Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Loving Learning: How Progressive Education Can Save America's Schools

Rate this book
The longtime head of Park Day School, Tom Little embarked on a tour of 43 progressive schools across the country. In this book, his life’s work, he interweaves his teaching experience, the knowledge he gleaned from his trip, and the history of Progressive Education. As Little and Katherine Ellison reveal, these educators and schools invigorate learning and promote inquisitiveness by allowing the curriculum to grow organically out of children's questions—whether they lead to studying the senses, working on a farm, or re-creating a desert ecosystem in the classroom.

We see curious students draw on information across disciplines to think in imaginative yet practical ways, like in a "Mini-Maker Faire" or designing and building a chair from scratch. Becoming good citizens was another of Little's goals. He believed in the need for students to learn how to become advocates for themselves, from setting rules on the playground to engaging in issues of social justice in the wider community.

Using the philosophy of Progressive Education, schools can prepare students to shape a vibrant future in the arts and sciences for themselves and the nation.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published March 2, 2015

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Tom Little

11 books1 follower

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
53 (26%)
4 stars
85 (43%)
3 stars
47 (23%)
2 stars
7 (3%)
1 star
5 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews
Profile Image for Walt.
1,083 reviews
March 27, 2016
I really do not understand the outpouring of positive reviews for this book. For that matter, I rarely rank books as low as this one. I learned very little about progressive education from reading this book. The organization and style seem just as chaotic as the classrooms Little favors.

Little begins by describing the troubles with the public education system. Almost any reader of this book agrees with him that public education is having difficulties, and is probably way over-tested to the detriment of the kids. However, he describes public education in terms of the Nineteenth Century with extreme discipline and rigid instruction as being representative of modern public education with the over-abundant testing added on to it. Although I support public education in general, I am curious to learn about his solutions to the problems he exaggerates.

The result is progressive education. He was a principal at a progressive school for many years, so he has authority to present the topic and the solution. However, he does not really do either. From what I can gather from his book, progressive education is a combination of trial and error teaching, hands on (real world) learning based on work, a focus on kids' emotions, and an overall lack of assessment. If anything, he presents a picture of exactly what many practitioners fear from progressive education - chaos. He happily recalled the noise of the classrooms as being a good sign. The result is that the kids may enjoy school. There is something positive in that goal.

He never gets around to a solution for fixing America's schools, as the title implies. He does not argue about smaller class sizes, teacher pay, assessment, creativity, or other topics that often go along with discussions on education. Instead, he merely argues that there should be less testing and more art. Those two ideas will not save America's schools. Maybe he is just advocating for kids to go to progressive schools. The book was full about him hosting conferences on progressive education. He does not say much about the conferences except that they are growing. Maybe his goal is to inspire more progressive (private) schools?

I also had a problem with him seemingly focusing on just the lower grades of education. He rarely mentioned middle or high school students. It appears that his favorite demographic was k-3 grade. It should be easy to inspire children (pre-puberty) with school. However, post-puberty is another ball game altogether. Not one chapter or example discussed ways to improve high school students through emotional growth or art classes.

Overall, I am just frustrated with nearly every aspect of this book. Tom Little may have loved children and learning; but I think he loved himself a bit more. In every chapter he mentions his success or his health. I know more about Tom Little than progressive education. And I learned little about either in this book. There is nothing in the book about curricula, assessment, what inspires children or older students, much less the price for enrollment. In one example, he talks about a scholarship for a student from a war-torn African country to enroll in his school for a year. The students benefited so much from contact with this child. OK. Why was the child there for just one year? Tom informs the reader that the child's family stayed in America. Did the African child benefit, or was the child a prop for the teacher? Who knows? Tom Little brought over an African kid for his students to play with for a year and it was....progressive.
Profile Image for Maria.
21 reviews
August 5, 2015
This book integrates brief chapters on the historical relevance of progressive education. I think the title is tremendously ambitious, as many of the schools mentioned in the book require tuition. To my relief, Mr. Little discusses the extraordinary income inequality that our country has created and the social injustices tied to it. If America (really the United States) has this alarming income inequality, how can private or independent schools save it?

Yes, the anecdotes are inspiring and heart-warming. He truly loved what he did.
His call to action for more research and reporting of progressive schools certainly supports his message, but there are a lot of students that don't, and will not, have the financial opportunities to experience these schools. How do we integrate more of these schools into public districts? Perhaps, then we can start discussing how they will save the country.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
429 reviews3 followers
November 7, 2015
3.5 really. Interesting book on progressive education. A couple thoughts made me think: "we don't have an education crisis. We have a democracy crisis" (referring to income inequality). Little suggests we need to stop talking about Finland and look to our progressive roots in establishing collaborative, creative communities encouraging social justice.

A thoughtful read as we look to kindergarten.
Profile Image for Brian.
638 reviews248 followers
March 22, 2017
(3.5) Good to put some of the tenets of progressive education into concrete terms, though a lot of this is heartwarming anecdotes of great teachers and schools.

Some of the themes:
"federally funded researchers extensively and repeatedly interviewed more than 12,000 adolescents in grades 7 through 12, while also questioning their family members, fellow students, and school administrators. They found that students with strong relationships at school not only do better academically but are far less likely to drink too much, abuse drugs, skip school, bully other kids, and be sexually promiscuous. They’re more likely to wear seat belts in cars, and less likely to carry weapons and have suicidal thoughts." (@16%)

"At Park Day, at the start of each school year, our teachers ask their students to describe the kind of classroom they want, and then turn their answers into informal contracts, known as class agreements."

Some progressive schools experiment with multi-age classrooms, many at least have "buddies" who span grades

*Inquiry-based learning*
I did like this: "More than thirty years ago, during my own teaching career at Park Day, I routinely planned my classes by drawing a web. I’d put the topic to be studied—say, the circulatory system—in the middle, and draw lines out to different disciplines, such as science, math, English, and the arts. "

*Integrated curriculum*

*Experiential education*

*Social justice*
inquiry-based (kids drive the topics/agenda/direction)
integrated (multidisciplinary approach, integrating multiple subjects while tackling a single topic/problem)

*Failure as learning* (and making ultimate successes more meaningful):
"The wisest teachers will do their best to build cultures that tolerate and even welcome that kind of temporary discomfort, together with ruthless honesty about the mistakes we make and how we can do better." How does our school encourage this in teachers?

Taking it too far
* can take it to extreme of total freedom, no rules, no guidelines, no curriculum
* how to measure progress in a progressive school?
* how to balance teacher autonomy and teachers taking it too far? (they're kind of assessing themselves with their evaluations of students)

Questions I had afterwards:

Emergent curriculum/inquiry-based learning: this must be challenging to manage successfully. How do teachers do it well? With 20 different minds moving in different directions, how can a teacher coalesce all of that into a single direction the curriculum will take? Don't want to follow interests of the vocal few. I guess open up for projects and let each team head in their direction?

Integrated curriculum: I wonder how often this gets forced / contorted, especially the math portion. Can you get comprehensive coverage of math skills through a small number of integrative units? That said, I remember first intro to trigonometry was for messing height of rockets with a protractor in middle school. It felt very natural to get a new tool in the toolbox to achieve our objectives.

Learning by doing: the schools that are working farms: I believe children can learn a lot from this. Does it live up to inquiry-based learning? I guess that may come outside the daily responsibilities?

No Testing: not sure how critical this really is. Which schools include testing? AP tests, for example? What impact do they have on the school?
Profile Image for Nicholas.
629 reviews1 follower
February 18, 2020
Tom Little, in collaboration with Katherine Ellison, has written a very nice book about Progressive Education. To start with, it is just easily readable. Not only is it readable but it is quite enjoyable as well. While authorship is given to Tom Little (co-founder of Park Day School) and Katherine Ellison (journalist), it is written in the first person from Tom’s perspective. At 200 pages of text (plus some useful appendices), it can be read leisurely in just few days.

Tom helped start and then direct a small independent progressive elementary school in Oakland California. At the end of his career he decided to tour the United States visiting other schools that identified as being progressive or that he thought met the definition of progressive. This book is the outcome of that tour. Sadly, Tom died of cancer shortly before the publication of this book.

The book starts out giving Tom’s history of becoming a teacher and founder of Park Day School. He weaves into this a brief history of progressive education since the late 1800s of John Dewey and Francis Parker. In giving us this history, he also gives us a definition of progressive education.

In an early chapter he give us six core strategies which he distills as “passed down form Dewey, Parker, and the other pioneers, and still in robust practice at progressive schools today” (p.52). In sum these are: Emotions as well as intellect; Student interest as a guide; ban of standardized testing and ranking; real-world endeavors; integration of curriculum and disciplines; and active civil participation for social justice. He illustrates these ideas through the rest of book.

However, mostly what this book does is describe what progressive education looks like, using anecdotes from Park Day School as well as many of the other progressive schools Tom visited. He uses these stories to illustrate the points about what progressive education is and can be, and why it is so vital to both a solid education and to a democratic society. In this way it reminds me of the style of two of my very favorite books in education, Deborah Meier’s The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons from America from a Small School in Harlem, and Ron Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students All of these books are told in conversational tone, using the authors’ own experiences to illustrate important big lessons about what education can and should look like.

If you want an easy and enjoyable read on the power and practice of progressive education, then you must pick up Loving Learning.
Profile Image for Cov.
43 reviews
May 12, 2022
The first half is a nice introduction to the history of progressive education and situates modern movements in a solid context. The latter half is a fine a tour guide to private progressive schools and a memoir of Tom Little's work at Park Day School. The Appendix is nice as it contains some documents & philosophy of those progressive schools and a comprehensive nationwide list of the same. This book is probably more useful to non-educators and parents interested in the vision for progressive education has to offer kids and families, but probably less useful for progressive teachers looking to deepen their understanding of theory and practice.
Profile Image for Kevin.
22 reviews23 followers
March 25, 2015
Tom Little joined Oakland, California's Park Day School in 1976 as a volunteer; he became a teacher, then the school's principal, ultimately dedicating 37 years to one community-minded school. When its founders began, Park Day simply wanted to expand what citizens believed schools could accomplish. Then Little discovered the history of Progressive Education, a movement that became highly influential after World War I. Little discovered that he existed within a century-old continuum of educational aspiration.

Progressive Education, like its rough contemporaries Waldorf and Montessori schools, arose in the early Twentieth Century, from broadening awareness of deep psychology and dissatisfaction with rote memorization. Its foremost proponent, the philosopher John Dewey, popularized an educational model based on activity, cooperation, and social justice. It won international acclaim, and influenced Finland's much-lauded national education system. But it fell on domestic disfavor in its American homeland during McCarthyism, when the word "Progressive" became political poison.

Despite criticism and mockery, Progressive Education remained viable, continuing as the dominant philosophy in several private and public schools, scrappy bootstrap educational startups, and even occasional entire school districts. Armed with Lawrence Cremin's The Transformation of the School and zeal for education, Little helped reestablish Progressive schools' nationwide support network, and became downright evangelical for his newly rediscovered theory. His book mixes memoir, history, and educational theory for a diverse introduction for educators and parents.

This theory will initially attract diverse adherents from across the political spectrum for one simple reason: it openly rejects standardized tests. Park Day doesn't have any standardized testing in lower grades, permitting it only among high school students. Some are even stricter. As Americans balance declining STEM scores with revulsion for "teaching to the test," Progressive Education actively resists reducing educational principles to Scantron sheets. It emphasizes students as developing human beings, not future workers.

But it's far more than anti-technocratic jargon. Progressive Education, in Little's telling, stresses holistic child development, including psychological well-being and bodily health, alongside academic standards. It positions teachers as guides and fellow travelers, not taskmasters or bosses. It utilizes students' natural interests, rather than forcing them into obedience and regimentation. It cooperates actively with parents and community leaders, emphasizing education as lifelong participation, and school as preparation for, not separate from, students' future adult life.

This means complex, intensive curricula starting early. Students study art and music, not because these topics are nice, but because they develop well-rounded citizens who'll embrace science and public policy without sullen resistance. When teachers voluntarily relinquish authoritarian control, permitting students latitude to experiment and discover (with guidance), they enjoy learning. Little notes that, when many Progressive school graduates enter college and the workforce, they struggle to understand why conventionally educated peers resent taking initiative.

Though Little doesn't say this explicitly, Progressive Education touches deeply on something running through American education. Despite school's compulsory ubuquity, as Dana Goldstein observes, we've never agreed what schools should do. Progressive Education has a thoroughgoing mission of social betterment through personal development. Little gives examples of what this means, far beyond simple bromides about "volunteering." Progressive Education isn't about fitting students for possible future jobs. It's about expanding justice by creating engaged, curious citizens.

Little dodges one obvious objection. He admits one year of Park Day tuition runs over $20,000, meaning students are either born rich or subsidized by scholarships. The emphasis on small classes, intensive participation, and field learning inevitably drives up costs, and Americans today notoriously don't want to pay for anything. To really apply Little's precepts broadly, as we arguably should, we'll need money from somewhere. Little kicks that important problem problem to policy wonks.

Even notwithstanding this, Little's precepts deserve broader study and discussion. Diverse writers like John Taylor Gatto and Jonathan Kozol have observed that we compel children into schools, then starve teachers for money, structure students' days to ratify unjust social hierarchies, and blame teachers when nothing gets better. Little presents a theory that rejects top-down "reform" proposals that bind schools' hands. Teaching, in Little's telling, happens at ground level, and is about relationships, not test scores.

This is Tom Little's first book; it's also his last. He admits he researched this book for twenty years while organizing America's Progressive schools into a veritable union. But in the final stages, doctors diagnosed Little with Stage IV bone cancer. Having passed in April 2014, this book represents his lasting legacy, his manifesto for meaningful school reform. He poses challenges and offers solutions that all schools should take seriously. This book is unbridled opportunity.
26 reviews5 followers
May 17, 2017
While I found the book to be very informative and inspiring, unfortunately many of the examples pertained to private (read: rich) schools where expensive changes/programs can be implemented. Many progressive schools are in areas that need the best education possible for students due to a lack of private school options, so I wish the author provided more examples from monetarily struggling schools.
55 reviews1 follower
December 17, 2020
This writer has a lot of passion for his subject. It’s a great book, though I don’t know if it offers enough strategies for applying these amazing teaching methods in public schools. He is aware that this kind of education is the privilege of a select few, and frequently the wealthier demographic. And I know that his school offered scholarships. But what I would love to read someday is someone in this field who has a plan to SCALE progressive education.
Profile Image for L.C..
337 reviews2 followers
August 28, 2021
While this author’s experiences are inspiring and he provides examples from across the country, there’s no explicit path shared on how to “do” progressive education. Perhaps we’d have more schools join up if there was a path or outline or template to move towards this… but maybe that’s what makes it progressive, that it can’t be boxed into a description or template…
Profile Image for Joel Carter.
39 reviews1 follower
January 8, 2021
Great book for learning the core beliefs of progressive education, which I would argue is the dominant philosophy in American public education right now. Hard to get through if, like me, you think most of the ideas are bad.
December 7, 2018
This is one of the best book's I've read about elementary schools! I was hooked from the first page and stayed interested until the end.
Profile Image for Holly Hillard.
287 reviews3 followers
June 7, 2022
This book does a great job explaining what progressive education looks like today along with the history of how we got here. We know how to best teach our kids and the answer is NOT more testing.
Profile Image for Clover White.
446 reviews2 followers
March 16, 2017
Some interesting history of the progressive education philosophy. Specific examples of schools employing this model today.
Profile Image for Sherry.
223 reviews
April 21, 2016
This was a wonderful book by the head of every teacher's fantasy school, the Park Day School in Berkeley. As a teacher, it's hard to take away much from a book like this unless you live in a state like California, more specifically in an area like the Bay Area, where teachers are treated like professionals and innovation, rather than stagnation and regression, is encouraged. This school is where all the rich and famous send their kids, although the author is quick to point out the school's inclusion of the less fortunate as well, probably via scholarships. The kids are all brilliant and happy and generally go on to lead amazing careers and live incredible lives.

The author visits other schools around the country that are similar to Park Day in their progressivism. These details, I will say, were somewhat more encouraging. There are little progressive schools struggling in places other than Berkeley, and I suppose we could infer that a progressive school -- albeit often independent -- can be established anywhere.

While I liked reading about the strategies these schools employ, mostly I was depressed that I will probably never be in a position to recreate these strategies in my own school or classroom. It is my dream to establish my own charter school someday, so maybe with the takeaways I'm getting from You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, I might actually get to implement them!

I recommend this book for anyone currently employed in education or with an interest in education, including parents of school-age children. You should demand your children get this type of education too!
172 reviews
March 20, 2015
I won this book through Goodreads first reads.

Loving Learning is a book that attempts to educate readers on what progressive education is, its history, and how progressive education can avoid pitfalls of traditional education.
I found this book a very interesting read, rekindling the curiosity I felt for non-traditional education that I acquired from watching the documentary 'Waiting for Superman', which was a story about charter/montressori/progressive schools in inner city districts. I really appreciated the in depth history of the progressive education movement, and the tour of different schools across the U.S. I was also grateful that the author talked not only about progressive education that has worked, but also about failed experiments and shortcomings in the past, and in the modern day.
However, the author talking very little about making progressive education more widespread, and branching out to include more public schools that are not dependent on high tuition. The book is also shorter than I expected, with the actual text only reaching 200 pages maximum. However, it was interesting read that talked about a different aspect of education from what you normally hear about.
Profile Image for Jeni Enjaian.
2,080 reviews29 followers
July 12, 2015
While reserving books from my to-read list from the library, I stumbled across this title. I reserved the book because of my personal background. Not only did I earn a degree in education and teach for two years, I also wrote my senior history paper in college on Progressive Education in a local school district. I figured that this book would be light on the historical aspect seeing as how it is an education book not a work of history. However, I believe that the author could have made his argument stronger by spending more than a simple chapter on a cursory overview of Progressive Education. Just like the rest of the book (and many other education books) the chapter on the history of Progressive Education was light on facts and details and heavy on anecdotes and name dropping. Despite Little's indistinct term definition, my desire to teach was restarted just a tad. (Then I remembered why I'm not cut out for it. :D) Ultimately Little fails in his goal of trying to persuade the reader to his point of view, that Progressive Education is without a doubt the way that all schools need to go.
For this interested in progressive education this book is a good start but do not end your research about the topic with this book. Keep investigating.
Profile Image for Richard.
30 reviews1 follower
May 13, 2015
After spending a number of decades fixated on progressive education reform - and uniformly disappointed with American "progress" in our schools, it's done my heart right to read such a book all these years later. The late Tom Little left us too soon - and it is my great loss that despite the short distance between Park Day School and my own haunts (professional & otherwise) in the Bay Area, our paths never crossed.

If you have or care about children, and/or teach/taught/are considering teaching, please read this book. Our society would truly sparkle if the themes in this book were seriously considered by even a fraction of the public. Unlike the weather, we *can* do something about the problem of standardized testing we call our current school practice. The ideals of the 1%ers hardly work for business [outside their rarefied circles] - why would profiting off our kids be any different? Let reform be our next revolution....
Profile Image for Brandy.
Author 2 books115 followers
July 27, 2016
The next time someone asks for my Statement of Teaching Philosophy, I'm just going to hand them this book. It's everything I've been struggling to articulate in interviews and conversations. Progressive Education makes intuitive sense to me--kids learn by having the opportunities to learn, by following their interests and building on concepts organically, rather than studying each piece in a vacuum and never connecting them.

All schools should be run this way. I'm lucky in that, as the school Librarian, I'm not tied to standardized tests and I can run my classes with these progressive, hands-on principles in mind.

Worth a read even if you're not in a position to implement a lot of it. There's plenty of room for improvement in public schools. Read it. Think about it. This is what education can be, and should be.
Profile Image for Jeanne Berrong.
11 reviews6 followers
March 26, 2015
The last paragraph of the book:

"So, in other words, we could keep talking about Finland–and make ourselves miserable–or we can move forward, by reviving our own past. We have all the tools we need to make our education system great again. In fact, we invented them. Schools that produce bighearted innovators are part of our American heritage, and the time is ripe to share their benefits with many more American children."

A beautiful, touching work, and so, so important.
1,219 reviews2 followers
May 10, 2015
I received this book as a first read. I like the idea of fostering emotional needs, a sense of community, and social justice. Our schools need more of this. Rote academics aren't enough. We need to be putting good citizens into the world. The book is dry but is an interesting look at progressive educators and schools. While the book provides a nice overview of progressive schools it stops short of creating a plan that other schools can follow in order to improve.
Profile Image for Keely.
74 reviews1 follower
January 30, 2016
What an interesting book. So many ideas, so much inspiration. Loved learning about the history of the progressive schools movement that created teaching strategies that are now ubiquitous in all good schools. Also extremely helpful in understanding the emotional and political context of the always present debate over our schools. Very accessible and practical handbook to thinking about how to do better for our kids.
Profile Image for Danny.
144 reviews3 followers
March 14, 2015
An excellent overview of progressive education, and 21st century education methods. These techniques have proven effective in charter schools, both public and private, and in mainstream classrooms. The factory model of teaching and learning has not served our students and in "Loving Learning" we see examples of the alternatives that teachers and schools must rely on going forward.
Profile Image for Lucas.
472 reviews12 followers
March 21, 2015
An interesting book about Progressive schools and how they have/ could make a positive impact on students' education. I'm a teacher and I would recommend this book to any teacher that is frustrated over the new standards, new tests, and how we are held accountable.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
Author 1 book187 followers
August 27, 2015
A solid, layman's introduction that defines and explains progressive education through contemporary examples grounded in historical context. Potentially eye opening to those who experienced a traditional education and a helpful primer to those of us who work in a progressive environment.
6 reviews14 followers
July 7, 2016
Tom Little was a mentor to me and his book highlights progressive education and schools that embrace the philosophy of constructivsim, social emotional learning, project based curriculum, social justice, and so much more!
Profile Image for Tiffany.
15 reviews1 follower
August 27, 2015
This book really had me thinking how I teach! I feel like I will definitely start looking closer at my lessons to see if there is a way I could teach in a more progressive way.
6 reviews
April 13, 2015
This book features the elementary school our kids attended in Ohio. We LOVED working with those teachers and administrators. The kids left Wickliffe with their love of learning intact.
109 reviews9 followers
July 27, 2015
This book was very interesting as an educator. It may not be the most practical in all settings but the perspective is clear. I got this book from Goodreads First Reads.
103 reviews1 follower
April 15, 2015
A good primer on the progressive education movement; includes both the positives and pitfalls.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.