John Dewey Experience and Education Research Proposal

Pages: 4 (1414 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Teaching

John Dewey: Experiential Learning and the Failure of Progressive Education

For better or for worse, John Dewey's philosophy of education has defined many the terms of the continuing debate as to the best way to educate the youth of America. When Dewey came to prominence, American education was still relatively rigid and formulaic, and based upon students sitting at their tasks, and passively receiving the knowledge of a teacher. Learning the classics and 'reading, writing, and 'rithmetic' still held sway. Dewey changed all of that. "In the 1920's 1930's, John Dewey became famous for pointing out that the authoritarian, strict, pre-ordained knowledge approach of modern traditional education was too concerned with delivering knowledge, and not enough with understanding students' actual experiences" (John Dewey, the Modern Father of Experiential Education," 2005). He also demanded that educational material become more practical and pragmatic, suiting students' individual interests and the needs of modern life and the modern economy. Dewey's influence can be seen all over American education today, spanning from science fairs to Outward Bound programs to competitions where economic students in high school create 'mock' stock market portfolios to track.

However, Dewey's educational philosophy, when put fully into action might seem radical even today. For example, Dewey suggested that math could by the teacher conducting a cooking class, or "figuring out how long it would take to get from one place to another by mule," while "history could be learnt by experiencing how people lived, geography, what the climate was like, and how plants and animals grew" (Neill, "John Dewey: Philosophy of Education," 2005). Dewey's notion of experiential learning is critically linked to his notion of individualism. Not only should education be experiential, it should build on the past experiences and interests of the student, and should consist of meaningful, experiential assignments designed for that particular student. For example, a budding Emeril might like to learn math through cooking, while a student excited by geography might be excited about measuring the distance between different places on a map. A good education is based on continuity and interaction -- building upon the student's existing aptitudes, interests, and inclinations, and using them to teach the student something new.

The question occasionally arises as to whether Dewey should be classified as a 'liberal' or a 'conservative.' On one hand, Dewey's educational philosophy did place him in conflict with many educational theorists of his day. He was an innovator. Also, his philosophy was fundamentally, intensely democratic: For Dewey, education serves broader social purpose, which was to help people become more effective members of democratic society. Dewey argued that the one-way delivery style of authoritarian schooling does not provide a good model for life in democratic society. Instead, students need educational experiences which enable them to become valued, equal, and responsible members of society" (Neill, "John Dewey: Philosophy of Education," 2005). He opposed the 'dualism' of the sciences and technical skills being opposed to the humanities, and advocated an integrated approach to learning. American education was too grounded in the European tradition of teaching knowledge for knowledge's sake, like the classics of Greece and Rome, and not enough in the needs of American society with a focus on the future.

His democratic spirit does not necessarily mean that Dewey would support all liberal initiatives today. He would likely support giving families school vouchers or tax credits to pay for private educational opportunities, when families found that public schools did not cater to their child's individual needs. He supported having vocational education for some students, and creating elite schools for other students with different aptitudes, like magnet schools. Dewey was also not a supporter of the progressive educational movement of his day. He believed that it was necessary for a teacher to provide a directive and guiding force upon a student's education. A good teacher had insight into a student's past experiences, and even though a teacher could only exist in the present moment of teaching, he or she could strive to relate learning to the student's past framework of knowledge and interests. But "in progressive education, freedom was the rule, with students being relatively unconstrained by the educator. The problem with progressive education, said Dewey, is that freedom alone is no solution. Learning needs… [END OF PREVIEW]

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