EDU 6120 Module 7

“Clear and Unclear Windows”” Reflection on the EDU 6120 Module

“Progressivist and Essentialist” Lecture given by Arthur K. Ellis

“My Pedagogic Creed” by John Dewey      School Journal vol. 54 (January 1987), pp. 77-80

What seems clear to me now, as I reflect on the lecture material concerning both the Essentialist and Progressivist movements—particularly in the context of Dewey’s beliefs noted in his Pedagogic Creed–is that the conflict I often experience within myself, as a teacher, can be viewed as a clash between Essentialist and Progressivist thinking.

When I consider the various approaches I have taken over the years in my endeavor as a special education teacher to develop and build the reading and writing skills of my students, I must admit that for many years my focus was more on “the skills” than the students.  I took data and measured progress on charts—showing the incremental percentage changes and I only moved students to a new skill after they had successfully reached 80% …for three trials in a row.  Essentialism with “….the use of textbooks, published goals, objectives…tests, grades…” was primary.

In the early 1990’s, as part of a restructuring effort, my high school staff voted to change from a traditional 6-period day to a 4-period “block-schedule” with 90 minute classes. Although I had already become more “progressive” by teaching and practicing the concept of “learning styles” within my study skills and English classes, I began to make a shift toward a less-structured and more creative style in my teaching. Ironically, I began to focus more in the individual interests of my students.

And yet, even with the promise of a new, more student-centered outlook, the conflict within me remains. I often feel caught between the “have-to’s” and the “want-to’s”.  Perhaps for a similar reason, Dewey stated:

I believe that at present we lose much of the value of literature and language studies because of our elimination of the social element. Language is almost always treated in the books of pedagogy simply as the expression of thought.  It is true that language is a logical instrument, but it is primarily a social instrument. Language is the device for communication; it is the tool through which one individual comes to share the ideas and feelings of others.  When treated as a way of getting individual information, or as a means of showing off what one has learned, it loses its social motive and end (Ellis).

What continues to remain “unclear” to me is how to strike that healthy “balance” when striving to meet the needs of students, while also satisfying the requirement for meeting state standards. This is why I pray daily for wisdom. I was encouraged, however, by the statement, “….there is a curious marriage of Essentialism and Progressivism seen in the current standards movements….when one looks more deeply at the methods…one sees many elements of Progressivism (Ellis).


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