Previous Chapter: The Specter of Communism in Western Universities
Communist Elements in Primary and Secondary Education
b. The Destructive Nature of Progressive Education
The backlash against tradition in American primary and secondary schools began with the progressive education movement of the early twentieth century. The following generations of progressive educators concocted a series of sham theories and discourses that served to alter curricula, water down teaching materials, and lower academic standards. This brought enormous damage to traditional education.
From Rousseau to Dewey
John Dewey is the father of American progressive education and was greatly influenced by the ideas of the eighteenth-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Rousseau believed that people were good by nature and that social ills were responsible for moral decline. He said that man was free and equal at birth and that given a natural environment, everyone would enjoy their innate rights. Inequality, privilege, exploitation, and the loss of man’s innate kindness were all products of civilization, he claimed. For children, Rousseau advocated a model of “natural education” that would leave them to their own devices. This education was to be absent of religious, moral, or cultural teaching.
In fact, humanity is endowed with both benevolence and wickedness. Without nurturing benevolence, the wicked aspects of human nature will predominate to the point where people consider no method too base and no sin too evil. With his elegant rhetoric, Rousseau attracted many misguided followers. The deleterious influence his pedagogical theory has had on Western education is hard to overestimate.
About a century later, Dewey picked up where Rousseau had left off and furthered his destructive work. According to Dewey, who was influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution, children should be weaned from the traditional tutelage of parents, religion, and culture and allowed the freedom to adapt to their environments. Dewey was a pragmatist and moral relativism. He believed that there was no unchanging morality and that people were free to act and behave as they saw fit. The concept of moral relativism is a critical first step in leading humanity away from the moral rules set by God.
Dewey was one of the thirty-three people who signed their names onto The Humanist Manifesto, penned in 1933. Unlike the humanists of the Renaissance, twentieth-century humanism is at its core a kind of secular religion rooted in atheism. Based on modern concepts such as materialism and the theory of evolution, it regards a human being as a machine or the sum of a biochemical process.
In this calculus, the object of education is to mold and guide subjects according to the educator’s wishes — something not fundamentally different from Marx’s “new socialist man.” Dewey himself was a democratic socialist.
American philosopher Sidney Hook said, “Dewey had supplied Marxism with the epistemology and social philosophy that Marx had half seen for himself and had half sketched out in his early works but had never adequately spelled out.” 
In 1921, as civil war raged across Russia, the Soviets found the time to produce a sixty-two-page pamphlet featuring extracts from Dewey’s Democracy and Education. In 1929, the rector of the Second State University of Moscow, Albert P. Pinkerich, wrote: “Dewey comes infinitely closer to Marx and the Russian Communists.”  Biographer Alan Ryan wrote that Dewey “supplied the intellectual weapons for a decently social democratic, non-totalitarian Marxism.” 
Progressive educators make no pretenses about their goal to transform students attitudes toward life. To achieve this aim, they overturned all aspects of learning, including class structure, teaching materials and methods, and the relationship between teachers and students. The focus of education shifted from the teacher to the students (or children). Personal experience was considered superior to knowledge learned from books. Lectures took a back seat to projects and activities.
The conservative American magazine Human Events listed Dewey’s Democracy and Education as number five in its list of the ten most harmful books of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It pointedly observed that Dewey “disparaged schooling that focused on traditional character development and endowing children with hard knowledge, and encouraged the teaching of thinking ‘skills’ instead.” 
Astute critics have taken the progressive bent in education to task from the very beginning. The 1949 book And Madly Teach: A Layman Looks at Public School Education provided a concise and comprehensive rebuttal to the principal tenets of progressive education. [12 Progressive educators have dismissed their critics as “reactionaries” and used various means to suppress or ignore them.
Dewey spent over fifty years as a tenured professor at Columbia University. During the period when he headed the Teacher’s College, at least one-fifth of all primary and secondary school teachers received instruction or advanced degrees at Columbia.  Progressive education has since spread beyond the borders of the United States.
In contrast to figures like Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, or Mao Zedong, Dewey had no aspiration to become a revolutionary guru or take over the world. He was a lifelong academic and professor, but the system of education he created became one of communism’s most potent tools.
According to Rousseau’s theory of education, humans are born good and free but are made worse by society. Therefore, the best method of education is to give children free rein and yield to the child’s own whimsical development.
Under the influence of Rousseauean thought, progressive educationists since Dewey often echo these kinds of ideas: One should not force the values of parents or teachers on students; upon growing up, children should be allowed to make their own judgments and decisions. English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge once elegantly gave the following retort to this sort of view:
Thelwall thought it very unfair to influence a child’s mind by inculcating any opinions before it should have come to years of discretion, and be able to choose for itself. I showed him my garden and told him it was my botanical garden. “How so?” said he, “it is covered with weeds.”——“Oh,” I replied, “that is only because it has not yet come to its age of discretion and choice. The weeds, you see, have taken the liberty to grow, and I thought it unfair in me to prejudice the soil towards roses and strawberries.” 
The quick-witted poet used the analogy to convey to his friend a principle: Ethics and wisdom are painstakingly cultivated, just as with gardening. Not overseeing a garden will cause an outgrowth of weeds. Abandoning children is akin to giving them over to ever-present forces for ill. It amounts to extreme negligence and irresponsibility. Good and evil are simultaneously present in human nature. Though children are by comparison more simple and pure, they are also susceptible to laziness, jealousy, combativeness, selfishness, and other negative traits. Society is a big dye vat. If children, with their natural bad inclinations (along with the good), are not properly raised, then by the time they have come to their “age of discretion and choice,” they will have long been contaminated by bad thoughts and bad habits. Educating them at that point will be too late.
This indulgence of students reached its peak in the pedagogical literary work published in 1960, Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Education. The book’s author, A.S. Neill, established in 1921 an English boarding school, Summerhill School, which admitted children ages 6 to 16. The school gave children complete autonomy. Children were able to decide whether or not they wanted to go to class at all, or whether they wanted to go to one class but not another. Neil’s thought on education was heavily influenced by Frankfurt school philosopher Wilhelm Reich, a vigorous proponent of sexual freedom, and the two often corresponded.
Besides academics, the school was also extremely lax on ethics, discipline, and male-and-female relations. It was all anti-traditional values. Boys and girls were able to casually date or live together, which the school would ignore, or even facilitate. Neil allowed staff and students to swim naked together at an outdoor swimming pool. His 35-year-old stepson taught ceramic art, and would often bring older-grade girls home with him. 
In his book, Neil says, “Every older pupil at Summerhill knows from my conversation and my books that I approve of a full sex life for all who wish one, whatever their age.  He has even hinted that, if not prohibited by law, he would have allowed boys and girls to sleep together.  When Summerhill was published, it quickly became a bestseller. In the 1960s alone, it sold over three million copies, becoming a “classic” that teachers at teachers’ colleges would require all of their students to read.
An ancient Chinese saying goes: “A strict teacher produces outstanding students.” People with knowledge and experience in the West have also found that strict teachers have better classroom results. They also have a more positive influence on their students’ conduct. 
Sadly, in the United States and other Western countries, under the influence of progressivism and educational autonomy, laws have been enacted that limit the scope of parents or teachers in managing students. This has caused teachers to be afraid to discipline students. Students’ bad habits are not corrected in a timely manner, thus leading to a precipitous decline in their moral sense as well as their academic performance.
The most important function of education is to maintain and pass on the traditional culture of human history. Teachers are the hub connecting the past for the benefit of the future. “A teacher is to pass on the Dao, teach the learnings, and clear up the confusion,” according to a Chinese saying. Dewey’s progressive educational thought removed the authority of teachers and downgraded their importance. His stance is anti-intellectual and against common sense — against education itself, in essence.
Progressive educational advocates claim that education must put students at the center and let them explore on their own and reach their own answers. Yet the content of traditional course books was an accumulation of thousands of years of human civilization, How can that be explored by young and ignorant students so quickly? The real intention of progressive education is to cut students off from their bond with traditional culture. A negation of teachers’ authority in the process of education is a negation of their role in carrying forward the knowledge of civilization. This is the ulterior motive of communism.
Daisy Christodoulou’s Seven Myths About Education analyzed and refuted seven widely spread misconceptions, including claims that facts prevent understanding; teacher-led instruction is passive; projects and activities are the best way to learn; teaching knowledge is indoctrination and others. Most of these myths are left over from progressive education, but after being passed down for several generations, they have become a plague on educational culture. Christodoulou is English, and most of her works use examples from the United Kingdom, from which it can be seen that progressive educational concepts have impaired the whole world.
Take the first misconception, for instance. Modern American education has degraded the traditional methods of attention to memorization, reading aloud, and practice as “mechanical memorization,” “rote learning,” and “drill to kill.” Many are familiar with these criticisms. Rousseau attacked memorization and verbal lessons in his novel Emil, and Dewey’s progressive educators furthered such theories.
In 1955, American educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom proposed the famous Bloom Taxonomy, which divided human cognition into six levels, from low to high: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create. The latter three are regarded as higher-order thinking because these abilities involve comprehensive analysis. We are not analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the Bloom classification itself, but merely pointing out that since the system of classification was proposed, progressive educators have used the pretext of cultivating “higher-order thinking” to weaken the teaching of knowledge in schools.
Anyone with common sense knows that having certain basic knowledge is the foundation of any intellectual task. Without a considerable reserve of knowledge, the so-called higher-order thinking, critical thinking, and creative thinking are both self-deceiving and deceiving of others. Bloom’s classification system provides a seemingly scientific excuse for the unfathomable approach by progressive educators.
One of the planks of the theory of student-centered instruction is that students choose what they want to learn and what they don’t want, according to their own interests. The theory also avers that teachers should educate students only in what they’re interested in. This idea appears plausible, but may not be so. To have students learn in an enjoyable way is what every teacher would wish for, but children have a shallow knowledge and limited vision and are unable to judge what is important to learn and what isn’t. Teachers must take responsibility for guiding students so that they can transcend their superficial interests and broaden their visions and understanding. Simply catering to the superficial interests of students will only lead to their permanent infantilization. By espousing student-centered instruction, educators are thus deceiving students and parents, which is irresponsible to society.
Studies have found that there is a tendency in American society for adults to remain in a kind of adolescence longer than other populations. The National Academy of Sciences in 2002 defined adolescence as a period from 12 to 30 years of age. The MacArthur Foundation went even further and tried to argue that a person is considered an adult at age 34.  The educational system and media bear the responsibility for this extended period of adolescence that many adults have found themselves in.
One of the excuses of progressive education in lowering teaching requirements is that along with the popularization of education, more people get enrolled in secondary and post-secondary schools, and thus the average level of attainment cannot be as high as in the past. This is a wrong understanding. Adapting education to a democratic society is supposed to enable those who did not have the opportunity to receive an education before to be able to receive one — not to lower the standards, or to have everyone receive an inferior education by lowering the quality.
Progressivism claims to replace useless classical courses such as Greek and Latin with more contemporary courses, but in the end, most schools do not, in fact, introduce high-quality courses useful for modern life, like in-depth courses in mathematics, economics, and modern history. Instead, progressive educators promote classes like driving, cooking, beauty, and accident-prevention, which have nothing to do with academics. The curriculum and teaching-method reforms advocated by progressive educators deceive students who are not yet well-informed, as well as parents who defer to schools, teachers, and so-called experts.
If we look at only some teaching methods proposed by progressive education, they are not useless when applied to some subjects and areas of learning. However, when we look at the progressive educational movement and its specific background and outcomes, it becomes clear that progressive education sets itself up in opposition to traditional education, thereby mutating education, and ultimately ruining it. Unlike Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Zedong, Dewey had neither the ambition of being a revolutionary nor the arrogance of attempting to launch a world revolution. If we put his life into perspective, he is clearly a scholar and a professor — but the educational movement he launched became one of the most useful tools for communism to undermine human society.