20/365 Back to Dewey 1.8

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

Rather than taking us a step further, Dewey uses his final chapter to remind us where we’ve been and put to the future as well.
He points out he’s not attempting to justify his call to an experience-based they of education, saying he’s well aware that both conservatives and lie rails are well-removed from the actual workings of schools. The choices as Dewey sees them are a return to the reason and ideas of the ore-scientific age or a deeper and better utilization of the scientific method – giving it its rightful place as the basis for investigating the experiences he sees as key.
Failure, Dewey points out, is only possible if teachers agree to base their practice in experience examined through the scientific method without adequately utilizing that methodology.
To be successful, experiences must be thoughtfully designed with regard to the previous experiences of students, the mature knowledge of adults, and the thoughtful reflection on the goals of the experiences. To improvise or take a shortcut to learning is to sacrifice fidelity to experience and, thereby, learning.
Dewey concludes with his belief that we will attain this simple and difficult goal only when operating under a sound philosophy of experience.
This struck me most in that it wasn’t a hopeful call to action so much as it was a torch passing. Dewey seems to be saying, “Well, I’ve given you a plan. It’s up to you to follow it. If you choose not to, that’s fine, but we are all in trouble if you don’t make a decision one way or the other.
Looking at contemporary American schools, the landscape reveals the country didn’t make the decision en masse. While many schools languish in the same uncertainty Dewey warned against, two opposing forces are working to secure as much of that landscape as possible for either a purified version of what Dewey considered “traditional” education or the more slow-moving philosophy-driven “progressive” education he was championing.
It has not “become all one thing or all the other” to borrow a phrase. Instead, it has become some things some places and other things other places.
If this remains so, Dewey’s designs of a public education as the central democratizing force in society will never be brought to fruition.

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.