Friday Lesson: John Dewey, 9

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. 9. Experiential education, at its core, is student-centered.

In spite of the fact that Dewey had the educator doing virtually all of the groundwork for the facilitated experience (i.e., setting the goals, choosing the content, determining the sequence of activities), he was not concerned that the educator would come to dominate the experience. There were too many intervening factors to keep excessive educator control in check, not the least of them an egalitarian mindset common to those most attracted to progressive education. Another factor was the student-centeredness of his philosophy.

John Dewey did not see student-centeredness and educator guidance (even educator control) as incompatible. Guidance did not mean indifference to student input, and student-centeredness did not mean relinquishing educator authority. Educators controlled the experience, but in ways that met the immediate needs and interests of the students. Educators did not simply set up a learning opportunity without considering the “powers and purposes of those taught.”1 This was basic Dewey and is basic experiential education theory.

Student-centeredness begins with involving students in the determination of program goals. Dewey wrote, “There is, I think, no point in the philosophy of progressive education which is sounder than its emphasis upon the importance of the participation of the learner in the formation of the purposes which direct his activities in the learning process, just as there is no defect in traditional education greater than its failure to secure the active co-operation of the pupil in construction of the purposes involved in his studying.”2

The educator has ultimate responsibility in establishing the goals and determining all other aspects of a program, but all of this is based upon the past experiences, knowledge base, and interests of the students being served. “The beginning of instruction,” wrote Dewey, “shall be made with the experiences learners already have.”3 For all of Dewey’s emphasis on educator-determined subject matter and the knowledge base of the educator, the genesis of an educational program does not come from the teacher. It comes from the students. “When education is based in theory and practice upon experience, it goes without saying that the organized subject-matter of the adult and the specialist cannot provide the starting point.”4

To be continued…

    1 Experience and Education, p. 45.
    2 Experience and Education, p. 67.
    3 Experience and Education, p. 74.
    4 Experience and Education, p. 83.

©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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