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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 8. 10 June 1970

Progressive education

Progressive education

A second important factor that has put liberal education into retreat has been the development of what may be called progressive education. Progressive education has a history almost as long as that of science. I am not an expert in educational theories, and the theories woven into the fabric of progressive education are numerous and complex. I hope I do not misrepresent them by saying that, in essence, they may be described as a methodology—a way of educating people. Primarily associated with the teaching of the very young, progressive education tries to find incentives for learning, and generally connects the process of learning with the manual activities of the child. Historically its development has been deeply although not exclusively associated with the teaching of backward or culturally deprived groups. Many famous names are associated with the movement-Pestalozzi, Montessori and Dewey to name but three. Progressive education is opposed to the almost purely linguistic culture of the traditional liberal education. Interestingly enough, its proponents saw in science, in the methods used by science to acquire and test knowledge, a pattern by which all knowledge could be acquired and tested. The child was to learn from his environment by a series of inductions much as a scientist learns from his experiments. Understanding and knowledge were to be tested against the practicalities of life. A strong component in progressive education is recognition of the creativity of the individual, and much emphasis is placed on fostering this creativity. In its more extreme manifestations this has led to what one writer has called "the romantic belief in the child".

Whatever faults there may be in progressive education, it has provided valuable, indeed one might say invaluable, techniques for educating the vast numbers of children, variously-motivated, and emerging from widely varying backgrounds, who have to be handled under systems of universal education. Its techniques have been rather extensively exploited in kindergartens and primary schools, much less so in secondary schools, and hardly at all in universities.

Not with standing the failure of progressive education to invade the university teaching process directly, it is having some effects on what goes on in the university. For one thing those exposed to it at other stages of their education have become aware that learning can be relevant to day-by-day activities. For another, a person who has experienced the joy of being taught by a fascinating teacher at school is likely to be less than satisfied with pedestrian lectures delivered' by a "platform-constipated, note-bound academic". Ever since Freud made parents fearful of inflicting who knows what damage to the psyche of a sharply reproved child, it has been a principle of western parenthood to abdicate authority over offspring as soon as it is possible to do so. The concept of authority thus has little meaning for young people today. And so student dissatisfaction with a course or a lecturer nowadays finds ready expression.