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Children’s Community School Part 3: Wrightson on Progressive Education & Testing

Neal Wrightson
Neal Wrightson

(Continued from Part 2)

Neal Wrightson, director of Children’s Community School, sits down with parents of prospective students and discusses what progressive education is all about. The following is a synopsis of the major points made by Wrightson at a recent parent tour.

Progressive education began in the late eighteenth century and was about democracy. Educators were concerned about the nature of education as its purpose shifted from one of serving the needs of a rural community to one of serving the needs of an industrial nation. With this change educators were worried that the educational process would forget the importance of preparing individuals to live within a democratic society. Such an education needed to teach people how

"to evaluate claims, raise arguments, and make good decisions."

Yes, it was important to teach citizens to read, write, and calculate, but it was just as important to teach students how to think critically,

"to read between the lines."

Educators grappled over whether an education was solely for vocational purposes providing a workforce for a growing nation, or whether it had the greater charge of preparing people to be part of an informed citizenry.

What is the goal of a good education? Neal Wrightson believes a good education develops

"a student who is able to view the world in multiple ways, from various perspectives."

To contribute to a democratic society, the student needs to know how

"to engage in debates, weigh possibilities, and negotiate."

He reminds parents that John Dewey proposed a philosophy of education, not a methodology, the latter referring to the collection of practices and procedures used by educators who teach children.

And so how should schools reach this idealistic goal? How should teachers educate to reach this lofty goal? What practices are required to get there?

And, what if the goal is not developing an informed citizenry, but rather to raise a test score? What methods must be used to reach this other goal?

Each goal requires a different approach to education. And currently, the goal of raising test scores is driving the teaching. And that is a problem.

Neal Wrightson is the director of the Children's Community School in the San Fernando Valley, a member of the Progessive Education Network, and was instrumental in organizing the recent symposium on progressive education and testing. See The Tail Wagging the Dog.


Thank you to the staff of Children's Community School for allowing me to join a tour and learn more about the school.


If you'd like me to highlight your progressively oriented school, contact Grace at

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  • Profile picture of Michael Thal
    Michael Thal 4 years ago

    It is unfortunate that too many people holding the purse strings feel the prime importance of education is being test wise.

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