Students at camp, voting

Progressive education is an old label for what is now called democratic education. The name had to change when everyone who wanted to change anything in the traditional system began to use the word “progressive”, and in time it lost any specific meaning.

The students who were organising the 1997 international conference for what had once been known as progessive schools called it the International Democratic Education Conference and the acronym IDEC has stuck ever since.

Progressive or democratic education has, as its fundamental elements, respecting and trust in the individual child. This entails equal status for children and adults, who must share responsibility for the running of their schools, and freedom for children to decide how they will spend their time.

Early in the twentieth century there were other names for this approach. Schools that were broadly in the Summerhill tradition were called “new schools” and if they followed the ideas of Francisco Ferrer they were called “modern schools.”

New or modern or progressive or democratic schools have existed for more than a hundred years, and if you include Tolstoy’s school at Yasnaya Polyana, which was in many ways similar, they go back to 1860.

They have proved their worth over and over again, but are still regarded with arrogant scepticism by those who suffered a traditional education themselves, and cannot believe that young people, given the freedom to do so, will make responsible decisions about their own education.

This web site is about places where children are given that freedom.

I had so often been asked, “What is progressive education?” that I wrote a whole book to answer the question:
Considering Children: A parents’ guide to progressive education

More articles by David Gribble