What is Progressivism and Social Constructivism
Part I: Defining the Terms
by Cathy Wells
As we discuss CSCOPE, the terms “progressivism” and “social constructivism” keep popping up. Parents might be curious about these terms and want to know what, exactly, the big deal is with them. One of the things that we find repeatedly in progressive semantics is a lack of definition of terms.
Parents Deliberately Kept In the Dark
Progressive educators might talk about “thinking skills” or “education” or “traditional” approaches but they rarely define their terms. In this way, they keep parents in the dark and perpetuate ignorance. We don’t want to do that here. So let us begin by defining terms.
“Progressivism” is a political ideology which arose out of traditional liberalism around the time of the Industrial Revolution. It is a proponent of gradual reforms in economics, societal issues, politics, and education. It is one variant of “the left.” Progressivism is differentiated from radicalism because of its gradual, or progressive, nature of change.
“Social constructivism” is an educational term referring to Vygotsky’s work and exhibits itself in much group work, using groups of people versus individuals alone to construct knowledge. (This is why CSCOPE demands so much group work.)
So. What is the problem? Well, let’s begin with progressivism. Progressivism implies two problematic things. Firstly, what exactly are we progressing away FROM? Clearly, in this society, we are progressing away from absolute values, traditional morals, patriotism, capitalism, traditional faith, and the like. For many parents, this is going to be an issue right off the bat. For others, it will fit right into their own personal political agenda.
The second issue with progressivism is: who determines what we should be moving away from and moving toward? Who sets those standards? Is it the parent? The teacher? The principal? The student? Who is the Wizard, so to speak? Who is making the determination which values we should move to or from? It is no one in the classroom or even in the school, usually. In most cases the setter of values, the assigner of datum, is an ideologue in a far-off locale. That person might hold a degree in education but is probably more properly called a behavioral psychological researcher and promoter. Those writing curricula like CSCOPE do have an agenda. And that agenda involves testing their various theories and values on the likes of our children.
Finally, some food for thought. What exactly is “education?” When most parents think of “education,” they envision something very traditional: the three Rs, standardized test performance, college entrance, and excited teachers imparting knowledge to an engaged student populace. Parents see education as highly individualistic because they understand that at SAT time and ACT time, that child will be required to expound upon the knowledge that he or she has internalized. Beware. When progressive, socialist constructivist educators speak of “education,” they are not defining their terms. To them, education means something more of a great social experiment where children form opinions about issues in groups, building their ideas as a group. They may not be as concerned about individual factual knowledge as they are about how well children do in groups, how many questions they ask, and how they behave within that group setting.
With all of this in mind, we must be very careful to force pedagogical proponents and experimenters to define their terms, to clarify what “this” or “that” means to them. Parents should remember that, ultimately, they are footing the bill for the education of students and it is THEIR idea of education that must be met. Not the grandiose social experimental musings of ideologues who believe that they know what is best for other peoples’ children.