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. 11. If experiential education is to be community-based, it includes teaching students to work with others.
One aspect of education as part of society is preparing students for a life in that society. This means teaching students to work with other people. “Education,” wrote Dewey, “is essentially a social process.”1 One part of this process is teaching students the rules or the etiquette of working alongside others. Another part is providing opportunities for students to work with others to practice cooperative effort. “The educator is responsible for a knowledge of subject-matter that will enable activities to be selected which lend themselves to social organization, an organization in which all individuals have an opportunity to contribute something, and which the activities in which all participate are the chief carrier of control.”2 This is an element of experiential education that is familiar to those who promote cooperation and team-building in their programs. They know instinctively what Dewey put into words, “When education is based upon experience and educative experience is seen to be a social process, the situation changes radically. The teacher loses the position of external boss or dictator but takes on that of leader of group activities.”3
There are other topics from Experience and Education that could be mentioned here (e.g., looking to the future, use of the scientific method, the components of a good mentorship), but Points 1-11 are a good initial look at the educational philosophy of John Dewey. The question is what to do now.
I would certainly fault no one for stopping here. With a simple, straightforward summary of the Deweyian tenets that found their way into Experiential and Education, an educator would have a basic understanding of the father of experiential education. It is an understanding, I think, that exceeds that of many experiential educators and could be used to enhance a personal philosophy of education. While I intended this list to be a summary of Experience and Education and not a kind of checklist, an experiential educator could do worse than use the list to assess his or her own philosophy. Is my philosophy student-centered? Is it community-based? Do I value subject matter, and if so, do I continually take steps to enhance and update my knowledge base? Where do I stand on the issue of educator guidance and student freedom?
Most educators, progressive or traditional, have much more to do than they have time for, so enhancing their philosophy of education seldom is the highest priority. These five newsletter entries are a quick way to think about educational philosophy at a practical level. Adhering to any educational philosophy is usually better than having no philosophy at all, and of the philosophies that have been thoughtfully articulated, Dewey’s is a good one.
Conversely a true philosophy of education cannot be put into a list any more than professional ethics can be put into a set of rules. I can organize Dewey’s philosophy all I want, but until it is part of my being, it is not my philosophy. The goal of studying Dewey is not to become a follower of Dewey; it is to appreciate the extent that Dewey contributes to a personal philosophy of education – a philosophy that, more likely than not, will have some elements of Dewey and some elements that are not Dewey. To that end, I hope this summary was of use.
©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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