Friday Lesson: John Dewey, 5

A Summary of John Dewey’s Experience and Education from Steven Simpson’s Genuine Learning, Genuine Freedom: An Educator’s Reflections on the Philosophy of John Dewey, in 11 parts.

©2010, Steven Simpson & Wood ‘N’ Barnes Publishing

Point No. 5. Experiential education programming is carefully planned.

According to Dewey, experiential education was not simply providing an evocative setting or challenging task, then turning students loose to create their own experiences. At least initially students were not up to the task of directing and interpreting their own experiences. They jumped into action and had experiences—they had all kinds of experiences—but not necessarily those that taught anything useful or built upon each other.1 Experiential education, in contrast to haphazard experiential learning, required a carefully formulated plan to continually guide experience in useful predetermined directions.2 Unless an experience is based on “a plan for deciding upon subject-matter, upon methods of instruction and discipline, upon material equipment and social organization of the school, it is wholly in the air.”3

Dewey did not believe that careful planning undermined student enthusiasm. That occurred only when planning did not take into account the interests of the students. “In an educational scheme,” Dewey wrote, “the occurrence of a desire and impulse is not a final end. It is an occasion and a demand for the formation of a plan and method of activity.”4

Basically Dewey asked educators to use student interests as a springboard to a structured plan designed to coincide with those interests. As calculating as this may be, Dewey felt that the opposite approach to experiential programming, of flying by the seat of its experiential pants, was not going to produce a worthwhile result enough of the time. On this, he wrote, “Occasions which are not and cannot be foreseen are bound to arise whenever there is intellectual freedom. They should be utilized. But there is a decided difference between using them in the development of a continuing line of activity and trusting them to provide the chief material of learning.”5 Without planning, the results will be inconsistent, and experiential education will be opening itself to valid criticism from traditionalists who see experiential education as hit or miss.6 In practical terms, how can a plan, combined with the freedom to deviate from the plan, not be better than no plan at all?

To be continued…

    1 Dewey, J. 1902. The Child and the Curriculum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 5
    2 Not to get hung up on terminology, but there is a difference between experiential education and experiential learning. Experiential education is intentional programming designed to teach through experience. Experiential learning is the changes that occur within a person’s understanding and awareness as a result of experience. Of course, much experiential learning occurs within unstructured, unsupervised everyday life, but that is not experiential education. Experiential education is experience designed by a knowledgeable teacher or facilitator.
    3 Experience and Education, p. 28.
    4 Experience and Education, p. 71.
    5 Experience and Education, pp. 78-79.
    6 Experience and Education, p. 31.

©2010, Steven Simpson & Wood ‘N’ Barnes Publishing from the work in progress, Genuine Learning, Genuine Freedom: An Educator’s Reflections on the Philosophy of John Dewey.

This lesson is compliments of Steven Simpson, PhD, the author of Leader Who Is Hardly Known and coauthor with Dan Miller and Buzz Bocher of The Processing Pinnacle.

Thanks for joining us for Friday Lessons.

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