Progressivism in Education – Current Connections

In “Education in the Progressive Period,” Edward Janak, discusses the Progressive Era of education. He details the key components and figures of this educational period, as well as the limitations and downfalls of progressivism. Janak brings these ideas to light through the skillful incorporation of examples, detailed stories of lived experiences, and references to important events. The Progressive Period allowed people to see academics in a whole new light and brought about some significant reforms to the education system. 

Janak delved into the many facets of progressivism, keying in a few notable concepts. One idea was that progressivists believe “it is more important for students to learn how to learn than is what they learn” (Janak, 2019). This means that students must understand what is effective for them in group and individual learning environments. Progressivists think that cultivation should be more highly valued than content in academics. This is connected to the student-centered pedagogy that is at the core of  progressivist education. They understand what each child needs and integrate these concepts into the lesson. The roles in place in a progressive classroom are more flexible than a typical learning environment. Students are supposed to take the reins and control their educational experience. However, many of those that attempt to reflect this individual learning for their students discover that this methodology is difficult and tiring for the educators. Most teachers struggle to relinquish that much control in their classroom, thus making the application of a true student-centered pedagogy arduous to actually put in place.

Furthermore, Janak places progressivists into three categories: Administrative, Social Reconstructionists, and Child-Centered. Administrative Progressives bring about change by creating a system of checks and balances that work to lay the framework of a system similar to that of the United States Government in schools. The Social Reconstructionists’ goal is to revolutionize education by highlighting the fact that education should stay focused on the future, rather than the completion of short-term goals. Reconstructionists believe that, “everyone involved in education must presuppose a vision of the future and actively work to make their students form that new world” (Janak, 2019). Child-centered progressivists, on the other hand,  attempted to fix the curriculum by creating the Cardinal Principles. This consists of  seven objectives:  health, command of fundamental process, worthy home membership, livelihood, civic education, worthy use of leisure, and ethical character.  These seven concepts are geared towards the idea that students should be prepared for life. This highlights another main idea of this chapter, progressivists see education as an opportunity to prepare children for life, rather than ready scholars for more schooling.

Another large theme found in this chapter is that progressivists value active, social citizens over intellectuals. They believe that the education of a student should include the practicing of being a well-rounded citizen before the scholars apply these qualities later in life. Janak states, “This vision shapes everything they do in their classroom; progressive teachers recognize that everything in education is political and they are churning out students who step up and become social activists, regardless of stance or issue” (Janak, 2019). However, Janak provides some feedback of this progressivist political perspective. He points out that all educators have different points of view on societal and political issues and how they should be solved. These perspectives create different, sometimes highly subjective, classroom environments. 

Additionally, since progressivists’ goal is to teach students how to have a valued role in society, they believe in a hands-on approach to learning. Scholars’ learning should be rooted in questions and experimentation. They accomplish this through the use of field trips, community projects and real world issues. Progressivism is rooted in the philosophy of pragmatism. Pragmatists value discovery and the scientific method which are promoted to push the importance of problem solving skills.

Looking at the Progressive Era in education from a cultural perspective, the author makes one notable critique. Janak claims that the progressive period did work to eliminate the “sameness” that plagued education; however, these benefits were often only given to those who were white, comfortable or wealthy, not diabled, and usually male. Those that fell into these categories, were able to receive a more individualized education with a broader, more student-adapted curriculum, but those that did not qualify continued to get the same, “one-size fits all” educational experience. This creates educational inequality especially for those that are a part of a minority group, or are academically or physically impaired. 

On a more positive note, one beneficial and lasting impact of this period was the implementation of extra curricular activities. Janak speaks about how the progressivists changed the role educational facilities maintained in the community by adding extracurricular activities. First academic competitions were popular, then it turned to sports. Extracurriculars are still enjoyed by many today. This year, Ahmed, a student in the department of economics at the University of Dhaka, wrote the article, “Why are Extracurricular Activities a necessity for students?”  This piece details the ideas presented by various students in different clubs and activities at Chittagong University was published in the Financial Express.  The scholars were asked a series of questions about extracurriculars and how they have impacted the young adult’s lives. The students brought up a multitude of benefits of extracurriculars that connect to the aforementioned main ideas of the Progressive Era from the assigned reading this week.

One large theme of Janak’s writing is that progressivists believe it is vital for students to learn how to learn. According to Admed, scholars are able to obtain this ability through extracurriculars. One scholar is quoted saying, “Students acquire skills through extracurricular activities. And various competitions– business or otherwise– provide the opportunity for them to evaluate themselves” (Ahmed, 2021). By learning how to self-evaluate, students can find their limitations and more importantly, their strengths. This reflection can help scholars to learn how to learn because they will understand what works for them and what does not and apply it in the classroom. Moreover, progressivists also see education as a preparation for life. One student in the article exclaims that he “believes the teamwork experience gathered from such competitions helps in career”(Ahmed, 2021). Careers are a big aspect of one’s life, so by preparing for one’s future job, extracurriculars actually work to support the progressivist idea that one’s educational experience should ready them for life. In addition, the progressivists believe their students should be active and social citizens. Ahmed details how these clubs and activities help scholars to better their socialization and communication skills through competitions, debates, or meetings. Students are able to voice their opinions and thoughts to other people which will encourage them to voice their opinions and thoughts in their community, thus performing their civil duty. Furthermore, progressivists understand that students should have a very active educational experience. One student in Ahmed’s piece emphasizes that some extracurriculars do a great job to encourage innovation and investigation, thus facilitating hands-on learning for students.

During my discussion of extracurriculars with my classmates, I found that many of my classmates participated in varying activities. In the google doc I asked the class to fill out, I discovered that the majority of my peers have been involved in extracurriculars at some point in their lives. Despite the wide variety of activities, the members of the class that spoke out during the discussion agreed that they developed many of these benefits and skills during their experiences in the clubs, sports, and teams they have been a part of. The main advantage spoken about was that extracurriculars allowed many of my fellow classmates to become better citizens by encouraging them to speak their minds. My discussion helped to reaffirm that extracurriculars provide a variety of beneficial skills for students that would be approved by progressivists.

My Google Slides Presentation


Fraser, J. (2014). Chapter 8: The Progressive Era, 1890-1950. The School in the United States. 

New York: Routledge. pp. 204-241.

Purdue University (Producer). (2010). Benefits of Extracurriculars [Video file]. Retrieved from

Sheikh Tausif Ahmed |. (2021, January 13). Why Extracurricular are Activities a Necessity for 

Students? Retrieved February 04, 2021, from


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