Is hard to believe that what we now consider as a “regular” educational system is far from what it was common before the 1900’s. Among those who helped carve the path for or current school system was John Dewey: a man whose point of view on education, differed greatly from that of the rest of his fellow citizens.
In a society where discipline, strict curriculum, enforced course studies and no feedback from students was the rule, Dewey was able to see beyond what society considered acceptable and provide an improved methodology for education. Despite the fact that he was a philosopher not an educator, Dewey gave great importance to the way schools were being run and thought that a reform was needed in order for them to fulfill their true purpose: encourage students to learn and understand at the same time. Before Dewey, all schools imposed their curriculum, teachers were the leaders and only their opinion mattered, students were to be in complete silence and obey to every order without refuting and learning consisted of memorization and repetition never comprehension.
To John Dewey, ideas and learning were tools that people could use to change or improve their circumstances. Dewey considered schools to be the link between the child and the man and thought they should play the role of facilitator of discovery and provider of experiences to which children hold on to find their true interests. Dewey was against the uniformity of students because to him it takes away the chance for them to develop as different people each one from the other; in addition, he argued textbooks were only current and objective as man would wanted them to be and left little room for individual perspectives.
For Dewey the purpose of education was ultimately the child who was to be motivated to learn through different experiences, hands-on activities and participation; moreover, teachers were the ones who would promote active learning in the children and provide them with enough tools for them to understand and find meaning in concepts. Children were supposed to investigate, experiment and discover information which would lead them to reach their own conclusions, understand their own abilities, have control over their environment and develop their potential.
Like John Dewey wrote: “the progress is not in the succession of studies but in the development of new attitudes towards, and new interests in, experience” (Dworkin, p.27). This shows the importance Dewey gave to living the knowledge and not only acquiring it; furthermore, how students can discern from their own interests to those of their other classmates or teachers by getting familiar with the contents.
I personally believe that placing the child as the center of the educational system was the key for social and political reforms. With the perception that every child was important and deserving of an equal education, came the laws that supported education for African Americans, women as well as for children with disabilities. To me recognizing that the pupils are the priority of the classroom, not only changed teachers’ roles but also made schools accountable for the education of all children regardless of any factor.
Is my belief, that Dewey’s vision was accurate and that by encouraging students to be interested and motivated we are also leading them to love learning and find their true passions. Children who experience by themselves tend to understand and grasp the concepts in an easier way and also look at thongs from different perspectives and search for various options when solving problems.
Dworkin, Martin S. (Ed.), (1959). Dewey on Education: Selections. New York: Teachers College Press.