17/365 Back to Dewey 1.5 – ‘The Nature of Freedom’

It may be a loss rather than a gain to escape from the control of another person only to find one’s conduct dictated by immediate whim and caprice; that is, at the mercy of impulses into whose formation intelligent judgment has not entered. A person whose conduct is controlled in this way has at most only the illusion of freedom. Actually forces over which he has no command direct him.

– John Dewey

Experience & Education

This post continues a mini-series examining John Dewey’s Experience & Education chapter-by-chapter.

Though one of the shorter of the 8 chapters in this already-short tome, no. 5 packs a punch as I Dewey takes a moment to extoll the virtues of freedom – particularly freedom in schools.

Enforced quiet and acquiescence prevent pupils from disclosing their real natures. They enforce artificial uniformity. They put seeming before being. They place a premium upon preserving the outward appearance of attention, decorum, and obedience. And everyone who is acquainted with schools in which this system prevailed well knows that thoughts, imaginations, desires, and sly activities ran their own unchecked course behind this facade.

What sells this passage for me, which ultimately sums up the chapter perfectly, is Dewey’s own wink to the idea that, “We’ve all been there, right?” While the vast majority of his arguments and reasoning have been rooted in the language of philosophy up to this point, in Ch. 5, Dewey pulls back the curtain a bit to acknowledge that, in progressive education, he’s also describing the types of schools he would have liked to attend.

Freedom in learning, Dewey is writing, allows for action in learning. This, stands in stark opposition to the passivity he identifies in traditional school experiences.

And just as I was starting to wonder about this constant action and the criticism I could see it inviting, Dewey paused for a moment to speak to the importance of pausing. Learning, (true, active learning) my should be followed by moments of stillness and reflection so that students can take the information and knowledge they’ve gathered in their actions and organize it in a way that makes their experiences meaningful and opens questions for further experiences.

Freedom, yes. Freedom without organization and reflection, no.