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Progressive Education and the Current Scene

It is obvious that there is little time or space here to enter into an extensive discussion of the much-criticized system of permissive-progressive education, and the state of current teaching in the public schools. Certain broad considerations, however, emerge, particularly in the light of the triumph of the Rousseau-Pestalozzi-Dewey system in this country since 1900:

1. The effect of progressive education is to destroy independent thought in the child, indeed to repress any thought whatsoever. Instead, the children learn to revere certain heroic symbols (Gentile), or to follow the domination of the "group" (as in Lafcadio Hearn's Japan). Thus, subjects are taught as little as possible, and the child has little chance to develop any systematic reasoning powers in the study of definite courses. This program is being carried forward into high school, as well as grammar school, so that many high-school graduates are ignorant of elementary spelling or reading, and cannot write a cogent sentence. The ruling set of educationists are on the way to establishing colleges of this type, in which there would be no systematic courses, and have largely succeeded in the case of their teacher-training schools. The policy of letting the child "do what he likes" is an insidious one, since the children are encouraged to continue always at their original superficial level, without receiving guidance in study. Furthermore, the "three Rs," the fundamental tools, are neglected as long as possible, with the result that the child's chance to develop his mind is greatly retarded. The policy of teaching words via pictures instead of by the alphabet tends to deprive the young child of the greatest reasoning tool of all.

2. Equality and uniformity are pursued more than ever, even under the guise of letting individuals do as they like. The plan is to abolish grades, by which better and worse children know the extent of their progress, and instead to grade "subjectively" or not at all. Subjective grading is a monstrous scheme to grade each student on the basis of what the teacher arbitrarily thinks the capacities of the child are, the grading to be rated on the extent to which the child fulfills these capacities. This places a terrible handicap on the bright students and grants special privileges to the moronic ones, who may get As if they are no more moronic than they truly are. Studies tend to be pursued now at the lowest common denominator, rather than at the average — so as not to "frustrate" the more moronic. As a result, the bright pupils are robbed of incentive or opportunity to study, and the dull ones are encouraged to believe that success, in the form of grades, promotions, etc., will come to them automatically.

Individuality is suppressed by teaching all to adjust to the "group." All emphasis is on the "group," and the group votes, runs its affairs by majority rule, etc. As a result, the children are taught to look for truth in the opinion of the majority, rather than in their own independent inquiry, or in the intelligence of the best in the field. Children are prepared for democracy by being led to discuss current events without first learning the systematic subjects (politics, economics, history) which are necessary in order to discuss them. The Mole effect is to substitute slogans and superficial opinion for considered individual thought. And the opinion is that of the lowest common denominator of the group.

It is clear that one of the major problems comes from the dullest group. The progressive educationists saw that the dullest could not be taught difficult subjects, or, indeed, simple subjects. Instead of drawing the logical conclusion of abandoning compulsory education for the uneducable, they decided to bring education down to the lowest level so that the dullest could absorb it — in fact, to move toward the elimination of subjects or grading altogether.

3. The emphasis on "frills" — on physical education, play, and numerous trivial courses — again has the effect of being comprehensible to the most moronic, and hence insuring completely equal instruction for all. Furthermore, the more such subjects are emphasized, the less room there is for systematic thought.

4. The idea that the school should not simply teach subjects, but should educate the "whole child" in all phases of life, is obviously an attempt to arrogate to the State all the functions of the home. It is an attempt to accomplish the molding of the child without actually seizing him as in the plans of Plato or Owen.

5. Unquestionably, the effect of all this is to foster dependence of the individual on the group and on the State.