Readers of posts to this space know that I am an unabashed champion of progressive education, or at least what used to be called progressive–project-based learning, team collaboration, making things, experiential learning and nontraditional pedagogies with teachers as coaches and co-learners rather than sages on stages. My board membership is at Wildwood School in Los Angeles, a highly progressive K-12 with a substantial social mission and agenda. Some of our clients are from among the ranks of leading progressive schools in the United States.
That said, I must admit that I have concerns about the future viability of the progressive brand, at least insofar as so many self-identifying progressive schools are concerned (Wildwood included). As progressivism in education matures into its second century (can anything that old really be progressive?), more and more formerly traditional schools are simply leapfrogging into a much more progressive place, leaving behind their formerly progressive cousins.
The International School of Beijing, prompted by Head of School Tarek Razik, is starting a Futures Academy with this quote from their web site:
“The ISB Futures Academy is an educational model that uses project-based learning and experiential learning to invigorate our L21 curriculum and bring the ISB Vision Statement to life. In the 2014/2015 academic year, a small cohort of 22 Grade 7 ISB students will have the opportunity to explore this dynamic and innovative approach to learning.”
A deeper dive into the Futures Academy suggests that what they are really doing at ISB is taking what we have long called progressive and implementing it within a traditional school context to show what is possible at scale for the whole institution.
Or, consider this from a welcome letter by Arnie Bieber, Head at the International School of Prague:
“ISP is a world renowned leader in international education, with programs centered on inquiry, enduring understandings and life long learning. Our goal is to Inspire Learners for Life. In fact it’s our mission!
“The ISP learning experience is exciting, demanding and fun, with programs focused on the development of the whole child – mind, body and character. This is accomplished through a well rounded international curriculum, with extensive offerings in all subjects including the performing and visual arts, as well as a wide ranging athletics programs.”
Both ISB and ISP are doing more than merely co-opting the language of progressivism; rather, they are deliberately and methodically shifting their schools in a more progressive direction, while at the same time remaining faithful to the International Baccalaureate program.
We have asked it before and we ask it again: what is to become of the progressive brand when it goes mainstream?