Friday Lessons: John Dewey, 2

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. 2. Experiential education should be enjoyable and open doors to new experiences.

Learning should never stop. All of us should forever remain students. My favorite quote in all of Experience and Education is, “The quality of any experience has two aspects. There is an immediate aspect of agreeableness or disagreeableness and there is its influence upon later experiences.”1 For Dewey, these two sentences are uncharacteristically succinct, yet they capture very well a significant element of good experiential education. To promote lifelong learning, experiential education should 1) have enough fun in it that participants want to keep doing it and 2) show the participants options for continuing to learn in new and different ways.

“Agreeableness” is a lousy word (I’m not even sure it is a word), but it was Dewey’s way of saying that education should have an element of fun. Activities that are all fun Dewey described as “aimless,” but activities with identifiable goals, specific subject matter, and a sprinkling of fun were good education. Not every aspect of every learning experience will be fun, but there should be enough agreeableness in educational programming overall that students will look forward to learning.

“The most important attitude that can be formed,” wrote Dewey, “is that of desire to go on learning…. What avail is it to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his soul: loses his appreciation of things worth while, of the values to which these things are relative; if he loses desire to apply what he has learned and, above all, loses the ability to extract meaning from his future experiences as they occur?”2

In addition to agreeableness, a second feature of education that advances lifelong learning is the extent that the current experience opens doors to future experiences, often experiences of increased complexity. A reoccurring theme in Dewey’s philosophy of education (one that will be addressed later in the book) is continuity.3 Dewey advocated educator guidance over total student freedom because students left to their own devices have experiences that are impulsive and non-sequential. Interests bounce from one disconnected topic to another. Spontaneity is appealing in its enthusiasm, but it seldom contributes to a coordinated learning effort. Dewey wanted educators to maintain control of the educative experience, because educators often are in a better position than students to see where an experience can potentially lead. Educators have a responsibility to guide students toward new educative experiences.

To be continued…

    1. Experience and Education, p. 27.
    2. Experience and Education, pp. 48-49.
    3. How We Think, John Dewey

©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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