Civil War Veteran Francis Parker: A Champion of the Progressive Movement in Education

Francis_W_Parker[1]One of the most famous pioneers of the progressive movement in education was Francis Wayland Parker. In a time when modern ideas were not popular, this innovative educator promoted a philosophy that education should not emphasize standardization, rote memorization, and isolated drill. Rather, he advocated a curriculum that addressed the development of the whole student, including the child’s intellectual,  physical, and moral growth. He created a model program that was strong on language development and geared towards teaching students to think and make decisions independently. Today we would recognize his strategies as teaching critical thinking skills and creative problem-solving.

Francis Parker was born on October 9, 1837, in Bedford, New Hampshire. At the tender age of 16 he became the village teacher, and when the Civil War broke out seven years later, this young educator enlisted as a private in the 4th New Hampshire Volunteer Army. It wasn’t long before he was promoted to lieutenant, then to lieutenant colonel, and then to commander. In May, 1865, Colonel Parker was captured by Confederate forces and held as a prisoner of war in North Carolina. When the war was over, this Civil War veteran resumed his teaching career, first as a teacher, and then as a principal. In 1872, the continuously evolving educator travelled to Germany to study pedagogy at the Humboldt University of Berlin. When he returned, he became the coordinator of a highly-acclaimed teacher-training institution In Chicago, Illinois.

Colonel Parker is an American hero in so many ways, and is undoubtedly a chalkboard champion in the truest sense of the word. You can read more about this remarkable historical figure in my upcoming book, tentatively entitled Chalkboard Heroes.