What is Progressive Education?

It is demanding and challenging on many levels.
It engages the individual within a community of learners.
It teaches students to ask meaningful questions and consider multiple perspectives.
It involves parents in their child’s education.
It demands teachers constantly and consistently respond to their students learning needs.
It is powerful, meaningful, and sometimes messy.

Over one hundred years ago, John Dewey, the preeminent American philosopher, educational reformer, and pioneer of progressive education suggested that learning is a social and interactive process, and that students learn best in an environment where they are allowed to experience and interact with the curriculum.  Touchstone Community School was founded 30 years ago with exactly those deeply empowering and meaningful ideals of progressive education at our core.  At Touchstone, progressive education is made real: children, engaged and passionate, pursuing investigations, asking relevant, meaningful questions, and reflecting on their work. At Touchstone progressive education is made possible:  a community and a social fabric where children feel known, at home, and safe to take risks and make mistakes.Understanding progressive schools takes time.  The academics, the skills, the engagement, the curriculum development, the classroom management, and the parental partnership go far beyond morning drop-offs and afternoon faculty meetings, far beyond quizzes and worksheets, and further than benchmarks and goals.

It’s not easy to be a student in a progressive school.  At Touchstone we ask students to go beyond the rote answer, the memorized formula, or the acquisition of basic content.  It is not easy here because we challenge our students to dig deeply, to question intently, and to think multi-dimensionally; we ask them to go beyond their assumptions.  We ask them to take their talents, their strengths, and their areas for growth and to stretch.  Our students are acquiring the skills to listen, to moderate and test ideas, to see from many perspectives, and to set and achieve goals.  John Dewey said, “Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.”  At Touchstone, students are never done learning!

It’s not easy to be a teacher in a progressive school—there is no pre-scripted curriculum, no pre-packaged set up.  TCS teachers, by nature of our classrooms and our philosophy, are life-long learners, creative thinkers, and passionate educators.  Our educational philosophy attracts and retains teachers who are eager to plan, review and re-plan curriculum for their classrooms and for each individual student.  Our teachers use their experience and professional knowledge to align, design, and reflect on the academic and social progress of each student. It’s not easy because at a progressive school, the work is constantly shifting, the classroom is organic and multifaceted, and a teacher’s role is one of partner, mentor, guide, expert, and friend. Our teachers model the skills we hope to nurture in our children, and they model the value of life-long learning.  They too see each goal as the opportunity to start anew.  They are never done learning.

It’s not easy to be a parent in a progressive school!  At Touchstone there are no spelling quizzes with a big 98% on the top coming home to be hung on the fridge,  no report cards with end of year GPAs.  Instead, there is a profound partnership between teachers and parents, which requires cooperation, respect, and strong communication.  Refrigerators in our families’ homes hold poetry, essays, art, and puzzles—real work that students have produced and of which they are justifiably proud.  It is important, in a progressive school, that the community of parents is engaged and involved, excited by the school’s work, and in full partnership with their child’s teachers.  Parents at progressive schools often talk about “taking a leap of faith” when they enter a school like Touchstone because the usual and standard markers are not how we assess or even talk about our children.  We believe our assessments are deeper, more thoughtful, more individualized, and more authentic.  The parents of our alumni come back and crow about their children, about the depth of their learning, knowledge, and skills.  They say, “we took a leap and it was worth it!”

Dewey said, “Education is a social process.  Education is growth.  Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”  At a progressive school, at Touchstone, education is life.  Children learn for life here.  Yes, it is different here—for some it is quite an unfamiliar model, for some it is a leap of faith, for others it is everything they have been searching for in an educational community.

Susan Diller
Head of School

“Touchstone students learn to think deeply. They come away knowing how to think; they have questions. That’s where wisdom comes from–they can think critically with soul, with ethical value, with social context.

– Marian Hazard, Parent, Retired Teacher