Counts, G. (1932). Dare progressive education be progressive? Progressive Education 9(4), 257–263.
A collection of three speeches given at the February 1932 meeting of the Progressive Education Association (P.E.A.) in Baltimore, was first published as a pamphlet entitled Dare the School Build a New Social Order? At the time, many perceived an emerging split within the organization, on one side the original members who represented private schools and believed in the goodness of the child and on the other, a group of Teachers College, Columbia University academics who felt educators should attempt to reconstruct society. Counts’ keynote speech castigated members and the then status of progressive schools with a barrage of scathing criticism, referring to:
[P]ersons who… assume an agnostic attitude towards all important questions… who have vague aspirations for world peace and human brotherhood… have no deep and abiding loyalties, who possess no convictions for which they would sacrifice over-much… who are rather insensitive to the accepted forms of social injustice… These people have shown themselves entirely incapable of dealing with any of the great crises of our time — war, prosperity, or depression. At the bottom they are romantic sentimentalists. (p. 257, para. 6)
He challenged P.E.A. members to “face squarely and courageously every social issue … establish an organic relation with the community, develop a realistic and comprehensive theory of welfare, fashion a compelling and challenging vision of human destiny, and become somewhat less frightened than it is today of the bogeys of impositions and indoctrination” (p. 259, para. 8). “In a word,” stated Counts (then going on to use more than 20), Progressive Education “cannot place its trust in a child-centered school.” Thereby completely contradicting more than 30 years of John Dewey’s ideas of pedagogy (to which he was later to frame a critical response).
From a historical perspective: Discussions were so fiercely engaged that subsequent conference sessions were canceled so that delegates could continue discussing Counts’ argument. Niece & Viechnicki (1987), have discussed how Counts’ speech “split the Progressive Education Movement irreconcilably, bringing about its eventual demise.” (p. 1)
Counts proposed that classroom teachers whose hard work was often not sufficiently appreciated (what a surprise there), should consider their chief contribution to be “not in the field of science, or technology, or politics, or religion, or art, but rather in the creation of… the American Dream—a vision of a society in which the lot of the common man will be made easier and his life enriched and ennobled.” (para. 17)
Counts’ recommendations were to form the basis for the movement later referred to as social reconstructionism.
Counts challenged teachers to use schools as a means to openly indoctrinate a positive social vision and to combat the negative forces of society, “agnosticism, skepticism, and even experimentalism” (para. 17), and impose more thoughtful, beneficial values, resulting in cries of imposition. Counts freely admitted to the notion of indoctrination through education, but argued that it was impossible for the school to remain impartial.
Talking Point: Albion Small, Head Professor of Social Studies at the Univ. of Chicago, Laboratory School in his 1896 address to the National Education Association, Demands of Sociology Upon Pedagogy, (Kliebard, 2004, p. 52), discussed educators as makers of society, not as leaders of children. How does this compare?
Talking Point: As an evangelist of the enobling and enriching American Dream, how can Counts avoid charges of being any less of a romantic sentimentalist?
George S. Counts would later shave off the moustache and lose the drab business suit, when he joined the Progressive Education Super-Teacher program or P.E.S.T., which later became the Curriculum Avengers (or perhaps not).