Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Stone Jones (9) - Installment 1 - John Dewey and Education
Text: The Collected Works of John Dewey (Democracy and Education)
Thinking of education as a broad transmission of information, behaviors, thinking, etc. from one person to another (or from one generation to another) as John Dewey did, it is easy to recognize that education is an essential aspect of a society for that society to grow and to continue its existence. Dewey argues this point in the opening chapter of Democracy and Education. He shows that society is made possible through the transmission of ideas and practices. Without any form of education, a society would cease to exist the same as it would cease if all the members of that society were to die at once. As Dewey puts it, “the fact that some are born as some die, makes possible through transmission of ideas and practices the constant reweaving of the social fabric. Yet this renewal is not automatic. Unless pains are taken to see that genuine and thorough transmission takes place, the most civilized group will relapse into barbarism and then into savagery.” What he is saying here is that if the older generation doesn’t make efforts to teach and educate the upcoming generations, not only will their civilization stop progressing, it could begin to move backward. He applies this ideology on a small scale to the transmission of behaviors to a child by saying that young humans would be incapable of mastering the bare minimum behaviors of survival (as some animal species’ young is capable of). This ideology can also be applied on a larger scale to show that technological progress, social progress, etc. will all be lost if the current generation isn’t willing to work toward ensuring that these ideas are transmitted to the next generation.
Of course, the scenario of a society ceasing to exist altogether is an extreme case. This ideology can be applied a little less strictly and can be used to build an argument for modern debates. One such debate would be in the argument for expanding public education. Based on Dewey’s ideas that education is essential to keep a society moving forward, it should naturally follow that the more educated the people of a society are, the faster the society can progress and grow. If transmitting ideas and behaviors is essential for a society to exist, then a society should want to transmit those ideas and educate as many of its members as possible at the highest level possible. In our modern society, a step in this direction would be to make post-secondary education free (or at least more affordable.) Doing so would give everyone the opportunity to become more educated, vicariously propelling forward and advancing our society faster than ever before. While Dewey argues that education requires a balance between formal and informal, the intentional and the experiential forms of education, I don’t think he would ever argue that increasing the amount of formal education in a society for as many people as possible would ever be harmful or have a negative impact on the advancement of that society. I think he would agree that increasing educational opportunities for people would be a step in a positive direction for a society so long as we don’t leave informal education behind entirely in our expansion of the formal.