The Great Debate: Introduction

Lessons of a Century, Part Four

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The energy and optimism that radiated from the United States as it strode confidently into the 20th century found a perfect outlet in the multifarious movement known as progressivism.

Under the progressive banner, a busy nation rooted out corruption in business and government, crusaded for social change, and sought better lives for its poor citizens.

In education, progressives saw a golden opportunity. They were convinced they could build a democratic society full of informed, active citizens while at the same time freeing American schoolchildren from the tyranny of dull, numbing lessons.

But the wave of educational innovations that followed soon brought cries that schools had strayed too far from their primary mission.

The ensuing debate between the progressives and those who called for a return to academic tradition struck at the heart of both the purpose and practice of schooling. And it continues today.

The fourth installment of "Lessons of a Century," a yearlong Education Week series of monthly special sections, looks at this "Great Debate."

Go to "The Century Series," for a look at the series to date.

PHOTO: Progressives strove to create schools that would stimulate and challenge youngsters. But critics charged that many of the reforms diverted schools from high standards and academic studies, as shown in this 1940 cartoon that appeared on the cover of The American School Board Journal.

Vol. 18, Issue 32, Page 1

Published in Print: April 21, 1999, as The Great Debate: Introduction
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