Progressive-Regressive School Programs: Breaking Free | Gregory Martin | 9 Min Read

May 26, 2022

Shiny new things are often the first noticed at a school. As well, trends grab hold of the popular narrative, and schools are forced to create programs that align with whatever way the wind is blowing to address current parents’ anxieties while marketing themselves for the future. Often, new academic and extra-curricular programs are driven by a need or perceived need, to compete with peer institutions lest they lose out on students or be seen as “behind” in the eyes of the independent school marketplace. Lost in all of this hype, fear, and marketing is the core of what schools are supposed to be focused on, education. 

In some ways, we are moving towards an era of progressive regression, in other words, we are starting to reset some of the educational values and programs in a way that is more in line with the pre-industrial model. Before the early 20th century, the very notion of education was a broad concept with different applications in different areas. No, it did not mean university for most people between the ages of 18 and 22. To the average person, many of whom still lived in rural areas or were artisans and tradesmen, education was going to be more practical and aligned with a livelihood. As we progressed into the mid-20th century, this idea began to focus more on what we would call “basic” education, where individuals of varying socioeconomic backgrounds would be taught to read and write to perform the work of the day. Even this varied from region to region and between urban and rural areas. Post World War II saw a push toward science and technology focused on defeating the Soviets in the Cold War while supplying workers for the post-war labor force. Given the limited job opportunities for women, the quality of the teaching force in the U.S. was outstanding, holding for several decades to come. By the 1980s, the industrial economy was winding down and “trade” and “vocational” schools came to be seen as unnecessary and outmoded, thus a shift to the “college for everyone” model that continues to dominate the landscape of education.

As the economy changed so too did majors and the proliferation of the belief that “college” was a requirement for entrance to the American Dream. However, a misalignment between what high schools were teaching and what colleges expected was becoming more…

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Greg Martin

Greg grew up in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, and attended the Peddie School, playing football and lacrosse. Greg graduated from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, with a BA in Political Science. He then earned his MA in European History from Western Connecticut State University and his Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy from Drexel University. Greg continues to research, write, and present on staffing models in American boarding schools. His work has been featured in the National Association of Independent Schools magazine. Greg is a regular presenter at the annual The Association of Boarding Schools Conference. Greg has also been a guest on the Enrollment Management Association's podcast several times and has contributed to The Trustees Letter on two occasions. Greg serves on the advisory board for the Independent School MA program at Mount Holyoke College. Greg currently serves as the Humanities Chair at Vermont Academy.