Traditional VS Progressive Education

Ever since I began my journey of becoming a teacher, I have believed that the main purpose of education is to prepare young children to become successful members of society. As well, to use their interests and to help motivate and guide them in a direction in life that can allow them to be successful. However, I also believe that a teacher should be using a variety of philosophies to accomplish this including the both Dewey (1938) discusses, progressive and traditional. 


Dewey (1938), outlines many principles of each philosophy. I found myself caught in the middle of deciding which philosophy I felt can best meet the need of my future and current students. I reflected on the principals and properties of each and was able to think deeply about which I truly believe might work best in the classroom. For this response, I will share my reflections on both philosophies and the two qualities I find most appealing.


The traditional way of teaching is not all that bad. As Dewey (1938) discusses, it is the attitudes of both the teacher and students that can make an experience a positive or negative one. Two principles of the traditional way of teaching in Deweys (1938) book, and also in my own experience in elementary school, stood out for me. As we know, the progressive way of teaching is all about students having learning experiences. However, there are many opportunities in a traditional setting for students to have similar experiences that can impact their learning greatly. Dewey (1938) concurs by admitting that “it is a great mistake to suppose, even tacitly, that the traditional schoolroom was not a place in which pupils had experiences” (p.9). In my early elementary years, I would have considered my school experience traditional. Despite that experience, I remember having many memorable experiences that I was able to learn from. Next, I believe that learning about history and the ways in which society has been and not been successful in the past has a lot to offer. I remember appreciating learning how our history has shaped our world today. Dewey (1938) raised a great point when stating that “how shall the young become acquired with the past in such a way that the acquaintance is a potent agent in appreciation of the living present” (p.8). I did not mind being taught information and answering questions as I found myself truly comprehending and learning the content. Therefore, having experiences and learning about how our past has shaped our future are two principles that I found attractive about the traditional way of teaching.

Progressive education, on the other hand, has many principals in which I believe can benefit students both in and outside of the classroom.  Aside from the “organic connection between education and personal experience” (Dewey, p.8), progressive education is not contained to potentially dull textbooks. Progressive education provides more flexibility for the teacher and students. As well, teachers are able to really focus on the needs of the students rather than trying to educate our students with irrelevant and foreign knowledge. Another positive element of progressive education is the fact that it provides a better quality of human experience. Dewey (1938) also states, “can we find any reason that does not ultimately come down to the belief that democratic social arrangements promote a better quality of human experience” (p. 12). In my five years of teaching, I can name dozens of experiences in which children who have learned through experiences, conversations with peers, and through doing. Therefore, the flexibility and opportunities for endless experiences are two principles of progressive education the stood out for me.

Overall, I believe that it is important for students to have the opportunity to be exposed to different teaching philosophies. I don’t believe there is one right way to educate our children. I believe, and continue to believe, that the way in which a child should be learning depends solely on their needs. After all, “teachers are agents through which knowledge and skills are communicated and rules of conduct: enforced ( Dewey, p.5)”.

I hope you enjoyed reading my response 🙂

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Collier


One thought on “Traditional VS Progressive Education

  1. thehackelhub says:

    This was a great post! I often find myself stuck in the “in betweens” too of what is the most beneficial for our little ones. I agree though that a variety of different learning opportunities will be the most rich and far reaching. Rapport and relationships will be key no matter what strategies or approach you take! Thanks again.

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