Dewey’s Philosophy of Education​

There are only a few ideas that have had as much of an impact on education as those of John Dewey. The American philosopher, psychologist and educator believed children to be active contributors and agents of their learning, and not just passive recipients of knowledge of previous generations.

 “For knowledge to be acquired successfully, learning should be an experience”

Dewey’s philosophy points out that the strict authoritarian approach of traditional education was overly concerned with delivering preordained knowledge, and not focused enough on students’ actual learning experiences. To understand his ideas, let’s imagine Dewey reappears in the modern world with the mission to implement his theories in a conventional brick and mortar school.

Dewey championed learning by doing, also known as experiential learning. He observed that children learn better when they are actively engaged, because they are immersed in the present and not a distant future, such as final exams.

In biology students don’t read books, but instead grow plants, harvest fruits and then feed them to snails to see what happens. Sometimes things work out, sometimes accidents happen — whatever the outcome, the students take notes of their observations and form rich memorable experiences. At the end of each class they summarize their learning and turn to discussions.

“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes”<

The discussions prepare the students for life in a democratic society where decisions ought to be based on reasonable arguments. Through the debates the children learn to formulate their own ideas, convince others, and learn to see the world from a different point of view.

For instance, in one hypothetical discussion if some students started to argue that school uniforms limit self expression, and that they should be abolished. Dewey, who believed that schools should prepare children for life itself and serve society as a force for innovation and reform, would encourage those students to start a petition to find out for themselves if real social change is possible.

In his realm, classes are interactive because Dewey believes that interaction with the environment is essential for the learning process since education is an experience that is subject to constant change. Passive recipients of knowledge on the other hand, learn very little if anything at all. Thus, the group who started the petition present their ideas to the teacher — and start a dialogue that expands their understanding and underlines their learning.

“Learning is interdisciplinary”

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