In 1953, a Canadian educator by the name of Hilda Neatby, hit a nerve with her book, So Little for the Mind. She drew the title from a Cardinal Newman quote, "Any self-education in any shape, in the most restricted sense, is preferable to a system of teaching which, professing so much, really does so little for the mind."
Neatby caused a stir because of her disrespectful use of the expression "expert in education," considering it to be an insult to a noble calling. "It degrades the most difficult art of nourishing and disciplining and inspiring the mind to the level of a special technique. It de-humanizes education. I could pay no higher compliment to an educational leader than to say that, although he may have expert knowledge in certain fields, that is the leat of his qualifications for the extremely important work that is given him to do."
Even though some of the details of her work address issues in the Canadian system of education, she has much that is worthwhile for the consideration of education as a whole. I include this extended excerpt from her Introduction, in which it is declared that Progressive education is anti-intellectual, anti-cultural, and amoral (p. 15 f):
"Democratic equalitarianism encouraged the idea of a uniform low standard easily obtainable by almost all. Special attention was given to all physical, emotional, and mental abnormalities, but the old-fashioned things called the mind, the imagination, and the conscience of the average and of the better-than-average child, not not exactly forgotten, slipped into the background. As a result, the much-maligned tranditionalist is now retorting with some pretty rigorous criticisms of progressive education as he sees it.
"It is frankly anti-intellectual. There is no attempt to exercise, train, and discipline th mind. This is old-fashioned language, now forbidden by the experts, but its meaning is still clear to the literate person. The traditionalist firmly and even brutally conveyed a body of facts which must be learned precisely, and which provided, as it were, the material of thought. Or he might demonstrate the process of thought through the admittedly painful process of causing the pupil to memorize a mathematical proposition and its proof. True, the matter often began and ended with memorizing, and never reached the stage of thinking. The progressivist noted this, but instead of taking over and doing the thing properly, he threw up the sponge. Because, he argued, inteelectual training is difficult and painful and many fall by the wayside, throw it out alltogether. Failures spoil the record. The denial by the schools of the duty of intellectual training is neatly reflected by the current fashion of lightly dismissing in argument an unanswerable fashion of lightly dismmissing in argument an unanswerable proposition as "a question of semantics."
"Progressivism is anti-cultural. This is quite in keeping with the revolutionary, pseudo-scientific materialist fashions of the day. In this scientific age, we find that everything, not just educational methods, but everything, is better than it used to be. It is the pride of the machine age that we can now understand, manipulate, and control men as we do machines. Why should we look at the evidence of human joys, sorrows, failures, and achievenments of the past? It would almost be an admission of defeat. We manage everything better now. . . .
"Progressive education is, or has been, amoral. There is something of a reaction today, but for a generation it has been unfashionable, to say the least, to speak openly of right and wrong actions. Teachers take cover instead under "desireable" and "undesirable" "attitudes" or "responses." But these are not enough. The pupil soon learns that in a democratice society he has as much right as anyone else. Even the elementary discipline of establishing rules which the child was required to keep was questioned. True, rules certainly existed in practice; but pragmatic theory frowned on all external control and therefore rules were enforced uneasily and with a bad conscience. The general tendency of the progressive approach has been to weaken respect for law and authority as such, and to dull discrimination between right and wrong, by the teaching, implied if not expressed, that "desireable" actions on the part of the child (actions pelasing to others) will bring "desireable" responses (actions pleasing to him)."