When I started teaching in the late 1960s there were still unresolved issues between “traditional teachers” and “progressive educators”. Traditional teachers usually held academic degrees in particular disciplines; like history, literature, math or chemistry. Progressives typically held degrees in “education”.
With regard to the curriculum, the two camps differed over the relative importance of “what to teach” and “how to teach.” The traditionalists focused on the content of the lesson. Progressives professed to be interested in how students learn. Traditionalists commonly used direct instruction and Socratic discourse. Progressives sought to organize “cooperative learning experiences” that were to produce “critical thinking” skills.
Over the years, serious academics on both sides of the political spectrum, claimed that progressive teaching practices dumbed down the curriculum and emptied the content of the humanities. For whatever reason, academic standards over the last half century tumbled faster than a Soviet gymnast on steroids and the spirit of open-ended, rational inquiry sunk to an all time low. Over the same period political consciousness among students rose to 18th century revolutionary levels. Teachers’ unions became more radical and more partisan. We aligned with left-wing political parties from which we won higher salaries. We sought graduate degrees from progressive education faculties; which qualified us for even higher salaries and influential positions in the educational establishment. By the end of the 1970s we had transformed teaching from a low-paying, rather prestigious, “vocation” to a relatively well-paid, adversarial “mission”.