The John Dewey model of Progressive Education, of social justice that is vital to a democratic society, promoting critical thinking, creativity and self-direction in modes of acquiring knowledge and the interest in continuing to do so throughout one’s life, the “group consciousness”, a holistic effort, should be the primary thrust of education. To emphasize “the teacher’s role…should…encourage each child to develop intellectually, emotionally, physically, perceptually, aesthetically, socially, and creatively through art-making” (Stankiewicz, 38), as stated by Viktor Lowenfeld, or rather to develop the whole person and “promote values that transcend the boundaries of the art lesson” (Children and Their Art: Methods for the Elementary School, 1982, section eight) and explore how this will contribute to a wholesome society, giving meaning to this life.
To understand the meaning, to break it down, would be to open up a cosmic truth that is so evident and rudimentary that we can only guess at why it could not be seen when it is plain as the nose of our faces. Creativity and curiosity of how things work, why they work the way that they do, and the expression of how things could be made better is an innate, divine if you will, trait that every person is born with. To be able to explore something on a structured level, to question why it is so freely and without ridicule, to understand that there is “no such thing as a noncreative person,” (session 5) opens up the individual to a myriad of potential answers to any query and continues to make their life worthy of the trip. To not foster the child-like attributes of such is to help an individual in society lead an unfulfilling life.
What this means for art education, or education in general is a recognition of the split between being educated and learning. What Dewey and his contemporaries understood and believed in is of the latter, that the individual must be engaged and interested in what they are learning in order to retain and transfer this knowledge throughout the rest of their livelihoods as people. Their intent was to create a basis for the education of the learner through incorporation of and a balance between the delivery of the knowledge and fuse it with the interests and experiences of the student, no matter how vast, because their voice was unique to them alone and their motivation imperative to their future as innovators and contributors to a common societal growth.
For progressive education to work, educators must be able to see each individual tree, plainly in front of them, contemplating their contribution to the vastness of its diversifying grandeur that makes up the forest. They must first examine the bark and leaves, roots, shoots and branches (qualities) that make each (student) unique and incorporate this knowledge into the understanding of how this balance of individual differences (character and background), through meaningful structure and guidance, fosters expression and creativity that strengthens the whole community through the self-motivated discovery.