Some would argue that John Dewey was one of the most influential thought leaders on education in the twentieth century. His ideas on experience, reflection, democracy, community and environments for learning have made their mark on education for generations to come.
In my opinion, he was a man before his time. We seemed to understand what was important in education in the 1940s and then somehow got side tracked. See how familiar this sounds.
"The world is moving at a tremendous rate. Going no one knows where. We must prepare our children, not for the world of the past. Not for our world. But for their world. The world of the future." Learning by doing. Learning through real and authentic experiences.
Dewey's thoughts have laid the foundation for inquiry driven approaches.
According to Dewey, all learning begins with the learner. What children know and what they want to learn are the very foundation for learning.
Dewey's description of the four primary interests of the child are still appropriate starting points:
- the child's instinctive desire to find things out
- in conversation, the propensity children have to communicate
- in construction, their delight in making things
- in their gifts of artistic expression.
These four points are the foundation for passion-based learning. Dewey suggests that schooling is not just about the individual. It is the coming together of the child's interests with those of the society or the community. Today's Web-based tools extend that idea to the global community.
Just take a look at progressive education in the 1940s.
Here are other ideas of John Dewey. They still ring so true for today.
“…education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience;that the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing” (Dewey, 1910:1937).
Teacher as Nurturer
“To see teaching and learning as the act of nurturing is to understand the essence of the phrase, to educate.” As Dewey posits, learners grow in concert with others. “Every experience lives on in further experiences. Hence, the central problem of…education…is to select the kind of present experiences that develop fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences” (Dewey, 1937, p.45).
Teacher as Facilitator
“Real, genuine attention means mental movement, not only on the part of the individual but also on the part of the class. It means that ideas come into the class, various persons follow out those ideas, and new points are brought out; and yet the teacher harmonizes it all, combining this play of variety, this expression of different elements, so that it leads consistently and consecutively in a definite direction” (Dewey, 1904).
Teacher as Collaborator
“…it behooves the school to make ceaseless and intelligently organized effort to develop above all else the will for co-operation and the spirit which sees in every other individual one who has an equal right to share in the cultural and material fruits of collective human invention…” (Dewey, 1937).
Dewey’s ideology and his approach to education encompassed a view that human beings had the natural tendency to connect with others, “to give out, to do, and to serve” (Dewey, 1916).
I love his idea that humans have a natural attraction toward collaboration and connecting. To see teaching and learning as the act of collaborating is to see the teacher as one who values teaching and learning as more than just an end unto itself. Teachers from Dewey's perspective are charged to create a community of learners who construct meaning within a socio-cultural context.
I'd love to hear your thinking on Dewey. Do you agree he was just a little before his time?