Email Status

Volume 26, Number 5
September/October 2010

From Progressive Education to Educational Pluralism


25th Anniversary ImageAlmost everyone has a philosophy of education, explicit or implicit, conscious or not. The sources of these personal philosophies are various. Sometimes, the philosophy comes out of one’s personal experience (“I loved the Montessori School and everyone should have that education” or “I hated the Waldorf School and please spare the rest of humanity from that experience”). Sometimes the philosophy emerges from reading or personal contact (“As soon as I read E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, I knew I had found the answer” or “When I visited Summerhill School, my search for the optimal education was rewarded”). Sometimes, these philosophies remain constant. At other times, changes of mind are catalyzed by personal, societal, or historical developments. Most recently, the well-known historian of education Diane Ravitch publicly renounced her previous support of school choice and large-scale standardized testing.

In this article, I argue that the notion that there is one “best way” to educate everyone—teachers, young people, music students, students with learning disabilities, etc.—is fundamentally misguided. Indeed, the more we learn about the potential of human minds and brains to flourish in response to various cultures, technologies, and historical accidents, the greater the number of viable options grows. By the same token, single modes of assessment are misguided. The lessons I’ve learned over the decades are: (1) to be ever open to new and powerful ways of educating and (2) to shun those who block the roads of individualized pedagogy as well as those who seek to impose a uniform way of presenting material.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

J-Q. Chen, S. Moran, and H. Gardner, eds. Multiple Intelligences Around the World. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009.

P. B. Dow, Schoolhouse Politics: Lessons from the Sputnik Era. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.

H. Gardner. To Open Minds: Chinese Clues to the Dilemma of Contemporary Education. New York: Basic Books, 1989.

H. Gardner. Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004.

D. Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American Public School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. New York: Basic Books, 2010.