Human potential and progressive pedagogy – University of Copenhagen

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31 August 2012

Human potential and progressive pedagogy

Trine Øland publishes the article ‘Human potential’ and progressive pedagogy: a long cultural history of the ambiguity of ‘race’ and ‘intelligence’, in Race, Ethnicity and Education 15(4), September 2012, pp. 561-585.

 The article examines the cultural constructs of progressive pedagogy in Danish school pedagogy and its emerging focus on the child’s human potential from the 1920s to the 1950s. It draws on Foucault’s notion of ‘dispositifs’ and the ‘elements of history’, encircling a complex transformation of continuity and discontinuity of progressive pedagogy. The Danish context is identified as being part of an international and scientific enlightenment movement circulating in, e.g., the New Education Fellowship (NEF). The cultural constructs embedded in progressivism are clarified in the article: the emergence of ‘intelligence’ and life as a biological phenomenon from the 1920s are illustrated; the emergence of ‘Black culture’, ‘Negros’ and ‘races’ from the 1930s are depicted, and the emergence of ‘national cultures’ from the 1940s – enhanced by UNESCO after World War II – is demonstrated. Although race somehow is replaced by culture, it is suggested that progressivism, unintentionally, exhibits a racist discourse.