Why I don’t work at a progressive school

And the reality of public education in the 21st century


When John Dewey introduced the ideas of progressive education that advocated active, experiential learning within a curriculum designed to accommodate the interests and experiences of individual students, he inspired a reform movement away from the Prussian style, factory model of the 19th century. Many progressive ideas were embraced that improved public education but the real core of the movement required a much more intensive student/teacher relationship that could only be accommodated by private schools. Public schools have never been adequately funded to implement real, progressive programs. Even with the post sixties revival by way of alternative schools, the budgetary and business pressures on public education far outweigh the evidence provided by research and experience, and now alternative programs struggle for survival.

Standardization is the best way to get good enough.

Standardization is “cost effective” and generates a uniform data stream. Dewey’s way is costly and the data it produces is only useful to the student and the teacher. This is why you see more occurrence of progressive education in wealthier communities, whether in private schools or affluent neighborhood public schools, where there is a higher level of privilege. Standardization is the best way to get good enough. But if you really want quality, you have to customize. Quality is not a real priority of public school in general, therefore we don’t see much in the way of what I would call progressive education there.


The American corporate reality has a deep thirst for data. It wants to use it for predictive analytics which is a powerful tool for understanding markets and consumers. Data is the new gold rush, the new oil boom, the latest frothy bubble of intense scrutiny for the capitalist system to generate profit. Public schools have been set-up and manipulated by corporate interests through legislative action and sophisticated marketing, to generate the type of data that is useful to their interests.


I could of course work at a private school, after all I graduated from a progressive private high school (after 10 years of public education) and a progressive private liberal arts college. The problem is that I want to do anti-racist work in a culturally diverse community, so I would rather work where I am, in a south end Seattle Public School, the center of the storm so to speak. The truth is the working conditions would be much better at a private school but where I currently work addresses my passions. My passion for progressive education permeates into what I perceive as an an anti-racist solution to so many artificially induced problems in public education.

“We anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves.”

I don’t work at a progressive school but I want to. At this point the only way for me to work at a progressive school is to transform the school where I currently work and to do that I need to transform the district too.  Obviously, I can’t do it alone. Nor do I want to do it alone because that is not the way I work. I agree with Errico Malatesta: “We anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves.”  So, I’m going to need a lot of help. There are hundreds of teachers in Seattle who feel the way I do. So let’s get together and make some progress! Let’s disrupt things! Let’s disrupt with our love for humanity.


Published by


I'm a school librarian in Seattle who wants to take the corporate created standardized test away and give students books instead. Nothing would be better than to bring real progressive education to public school.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s