Traditional vs. Progressive

by Robert Pondiscio
May 26th, 2010

If you encourage students to express themselves, you’re teaching progressive English composition.  You’re teaching a traditional curriculum, says Charles Murray, if you “make them diagram sentences and mark up their papers for grammatical and spelling errors. In red ink.”  At AEI’s Enterprise Blog, Murray describes receiving an email from a teacher who wondered if he is teaching a traditional or progressive curriculum, since the terms are thrown around with little attempt to define them.  Murray, offers no defintion, but with tongue clearly in cheek offers a few examples:

Progressive science: Teach about how pollution affects the lives of all of us.
Traditional: Teach chemistry, physics, and biology.

Progressive American studies: Mention James Madison in a sentence and devote a chapter to Harriet Tubman.
Traditional: Devote a chapter to James Madison and mention Harriet Tubman in a sentence (maybe a paragraph).

Methinks he’s merely scratching the surface.  Here are some Murray neglected to list:

Traditional:  “Miss Jones”
Progressive:  “Betty”

Traditional: Rigor
Progressive: Engagement

Traditional:  Pop quiz
Progressive: Portfolio

Traditional:  State capitols
Progressive: My community

Traditional:  “You’re suspended!”
Progressive: “You need to reflect.”

Traditional: Writing assignment
Progressive: Writer’s notebook

Traditional:    a² + b² = c²
Progressive:  How tall is that tree?  Here’s a kite, some string and a yardstick. 

Traditional:  Eat your spinach.
Progressive: Who picked your spinach?

13 Comments »

  1. Charles Murray, eh?

    How about this–

    Progressive: Genuine equality of opportunity
    Traditional: These scientific tests prove inferiority, so why bother?

    There is plenty of excellent, well-informed commentary of pedagogical questions out there, to share in this blog. The “humor” tag is misplaced. It’s not funny.

    Comment by Nancy Flanagan — May 26, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

  2. Progressive: “There is plenty of excellent, well-informed commentary of pedagogical questions out there, to share in this blog.”

    Traditional: “There are plenty of excellent, well-informed commentary of pedagogical questions out there, to share in this blog.”

    You are correct, it’s not funny.

    Comment by Cindy — May 26, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chan Stroman, Robert Pondiscio. Robert Pondiscio said: Traditional Ed: Eat your spinach! Progressive Ed: I wonder who picked this spinach? More at http://bit.ly/cWk7Cq [...]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Traditional vs. Progressive « The Core Knowledge Blog, The Core Knowledge Blog -- Topsy.com — May 26, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

  4. I’ve got to agree with Nancy… I don’t think someone who made an name for himself with the dubious science and dubious statistics of the Bell Curve really has much credibility talking about what is and isn’t a rigorous curriculum.

    Comment by Rachel — May 26, 2010 @ 1:56 pm

  5. How about this-

    Progressive: “There is plenty of excellent, well-informed commentary of pedagogical questions out there, to share in this blog.”

    Traditional: “There are plenty of excellent, well-informed commentary of pedagogical questions out there, to share in this blog.”

    You are correct, it’s not funny.

    Comment by Cindy — May 26, 2010 @ 2:25 pm

  6. Traditional: Let the market decide what’s funny.
    Progressive: That’s not funny.

    Comment by Robert Pondisci — May 26, 2010 @ 3:43 pm

  7. As a socialist and non-racist,I don’t like Murray, but I like what he says here.

    Progressive ed is weakening American schools and causing widespread mental malnutrition. Is there any solid evidence that progressive ed ideas work? My favorite stat to suggest it doesn’t is that in France (with it’s rigid curriculum) the achievement gap shrinks as kids go through the ed system; in the US, it widens. Progressive ed, counterintuitively, may in fact be very reactionary in its results (a point E.D. Hirsch makes). What do you say to this ye righteous progressives?

    Comment by Ben F — May 26, 2010 @ 8:13 pm

  8. The fact that dividing these into two camps is nothing short of irresponsible. Possible we need both? Trying to create a war only hurts students. As my mom used to say, “when the elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.”

    Comment by Holly — May 27, 2010 @ 5:04 pm

  9. So if I agree with both statements (excluding the subject-verb disagreement one), does that make me a Progressive Traditionalist or a Traditionalist Progressive?

    Comment by Crimson Wife — May 27, 2010 @ 8:34 pm

  10. You are teaching a progressive curriculum if it teaches a little bit of this and a little bit of that, in more or less random fashion, without considering the internal structure of the disciplines.

    You are teaching a progressive math curriculum if you teach probabilities before fractions, or graphs before functions, or if you don’t teach the algorithms for multiplication and division used by everybody else around the world. Also, it is progressive math if students don’t express themselves in a formally correct mathematical way, and don’t learn to solve problems relying on manipulations of expressions based on formalism. It is progressive math if students learn of the concept of ‘proof’ later than 7th grade, and if they do not have to memorize formulas like that for solving polynomial equations of degree 2.

    Finally, it is a progressive curriculum if high school Physics is optional, and if you have to reteach or review units of measurement at the beginning of the high school chemistry class.

    In short, it is a progressive curriculum when you care about your students, you care about how you teach your students, but you just don’t care that much about what you teach your students.

    Comment by andrei radulescu-banu — May 27, 2010 @ 11:20 pm

  11. P.S. It is also a progressive curriculum if much fuss is made about multiculturalism, but no foreign language is taught in the elementary grades in school.

    Comment by andrei radulescu-banu — May 27, 2010 @ 11:29 pm

  12. “In short, it is a progressive curriculum when you care about your students, you care about how you teach your students, but you just don’t care that much about what you teach your students.”

    This is a great encapsulation of the matter.

    Comment by Ben F — May 28, 2010 @ 12:01 am

  13. Progressive science: Teach about how pollution affects the lives of all of us.
    Traditional: Teach chemistry, physics, and biology.

    The irony here is only by teaching the Traditional curriculum as stated here, will the pollution problem be solved. Teaching how pollution affects us does absolutely nothing to solve the problem.

    Comment by TM Willemse — June 2, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

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