If you read a criticism of progressivism or whole language, I suspect you are reading one of two things:
- A misrepresentation of either so that the writer can attack the misrepresentation. Sometimes this is purposeful misrepresentation, but often the misrepresentation comes from carelessness or a lack of expertise.
- A confusion between the genuine principles of progressivism or whole language and how either has been misapplied in the real world. Both progressivism and whole language are terms claimed by those who also misunderstand the terms and concepts behind them. 
Since a number of blog and Twitter discussions have addressed both progressivism and then briefly whole language, I offer a reader on both below.  And my goal is not necessarily to endorse either progressivism or whole language (although I embrace many aspects of both), but to establish what each represents as a context for supporting or challenging either as being effective or misguided.
Progressivism is rightly associated with John Dewey, but Deweyan progressivism never found its way into mainstream public schools in any significant way. However, distortions of Dewey’s focus on project-based learning (see William Heard Kilpatrick’s The Project Method) have a long and illuminating history.
Thus, a great start to understanding progressivism is to read Lou LaBrant’s 1931 challenge to misguided use of projects. LaBrant is also a solid example of a genuine Deweyan progressive:
LaBrant, L. (1931, March). Masquerading. The English Journal, 20(3), 244-246.
Another important aspect of progressivism is examining how the term and practices are often misrepresented as well as how rare authentic progressivism is in real-world classrooms; thus, see Alfie Kohn:
I have also placed progressivism in the context of traditional and critical ideologies:
Like progressivism, whole language has suffered a long history of being blamed for failure even though it has almost never been implemented in any widespread or accurate way.
Did whole language destroy literacy in California? Nope. Read Stephen Krashen:
Does whole language call for no teaching of phonics? Nope. See more by Krashen:
See Alfie Kohn:
Progressivism and whole language, then, share some important characteristics. Both are credible perspectives built on scholarship and research, but neither has found widespread or authentic places in traditional public school practices (both likely have had much more influence and success in private settings). However, both have been repeatedly blamed for so-called failures in the exact public school systems where neither is practiced.
Nonetheless, making a case for or against either progressivism or whole language would be better served if both are accurately identified.
 In a recent blog, I carelessly made mistake #2 by taking aim at behaviorism without clarifying I was focusing on how behaviorism often is misused in education; as a result of being called on this, I did apologize and reframe that blog.
 And since this is a general blog post related to a number of other blogs and Tweets, I want to be sure this doesn’t come off as sub blogging. Directly I have interacted with Annie Murphy Paul, Robert Pondiscio, and Harry Webb in one way or the other about these topics.