How did a philosopher such as Dewey come to deeply despise intellectual training rooted in the most important philosophic thought of history? Among the many reasons, Dewey and other Progressives conflated certainty and absolute knowledge with dogmatism and political authority.

Did Progressives truly believe that those who were certain of facts—such as 3 x 3 = 9, George Washington was the first president of the United States, or A is A—would inevitably sic the Gestapo on intellectual opponents? More likely, they understood that independent thinkers—those not reliant on any group or authority for their grasp of reality—would never make for obedient subjects, nor would such thinkers accept the communist dictatorship for which Progressives pined.

The intellectual battle lines between these two groups of educators were clearly drawn. One side, in regard to elementary school, wanted primarily to teach students practical life skills and conformity to the group, with a dollop of cognitive training mixed in. The other side wanted to provide students with practical life skills and foundational knowledge of academic subjects—and, above all, to teach them to think independently.

These differences continued into secondary school. One side sought to socialize students, to provide vocational training for most of them and academic education only for an elite few. The other side strove to continue teaching academic subjects, to teach students to think for themselves, and, in many cases, to prepare them to study the timeless works of Western civilization—works that shed light on history, science, philosophy, and art, and that provide principles and guidance for the present and future.

In short, the goal of the Progressives was to saturate students in the spirit of service and prepare them for community life. On the other hand, the goal of the heroic educators opposing them was to teach students to think, learn, and understand the world.