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Experience and Education by John Dewey

Experience and Education

by John Dewey

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  TUCC | Jun 28, 2017 |
The popularity of John Dewey, American pragmatist philosopher and education reformer, has largely waned. But during his 90+ years of life, he was one of the most famous public intellectuals alive, teaching at Columbia University. But now he is mostly cited in education circles, perhaps more than he is read, and apart from the Center for Dewey Studies at Southern Illinois University, is largely ignored by the academic philosophy establishment. You won’t find his books at Barnes and Noble very often.

What happened?

I first encountered Dewey after William James, that other famous American pragmatist. Dewey’s book [The Quest for Certainty], his review of the history of philosophy, was not the most lively book but it made good points. Pragmatism, the only truly Yankee school of philosophy, stresses the import of thought for action, the practical consequences of philosophical concepts. Rather than the abstract debates over a priori knowledge of metaphysical entities that characterizes Western philosophy, pragmatists called for philosophy to be more like science: more oriented on process, on action. Dewey, who began his career as a Hegelian, extended Peirce’s and James’ thought further. For Dewey, there is no such thing as certainty about entities that exist prior to all experience. Concepts arise from experience and are meaningless unless they bear fruit for experience. This radically recasts or destroys traditional philosophical debates such as free will, the existence of God, and the mind-body problem.

Which brings me to this book. I really enjoyed this book, because Dewey’s points about education are so applicable to my life. Dewey contrasts two modes of education. One, the traditional mode, is based on transmitting static cultural knowledge to largely passive pupils. The “progressive” mode instead seeks to teach not content, but critical thinking; not the knowledge of the past, but the ability to think critically on experiences in the present and future; not information in books but information gained from communities of inquiry and practice. One mode pictures the teacher as a godlike authority, leading the ignorant students to truth, while the other sees the teacher as more of a facilitator. Dewey does not provide examples, but one from my experience will suffice. I spent one year in a high school where science was taught in this “progressive” way. We did lots of fun experiments, but I still can’t tell you some of the basic scientific facts I should have learned, and my preparation for later science courses was subpar.

What’s the rub? Despite his identification with the progressive school of thought, Dewey argues that some moderation is needed. For him, the goal of education is “self-control,” which requires a certain amount of external (teacher) control to inculcate the ability to discipline one’s thoughts and think critically. One of education’s other main goals, the ability to think critically about experience, requires that we at least learn something about the wisdom of the past, insofar as it applies to experiences we will have in the future. So history is not entirely out the window. So education needs to find a middle way between student caprice and teacher control, with a teacher who is not given strict templates of what to teach (standardized testing!) but an ability to adapt content and methods to the students at hand.

One of Dewey’s other main points is that knowledge is not really book-learning, confined to the domain of school then forgotten once the student has moved on from that domain. Knowledge takes place in communities of inquiry. For example, rather than read about archaeological artifacts from the past, students should see the digs, go to the museums, see archaeology at work rather than fossilizing learning. In education systems where learning is done via books and exams – solitary activities – the learning becomes fossilized. One wonders whether online education has made this better or worse.

Dewey died in the 1940s, but his urge to rethink education in a rapidly changing world is more true than ever. For example, he makes the point that those who teach children are older. The knowledge they have needed to make sense of experience may not apply to their students. At my university, the computer science majors aren’t taught Fortran and Pascal; hell, they aren’t taught many software programs at all. Instead they learn theoretical computer science, the principles behind software problem-solving and program design. This ensures that their degree will still be useful in decades to come when even C++ and Java are no longer in vogue.

So I would read this short book. It may be somewhat dated on the debates, but it’s written by a master, the man whom the New York Times deemed “America’s philosopher” on his 90th birthday. It lays out some commonsense but often unrealized or polarized terms for analyzing one’s own schooling. Although philosophy of education gets little attention in philosophy departments now, it is a problem that concerned Plato himself.

(Note: I listened to the audio version on audible. I enjoyed this book, but it was very dense for an audiobook, perhaps too much so.
4 vote JDHomrighausen | Aug 1, 2013 |
Excellent content, but I found Dewey's writing style heavy going.
  Cynara | Sep 26, 2009 |
Being a younger teacher and rather liberal by nature, I have already learned, experienced, and practiced much of what Dewey had to say in this text. But after reading this text, I better understand much of my more confused and chaotic philosophy.

For me the foundation of the text and the philosophy is the concept that students need to develop knowledge through experience, to have some control over their learning, and to not be subjected to the traditional "teacher as repository of knowledge" form of education. I have always agreed with this, but after teaching for a few years, I found the often-touted alternate of complete student freedom completely impractical. Luckily, in Experience and Education, Dewey continually stresses the importance of not fleshing out the progressive philosophy of education in reaction against the traditional. He argues that an educational philosophy needs to build upon itself and its own ideas and not just be a negative of the philosophy which came before. In this light, Dewey has the instructor as a participant and facilitator in the educational process, not as an observer.

Okay so maybe a review of the actual book instead of my thoughts on the ideas within it.... I found the text well organized and the ideas within it easily accessible due to the use of real life analogies. This is not your impractical, overly wordy, impossible to comprehend statement of philosophy. In keeping with his philosophy of education, Dewey uses recognizable experiences of the reader to instruct the reader.

If you are an educator, a student, a parent, or just interested in education, I highly recommend this book. ( )
  EclecticEccentric | Sep 18, 2009 |
Bókin kom fyrst út fyrir rúmum sex áratugum og hefur verið endurprentuð ótal
sinnum. Þetta rit er án efa langþekktast af öllu því sem höfundur skrifaði á
sviði menntunarfræða og hefur haft mikil áhrif á hugsunarhátt í þessum
fræðum víða um lönd.
Ritið er uppgjör höfundar við svokallaða framsækna menntastefnu, sem átti
miklu fylgi að fagna í Bandaríkjunum á fyrri hluta 20. aldar, og leiðrétting á
afbökunum og rangtúlkunum sem hann taldi að kenningar sínar á sviði kennslu- og menntamála hefðu
orðið fyrir. Í bókinni er að finna endanlega greinargerð Deweys fyrir meginhugmyndum sínum um
menntun og skólastarf.
Gunnar Ragnarsson þýddi og ritaði inngang og skýringar. Um kápuhönnun önnuðust Jón Reykdal og
Nanna Reykdal. Bókin var prentuð hjá prentsmiðjunni Odda hf. Heiðrún Kristjánsdóttir hafði umsjón
með útgáfunni. (Úr tilkynningu frá Rannsóknarstofnun
  hrobjartur | Dec 16, 2008 |
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John Deweyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hall-Quest, Alfred L.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0684838281, Paperback)

Experience and Education is the best concise statement on education ever published by John Dewey, the man acknowledged to be the pre-eminent educational theorist of the twentieth century. Written more than two decades after Democracy and Education (Dewey's most comprehensive statement of his position in educational philosophy), this book demonstrates how Dewey reformulated his ideas as a result of his intervening experience with the progressive schools and in the light of the criticisms his theories had received.

Analyzing both "traditional" and "progressive" education, Dr. Dewey here insists that neither the old nor the new education is adequate and that each is miseducative because neither of them applies the principles of a carefully developed philosophy of experience. Many pages of this volume illustrate Dr. Dewey's ideas for a philosophy of experience and its relation to education. He particularly urges that all teachers and educators looking for a new movement in education should think in terms of the deeped and larger issues of education rather than in terms of some divisive "ism" about education, even such an "ism" as "progressivism." His philosophy, here expressed in its most essential, most readable form, predicates an American educational system that respects all sources of experience, on that offers a true learning situation that is both historical and social, both orderly and dynamic.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:58 -0400)

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