"Human potential" and progressive pedagogy: A long cultural history of the ambiguity of "race" and "intelligence"

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This 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 is illustrated; the emergence of ‘Black culture’, ‘Negros’ and ‘races’ from the 1930s is 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
Translated title of the contribution"Det menneskelige potentiale" og progressiv pædagogik: En lang kulturhistorie om tvetydigheden af "race" og "intelligens"
Original languageEnglish
JournalRace Ethnicity and Education
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)561-585
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2012

ID: 33798768