Faces of Progressive Education in the 21st Century: Infancy through College
On April 5-6, 2013, over 400 educators, students, and parents gathered to attend the Faces of Progressive Education in the 21st Century: Infancy through Birth conference commemorating the Child Development Institute's 25th anniversary, the Early Childhood Center's 75th anniversary, and Sarah Lawrence College's long history of innovative education.
The conference commenced with Joseph Featherstone's keynote, Looking Out for Josie: Witnessing the Hopes and Problems of Progressive Education, on Friday April 5. Dr. Featherstone, a children's advocate, educator, writer, and poet, articulated the strong and inseparable ties between progressive education and democracy:
"The roots of progressive education, for me, lie in the movements for democracy and human rights around the world in the last two hundred years. I would argue that progressive classrooms are at work on the implications of democracy for kids, and full of work that shows us how we and society might actually respect children. I mean in a way, everyone respects children, in some abstract way, but actually send the signal to an individual child of respect takes real skill, and takes the kind of work that we're celebrating today and exploring". (Click here to see Dr. Featherstone's keynote in its entirety.)
On April 6, leading experts in the field of education, students, faculty, parents, teachers, and administrators came together to articulate and discuss the opportunities and challenges facing progressive education and its impact on children from birth to college. Participants attended three plenary panels featuring leading experts in childhood education, progressive teacher educators, and visionary leaders in schools; all of whom have advocated for children and students for decades. The three plenary panels were on the following topics:
- What's Happening to Early Childhood Progressive Education?
Lorayne Carbon, Beverly Falk, Rima Shore, and Sara Wilford
- Challenges and Opportunities for Progressive Public Education
Ann Cook, Cecilia Espinosa, Deborah Meier, and Lyde Sizer
- Upholding Progressive Values in Higher Education
Ronald Cohen, Charlotte Doyle, William Stokes, and Rose Ann Thom
Participants also attended smaller concurrent sessions that addressed a wide range of topics from authentic assessment to the creative process to experiential learning. (For descriptions of all the sessions, click here.) Concurrent sessions addressed such topics as:
- How are progressive philosophies applied to math and science in urban public schools?
- How do progressive educators assess and evaluate students and colleagues?
- How do infants experience the world and what role do parents and educators play in supporting their discoveries?
- What are ways to provide children with opportunities to meaningfully connect with their environments inside and outside the classroom?
- What are some of the current challenges facing progressive public school leaders and creative strategies to address them?
- How can teacher education programs prepare teachers for a life of constant and continuous learning while focusing on the child?
At the center of many discussions was the question: what does progressive teaching and education mean and entail? Some of the thoughts shared by those involved in the heart of this work:
"I'm assuming that by progressive education, we mean ideas like: advocating for democratic and diverse communities of teachers, students, families, that support learning by doing; that emphasize problem solving and critical thinking; and that create school cultures of inquiry-based teaching and learning within curriculum that goes deeper rather than wide, underpinned by discussion and assessment with approaches that put student work at the center, and include emotional, social, as well as academic growth over time." - Ann Cook
"Progressive teaching is, in many ways, like parenting. The investment you have in your kids, or your students, is very similar, and it's also a lot like community organizing. That's what progressive teaching is. You have a community of students in the class and when the class works well, you have a community with shared understandings ready to go out and do something." - Ronald Cohen
This historic conference connected progressive educators with each other and the larger community, provided both philosophical and practical ideas to nurture and support progressive teaching in schools, homes, and communities, and ignited the fire within to advocate for all children to have access to meaningful education.