firmly in place has been confirmed through an abundance of historical evidence.
Progressivism and leftist education superintendents
Are "progressive" education chiefs really progressive?
Press and other media tend to call the supporters of leftist ideas or policies "progressive." But the word is not appropriate. Although the progressivism, one of the U.S. education trends in the early days of the 20th century, is hardly a leftist idea, it`s not totally irrelevant to the leftist thought. In Korea, a pro-North Korean group is easily dubbed as "progressive." Although it`s doubtful whether we should name as progressive the most closed regime and ideology in the world, it`s common to categorize both leftist and pro-North Korea ideas as progressivism.
Education is not an exception. Few people would be reluctant to call the teachers` union and its affiliates a "progressive education organization" due to their leftist or pro-North Korean ideology. As such, the pro-union education superintendents elected in the latest local poll are also introduced as "progressive." Although they took office only a few weeks ago, they have already stirred up worries and problems. They have opposed teacher evaluation scheme and state-administered academic achievement tests while introducing human rights codes for students. Many experts have already raised the issues through newspapers but failed to notice that most general public take them as granted. In this context, I will attempt to define their progressive ideas, rather than discussing their arguments.
The Enlightenment: the origin of progressivism
"Progressive" means making individuals or society progress for better direction or condition. Then, why is the word with such a good connotation interpreted as leftist? The key word to the answer is the Enlightenment. The enlightened thought as a philosophy is a combination of so many offshoots that it`s hard to be defined in one sentence. Therefore, we need to look at the Renaissance in order to better understand the enlightened thought as the origin of the leftist ideology.
Although the Renaissance is the root of the enlightened thought, it`s also hard to simplify as it has many offshoots. Geographically, the Renaissance in the southern Europe was different from that of the north. It can be also classified for aristocrats and mass public. But what`s clear is that it has made a progress in history by denying the medieval thought that the God be the center of the world.
Another progressive event was the Reformation. The Renaissance shifted the center of the thought from the God to human being while the Reformation denied the Church`s unfair authority and put "individuals" at the center of the stage. The Reformation also promoted the need of universal education, with some reformists advocating the need to encourage the commoners to read the bible. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Enlightenment was originated from the two historic events that stressed the human-oriented thought and the priority of individuals` views over state and regional authorities.
The problem is that the enlightened thought has produced many offshoots. It has spawn into the rationalism led by Descartes, the British empiricism followed by Bacon, Locke, and Hume. Even the scientific achievements made by Galileo, Copernicus, and Kepler can be attributed to the Enlightenment. Even Newton`s contribution to optics and physics can be characterized as the product of the enlightened thought. In short, the philosophy stresses proving with experience and observation and highlights individuals with rational thought.
Two offshoots of progressivism: liberalism and socialism
One of the best achievements by the Enlightenment is liberalism that focuses on individuals` rational choice based on experience with and observation of the reality. The crux of liberalism can be found in Locke and Smith. The liberalism that respects the value of individuals with free choice has faced anti-liberal thought from the same root, which is socialism. How come the contrasting ideologies have derived from the enlightened thought? The answer lies with the Enlightenment.
The social progressivism from the Renaissances to the Reformation and to the Enlightenment denies the establishment and focuses on individuals` reason. The enlightened thought even denies its own achievements. In other words, they see even the social orders established by the enlightened thought as a target to attack. The deism that tries to remove the mystery and explain the God`s world with reason has contributed to scientific study but also generated a drastic idea that rational individuals with scientific thought can set up a perfect society. Since the existing system entails irregularities produced by human reason, naturalism or romanticism tend to emerge to deny it. Thomas Moor who dreamed of "Utopia" belongs to the first case and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to the second. They became a precursor to the progressivism in concern.
The progressivism aimed at destroying the existing orders and establishing a new perfect society has evolved into two strands: romanticism that reflects Rousseau`s call for the return to the nature and the Grand Social Engineering Project that has a blind trust in human reason so that we can build an ideal world. The former has become the father of the leftist thought focusing on issues such as environment and ecology system. The latter has laid the ground for the Marxism that aims to overthrow the capitalist society. In short, intellectual arrogance that does not allow any trial and error has taken the center of the leftist progressivism.
This thought has come to completely deny the liberalism that values individual`s freedom and responsibility, constitutionalism, and market economy as the driving forces of social development. It challenges the liberalism seeking the progress of the society.
The introduction may be too long but the backgrounds will help us understand the problems with the leftist education superintendents and find solutions. The progressive ideas can be summarized as follows:
First, they believe Marquis de Condorcet`s argument that individuals and society can be reconstructed through education.
Second, they deny the possibility of both human errors and self-motivated order such as market. They also disparage the liberalism respecting the rule of law as conservatism.
Third, they have a blind faith in scientific accounts and believe that social development follows the rules of history, which leads to totalitarianism that the state should control the society.
Fourth, as the enlightenment thought is applied to the public education, it destroys any private aspect of education and encourages state monopoly. Community precedes individuals and competition is regarded as vive.
Fifth, the progressivism obsessed with human reason champions the pragmatism and attempts to overthrow the existing value and institutions by pursuing value-neutralism.
"Progressive" policies by leftist education superintendents
The brief reflection reveals the reality of the policies proposed by the "progressive" education superintendents. The idea of "free school meals" that they have strongly pushed for derives from the belief that the state should control not only the economics but also all the means of education. They even deny individuals` choice on lunch. They oppose the evaluation of teachers` performances and nation-wide tests on the ground that the value of the community should not be compromised by competition. They introduce a law on students` rights as they view them as primitive and they want to transform them to build the ideal society.
Their policies entail a flaw. Free school meal scheme may help support the low-income earners and eliminate discrimination against them. But any for-free policy eventually worsens the poverty problem and makes the entire society poorer. They`re negating pragmatism, one of their creeds, by opposing to any kinds of academic tests. They refuse to admit the fact that people can progress with assessment. It`s like denying medical check, which is critical to prevent diseases and enhance health. Their proposal for students` rights is not a progress but a regress. Students are not in the state of the nature as defined by the social contract theory. Schools and teachers are a product of the civilization. But the superintendents ignore the fact as they believe schools and teachers are an established system that should be destroyed. However, schools and teachers are a valuable system and means of civilization necessary for our society to prosper.
The leftist education chiefs should clarify what kind of progressive ideas they`re pursuing and where is their final destination.
By Kim Jung-rae, professor of education at Busan National University of Education