“Don’t send your child to a PROGRESSIVE SCHOOL because they won’t be able to cope in college” and other Progressive School Myths..

I received a message from a mom that voiced out what a friend told her. “A friend of mine told me not to enroll my child in a progressive school because college here in the Philippines is traditional and might not be able to cope up with the system”, said her friend. She asked my opinion about it. I got some back-up for this  myth (yup, it’s a myth) from reliable and established educators and here are their answers:

“I think it’s a misnomer for parents to think that having their child establish their educational foundations in a progressive school means that they will have a hard time adjusting in college.”

“There are many students who have graduated from progressive elementary schools who have thrived in traditional high schools; and still others who have graduated from progressive high schools who have succeeded in traditional colleges and universities. What a progressive school teaches you is to be creative, open-minded, resourceful and excited about learning and new ideas. All of these attributes spell success in any educational (or working!) environment–whether you consider they traditional or progressive. I know of many progressive school alumni who have continued on to traditional high schools/colleges who know how to get along with people from all walks of life, and who still exhibit that zeal for learning new things that was imbued in them by progressive schools 🙂 There will always be a period of adjustment during that jump from progressive to traditional, but that period of adjustment is to be expected and will definitely be overcome.”



— Teacher Ani Almario, is the directress of The Raya School and the Product Development Officer of Adarna House, Inc.. She also has a Master of Arts in Education, Learning, Design and Technology from Stanford University. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Curriculum Studies in the University of the Philippines.


“I have observed that college students who come from progressive schools, are more relaxed, calm, and they are Survivors ! They are very independent , but at the same time can work 10951996_10152770604873823_2065163248_owith peers with collaboration and cooperation. Contrary to what others are saying, I find these students coping well in college life. In fact their coping skills are better than their classmates who come from traditional schools .”– Teacher Claudette Tandoc, a family life and child development specialist. She is a professor in De La Salle University Manila College of Education. She has led several trainings about various family and child issues and have served as a consultant to a number of schools in the country.


“American philosopher and educational reformist John Dewey said that “Education is not a preparation for life, but is life itself”. It is not really college that we are preparing our grade school and high school kids for. Rather, they are already expected to be applying now whatever they are learning in school, to their own families and homes, their community,  and eventually to the society. The outside world is not structured, rather, it is where individuals are “tested” on how to cope and survive using the values, knowledge, skills, talents and experiences that they have learned and imbibed.”

“There are more progressive early childhood centers compared with grade schools and highs schools in the Philippines. Some graduates of these preschools have “moved up” to traditional schools. Dr. Miriam Covar, retired Professor of the UP College of Home Economics, Dept of Family Life and Child Development conducted a study on this, and found no negative effects nor difficulties among students who transferred from a progressive school to a traditional setting.”

“On a personal note, for thirty years as an educator, I have observed that most graduates of progressive schools are happier, confident and well-adjusted individuals, who have smoothly adapted and complemented accordingly to any given situation and environment.”

10930866_10153675626109097_1841952962956262955_n— Teacher Carolyn Ronquillo, family life and child development specialist for thirty years. She spent most of these as a professor the University of the Philippines. She is currently an Associate  Professor, Dept of ECE, Woosong University, Daejeon, Republic of Korea; former Pre-Kindergarten Teacher, MarylandUSA and former Assoc Prof, UP Diliman. Founding President, Asia Pacific Early Childhood Education Research Association (Philippine Chapter).



“Yes, it is true that most colleges if not all follow a traditional system but I really think that most parents miss this point- about being more concerned whether their child has this sustained interest and love for learning, has a good foundation in basic life skills (critical thinking, problem-solving, etc) and has developed a set of principles and values.”

“This where progressive schools come in. John Dewey (the best known proponent of Progressive Philosophy) explains that education is a “means for growth, activity, community building, reciprocity in teaching and learning, moral development and democracy).
Simply put, progressive education prepares a child for life because it enables a child to process information, rather than just memorise them; teaches a child to ask questions rather than to just say yes or no immediately; and it draws out the uniqueness of each child, rather than just letting him conform. It allows a child to understand his world by letting him experience things first-hand. It exposes a child to a community outside his family.”
“How can a child not be able to cope with a system if he has experienced learning in a meaningful way? All the more, parents should be confident that their child is ready to face a new environment (that is college) because he has been prepared to live more fully, to be proactive, to think outside the box, and to be sociable.”
 — Teacher Tanya Velasco, an early childhood educator. She graduated with a degree in Family Life and Child Development from UP Diliman and received her M.A. in Leadershi10828043_10152526495538161_4146389197665424114_op in Education from Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, California. She has been in the field of preschool teaching for almost a decade now, and for the past 2 years, has found her love in teaching college students. She heads GURUFIRM, a training and consultancy firm on early childhood education, family life education and life-long learning.

How a progressive curriculum is implemented OR Why playing Minecraft is a good example of the learning process

Okay, so I caught you on the clickbait. Bear with me. Minecraft will eventually appear on this post. In number 4 to be exact.

The scope of any progressive school is the same as any traditional school because we are all under the Department of Education. The department hands down a curriculum that guides schools on content. Then what differentiates the progressive school from all others when they need to follow the same scope? Actually , even progressive schools may have different APPROACHES on being progressive but the following are the general definitives on a progressive approach:

1. They maintain small class sizes. Even if there is a set scope provided by the Department of Education, the small class size allows the teacher to check out the individual strength and weakness of each child and can check if the class in general can assimilate the curriculum.

2. The teachers are given freedom to implement the curriculum based on class skill level. If they find a child that has difficulty even with a developmentally appropriate curriculum, the teachers recommend for a developmental-pediatric consult to rule out any learning disability. On the other hand, if they find that their students are ready for concepts in the next level, they are exposed to such concepts in class.

3. Activities are planned to make the curriculum more experiential for the students. Learning through experience is the Dewey mantra. If I ask you what you remember most in school, it is usually wrapped around a story.. “I remember the story of The Little Prince because  I had so much fun drawing the snake eating an elephant which everyone thought was a hat” or “I remember the order of the presidents because a teacher sang a rap song in class! Hilarious! ” I hardly hear anyone say, “I remember the poem that Jose Rizal wrote because of a Social Studies exam I studied for”!


To learn road safety and traffic rules, these students went to a Child Safety simulation place for their Social Studies lesson on Community.


4. The teachers use creative ways to pique the interest of the students. So much so that the students themselves are interested enough to research on their own and deepen or advance the concept. This is crucial. Finland’s excellent education system is based on internal motivation. They create lesson plans that makes the learner more curious of the topic to willingly research about it on his own. Check out the kids who play the computer game , Minecraft. They know every detail of the game! This is because it piqued their interest, they researched on their own and they have a community of other learners to bounce off ideas with! Now if every school concept can be creatively planned like this game, more kids can enjoy the learning process more.

5. There is peer-to-peer learning or group work. As described, playing Minecraft is a perfect example in today’s children’s learning process. An important part of the process is peer-to-peer learning. Children playing any computer game, starting a hobby or reading a book, usually consults the internet for other children doing the same thing and they learn from each other! The student then becomes a teacher. And that is crucial in a progressive classroom — the opportunity for students to bounce off ideas with one another with effective mediation from the teacher. This is why progressive classrooms are set up with the opportunity to group chairs and tables together and group work is a major part of the lesson plan. This not only encourages peer-to-peer learning, it also strengthens the student’s socio-emotional skill of working well with others.

6. Their developmental checklists (specially at the preschool level) is revisited annually to check if the skills are still applicable to the current age level. For samples of developmental checklists, check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children. For the elementary and secondary levels, most schools follow a prescribed curriculum by the state. All have the same goals, the difference is in the method of achieving the goals.

Ultimately, the question is, do children who have undergone progressive programs reach their full potential? They do! I have witnessed all of our students go on to different secondary schools and one thing is common for all of them. Because we have encouraged their strengths and helped them with their weaknesses, because we molded the curriculum around them so they can better understand it, because there is a sense of trust between teacher and student, they have gone on and conquered whatever curriculum they are faced with, whether traditional or progressive.

How an ‘Advanced Curriculum’ can actually ruin learning

This started out as a summary of progressivist John Dewey’s writing on Traditional VS Progressive Education entitled Experience and Education. But when I was writing it, I realized that each point needed their own post!

Let’s start with this:

“..to imposition from above is opposed expression and cultivation of individuality”

There are many schools known to impose skills and information that is not age-appropriate to their students. “It imposes adult standards, subject-matter, and methods upon those who are only growing slowly toward maturity. The gap is so great that the required subject-matter, the methods of learning and of behaving are foreign to the existing capacities of the young. They are beyond the reach of the experience the young learners already possess. Consequently, they must be imposed; even though good teachers will use devices of art to cover up the imposition so as to relieve it of obviously brutal features.” (Dewey, Experience and Education)

A lot of parents are hooked into this perceived “advancement” a lot of schools sell that their students will be taught skills way above their developmental capacity. I’ve seen moms pretending to gasp in disbelief, “Imagine they’re teaching Algebra in the 3rd grade!”** saying it with a secret smile of pride that their 8 year old is already finding the value of X.

What happens ? The students will either seem like geniuses for a short amount of time and forget everything they were taught OR they will be stressed in the process of learning all this information and hate school altogether.

You may say that in a class of 40 children, there are only a few who can’t cope with an advanced curriculum. They are then labelled several things: lazy, slow, or diagnosed instantly with Attention Deficit Disorder. The parents try to figure out what is wrong with their child when in fact, most of the time, it only comes with the burden of a curriculum way outside their developmental capacity.

The teachers are frustrated that their students just don’t get it. “Even though good teachers will use devices of art to cover up the imposition so as to relieve it of obviously brutal features.“, said Dewey. I have spoken to a lot of teachers who have no choice but to implement a lesson plan way above their class’ ability. They’re positive that the kids won’t get it. And yet they continue on and even make tests and exams that cover the impossible because it is in their job description to do so. Even the teachers are giving up!

So does this make the students who pass these advancements geniuses? Maybe. Definitely, there are children whose strength is the retention of information, critical thinking, etc. I believe that there are children who can be given advanced concepts. But it has to be determined if the student is having high grades because he totally understood the concepts, comprehended the topics OR just MEMORIZED the information. Because believe me, a lot of students get high grades from memorizing facts … and then completely forget about them a minute after the exam. So where’s the learning there?

I am also for the exposure of advanced concepts to students who are ready for it. Why not go the next level if a student is obviously ready to do so?  But what about the other students whose strength lies in the arts or sports?  Unfortunately, the current curricula of advancement focus only on the academic subjects such as Math and Science. The purpose of which is the filtering out of supposedly of “slow” students instead of aiming for every child to learn.

**This is an invented example. Heaven forbid there is such a school teaching Algebra in the third grade!

Are the students in progressive schools having too much fun?

It is a common misconception that a progressive school is one big playground where kids are just playing all day, not memorizing enough info and are just too free… like wild animals in the jungle. Though it is tempting to make a huge playground for them to play in all day (because what’s wrong with that??), progressive schools defy the old adage that learning is not supposed to be fun.

1. There’s no structure. Every school curriculum has structure. There are class schedules and routines,  scope and sequence charts and developmental checklists. Without these structures, we cannot reach our goals. Why doesn’t it look structured? Because the teachers make sure that the schedules, plans and activities are holistic. There are downtimes, creative times,  and play time… things needed in a child’s school day.

2. The students are too rowdy and noisyI’m all for obedience but Im also all for being opinionated and critical thinking. I like it when my students air out their opinions. My only rule is that they are respectful when they do so. And most of it is probably just the students having fun!

3. They won’t be ready for REAL LIFE if they go on that way. According to Dewey, “Education is not preparation for life but life itself.” The lives my students are leading now ARE their REAL LIVES. Lives that children should be living. They do experience pain, heartache and the burden of work.. and we teach them how to overcome these obstacles and challenges by developing their confidence and self-esteem. But most importantly, their present REAL LIVES should also be defined with a love of learning, enthusiasm in school and enjoyment in the process. The author Haruki Murakami said that “Unfortunately, the most important things in life are not learned in school.” Progressive schools aim to change that.

4. Grades aren’t important to them. Grades are important. But you know what is more important? The love of learning. And you know what’s more important than that? A teachable heart. You don’t believe me? Okay. Here’s a study that proves it (and no, it wasn’t written in the olden days…).

5. They don’t learn anything. They just play all day. Our students learn a lot of things and they enjoy the process in which they learn them. They even review for exams using board games. Why? Why not?! Studies show that experiences make children remember information better. And what’s wrong with play? I’ve listed down life lessons children learn in the playground here.

While writing this post, I spoke to a mom who taught in a very traditional school for many years and the main difference she felt when she observed in a progressive classroom is the high energy level of the children to learn the concepts and the creative ways the teachers plan their lessons. So to answer the question ” Are students in progressive schools having too much fun?”, my answer is YES! Learning is supposed to be fun.

Progressive School: Fact or Fiction?

I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard a professor from a prestigious university said that there is no such thing as a progressive school in the Philippines and if there is, then they’re just making things up. WOW! That blew my mind.  I wanted to automatically face that professor and tell him a piece of my mind until I realized.. hey, we ARE making things up! We’re making up a curriculum from the interests of our students, we’re making up activities that are integrated through the subjects and we are making up projects that stem from the imagination of our students!

A lot of misconceptions are being bandied about our beloved progressive schools that I think it’s about time to clear some things up.

1. “Progressive schools encourage noisy, rowdy and disrespectful students. The students are so free that there isn’t any order anymore.”

FICTION. Progressive schools encourage children to be outspoken and allow their ideas to be heard. Someone who is used to the convent-like silence of traditional and montessori schools may read this to be misbehavior or rowdiness. But stop for a second and LISTEN to the noise. You’ll be surprised on what you can harvest from all that conversation. Ideally, the teachers are part of the “noise” too. Their role is to manage the ideas and words of their students and keep boundaries on how students should be speaking to one another and to other adults.

Freedom may sometimes be read as lack of order. There is order but not the order that we have been used to growing up in a traditional school. I know the term “organized chaos” has grossly been abused but that’s the best description of the feistyness that we see in students of progressive schools. They’re free to speak their minds however they are not free to be disrespectful in their words. They’re free to be angry at someone yet they’re not free to hit in anger.

2. Where are the worksheets and textbooks? Progressive Schools have no curriculum.

FICTION. There IS a curriculum. There IS a guide called a scope and sequence that teachers follow to check the skill level of each class. It’s the flexibility of implementing the curriculum that creates an illusion that it doesn’t exist. Why can the teacher change activities during class? Why are there no preschool textbooks? This is not a loss of structure. This is the adaptation of the structure to the ones who are in the center of it — the students.

Activities do not necessarily equate to a worksheet. As much as additional learning does not equate to homework. Nor does a textbook equate to the best source for a particular topic. Alfie Kohn, narrated it well in his article, Progressive Education: Why it’s hard to beat but also hard to find (2008)

And then (as my audiences invariably point out) there are parents who have never been invited to reconsider their assumptions about education. As a result, they may be impressed by the wrong things, reassured by signs of traditionalism — letter grades, spelling quizzes, heavy textbooks, a teacher in firm control of the classroom — and unnerved by their absence. Even if their children are obviously unhappy, parents may accept that as a fact of life. Instead of wanting the next generation to get better than we got, it’s as though their position was:  “Listen, if it was bad enough for me, it’s bad enough for my kids.” Perhaps they subscribe to what might be called the Listerine theory of education, based on a famous ad campaign that sought to sell this particular brand of mouthwash on the theory that if it tasted vile, it obviously worked well. The converse proposition, of course, is that anything appealing is likely to be ineffective. If a child is lucky enough to be in a classroom featuring, say, student-designed project-based investigations, the parent may wonder, “But is she really learning anything? Where are the worksheets?” And so the teachers feel pressure to make the instruction worse.

I rest my case.

3. Progressive schools do not let students memorize facts. The students don’t learn anything.

FACT and FICTION. Why both? Well, progressive schools do not aim for students to recite facts from rote memorization. Progressive schools aim for students to understand the facts and therefore having them remember them longer.

Every time I asses a preschooler and I ask him to tell me the days of the week, almost always that child will sing them to me. This is because during Morning Message in circle time, their teacher sings the Days of the Week song, writes down the day whether it was Monday, Tuesday, etc and highlights each letter in the word. The child then remembers all the days with an idea on how to spell each of them. This activity is appropriate for young students because they’re fond of singing, they love circle time and they can relate with the letters on the board specially because their teacher points out “M is for Monday. Hey, it ‘s also the first letter of your name, Matthew!”

Now compare this to a child whose teacher just makes him memorize Monday to Sunday like a drill sergeant everyday. He may be able to remember this during a test but I’m sure he will completely forget this after. There is no connection to his real and everyday life.

4. The students are having too much fun. They’re just playing and not learning anything.

Who ever said that learning should not be fun? Or that there can never be anything learned by playing? I wonder how that person is as an adult… In the days of the dinosaurs (ok, I exaggerate..), children were pictured chained to their desks, seriously writing on a piece of paper when in school or when in the process of learning something. This image, in reality, hasn’t left the memory of today’s parents. There is a stigma when a child utters the sentence, “Oh, we just play in school.” It’s like laughter does not equate to active learning.

The Disney movie “Monster’s Inc.” depicted a monster world whose primary source of energy was children’s screams of fear. Their energy supply was so low because children were not easily scared anymore. They then realized that children’s laughter offered 10 times more energy after a child accidentally laughed in their power plant. I wonder when this accident can happen in our world?!

Fun is socially not equated with learning because the concept of school was not equated with a place to have fun. And we wonder why as adults we also view ourselves in the workplace with a ball and chain.


There are numerous other fictional or might I say, urban legends about progressive schools. But the number one enemy of the philosophy being implemented in them are traditional expectations. Even after numerous parent seminars or orientations about what a progressive school represents, it is still a struggle for progressive schools to break the barrier that our traditional upbringing has seared in our ideas about education. Sadly, some progressive schools have been swayed to just adapt to this traditional pressure rather than uphold the progressive philosophy.Let’s hope they also read this post.

Q and A: Are you a TRADITIONAL parent in a PROGRESSIVE school?

Alfie Kohn, one of the proponents for progressive education wrote that one of the problems of progressive education is having traditional parents in progressive schools. Since almost all parents were educated the traditional way, they usually have traditional expectations in their child’s progressive school. Why did they choose the progressive school in the first place if they are traditional in belief? Well, they THINK they believe and understand the goals of a progressive school until that nagging feeling sinks in…

Why aren’t there more homework?

Why aren’t there more quizzes and tests?

Why is my child always “playing”?

Why isn’t the school like my nephew’s school? Why isn’t my child having the same lessons as my nephew who’s in the same grade level?

And the list goes on…

It’s like the parent has morphed back to the traditional leanings even after multiple parent orientations, parent interactions, explanations and workshops. That nagging Traditional voice always come back and haunts not only the parents but the school as well.

So are you a traditional parent in a progressive school? Or are you a traditional parent thinking of putting your child in a progressive school? Help us out by posting a comment if these questions resonate in your mind. We’re setting up a Parent Education Seminar with this topic in mind and we want your help by knowing those questions that haunt you.

As an added bonus, we will choose a comment at random and give a special gift for your participation. Random choosing will be on September 15, 2010.

Thanks for your help!

Active Learning

I was browsing through Alfie Kohn’s article about Progressive Education and revisited the concept of Active Learning vs. Memorization. Read this conversation that he cited in his article. Check out the highlighted last paragraph.

“A friend of mine, who is a teacher-educator, had a daughter in fifth grade at the time of this story. She came home, he wrote me, with a worksheet on simple machines—ball bearings, inclined planes, pulleys, that sort of thing. As he came home from work, she said, “Dad, test me, test me!”

“Well,” my friend said, “Why don’t you just tell me what you’ve been learning about?”

“OK, but first ask me what these things are!”

“OK, if you insist. What is a ball bearing?”

“OK, easy dad! A ball bearing is blah blah blah.” A verbatim repetition of the definition she had learned from the teacher.

My friend said, “But Rachel, what is a ball bearing?”

“I told you, Dad. A ball bearing is a blah blah blah blah.”

To make a long story short, he continues, “I turned over the ottoman, which is on wheels, and showed her the ball bearings, and her eyes got wide.

“‘Cooool! That’s what a ball bearing is? How does it work? Can we take apart the ottoman? Oh, I get it. Why didn’t Mrs. Lambert just tell us this is what it was? Can you buy these at the store? Where do they sell these things anyway? Hey, wanna help me make something that rotates? Hey, cool, watch what happens if I hold one of these things and try to spin this thing. What would happen to this thing if the balls were really big? Would the wheels go faster?’”

A progressive school is not about memorizing the definition of ball bearings, or the date at which an event happened in history, or the difference between a simile and a metaphor. That’s not to say that these topics aren’t covered. It’s to say that questions that kids have drive the education.

Scouting for a School Series (SSS): Choosing a School for the Wrong Reasons

When I look at the votes in our poll recently, I noticed that a lot of our readers are parents. Well, parents, this may be a difficult pill to swallow.. but a healthy pill, nonetheless. This may help you in choosing a school for your child or help you in the school where you are currently in.

Alfie Kohn, a speaker advocating progressive education, talks about non-progressive parents existing in progressive schools. I want to give this guy a standing ovation with this paragraph alone..

“The problem with almost any of these criteria for sending kids to a school is that you end up with parents who are impressed by the wrong things. I was in a classroom recently at a progressive school where, during a parents’ potluck breakfast, the Moms and Dads were glowing over the fact that their kids could spell “Australopithecus” or knew some obscure fact that the parents themselves didn’t know. “Isn’t that a wonderful education?” Of course, that’s not necessarily very impressive at all. But if we haven’t made a good match and helped to educate parents, as well as allowing them to educate us about what’s good for kids, you end up with parents who are worried about the very best features and who start to exert pressure, especially as the kids get older, for a more traditional kind of education because they didn’t come to the school for the right reasons in the first place.”

Parents, you may be asking what the right reasons are.. well, that’s what the blog is for.. to help you find out.. However, I do know this for sure. Don’t seek a progressive school having traditional expectations. It doesn’t add up.

My advise to school teachers and administrators is to prioritize your parent orientation. Encourage your parents to attend. In our school, we started to have intimate parent interviews prior to enrollment to ask the reason they chose the school and their expectations from it. It helps in preventing traditional expectations in the future. We learned this from experience 😉