Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, November 28, 2016

Final 1st Installment: John Dewey

John Dewey was a philosopher born in Vermont in the year 1859. For his great impact on the philosophy of modern education, he was known as the 'Modern Father of Experiential Education. Many of his philosophical methods are still being used today in modern school systems and other places of education.
John Dewey was the founder of a theory known as instrumentalism, more commonly known as pragmatism. He and his followers, who were called instrumentalists, believed that in order for a theory to be considered successful, it first had to be applied and proven to be a success, otherwise it should be either thrown out or improved for a better theory. John Dewey, being a psychologist and educational reformer, applied his theories to the educational system. His first step in this was to analyze two types of education already in play at that time: traditional and progressive education. Traditional education was characterized by the path that was already defined for the students and the curriculum that was integrated in that pathway. On the other hand, progressive education was characterized in a way that the student completely controlled their own education in that it followed their own interests instead of a set pathway. John Dewey did not take to either type of education. He thought that traditional education was too strict in that it did not allow room for the student to choose their own way, it was all set out for them. Progressive education was too spontaneous according to Dewey and was too individualized. Because John Dewey disagreed with both of these theories of education, he decided to put his own into practice. His theory relied heavily on two principles that Dewey said defined powerful education experiences: continuity and interaction. Continuity was referred to by how a student's past and present experiences influence their experiences in the future. Interaction is characterized by how a students present situation influences the types of experience that student may have in the present time, may they be good or bad experience. According to John Dewey, education must have both to be successful and that these experiences are a direct influence on a student's capacity to learn. Personally, I agree with John Dewey because i believe that education should rely on experiential learning in that students participate hands on in what they are learning in order for them to have the best experience possible.I have found, myself, that by participating in activities hands on instead of listening to a professor lecture or reading lines from a book, I have a greater capacity to learn and it is far easier for me to learn. Sitting at a desk and writing down notes as a professor lectures seems very impractical and ineffective to me because it does not engage myself and other students in the material that is being taught. John Dewey recognized this connection and put it to use by developing new educational theories and testing them on students to prove their efficiency. According to Dewey, a traditional education teaches students to be docile and obedient where an environment is created for students to only listen and learn, not think. Dewey then pressed on educators to incorporate experiences in education where students participated in their own learning, believing that someday, these experiences would improve the students future decisions. This is known as Dewey's 'continuity of experience'. Another principle that Dewey argued was that education should focus on quality of experiences over quantity. Dewey believed that a good learning experience incorporates both continuity and interaction for the student where continuity keeps the learners learning and interaction  meets the learner's needs. I completely agree with Dewey's theory on experiential education and wish to see it in education more and more so students can have better experiences and one day make better future decisions than they would have with either traditional or progressive learning.
Another important aspect of John Dewey in regards to his philosophy is his substitution of inquiry for truth. John Dewey does not find judgements to be absolutely true or condemn their contradictories to be called false. Instead, a process called inquiry exists. This is a form of mutualistic adjustment between and environment and an organism that lives there. For Dewey, inquiry is the essence of logic, not truth or knowledge. Dewey defines inquiry as "the controlled or directed transformation of an indeterminate situation into one that is so d eterminent in its constituent distinctions and relations as to convert the elements of the original situation into a unified whole." Bertrund Russell finds this definition inadequate and that something is missing from this definition. Instead, Russell believes that Dewey's theory should be stated in a different manner: " The relations of an organism to its environment are sometimes satisfactory, sometimes unsatisfactory. When they are unsatisfactory, the situation may be improved by mutual adjustment. When the alterations by means of which the situation is improved are mainly on the side of the organism-they are never wholly on either side- the process involved is called inquiry." Russell then goes on to explain this definition of what he believes Dewey really means. He states an example in that during a battle, one side is mainly concerned about altering the environment, in other words, the other side or the enemy. However, during the period before of reconnaissance, that side is concerned with altering itself. This earlier period, states Russell, is Dewey's inquiry. I personally incline myself to believe Russell's definition. in short, it makes sense. The process of finding out what you need to alter in yourself aside from altering something outside of yourself more accurately defines what Dewey means by his definition of inquiry instead of instead of defining other acts of organizing, which could also be included in Dewey's definition of inquiry, making Dewey's definition incomplete and in need of redefining. Overall,when Dewey looks at inquiry, he looks at truth for himself, while when he looks at truth, he does not look at inquiry. I understand why he does this because in order to find truth, there must be an inquiry into the subject matter, but when looking at truth, there is no inquiry because the truth has already been defined, thus showing why Dewey substitutes inquiry for truth, but not truth for inquiry.
Overall, I like Dewey as a philosopher, especially his philosophy of education. I find he makes sense to me in his theories for how professors and teachers should go about educating students and that his theories should be more widely used in order for the future to become a brighter, better place. With Russell's improvement to Dewey's definition of inquiry and why it is interchangeable with truth, but not vice versa, I find it makes complete sense to me. My questions to you is do you think Dewey's philosophy on education is sound and should be practiced more often in classrooms and do you agree with Dewey's definition of inquiry before or after Russell redefines it, or not at all?

Bertrund Russell's A HIstory of Western Philosphy

1168 Words


  1. "when Dewey looks at inquiry, he looks at truth for himself, while when he looks at truth, he does not look at inquiry" - Dewey actually preferred to talk about "warranted assertability" instead of truth, since its much more practical to decide what our situations warrant than to infer the final truth from them.

    You're right, Dewey rejected both traditional and "progressive" approaches. He was unfairly criticized as a defender of progressive education when in fact he proposed a pragmatic (or "instrumental") hands-on alternative.

    Dewey's "Art as Experience" is worth a look, if you're interested. He says there that art is implicit in everyday life, in the "tense grace of the ballplayer" and in "the delight of the housewife in tending her plants, and the intent interest of her goodman in tending the patch of green in front of the house; the zest of the spectator in
    poking the wood burning on the hearth and in watching the darting flames and crumbling coals..." When we notice and enjoy these experiences, he says, we cease to be "cold spectators" and become full participants in life (and in art).

    Dewey is also the author of one of my favorite quotes, at the end of his book "A Common Faith" -

    “The things in civilization we most prize are not of ourselves. They exist by grace of the doings and sufferings of the continuous human community in which we are a link. Ours is the responsibility of conserving, transmitting, rectifying and expanding the heritage of values we have received, that those who come after us may receive it more solid and secure, more widely accessible and more generously shared than we have received it.”

    That's on his gravestone, which I photographed in his hometown of Burlington Vermont - http://delightsprings.blogspot.com/2009/11/natural-religion.html

    1. Thank you for the interesting facts and quotes. I may look into "Art of Experience". It sounds interesting and i would very much love to continue learning about philosophy