "As New York goes, so goes the nation," but this is one of those instances where it might be appropriate to do so. As you know, and our readers...

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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