John Dewey and Education

No discussion on educational reform will be complete without looking into the educational philosophy espoused by John Dewey. The progressive education movement was led by John Dewey. Progressive education sought to revolutionize the way students learn from a traditional test-driven, textbook and rote learning-oriented system to an experiential and project-based mode of learning.

His educational philosophy was well laid out in his book Experience and Education. He laid emphasis on a hands-on approach rooted in experience for nurturing and stimulating the curiosity of students. However, he was against a rigid or dogmatic adherence to one particular approach and felt an open approach incorporating the best practices of different approaches towards learning was the way forward. John Dewey voiced his concern that the extremes of progressive and child-centred education which focused on complete freedom could result in chaos and felt a flexible structured approach was important in experiential learning.

John Dewey put forward a theory of experience to be incorporated into the educational approach that he envisioned. In his theory of experience, John Dewey defined two aspects necessary for imparting education in an experiential mode, namely continuity and interaction.

Continuity takes into the account the importance of each prior experience affecting each new experience of a student or individual and shaping their perspectives and insights. John Dewey thus highlighted the importance of experiential learning building on a learner’s prior experience and knowledge and the importance of continuity in a learning experience.

Interaction refers to the level of involvement of the learner to a particular learning experience which directly correlates with the prior experience of the learner and the learner’s own inner motivation, perceptions and goals.

John Dewey’s philosophy on education also laid great emphasis on the psychological and social aspects of a student’s life that had a great impact on his/her experience. Traditional approaches on the other hand neglected this important factor that affected each experience of a student. He felt that the teacher needs to be a facilitator and guide who empathizes with the learner instead of an authoritarian figure who invokes fear in the minds of the learner. He felt that each new experience should arouse the curiosity of the student to develop new interests and broader perspectives and should enable the student to relate to his/her immediate surroundings.

John Dewey’s philosophy of education thus envisioned a dream of education leading to an enhancement of social consciousness for the betterment of society.

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