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Retreat from Learning, by Joan Dunn

- Abstract

While discussing William Dean Howells, Lionel Trilling remarked, somewhat disapprovingly, that nothing in America is quite as dead as an American future of a few decades back. Progressive education today partakes of some of that “dead” quality American futures acquire when they age. Perhaps we need to extend toward it some of the same generosity Professor Trilling has recently shown Howells and, in similar fashion, resuscitate a “fading and remote” viewpoint in order to conserve the useful and “living” in it. Certainly, it is disheartening to see another good ideal gone wrong—if progressive education has indeed gone wrong—when we feel all about us, in both literature and life, a shrinking away from the adventurous and large-scale humanitarian visions of yesteryear. Still, all the talk about “educating the whole child” does seem a little over-vague and inadequate now, and the textbook jargon of the educators seems more like jargon than ever—and also a little like whistling in the dark. Time and events have forced us to ask for a more operative, more complex, and more stimulating set of ideas about education.

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