What is Progressive Education?

By Suzanne Bizot Gorman, Head of Downtown Campus

We welcomed our delegation from Spain this week; 13 students (ages 15-17) and four teachers from Cuellar, in the province of Segovia.  Angela Katz and a group of St. Francis students visited Cuellar on their trip this past summer and are excited to welcome their Spanish friends to Louisville!  The group will be here for nearly two weeks, attending classes some days and touring around the area on others.  

Downtown Back to School Night

Downtown Back to School Night

As always, it was a delight to see so many parents at Back-to-School Night on Tuesday.  I had the chance to speak briefly about what Progressive education is, and a parent told me she was glad to hear it as it helped codify as educational philosophy what she knew she loved about SFS.  So I thought I would excerpt part of those remarks here:

A question people in Louisville often ask in regards to St. Francis is “What is Progressive education?”  As you know, we are a school founded in the Progressive tradition, an educational philosophy dating back to the turn of the 20th century when Francis W. Parker and John Dewey rejected the notion of a “one size fits all” education in favor of an approach that honors different learning styles and the notion of the student as an individual.  

This summer, as usual, in addition to Slaughterhouse-Five, which your students read and wrote about, we had some faculty summer-reading options.  One of the choices is titled Loving Learning:  How Progressive Education Can Save America’s Schools by Tom Little and Katherine Ellison. Tom Little was the longtime Head of a Progressive school in California and wrote the book after touring 43 Progressive schools across the country – including, before merger, our Goshen Campus.  He advocates for Progressive education as the philosophy that should be employed in every school across the country, because it works well for every student.  The defining principles of Progressive education, as codified by the Progressive Education Network, include that it

  • must prepare students for active participation in a democratic society
  • must focus on social, emotional, academic, cognitive, and physical development and be responsive to students’ developmental needs
  • must nurture and support students’ natural curiosity and innate desire to learn, as well as foster internal motivation in students
  • must foster respectful relationships between teachers and students    
  • must encourage the active participation of students in their learning

Tom Little’s intent in Loving Learning is to articulate the main strategies involved in Progressive education and to share the abundant and, often, recent research supporting them.  It is a wonderful book and – far from being a dense academic read – a really engaging and interesting validation of the choice you’ve made by sending your children to a Progressive school.  As I read the book this summer and thought actively about St. Francis as a Progressive school, partly with my “school” hat on and partly with my “parent” hat on – I have an 8th grader and a 5th grader of my own – the takeaway I kept coming back to was this:  St. Francis students are as well or, in most cases, better-prepared for the next step than most of their peers and, by and large, they love learning and love school.  And that is why Progressive education is an incredible choice and one to be proud of having made.  

We have a couple of extra copies of Loving Learning and would gladly lend them out if anyone is interested in reading it – just ask Danielle at the front desk!

Our Fall Sports Picnic is next Friday, September 18th!  Please join us on the Goshen Campus for Middle School games beginning at 4:00 p.m., a cookout starting at 5:00 p.m. and varsity field hockey (5:30 p.m.) and soccer (6:00 p.m.) games! This is our major fall sports/school event, and we’re following it up this year with a bonfire for High School students.  I look forward to seeing you at the Picnic!