A Message to Colleagues

“Progressive education cannot be static; it must be ever searching, ever experimenting, ever moving onto higher ideals and more complete realization of them.” – Eugene Randolph Smith

Page from Democracy in Education

Progressive education cannot be static; it must be ever searching, ever experimenting, ever moving onto higher ideals and more complete realization of them.
Eugene Randolph Smith, Letter to PEA Membership, 19__

The paradox of education is precisely this: that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.
James Baldwin, “A Talk to Teachers,” 1963


Progressive education must continue to play a dynamic role in our democracy as we head towards the third decade of the 21st century. Progressive educators must continue to cultivate in students a consciousness not only of who they are becoming as individuals, but also how they will commune with their fellow human beings as intellects with empathy; how they will become agents of transformation and change in their world; and how the adults who educate them might help them in this work.

Inspired by the October 2015 national conference, “Access, Equity, and Activism: Teaching the Possible” and the call to action raised by participants, the PEN board has considered how we can not only support progressive pedagogy, but also more vigorously promote commitments to diversity, equity and justice in our schools and society. To that end, in February 2016 we began to revise our organizational mission and vision, as well to revisit the principles of progressive education articulated by our forbears in the Progressive Education Association and the Network of Progressive Educators. We were humbled by our deep dive into these principles: they have kept us focused on a common vision of progressive pedagogy for nearly a century. Yet, as we looked at the principles in combination with our mission and vision, we noted the inadequacy of language enacting commitments to diversity, equity and justice in our schools.   
Acknowledging the century-long history of progressive education is important. The heart of progressive education has been, and always should be, centered on children’s being and becoming. But we must also remember the words of Francis W. Parker: “the needs of the society should determine the work of the school.”

We know that our society has transformed in the hundred years since the origin of the Progressive Education Association. While it is important to honor the venerated history of this movement, we must also hold it up to the light of our time. We have attempted to do exactly this in our revision of our mission, vision, and educational principles. In sharing them with you we hope to encourage conversation within your school communities, among your colleagues, and with us. How might these principles of progressive education come alive in your practice? How might these principles make your work, your goals, and your growth visible? To what other needs might we need to be responsive in the future?  

In order to stay dynamic rather than static — as an organization, and as a network of educators committed to progressive pedagogy — we continue to embrace principles that meet our students where they are and support their schools and their families, but which perhaps more purposefully support their work, by our side, to make this a more just and equitable society.  

Theresa Squires Collins, President

On behalf of the Board of Directors of The Progressive Education Network


The Progressive Education Network (PEN) promotes a vision of progressive pedagogy, acknowledges its historical influence, and advocates for its dynamic potential to impact students and their schools. Progressive education supports children both as learners and as citizens, and promotes diversity, equity, and justice in our schools and society.
PEN believes that the purpose of education transcends preparation for college or career; schools nurture citizens in an increasingly diverse democracy. We acknowledge the complexities of education theory, practice, policy, and politics, but promote a vision of progressive education for the 21st century that:


  • Engages students as active participants in their learning and in society
  • Supports teachers’ voice as experienced practitioners and growth as lifelong learners
  • Builds solidarity between progressive educators in the public and private sectors
  • Advances critical dialogue on the roles of schools in a democratic society
  • Responds to contemporary issues from a progressive educational perspective
  • Welcomes families and communities as partners in children’s learning
  • Promotes diversity, equity, and justice in our schools and society
  • Encourages progressive educators to play an active role in guiding the educational vision of our society.

Educational Principles:

The purpose of school expands beyond prevailing education policy and practice. Progressive educators support their students’ deep intellectual development and healthy identity formation–as developing individuals, as active learners within a school community, and as engaged citizens in the broader world. We believe that:

  • Education must amplify students’ voice, agency, conscience, and intellect to create a more equitable, just, and sustainable world.
  • Education must encourage the active participation of students in their learning.
  • Education must respond to the developmental needs of students, and focus on their social, emotional, intellectual, cognitive, cultural, and physical development.
  • Education must honor and nurture students’ natural curiosity and innate desire to learn, fostering internal motivation and the discovery of passion and purpose.
  • Education must emerge from the interests, experiences, goals, and needs of diverse constituents, fostering empathy, communication and collaboration across difference.
  • Education must foster respectfully collaborative and critical relationships between students, educators, parents/guardians, and the community.

PEN is committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment in all of our activities and operations. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, gender expression, age, national origin, ability, marital status, military status or sexual orientation.