Monday, April 20, 2009

John Dewey - New thinking 1897!

John Dewey's famous declaration concerning education was first published 1897 and is still as pertinent now as it was then. All school communities ought to declare their beliefs about education and then work towards aligning all their teaching to achieving what they believe in. If they do not determine their own destiny someone else will. Having clear beliefs provides both security and the basis of making all choices - or simply saying no as appropriate. The following are excerpts from Dewey's declaration

Article One: What Education is.

I believe all education...begins almost at birth, and is continually shaping the individual's power, saturating his consciousness, forming his habits, training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions.

I believe the only true education comes through stimulation of the child's powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself. Through these demands he is stimulated to act as a member of a unity, to emerge from his original narrowness of action and feelings, and to conceive of himself from the standpoint of the welfare of the group to which he belongs.

I believe ... the child's own instincts and powers furnish the material and give the starting point for all education.

It is important to foretell definitely just what civilisation will be in twenty years from now. Hence it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions. To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities; that his eye and ear and hand may be tools ready to command, that his judgement may be capable of grasping the conditions under which it has to work...It is impossible to reach this sort of adjustment save as constant regard is had to the individual's own powers, tastes, and interests..

Education, therefore, must begin with...insight into the child's capacities, interests, and habits...These powers , interests, and habits must be continually interpreted- we must know what they mean.

Article Two; What the School is.

I believe that the school is primarily a social institution...the school is simply a form of community life.

I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.

I believe that the school must present life - life as real and vital to the child as that which he caries on in the home, in the neighbourhood, or on the playground.

I believe..that school ... should reproduce them in such ways that the child will gradually learn the meaning of them, and be capable of playing his own part in them.

I believe is the business of the school to deepen and extend his sense of the values bound up in his home life.

I believe that most of education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is given, where certain lessons are to be learnt, or where certain habits are to be formed.The value of these is conceived as lying largely in the remote future; the child must do these things for the sake of something else he has to do; they are mere preparation. As a result they do not become part of of the life experience of the child and so are not truly educative.

I believe that the moral education centres upon this conception of the school as a mode of social life, that the best and deepest moral training is precisely that which one gets through having to enter into proper relation with others in a unity of work and thought. The present system, so far as they destroy or neglect this unity, render it difficult or impossible to get genuine, regular moral training.

I believe that the child should be stimulated and controlled in his work through the life of the community.

I believe that under existing conditions too much of the stimulus and control proceeds from the teacher, because of neglect of the idea of the school as a form of social life.

I believe that the teacher's place and work in the school is to interpreted from the same basis. The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to those influences.

I believe that the discipline of the school should proceed from the life of the school as a whole and not directly from the teacher.

I believe that the teacher's business is simply to determine on the basis of larger experience and riper wisdom, how the discipline of life shall come to the child.

Article Three: The Subject Matter of Education.

I believe that the social life of the child is the basis of concentration, correlation, in all his training or growth. The social life gives the unconscious unity and the background of all his efforts and of all his attainments.

I believe that the subject- matter of the school curriculum should mark a gradual differentiation out of the primitive unconscious unity of social life.

I believe we violate the child's nature and render difficulties the best ethical results, by introducing the child too abruptly to a number of special studies, of reading, writing, geography etc.

I believe, therefore, that the true centre of correlation on the school subjects is not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child's social activities...and ( such subjects should) not precede such experience.

I believe accordingly that the primary basis of education is in the child's powers at work along the same general constructive lines which have brought civilisation into being.

I believe that the only way to make the child conscious of his social herbage is to enable him to perform those fundamental types of activities which makes civilisation what it is.

I believe, therefore, in the so called expressive or constructive activities... it is possible and desirable that the child's introduction into the more formal subjects of the curriculum be through the medium of these activities...because it gives the ability to interpret and control the experience already had. It should be introduced, not as so much new subject matter, but as showing the factors already involved in previous experience and as furnishing tools by which that experience can be more easily and effectively regulated.

Language is is the devise for communication; it is the tool through which one individual comes to share the ideas and feelings of others. When treated simply as a way of getting individual information, or as a means of showing off what one has learned, it loses its social motive and end.

I believe that there is, therefore, no succession of studies in the ideal school curriculum.If education is life, all life has, from the outset, a scientific aspect, and aspect of art and culture, and an aspect of communication. It cannot, therefore, be true that the proper studies for one grade are mere reading and writing...The progress is not in the succession of studies but in the development of new attitudes, and new interests in, experience.

I believe finally , that education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience; that the process and the goal of eduction are one and the same thing.

I believe to set up any end outside of education, as furnishing its goals and standards, is to deprive the educational process of much of its meaning and tends to make us rely upon false and external stimuli in dealing with the child.

Article Four; The Nature of Method.

I believe that the question of methods is ultimately reducible to the question of the order of development of the child's powers and interests.

Because this is so I believe the following are of supreme importance as determining the spirit in which eduction is carried on:

1 I believe that the active side precedes the passive in the development of the child's nature; that expression comes before conscious impression..

I believe that the neglect of this principle is the cause of a large part of the waste of time and strength in school work.The child is thrown into a passive, receptive, or absorbing attitude.The conditions are such that he is not permitted to follow the law of his nature; the result is friction and waste.

2 I believe that the image is the great instrument of instructions.What a child gets out of any subject presented to him is simply the images which he himself forms with regard to it.

I believe that nine tenths of the energy at present directed toward making the child learn certain things, were spent on seeing to it that the child was forming proper images, the work of instruction would be indefinitely facilitated.

I believe that much of the time and attention now given to the preparation and presentation of lessons might be more wisely and profitably expended in training the child's power of imagery and in seeing to it that he was continually forming definite, vivid,and growing images of the various subject with which he comes in contact in his experience.

3 I believe that interests are the signs and symptoms of growing power. I believe they represent dawning capacities. Accordingly the constant and careful observation of interests is of utmost importance for the educator.

I believe these interests are to be observed as showing the state of development which the child has reached.

I believe they prophesy the stage upon which he is about to enter.

I believe that only through the continual and sympathetic observation of childhood's interests can the adult enter the child's life and see what it is ready for, and upon what material it could work most readily and fruitfully.

The interest is always the sign of some power below; the important thing is to discover this power.

4 I believe that emotions are the reflex of actions.

I believe that if we can only secure the right habits of action and thought, with reference to the good, the true, and the beautiful, the emotions will for the most part take care of themselves.

Article Five: The School and Social Progress.

I believe education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform.

I believe that all reforms which rest simply upon the enactment of law ... are transitory and futile.

I believe that education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction.

I believe that this conception has due regard for both individualistic and socialistic ideals.

I believe that in the ideal school we have the reconciliation of the individualistic and institutional ideals.

I believe that it is the business of every one interested in education to insist on the school as the primary and most effective interest of social progress and reform in order that society may be awakened to realize what the school stands for, and aroused to the necessity of endowing the educator with sufficient equipment properly to perform his task.

I believe that the art of thus giving shape to human powers and adapting them to social service, is the supreme art; one calling into its service the best of artists; that no insight, sympathy, tact, executive power, to too great for such service.

I believe, finally, that the teacher is engaged, not simply in the training of individuals, but in the formation of proper social life.
I believe that every teacher should realize the dignity of his calling; that he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of social order and the securing of the right social growth.

It is time to return to John Dewey's vision now that the politics of self interest and 'market forces' has all but destroyed the social cohesion required to ensure the common good and success for all?


Anonymous said...

Written over 110 years ago it sure shows that nothing is new. That so many students currently fail is because we haven't listened to the voice ofJohn Dewey - or the personal needs of our students. Our schools owe more to the mass production ideas of Henry Ford; ideas that are no longer even viable in the USA car industry!

Bruce said...

I have just re-read Dewey's book 'Experience and Education' he wrote in 1938 in response to criticism of his ideals. A great book. Lots of educationalists have expanded on Dewey's ideas but few write in support of traditional schools. Maybe we need a 'meltdown' similar to the financial one to change schools - or a miracle to change secondary schools that at persist like ancient dinosaurs.

Anonymous said...

What is not taken advantage of in primary school, and almost ignored by secondary schools, is the lived experiences, the culture, and the interests of the kids. Once language arts experience was the mainstay of good primary classes - now it plays a very second fiddle to the current obsession with literacy and numeracy. Students live up to and are judged by their teachers and as such creativity is at risk.

A modern interpretation of John Dewey - experiential project based learning is needed. Too much unthinking cut and paste via google.

All will get worse with the introduction of standard based testing.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Bruce!

And thanks for this marvelous confirmation - I don't care how old it is, but the older the better!

It is the age we live in. Some call it postmodernism - I think we may have discussed this before. But unfortunately, part of that present-day culture does not support what's called the 'Grand narrative'.

Dewey, like many other, unfortunately is part of the Grand Narrative. I find this attitude among some of my most experienced peers: "Oh we don't want that! That went out with the Ark. What we need is something new and innovative!"


I've said my Peace :-)

catchya later

Bruce said...

Post modern thinkers may talk about the grand narrative times being over but it still is firmly in place in most of our organisations - what we need is an environment hospitable to 'new' ideas no matter how old they are.

Kia ora