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Where Progressive education falls short-- and where the Liberal Arts don't.

The Liberal Arts have much more to offer than Dewey.

The Liberal Arts vs. Progressive Education: Part 2

Last week I wrote about John Dewey’s Progressive Education and the impact it has had on American culture. I promised to follow up on how Classical Christian Education (CCE) and the Liberal Arts differ from Progressivism, so here you go.

One of the hallmarks of Progressive Education is its institutionalization of learning. Students become less and less human. They are herded rather than nurtured. CCE recognizes the unique, God-given gifts and attributes of every child. Proverbs 22 says “Train up a child in the way he should go…” Note that Solomon says the way “he” should go…a way unique to him. Not squeezed into some generalized institutional pattern.

Progressive Education is also vocational. That is, the goal is to produce an ample supply of workers for diverse menial tasks across the economy. Classical education is much more than vocational. Think about what “liberal” means, as in the Liberal Arts—from the Latin for “free.” It is the education that a free man or woman needs in order to live responsibly and make wise decisions. It is more than the ability to get a job, it is the foundation for a good and virtuous life.

Obviously, the Progressive vision for public education is secular. God has no place in public education. Instead it is somehow supposed to be “neutral” to matters of transcendent value. CCE is based on the tripartite foundation of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Each of those in turn is rooted in the eternal, the transcendent. Classical education takes us out of ourselves and into the realm of the divine.

Dewey’s educational philosophy was furthermore highly socialistic. Dewey was a proud member of the American Socialist Party and believed that government-funded education could move the country in a Socialist direction. His educational philosophy served the greater ends of Socialism in his view. CCE serves much different ends. Ultimately, CCE is a Kingdom-serving enterprise. Education is never an end in itself. Always ask yourself, education for what?

Finally, Progressive Education is about training up boys and girls who know how to follow. Dewey’s statist philosophy required a passive citizenry, and his educational model sought to keep students focused on themselves and their most narrow interests rather than broader social concerns. The classical education model is more concerned about helping students become capable decision-makers in their community and in their families. Leaders who help bring about positive change in their culture. Risk-takers who are not afraid of inevitable uncertainty and the unknown. And creators who can discover new solutions and articulate beauty in new ways.

When you really start to consider the alternatives, the choice between Progressivism and Classical Christian Education is not a hard one. The task before us is simply to increase the opportunities for families to enjoy the fruits of the Liberal Arts.

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