It is a well-known fact that John Dewey is amongstone of the most influential philosophers in history. His educational theoriesand ideas were very influential and his methods are still being used to thisvery day. He was a firm believer in progressiveeducation, which emphasized the need to learn through everyday experiences thatthe human being has to pass through. This type of education moves away fromtraditional formal classroom settings where the children acquire knowledgethrough textbooks.
Progressive education promotes the idea of taking achild-centered approach to educational thinking rather than focusing only on thesubjects they need to learn (The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, ThirdEdition, n.d.).1 A child-centered approach states that the educatorhas to put emphasis on learning about the child’s needs and interests. Studentsshould be allowed to explore their surroundings in order to acquire newexperiences which would lead them to the acquisition of new knowledge. Theteacher’s role in this approach is to guide a child rather than instruct them.
The child’s interests should be observed and acted upon as through them, thechildren will learn most. The objective is to listen for the interests of eachchild in order to develop an appropriate curriculum for each one of them2.However, this does not mean that the educator should let the students dowhatever they please but rather use his/her knowledge as a professional, tomanipulate their environment in order to acquire valuable new information intheir exploration.
Deweybelieved in problem-based learning where children learn about new subjectsthrough active problem solving and exploration. He stated that education andlife are interconnected, “I believe that education, therefore, is a process ofliving and not a preparation for future living”3(Dewey, 1897, Article II, para.2).He strongly believed that by treatingeducation as a part of life instead of a preparation for it, children wouldlearn to be more independent and productive citizens. This can only occur ifthere is a change in the current education system where the emphasis is put onlyon grades rather than knowledge. By creating group collaborations, projects andconversations, children will discover new knowledge on their own rather than betaught all this new material through the teacher’s lessons.
By doing so thechildren are actively building their independence and exploring on their own. He wrote various books which are very indicative ofwhere his beliefs stood when it comes to the educational system. Two of hismost famous works on education are ‘My Pedagogic Creed’ and ‘The Child and theCurriculum’.In ‘My Pedagogic Creed’, Dewey states that all thosewho live in a society have the opportunity for an education. He believed thatmost educators nowadays, are too fixated on children’s grades which willeventually lead to their future careers. However, Dewey believed that educationshould be based on the present life instead of preparing them for their futurelife. He even argues that present education is failing as it has become a placewhere the educators are there to deliver knowledge and the children are thereto receive it and be tested on it.
Alternatively, students should be able tolearn from each other, themselves and the educators. He was focused on how thechildren can acknowledge their full potential and how they can make use oftheir abilities. Then, he stated that this can occur through social interactionas human beings learn best in social environments. This is proved in Article IIIof his book where he says, “I believe that the social life of the child is thebasis of concentration, or correlation, in all his training or growth”4(Dewey, 1897, Article III, para.1). Dewey felt that we are putting the schoolsubjects before the child’s social activities, …we violate the child’s nature and render difficult the best ethicalresults, by introducing the child too abruptly to a number of special studies,of reading, writing, geography, etc., out of relation to this social life (Dewey, 1897, Article III, para.
3).5Education should be a stimulating and engagingprocess that both excited and challenges each individual learner as everyonelearns at different paces. This means a shift from the one size fits all methodof teaching has to occur in order for children to learn in a more socialenvironment. If a school encourages lifelong learning, social progress willoccur. In ArticleIV, named ‘The Nature of Method’, Dewey explains that an educator has to bewilling to put in the extra effort to adapt to different personalities thatstudents have. This means, that one has to put aside personal judgments andbiases as this interferes with the child’s learning. This is because a strongbond has to form between the student and the educator before any learning canoccur. Moreover, he insists that a child’s interests and powers should not beneither ignored nor humored as, “to repress interest is to substitute the adultfor the child, and so to weaken intellectual curiosity and alertness, tosuppress initiative, and to deaden interest”6(Dewey, 1897, Article IV, para.
12). In anotherbook, which was written in 1902, ‘The Child and the Curriculum’, Dewey made a veryimportant comparison by analyzing two competing extremes regarding thecurriculum which was, teaching the child vs teaching the subject. He points outthat both extremes can be combined in order to find a balance between the twoand construct a curriculum that meets his objective. Teachingthe child gives them the chance to develop common-sense and a will to discoverand act on their queries. “The child is the starting-point, the center, and theend”7 (Dewey,1902, pg.13) argues Dewey, which captures perfectly the meaning of teaching thechild. They become more confident as they eventually start to find solutionsfor their own problems.
Even though teaching the child is of utmost importance,he discussed how too much reliance on the child could do more damage than good.First and foremost he didn’t want to give the impression that there is adecrease in the importance of the subject-matter or the teacher’s role in achild progress. After all, “subject-matter never can be got into the child fromwithout. Learning is active. It involves reaching out of the mind. It involvesorganic assimilation starting from within”8(Dewey, 1902, pg.
13). He also explainedthat the child’s brain is different than adult’s and can’t interpret all thesubject matter which will lead to lack of motivation and interest. Onthe other hand, teaching the subject-matter has its own flaws as well as thereis a lot of inactivity on the children’s part. They are just listeners who areabsorbing new knowledge provided to them by the educator. It is centered onlyon curriculum and subject-matter with little importance given to the child’sinterests. The children, according to Dewey are treated like, “simply theimmature being who is to be matured;”9 (Dewey,1902 pg.13). This results in the children memorizing the subject matter ratherthan making sense of it.
This method of teaching only considers the outcomes orfinal product rather than the stages and experiences gained throughout theprocess. “Subject-matter is but spiritual food,possible nutritive material. It cannot digest itself;”10 (Dewey,1902, pg.
14). By saying this, Dewey is giving us a solution to thesecontrasting ideas as neither subject matter alone nor the children can workalone. A Balance needs to be reached between delivering the necessary knowledgewhile also listening and working on the children’s interests and experiences.The child needs to be willing to take interest in the subject-matter in orderto learn. This could only ensue if the educator delivers a lesson which thechildren can relate to due to prior experiences. Subsequently,Dewey reflects on the two aspects of learning experience which are the logicaland the psychological aspects.
The psychological aspect, “notes steps actuallytaken, the uncertain and torturous, as well as the efficient and successful”and “it follows actual growth”11(Dewey, 1902, pg.25). This aspect focuses on the emotional stages that occurduring the process as it considers the child’s experience rather than the endproduct. Then again, the logical aspect “neglects the process and considers theoutcome”12 (Dewey, 1902, pg.25). Thechildren are only thought a limited set of skills and information for aparticular job.
It considers only the end product rather than the experience.However, both of them are mutually dependent. According to Dewey, an idealcurriculum should meet the child on his own terms. A child should be allowed toexplore experiences through which new information is acquired. He focused notonly on a more improved curriculum and acquiring knowledge but also how it istransmitted to the learner by the expert and vice-versa. Anotheropinion which Dewey emphasized a lot was the importance that to introducingchildren and preparing them for democratic citizenship, hence, social life.
Hewrote a lot about this topic through his book, “Democracy and Education”written in 1916. Various other authors continued to further explain Dewey’sideas such as Robert B. Westbrook who wrote, “John Dewey and AmericanDemocracy”. Deweysees democracy as not a political matter but a quality that any individual insociety is capable of having. “humanity cannot be content with a good that isprocured from without, however high and otherwise complete that good” (Westbrook.
R.B,1991, pg 42). Through democracy, one finds his individuality and sense of self,different from others, “it is through association that man has acquired hisindividuality and it is through association that he exercises it” (Westbrook.
R.B,1991, pg 44). Ademocratic life’s objective is the fulfillment of human virtue and nobility,not personal political statuses or corruption. Democracy is a way of life whereeach individual has the opportunity to express, release and fulfill his or herdifferent capabilities. The outcome of this life would be the creation ofshared values among society.
“Likeevery true ideal, it signifies something to be done rather than somethingalready given, something ready-made”. Through this quotation, Dewey linkseducation to democracy. He states that school should be a community ofparticipation and communication where moral reasoning develops. He encouraged scientificthinking which includes free exploration, communication, and inquiry. He wantedchildren to develop practical reason when faced with moral situations. He urgeseducators to avoid ready-made knowledge and use a method to enhance reasoning. Foreducation to be a democratic process, it must not be limited to the classroomonly.
It must be exploratory and participatory. The environment has to beinclusive and accept diversity. Education has to be implemented in a way thatchildren are active thinkers rather than passive. It is not only the studentswho learn from the teacher but both learn from each other. Children should notbe looked down on but should be treated with respect in order for them tolearn. Manypeople disagreed with his approach and named him the man that ruined education.However, he mentioned that “the “new education” is in danger of taking the ideaof development in altogether too formal and empty way”13(Dewey, 1902, pg.24).
Many people misunderstood his view on education anddidn’t implement it correctly, hence why they disagreed with his method ofteaching. Allin all, Dewey seems to always have three main characteristics present throughouthis work. These are; the importance of exploration, the importance of usingexperience as a tool for teaching and last but not least, the importance offinding a balance between teaching the subject matter and teaching the child.
It is very evident that these were the main basis of his philosophy oneducation. Inmy personal opinion, Dewey’s thoughts on education are very instructive andeye-opening. I agree with him completely as education isn’t simply aboutteaching the students for a good grade but to instill in him a sense ofenthusiasm towards the subject. It is our job as educators to bond with thechildren and make our lessons as relatable to them as possible. However, hismain flaw was that he used difficult phrasing which made it very easy forpeople to misunderstand what we have trying to say, thus, implementing theincorrect method of teaching. I think that he talks more about the idealeducation curriculum and how it should rather than explain how this can beimplemented in the schools.