New Progressivism

New Progressivism

New Progressivism

New Progressivism


This text presents the case for a progressivism which can generate effective and manageable school curricula, contribute to raising standards and meet educational needs.


This is an important book. It articulates a very important viewpoint and represents a very significant contribution to educational theorizing. At a time of increasing bureaucratic influence on schools and classrooms it reinforces the importance of teachers’ beliefs and how they affect practice. It challenges us to reconceptualize teaching and learning à la fin de siècle with a key role for both learners and teachers in what Peter Silcock characterizes as the essence of the educational process, the ‘co-construction of minds’.

There has been much discussion about education since the Education Act of 1988 and, more recently, since the election of a New Labour government with its education-dominated mantra. Many views have been expressed; many interest groups have had their say; many parties to the educational enterprise have attempted to make their voices heard. During this time there have been many references to progressivism, almost all of them critical. Progressivism and ‘trendy progressive teachers’ have been scapegoated for the alleged deficiencies in primary education, for the alleged problems of the education system generally and even for contributing significantly to the declining fortunes of the nation state. The voice of progressivism has been muted, almost silent, in this furore about declining standards and quality.

This book gives progressivism a new voice, one based, not on simplistic polarizations and caricatures of opposing views, but on reasoned, though complex, argument referenced in particular to recent thinking and research in developmental psychology. It systematically reviews and reinterprets progressivism’s main principles—developmentalism, humanism, democracy and pragmatism. It identifies progressivism’s key values and beliefs and explores their relevance to contemporary theory, policy and practice. It provides its own critique of old-style progressivism and takes seriously the considered criticism of its critics. The book itself not only justifies progressivism’s principles, values and beliefs but embodies them.

The neo-progressivism it articulates provides a theoretically resilient response to critics. It provides theoretical support for those ‘primary school teachers whose beliefs have survived the past decades and are unabashed in advertising their ideas about the “whole child”, integrated topic-based teaching and informal approaches’. It reasserts the learner’s role in the educative process without diminishing the role of teachers in that process or in the wider debate about primary education’s purposes and direction.

It is a profoundly optimistic book which, in my judgment, does justice to the complexities of primary education and to the idealism of so many primary school

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