The paths to "Eureka" moments: Teaching Mathematics in Secondary Education

Intro to Ed. AT Chapter 7

1. Compare and contrast essentialism and progressivism.

According to the class textbook, essentialism has had the largest impact on elementary and secondary schools in the US. However, when in the realm of student teachers, one is most likely to hear the term “progressivism” and immediately recognize its meaning. Between both educational theories, there are many points of contrast. The role of the student, place of the teacher, as well as the method and content of curriculum widely differ when compared.

Essentialism casts the teacher as the highest authority of instruction, and gives the role of the student that of a clay object to be molded by the teacher. Students are to listen and learn from their teachers, who, “wear[s] the mantle of authority in the classroom, insisting on order and making no apologies for instilling traditional values in students” (Newman 233). In contrast, progressivism places the student at the center of learning and gives the teacher the role of a learning coach. In this scenario, the teacher may not be as organized as the essentialist, but instead, follows the natural path of student learning.

The essentialist curriculum is built on the “back to basics” philosophy. The 3R’s: reading, writing, and arithmetic, are the very core to its ideals. Teachers are to stick to these ideals first and foremost, as well as introducing a sense of morals to their lessons. On the other side of the teaching spectrum, progressivism is about action, where “education is not preparation for life. It is life” (Newman 245). The progressive classroom will be filled with hands on and social reform projects aimed at stirring the students’ educational curiosity. In theory, progressive teachers will prepare lessons that evoke thought and questions that will lead to learning.


2.  Imagine you are preparing for a debate or a conference presentation where you must represent both the “for” and “against” positions regarding critical theory and theorists.

Pros of Critical Theory

Critical Theorists strive to aid students and teachers by providing ways of escape from oppression and social injustices. The goal is to empower students and teachers to choose the best and most appropriate curriculum that fits the culture of the student. With the chosen projects and topics, teachers are to design lessons and give power to their students by giving them opportunities to grow in knowledge. Critical theory pushes to close the financial aid gap between suburban and urban schools. Equality is a major theme throughout its philosophy.

Cons of Critical Theory

“Critical theory is progressivism pushed to the limit” (Newman 259). When ideas are pushed to the extreme, they often fall away from the focus and become out of balance.  Critical theorists are often radical in their methods and ideals. Much of their early work and documentation is difficult to understand and read. To have literature that is not readily available for the layman seems rather contradictory given the “equality” and “bridge the social gap” goals of critical theory.



Newman, J.W. (2006). America’s teachers: an introduction to

education. White Plains, N.Y.: Allyn & Bacon.



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