CURMUDGUCATION BOOK REVIEW: First, Do No Harm: Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk

By Peter Greene | Twitter: @palan57 | Originally Published on Curmudgucation | Peter Greene is the author of Curmudgucation: What Fresh Hell | Syndication made possible through Patreon

Hardcover, paperback, and ebook now available. Paperback book on sale on Amazon, 30% off, $10.95.

By Peter Greene, Curmudgucation 

“We hear the term “progressive education” thrown around a great deal, but what does it actually mean?”

Steve Nelson, a teacher with decades of experience, has a pretty good idea, and in his book First Do No Harm, he lays out what progressive education is, and is not. (It’s not that loose hippie thing from the 60s).

He opens with eleven statements about education that he plans to debunk (“School choice will motivate improvements in education and give poor families the same opportunities that rich folks have”) and he offers his own idea about the primary purposes of education:

  1. To stir in each child a continuous commitment to be thoughtfully engaged in the ongoing evolution of our democratic republic and to exercise his/her individual and collective responsibilities within the global community.
  2. To allow all children to learn and grow into deeply satisfying and ethical lives.

From there, Nelson goes on to put the ideas of education and the fallacies of reform into the context of the pursuit of a true progressive education. This is one of those books where you won’t necessarily encounter new ideas, but you will get to see a larger picture of how those ideas– both good and bad– connect to the greater whole.

There are some specific items that are fascinating on their own (for instance, an explanation of how all students can improve on a test and the test result average can then go down). You may not agree with every specific that Nelson brings up (he’s a big fan of the multiple intelligences model), but the big pay-off here is the larger picture of progressive education, and why that picture does not fit with the various grand designs of education reformers.

If you are trying to understand what is going on as well as trying to grasp what it all means, and if you are trying to grasp exactly why Ed. reform seems like an existential threat to progressive public education, this is a book for you.

First Do No Harm: Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk by Steve Nelson is ON SALE, 30% OFF ($12.95) on AmazonView all books on sale.

More Book Reviews

“This is ultimately a hopeful book.  Steve spells out a vision of real education reform that we just might be ready for now. His Bill of Educational Rights, based on the best of what is known from science and theory about human development and children’s learning, should be our manifesto.” – Matt Damon, Actor, Writer, Producer

“The book should be a mandatory read for our elected and appointed officials, whose understanding of the benefits of true public education is needed now, more than ever. If they truly understand where we are, where we are headed and the alternative approach that would serve our country and its children, they would use First Do No Harm as a guidebook for their policy actions.” –  Jonathan Pelto, Blogger, Advocate Journalist, Pro-Public Education fighter, communications strategist, political and policy activist

“Steve Nelson knows full well that freedom begins between the ears.  He negotiates this space with clarity, charm and precision.  Ultimately he shows the reader how a good education is the mirror image of a proper democracy.” – Colum McCann, Author of Let the World Spin and National Book Award winner

“Nelson makes a compelling case that much of current educational reform is wrong-headed, focusing as it does on ‘compliance and conformity.’ Until we encourage ‘skepticism and originality’ – gained via progressive education – students will not fulfill their ‘limitless potential.’ A great, thought-provoking read.” – Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Professor, University of Delaware, Co-author with Kathy Hirsh-Pasek of Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells us About Raising Successful Children

“Nelson combines experience, knowledge, wisdom and brilliant writing as he invites us into school the way it should be. Using progressive education as his platform, he demonstrates how education can nurture engaged and motivated children who actively discover their world and grow up to be good citizens.” – Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Temple University

“This powerful, entertaining book is both a beautifully-expressed explanation of progressive education and a searing indictment of contemporary education policy and practice. As an teacher, I appreciate the inspirational, good-humored tour of contemporary research and theory. As a parent and an activist, I appreciate the “Bill of Education Rights”, outlining what we should expect from our schools. As a citizen, I appreciate the clear vision for what education can be — humane, equitable, meaningful and joyful.” Amazon Review, Amazon.

Author: Steve Nelson
Book: First Do No Harm: Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk
Garn Press (264 pp.) | ISBN: 978-1-942146-48-3
Buy: Amazon (ON SALE 30% OFF)| Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Indigo Books | Waterstones | Books-A-Million
eBook: Amazon (available for Kindle Unlimited Reading)

About the Book

First Do No Harm: Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk develops a comprehensive argument for the importance of progressive education in light of the world’s increasingly severe challenges. Current educational practices, particularly in the United States, instill conformity and compliance at a time when authority must be challenged, skepticism must thrive and our students must be imaginative, creative, empathic and passionately alive.

The book traces the origins of progressive education and cites the rich history and inarguable science behind progressive practices. Nelson argues that a traditional or conventional approach to education has dominated as a matter of political expediency, not good practice. The book provides an unsparing critique of current policy and practice, particularly the excesses of contemporary education reform.

Using anecdotes from his many years as an educational leader, he makes the case in an engaging, colorful and accessible style. In the final chapter, Nelson offers a Bill of Educational Rights, hoping teachers, parents and all citizens will demand a more joyful, constructive and loving education for the children in their care.

About Steve Nelson

Steve Nelson has been Head of School at the Calhoun School, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, since 1998.   Calhoun is one of America’s most notable progressive schools and serves 750 students, from pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade.  Calhoun is particularly well regarded for its commitment to diversity and social justice.

Since 1997 Steve has been a columnist for the Valley News, the daily newspaper in the mid-VT/NH area on both sides of the Connecticut River.  He has been a regular contributor to the Huffington Post since 2010, writing about education and politics.   Before assuming his current position, he worked as an administrator at Vermont Law School and Landmark College.  He is an avid violinist and also served for six years as President of a performing arts school in the Midwest.

Liked it? Support Garn Press Indie Publishing. Take a second to support Garn Press on Patreon!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!