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. 3. Not all experiences are educative. Some are aimless activity.
I sometimes ask my university recreation students whether the recreation activities that they lead need to be educational. Typically their answer is that the activities don’t need to be educational, but usually are. The primary goal is for the participants to have fun, and any learning that occurs is a welcome, but secondary, result. From a Deweyian perspective, these students are describing “aimless activity,” not education.1 With no playfulness an educational experience is boring; too much play and it ceases to be education.2 For an activity to be education, Dewey wrote, “Attentive care must be devoted to the conditions which give each present experience a worthwhile meaning. Instead of inferring that it doesn’t make much difference what the present experience is as long as it is enjoyed, the conclusion is the exact opposite.”3
Two of the conditions that help make an experience educationally meaningful are 1) predetermined goals and 2) facilitated reflection (i.e., processing or debriefing). Predetermined goals give the action clear purpose from the very beginning. They direct the experience toward worthwhile outcomes. Without predetermined goals, students may not derive much meaning, because the activities do not have much meaning.
Sometimes, however, even experiences with significance or meaning do not translate into learning. This is because the meaning goes unnoticed by the students. Only through reflection are the lessons of the experience made explicit. In Experience and Education, Dewey did not offer details about how to promote quality reflection, but frequently alluded to its importance. He wrote, “To reflect is to look back over what has been done so as to extract the net meanings which are the capital stock for intelligent dealing with further experience. It is the heart of intellectual organization and of the disciplined mind.”4 Educators must help students develop the skills to be more observant during their experiences, then use those observation skills to link the current experience with the knowledge and memories of the past—“a union of observation and memory” that discerns meaning. The experience alone is not enough. “We have to understand the significance of what we see, hear, and touch.”5
To be continued…
©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.
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