The Right to a Progressive Education: “The child, unhampered, does not waste time.” ― Caroline Pratt

“The child, unhampered, does not waste time.” ― Caroline Pratt

The world of education is a tapestry of beliefs, values and philosophies. Each is created through an individual’s personal experiences, social, political and cultural factors (Schunk, 2021). I would argue that all philosophies in education are developed with good intentions which can manifest in different ways. As I reflect on my own personal experiences within education I have observed a continual development with regards to  my own educational philosophy. 

Initially, I was influenced by the British educational system, first as a student and then as a graduate teacher. I was never a particularly ‘good’ student at school. I would often become distracted and disengaged with the lessons. I realised that as long as I sat quietly and did not disturb the teacher my lack of participation had little impact on the process of the lesson. School was just somewhere I had to be and, in the end, my success or failure was determined by tests that involved my ability to remember dates, facts and figures. Something I was not particularly very good at. 

Once I began my teaching career I was determined to create a classroom that children were excited to be. At the beginning of my career I was still working within the confines of the British National Curriculum but I would spend hours creating resources and activities that engaged the children. I was delighted when my classroom was buzzing with excitement, children discussing their activities and moving around, instead of sitting in rows. And, to the annoyance of some of my colleagues, my classroom was often quite noisy and messy. I also enjoyed the connections and relationships I developed with my students. I would take the time to listen to their stories, share their ideas, and personal experiences. In my own time at school I often felt anonymous and would be surprised if my teachers knew my name, let alone know that I had a cat called Cleo, I liked writing stories, and that I was excited that my grandma was coming for dinner. As I reflect on my teaching career I realise that my approach to teaching and learning was formed through defiant opposition to my own educational experiences. I offer what I believe the children in my care need and deserve. It is only since that I have continued in my career that I have come to understand that much of my philosophy towards education is regarded as progressive.

I believe that children have the right to be recognised as unique individuals, and they should see themselves within the school environments we create. The learning spaces I help to develop are culturally responsive, recognising and supporting the cultural and social influences of the individual children. This may be achieved through the learning experiences, visual imagery, class library, or building positive relationships (Burnham, 2021). ‘Learning and thinking occur in the context of learners’ beliefs about cognition, which differ as a function of personal, social, and cultural factors” (Schunk, 2012). 

Progressive classrooms recognise the importance of social interaction as part of the learning process. Within my current school we allow the children to move freely. As a consequence they interact with one another. This provides opportunities to develop communication and social skills, such as cooperation and tolerance for different points of view. We believe that ‘children need to grow and learn in their relationships, identity, emotional understanding, and overall well-being’ (Flook, 2022). The social and emotional aspect of learning is integrated throughout our curriculum starting with the relationships between the educators and the children. We believe in a curriculum that teaches the whole child. 

In contrast to the isolated subject focus of my own education, our curriculum is transdisciplinary and organised around related concepts. A variety of learning experiences are created and developed that support the children’s exploration of a concept. This progressive approach allows the transfer of knowledge, skills, and understanding to different areas of the curriculum and real-life context. The learning environment provides a range of learning experiences that engage active participation, curiosity, exploration, discovery and are connected to the interests of the children (Labaree, 2005). ‘Knowledge is created through a process of discovery and cannot exist in a vacuum apart from the experiences of learners’ (Tippett, Lee, 2019). ‘Progressive inquiry-based learning, that is driven by students’ interests, boosts their motivation and develops real-world skills’ (Flook, 2022). The children are not passive but are active agents. They are recognised as confident and capable learners with the capacity to take responsibility for their own learning journey. 

In contrast to my own school teachers, who stood at the front of the classroom, I learn alongside the children. Throughout the process there is an emphasis on supporting the children in learning how to learn, ‘and subject matter as a secondary concern, valuable mostly as a medium for skill acquisition rather than as the substantive focus of learning’ (Labaree, 2005).  My role is to guide, facilitate and develop the learning process by observing, listening, and asking questions in order to engage learning and support critical thinking. I document the children’s process and use it as a point of reflection with the children. Reflection plays a significant role within our systems and the learning process. ‘In contrast to traditional forms of education that seek to discipline students in particular ways of knowing, reflection is key to the progressive philosophy. Reflection empowers the individual to take agency in the production of knowledge and ensure that knowledge is made relevant to the individual in the contemporary world’ (Tippett, Lee, 2019).

As an educator I believe that I am in a privileged and unique position to make a positive impact on the child in my care and society as a whole. Through a progressive educational approach we support the students in developing the skills and aptitudes that help to create socially engaged and internationally minded citizens of the future. The emphasis on skills and aptitudes prepares the students for the uncertain future of tomorrow. 


Labaree, D. F. (2005). Progressivism, schools and Schools of Education: An American romance. Paedagogica Historica, 41(1-2), 275–288. https://doi.org/10.1080/0030923042000335583

390, 10, & 65354. (2016, November 3). Philosophies of Education: 3 types of student-centered philosophies. The Edvocate. Retrieved September 17, 2022, from https://www.theedadvocate.org/philosophies-education-3-types-student-centered-philosophies/

Course hero. Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner | | Course Hero. (n.d.). Retrieved September 17, 2022, from https://www.coursehero.com/study-guides/teachereducationx92x1/progressive-education/

Schunk, D. H. (2012). Learning theories: An educational perspective (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.  https://www.researchgate.net/file.PostFileLoader.html?id=53ad2847cf57d75c068b45c5&assetKey=AS%3A273549456019456%401442230680395

Burnham, K. (2021, March 9). Culturally responsive teaching: 5 strategies for educators. Northeastern University Graduate Programs. Retrieved September 17, 2022, from https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/culturally-responsive-teaching-strategies/

Flook, L. (2022). Four ways schools can support the whole child. Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved September 17, 2022, from https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/blog/four-ways-schools-can-support-whole-child

Tippett, T. P., & Lee, J. J. (2019). Looking back to move forward: Understanding Progressive Education in … Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1285555.pdf

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