Progressivism and Essentialism in Education 1
Progressivism and Essentialism in Education
The Association for Career and Technical Education “is committed to enhancing the job
performance and satisfaction of its members” (ACTE Online: Who We Are, 2003, para. 4). Their
purpose is “To provide leadership in developing an educated, prepared, and competitive
workforce” (ACTE Online: Who We Are, 2003, para. 2). To meet these goals career and
technical education (CTE) relies on the philosophies of progressivism and essentialism.
Progressivism focuses on activities and experience, group leaning, and problem solving (Scott &
Sarkees-Wircenski, 2001, p. 351). Teachers are seen as the students’ guide. CTE pulls some of
their philosophy from essentialism as well. They believe they provide essential skills for entry
into the work force, that teachers should have high competence in their subject matter, and
should be current and up-to-date on matters in their field (Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2001, p.
The purpose of schools is to educate children in how to think (Scott & Sarkees-
Wircenski, 2001, p. 351). Schools need to teach students basic skills, cooperation, hands-on
experience, and how to deal with the changing world. Schools accomplish these goals thought
progressivism philosophy. Schools should parallel worth that is done in real life and to do this
they promote the “using the tools of problem solving, scientific inquiry, cooperative behaviors,
and self-discipline” (Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2001, p. 351). Schools are to be democratic
where students can practice the authentic skills that they learn (Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2001,
p. 351). Along with these progressivism ideas schools also rely on essentialism. Students must
learn basic skills that will make them competent in the workforce and up-to date on the most
recent advances in their field (Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2001, p. 354-355). These two
Progressivism and Essentialism in Education 2
philosophies sometimes contradict each other, but can also work side by side in the goals of the
The purpose of career and technical education is “to provide leadership in developing an
educated, prepared, and competitive workforce” (ACTE Online: Who We Are, 2003, para. 2). To
meet this goal CTE teaches students hands on job skills, group cooperation in real life situations,
and about the job market they will be entering. This takes the goal of the school and narrows it
within the subject matter. Students are allowed to work within programs that interest them but
are real job skills that they will use in real life (Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2001, p. 352), which
is an idea of progressivism. Coupled with that is essentialisms idea that knowledge is universal
and that its values persist over time (Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2001, p. 353-354).
Essentialisms emphasis on subject-centered curriculum is also an idea closely related to CTE
because it focuses on choosing an area to work in and specializing in it (Scott & Sarkees-
Wircenski, 2001, p. 354).
Technical education is meant to teach students how to:
Design and work with technology systems, Open-ended, problem-based design activities
Cognitive, manipulative, and affective learning strategies
Applying technological knowledge and processes to real world experiences
using up-to-date resources
Working individually as well as in a team to solve problems (ITEA What is Technology
Education?, 2003, para. 2)
This is accomplished through the progressive idea that the tools of learning are problem solving
methods and scientific inquiry (Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2001, p. 351). A way that this is
accomplishes is through career and technical organizations. The student technology education
organization is the Technology Student Association (TSA). By being involved in these programs
tech ed programs increase the options they have and the hands on experiences they can offer to
Progressivism and Essentialism in Education 3
students. It emphasizes problem solving and helps students become self-sufficient (Scott &
Sarkees-Wircenski, 2001, p. 352). This goes with the essentialism ideas of keeping up with the
contemporary scene (Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2001, p. 354).
The role of the student or learner in technology education is to learn how to think, how to
solve problems and how to apply their knowledge to the real world (Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski,
2001, p. 351-352). Students are taught to “overcome the problems of survival” (Scott & Sarkees-
Wircenski, 2001, p. 352-353). Group learning and cooperation is important in preparation for
jobs as is becoming self-sufficient so that the student can function in society (Scott & Sarkees-
Wircenski, 2001, p. 352-353).
The role of the teacher is to be a guide to the students, to have up to date knowledge of
the field and to provide them with the skills they will need in the work force. Progressive
philosophy views the role of the teacher as a guide into knowledge of how to solve problems and
how to think critically (Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2001, p. 352). This somewhat contradicts but
also compliments the essentialism idea that the teacher is the master of the subject being taught
(Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2001, p. 35-354). While guiding the students the teacher should
also be well informed in the topic and be a source and master of their field (Scott & Sarkees-
Wircenski, 2001, p. 354). Teachers are there to “prepare trained workers who can contribute to
the economic prosperity of the country as well as improve society as a whole” (Scott & Sarkees-
Wircenski, 2001, p. 353).
Thought the proponents of essentialism and progressivism do not agree very much on
methods, a combination of the two ways results in an effective school and CTE classroom. The
TSA creed reads, “Guided by my teachers, artisans from industry, and my own initiative, I will
strive to do my best in making my school, community, state, and nation better places in which to
Progressivism and Essentialism in Education 4
live” (TSA Motto and Creed, 2003, para. 3). It clearly combines the progressive ideas of
guidance and self-learning with essentialisms goal of teaching skills for the work force and the
join idea of creating workers with the knowledge and skills to join the workforce.
Progressivism and Essentialism in Education 5
ACTE Online. (n.d.). Who We Are. Retrieved November 6, 2003 from
International Technology Education Association. (n.d.) What is Technology Education?
Retrieved December 1, 2003 from http://www.iteawww.org/A1.html
Scott J. L., & Sarkees-Wircenski, M. (2001). Overview of Career and Technical
Education. Homewood, Illinois: American Technical Publishers, Inc..
Technology Student Association. (n.d.). Motto and Creed. Retrieved December 1, 2003