Friday Lesson: John Dewey, 6

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. 6. Competent experiential educators have more extensive experience than their students, and the knowledge and wisdom derived from this experience is applied to the mentoring relationship.1

Experiential educators should have a plan, a body of experience, and an understanding of the subject matter that far exceeds that of their students, and they need to openly share them all. Knowledgeable educators recognize the potential value of an experience well before students take notice of such things, so it only makes sense for these educators to guide experiences in the most meaningful directions. Dewey wrote, “The greater maturity of experience which should belong to the adult as educator puts him in a position to evaluate each experience of the young in a way in which the one having the less mature experience cannot do. It is then the business of the educator to see in what direction an experience is heading. There is no point in his being more mature if, instead of using his greater insight to help organize the conditions of the experience of the immature, he throws away his insight.”2

This point really strikes to the heart of the student freedom/facilitator guidance debate in experiential education. In the opinion of Dewey, facilitators err on the side of guidance. “It is impossible,” wrote Dewey, “to understand why a suggestion from one who has a larger experience and a wider horizon should not be at least as valid as a suggestion arising from some more or less accidental source.”3

To be honest, I hesitated including the preceding Dewey quote in this introductory chapter, because it opens up an issue that cannot be covered well in only a few paragraphs. Still it represents Dewey’s concern that experiential educators can be too laissez-faire and too willing to let the experience determine its own course. Not letting this happen was an important theme in Dewey’s writings, and it will be covered in more detail later. Chapters 2 and 3 focus entirely on student freedom and educator guidance. For right now, it is enough to point out that, more often than not, the educator guides the experience and offers his or her interpretation of the experience. The trick is to “exercise the wisdom his own experience gives him without imposing a merely external control.”4

To be continued…

    1 Experience and Education, p. 21
    2 Experience and Education, p. 38.
    3 Experience and Education, p. 71.
    4 Experience and Education, p. 38.

©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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