Education’s Early 20th Century Debate: Classic vs. Progressive Education

A crowded Victorian classroom

Education’s Early 20th Century Debate: Classic vs. Progressive Education

If you were a student in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, you would have been given a classical education. This was especially true for boys. Girls were taught more feminine subjects such as music, needlework and home management, but increasingly they, too, were becoming educated.  (This post is a companion piece to Melina Druga’s WWI Trilogy, Angel of Mercy, Those Left Behind and Adjustment Year, available wherever eBooks are sold. It also is a companion piece to The Unmarriable Kind.)

Subjects Studied

Ontario Public School History of Canada textbook
Ontario Public School History of Canada textbook

Students of a classic education studied numerous subjects. Today, some of these subjects seem odd to teach children.

The subjects were:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Classic literature
  • Latin
  • Greek
  • Logic, examining and analyzing ideas
  • Rhetoric, debating ideas
  • Arithmetic
  • Music
  • Astronomy
  • Architecture
  • History

Students of a classical education often went on to a college or university where they studied medicine or law.

Progressive Education

Class photo from around the turn-of-the-20th-century showing 57 students
Class photo from around the turn-of-the-20th-century showing 57 students

Starting around the turn of the 20th century, classical education began being replaced with a progressive education. It differed from a classical education in that its goal was not to prepare wealthy students for university, but to level the playing field for all students.

Other differences included:

  • School was thought of as a form of community, preparing children to take their place in society
  • The belief that children learned by identifying and solving problems
  • Learning was more hands-on
  • Students could work to attain individual goals
  • Teachers instructed not just concepts but world experiences

Both forms of education still exist, although they have been modified to accommodate subjects contemporary students need to prepare them for adulthood.

The WWI Trilogy by Melina Druga
The WWI Trilogy by Melina Druga: Angel of Mercy, Those Left Behind and Adjustment Year

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Updated: 23 October 2020
Melina Druga
Latest posts by Melina Druga (see all)
Melina Druga is a multi-genre author with a lifelong love of history, books and the English language. She pens historical fiction, chick lit and nonfiction.

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