On John Dewey’s How We Think (1910) ch. 1 and Democracy and Education (1916) ch. 1, 2, 4, and 24.
What model of human nature should serve as the basis for education policy? Dewey sees the scientific method as a refinement of ordinary thinking: We wonder about something, and experiencing that uncomfortable uncertainty, we jump for an explanation. Education should train us to be comfortable entertaining that uncertainty for a longer period, holding out for a better explanation.
In Democracy and Education, Dewey sketches out the function of education: to enable transmission of culture. Most of this is done informally, by doing activities together. But with more complex culture to pass down, formal schooling on symbolic matters (i.e., books) is also needed. We need to be sure that this still stays rooted in practical concerns, though; school shouldn’t be merely theoretical. We need to avoid a split between what we’ve learned consciously in school and what we’ve learned unconsciously through daily activity.
Education is a form of human growth, and school and society are both educational environments: We shape the environment to call out the responses that seem to maximize growth. These are going to be somewhat different for every person. We want to harness that person’s interests and energy in their own learning, not teach through command or merely stimulus and response. And again, we’re not just accumulating knowledge here, but acquiring habits that constitute social life. The primary task of school is to train us to be better learners, and so able to continue to grow. Dewey thinks we should try to eliminate the bad habits of perception and judgment that constitute poor taste and degenerate living. We want school to both show us different ways of life but also perform a unifying, assimilative function to enable us all to live together as one democratic society.
Mark, Wes, Dylan, and Seth (who had to jump off to tend to his child before we finished) are joined by educational theorist Jonathan Haber. Jonathan suggests that you also listen to PEL’s treatment of Charles Sanders Peirce’s “The Fixation of Belief.”
Purchase Democracy and Education, read it online, or listen to it. Purchase How We Think, read it online, or you can hear (all of?) the chapter we read as part of the Boring Books for Bedtime podcast.
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Image by Solomon Grundy.