Education Through The Eyes Of John Dewey

Education through the eyes of John Dewey

John Dewey (1859-1952) is considered one of the most important educational psychologists in history. His models in this area were also part of the revolution of pedagogy in the last century. Even today, much of our education system is still not up to date with the contributions John Dewey made.

In this article, we are going to talk about one of his classic works, his book Experience and Education . In this book he shows the synthesis of his thoughts on education. John Dewey was a firm believer that people should be democratically educated in order to arrive at the method that would bring about critical thinking skills in students that would benefit society. To achieve this, Dewey spoke of three important principles that we should keep in mind when educating young minds: (a) the continuity of experience, (b) social control, and (c) the nature of experience.

The continuity of the experience

According to John Dewey, education and experience have an organic relationship. By this he meant that our experiences educate us. However, this does not mean that every experience is real and equally educational. For example, some of our experiences will become obstacles in our development and therefore more likely to become ‘anti-educational’.

Little child grabbing in a bucket

This is where Dewey’s concept of continuity of experience comes into play. An experience is ‘anti-educational’ when it reverses the positive impact of previous experiences. On the other hand, when experiences help you face subsequent experiences, creating a continuous and enriching experience, they are educational. For Dewey, achieving this continuity in positive experiences is essential to good education.

However, the traditional education we experience today is full of experiences that hinder this continuity. How many students find learning exhausting and also boring? Unfortunately , school today is a source of fear for a large proportion of today ‘s students. This, in turn, evokes an attitude of students rejecting possible educational experiences, breaking the continuity of the experience.

Social control

An individual cannot learn on his own. Others can facilitate his education (especially when it comes to children). It’s a social process. And because it implies community, education needs rules to maintain social control over educational activities. If these rules did not exist, there would be no activity. It would be like trying to play a game that has no rules. It would lose its meaning completely.

What standards should apply and how should they be applied? Our traditional education system is based on the lack of strict rules to ensure that students stay on the right path, whether it is correct or not. Dewey noted that this type of social control generated a hierarchical relationship between teachers and students. This ensures that students take a passive role in their own education.

Dewey believed that social control should arise from the situation itself. Flexible rules that adapt to students’ progress. Also, the conditions of the teaching staff would be ideal. It is important to remember that in this case it is important that the entire educational community participates in the education. Upholding the rules based on collaboration between teachers and students, so that together they can create a school environment that encourages the opportunity to learn.

The nature of freedom

When we talk about social control and regulation, the word freedom automatically comes to mind. You would think that when there is more social control, there is less freedom, but that is not entirely true. Whether this is so depends on the kind of social control that is exercised and the nature of the freedom that is available. John Dewey divides the concept of freedom into freedom of movement and freedom of thought.

Freedom of movement is the potential that allows us to perform any kind of behavior. The more freedom of movement, the more behavior is possible. However, freedom of thought is much more complex. It is the ability to critically evaluate a situation and the different ways in which you can confront it. Thus, the more freedom of thought we have, the more options we can evaluate to determine our behavior.

These two kinds of freedom do not have to go hand in hand. In fact, our degree of freedom of movement can even limit the extent to which we can think freely. And this is exactly what Dewey criticized for progressive schools. According to him, the only objective of these schools was the freedom of movement of the students. However , schools should not allow freedom of movement without taking into account the freedom of thought of the students. Students can easily get carried away by their impulses, leaving them unable to think about all their possibilities.

An important aspect here is that freedom should never be a goal. Freedom is a tool that helps students to develop. If you give your students freedom of thought, they can autonomously focus their experiences on educational continuity.

Screenshot from the movie Dead Poets Society

The Education of John Dewey

John Dewey was very critical of our traditional educational models, as well as some of the more progressive educational models. He saw traditional models as rigid systems with educational goals very different from his democratic principles. Dewey also found that progressive models fell short in their initiatives and failed to achieve their goals.

Unfortunately, Dewey too has never been able to develop an ideal model of education. However, he was very clear about the fact that in order to improve existing educational models, scientific and rigorous research in this area is first necessary. Research capable of challenging the assumptions that were so popular then and somehow still thrive.

By collecting data about our current schools, we can see what changes are needed. So it is a continuous process of application-research-application. And through this process, our current education system should take steps toward one that is true and genuine. The underlying question of this approach is complicated. Is our current education system based on scientific research or is it run by economic and political powers? 

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