Gray Matters, December 2022

The Importance of Progressive Education in Setting Children Up for Success

As a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school leader and a parent of three, I am very cognizant of the cultural pressures to rush childhood. At Capitol Hill Day School, we resist these pressures and intentionally design deeply meaningful learning experiences that allow students to savor and celebrate this phase of their lives. As an educator, I strongly believe that it is in the best interest of children to keep them grounded in the present. Our faculty and staff do this exceptionally well by fostering connectedness — across curriculum, across age groups, and across our community. 

I have not been shy about championing connectedness as our theme for this year. Connectedness is a throughline evident in the history, mission, and teaching and learning strengths of Capitol Hill Day School. In recent weeks, I have listened to two podcast episodes featuring conversations with higher education leaders that likewise emphasize the critical nature of connectedness in schools. What ultimately struck me in each was that in talking about college, the leaders interviewed reinforced what I would claim as our territory and loudly echoed Capitol Hill Day School’s progressive educational philosophy to describe the ideal learning environment. 

Higher ed now is going through a transformation where there’s much more project-based learning,” said Denise Pope, a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, on the podcast, New View Edu, produced by The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). “There’s much more interdisciplinary work happening. And [colleges] want to see kids come in with the ability to think critically, and with the ability to self-care, and with the ability to self-advocate.”

In a separate episode, New View Edu host Tim Fish asked two additional guests to explore an essential question that he routinely asks on the podcast: What is the purpose of education? 

The purpose is really simple,” said Adam Weinberg, President of Denison University. “We’re here to help [students] launch their lives; to unlock their potential to become the architects of their lives.”

Fish followed up by asking his guests what the key ingredients are that give students the best potential to do so.

The first is: Great, life-transforming education is deeply relational,” responded Jeff Selingo, journalist and author of Who Gets in and Why: A Year Inside of College Admissions. Selingo highlighted relationships with both teachers and peers as means to challenge and bring out the best in students. 

As Selingo sees it, the second ingredient centers on experiences. “It’s a place that has experiential education,” he added. “I think fundamentally, a life-transforming education is about the relational piece, and it’s about the experiences.”

These assertions by Pope, Weinberg, and Selingo precisely mirror our School’s mission and philosophy. Capitol Hill Day School is a joyful learning environment where I am confident children feel a real sense of connection, embrace hands-on learning experiences, and develop deeply valuable relationships. The result is a learning environment of academic excellence where children engage in challenging work that requires critical thinking and problem-solving, with connectedness at its core.

Episode: The Future of Higher Ed, with Jeff Selingo and Adam Weinberg 
Episode: Challenging Success to Design Schools for Well-Being, with Denise Pope