Progressivism Philosophy

In the epistemological realm that focuses on how we come to know and knowledge as a whole, there are for main philosophies of education and progressivism is one of them. Progressivism is an educational philosophy grounded in pragmatism philosophy. The view based on pragmatic thinking. It is different from the other educational theories in the fact that it was not developed through theoretical speculations. The concept of pragmatic holds to the fact that reality exists in the realm of personal experience and basing on the fact that no one has an identical set of life experience therefore, reality is different from all the individuals (Holzman, 2016).

The philosophy of progressivism focuses on the curriculum aspect, and the content taught in class. The education systems should focus on the child as a whole rather than the teacher and the content. According to this philosophy, students should use active experimentation to test ideas. Learning should be concentrated on the question which arises from the learner upon experimenting (Yamasaki & Kuno, 2017). In other words, learning should be active, not passive. The learner is the thinker and the problem solver who makes sense and meaning through individual experiences in the cultural and physical context.

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Classroom Setting

According to progressivism, class setting in terms of furniture, the number of students in one class, seating arrangement and grouping matters a lot. According to progressivism ideology, most of the classroom furniture’s should be movable to allow free movement of learners in the class. The teacher should only be there as a facilitator of the learning process and therefore should have infinite sitting positions to accommodate the different tasks in the class (Couch 2018). Basing on progressivism philosophy, learners learn more from each other and therefore grouping students according to their ability is discouraged. The learners should be mixed up to encourage exchange skills and knowledge.

The teaching methods, in this case, should be learner-centered. A progressivism teacher does not attach him/herself with a particular subject but thinks of himself as a teacher of young people or children’s. Such a mindset is the recommended one in progressivism philosophy. A progressivism teacher should not consider him/herself as subject matter expert whose responsibility is to pass to the students what he/she knows (Couch 2018). Teaching methods like Lecturing, demonstration or recitation are highly discouraged. Some of the major contributors of the philosophy include John Dewey and Johann Friedrich Herbart.

John Dewey Contribution

Dewey philosophy is the modern-day progressivism. With him, he rejected all the manner of teaching and learning which involve, recalling and rote learning which is strictly prescribed in a tight daily schedule and which should be followed to the latter. He further rejected all the teaching and learning methodologies which denied the learner freedom to learn through exploration and inquiry. According to Dewey, the experience was a better educator; the work of the teacher should be to facilitate experiential learning (Thorburn, 2018). The philosophy becomes popular with the concept of child-centered education. According to Dewey, learners are always curious, and the school systems and setting should provide the opportunity for the learners to apply problem-solving methods, critical inquiry and build world view based on the scientific methods.

Basing on his argument, the students best learn through interaction and familiarization with their surrounding and can manage it so well when well guided by their tutors. The teachers are tasked with the responsibility of helping learners to piece together their environment base on critical interaction with the physical environment surrounding them (Wain, 2016). According to him, the theistic world view should be rejected. Dewey was one of the writers who majorly contributed to the manifesto of humanism which he signed in 1933. Humanism based on the fact that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science making any cosmic or supernatural guarantees of human values unacceptable. John Dewey was a humanist, and a significant contributor to the education models practiced widely today.

Johann Friedrich Herbart Contribution

Johann contribution in the progressivism philosophy is on the connection between personal development and the resulting societal contribution. Johann concept of individual maturation based on five main ideas including, justice, perfection, equity, inner freedom, and benevolence. Going by his concept, abilities are not inborn or innate but can be instilled (Koerrenz, 2017). Therefore, according to him, a thorough education system can provide the ground for intellectual and moral development. Herbart advocated for the use of a methodology with five formal steps in teaching which include, preparation of lessons basing on the interest of the child then present the topic to the students. After that involve them through inductive questions so that they can develop new knowledge basing on the prerequisite knowledge so that by the end of the lesson the learner can deductively sum up the lesson achievements. Finally, the teacher should relate the collegiate experience to the moral precepts for daily living.


Education is a critical sector in every society. The systems should develop excellent and sensible educational approaches to help the learners to acquire relevant skills and knowledge. From Dewey and Johann progressivism theories model, educators can learn and adopt a lot of relevant theories into the educational institutions. Both emphasized on adaption educational approaches which are child-centered and create space for the learners to learn through experimental approach and through interacting with the environment around them.



Couch, D. (2018). From Progressivism to Instrumentalism: Innovative Learning Environments According to New Zealand’s Ministry of Education. In Transforming Education (pp. 121 133). Springer, Singapore.

Holzman, P. (2016). February 14, 2016, Curriculum Philosophy-Progressivism.

Koerrenz, R. (2017). Existentialism and Education: An Introduction to Otto Friedrich Bollnow. Springer.

Thorburn, M. (2018). John Dewey, subject purposes and schools of tomorrow: A centennial reappraisal of the educational contribution of physical education. Learning, culture and social interaction, 19, 22-28.

Wain, K. (2016). Philosophy of lifelong education. Routledge.

Yamasaki, Y., & Kuno, H. (Eds.). (2017). Educational Progressivism, Cultural Encounters and Reform in Japan. Taylor & Francis.