It observed and acted upon as through them,

It is a well-known fact that John Dewey is amongst
one of the most influential philosophers in history. His educational theories
and ideas were very influential and his methods are still being used to this
very day.

            He was a firm believer in progressive
education, which emphasized the need to learn through everyday experiences that
the human being has to pass through. This type of education moves away from
traditional formal classroom settings where the children acquire knowledge
through textbooks. Progressive education promotes the idea of taking a
child-centered approach to educational thinking rather than focusing only on the
subjects they need to learn (The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third
Edition, n.d.).1

A child-centered approach states that the educator
has to put emphasis on learning about the child’s needs and interests. Students
should be allowed to explore their surroundings in order to acquire new
experiences which would lead them to the acquisition of new knowledge. The
teacher’s role in this approach is to guide a child rather than instruct them.
The child’s interests should be observed and acted upon as through them, the
children will learn most. The objective is to listen for the interests of each
child in order to develop an appropriate curriculum for each one of them2.
However, this does not mean that the educator should let the students do
whatever they please but rather use his/her knowledge as a professional, to
manipulate their environment in order to acquire valuable new information in
their exploration.   

            Dewey
believed in problem-based learning where children learn about new subjects
through active problem solving and exploration. He stated that education and
life are interconnected, “I believe that education, therefore, is a process of
living and not a preparation for future living”3
(Dewey, 1897, Article II, para.2).He strongly believed that by treating
education as a part of life instead of a preparation for it, children would
learn to be more independent and productive citizens. This can only occur if
there is a change in the current education system where the emphasis is put only
on grades rather than knowledge. By creating group collaborations, projects and
conversations, children will discover new knowledge on their own rather than be
taught all this new material through the teacher’s lessons. By doing so the
children are actively building their independence and exploring on their own.   

He wrote various books which are very indicative of
where his beliefs stood when it comes to the educational system. Two of his
most famous works on education are ‘My Pedagogic Creed’ and ‘The Child and the
Curriculum’.

In ‘My Pedagogic Creed’, Dewey states that all those
who live in a society have the opportunity for an education. He believed that
most educators nowadays, are too fixated on children’s grades which will
eventually lead to their future careers. However, Dewey believed that education
should be based on the present life instead of preparing them for their future
life. He even argues that present education is failing as it has become a place
where the educators are there to deliver knowledge and the children are there
to receive it and be tested on it. Alternatively, students should be able to
learn from each other, themselves and the educators. He was focused on how the
children can acknowledge their full potential and how they can make use of
their abilities. Then, he stated that this can occur through social interaction
as human beings learn best in social environments. This is proved in Article III
of his book where he says, “I believe that the social life of the child is the
basis of concentration, or correlation, in all his training or growth”4
(Dewey, 1897, Article III, para.1). Dewey felt that we are putting the school
subjects before the child’s social activities,

            …we violate the child’s nature and render difficult the best ethical
results, by introducing the child too abruptly to a number of special studies,
of reading, writing, geography, etc., out of relation to this social life (Dewey, 1897, Article III, para. 3).5

Education should be a stimulating and engaging
process that both excited and challenges each individual learner as everyone
learns at different paces. This means a shift from the one size fits all method
of teaching has to occur in order for children to learn in a more social
environment. If a school encourages lifelong learning, social progress will
occur.

 In Article
IV, named ‘The Nature of Method’, Dewey explains that an educator has to be
willing to put in the extra effort to adapt to different personalities that
students have. This means, that one has to put aside personal judgments and
biases as this interferes with the child’s learning. This is because a strong
bond has to form between the student and the educator before any learning can
occur. Moreover, he insists that a child’s interests and powers should not be
neither ignored nor humored as, “to repress interest is to substitute the adult
for the child, and so to weaken intellectual curiosity and alertness, to
suppress initiative, and to deaden interest”6
(Dewey, 1897, Article IV, para.12).

            In another
book, which was written in 1902, ‘The Child and the Curriculum’, Dewey made a very
important comparison by analyzing two competing extremes regarding the
curriculum which was, teaching the child vs teaching the subject. He points out
that both extremes can be combined in order to find a balance between the two
and construct a curriculum that meets his objective.

            Teaching
the child gives them the chance to develop common-sense and a will to discover
and act on their queries. “The child is the starting-point, the center, and the
end”7 (Dewey,
1902, pg.13) argues Dewey, which captures perfectly the meaning of teaching the
child. They become more confident as they eventually start to find solutions
for their own problems. Even though teaching the child is of utmost importance,
he discussed how too much reliance on the child could do more damage than good.
First and foremost he didn’t want to give the impression that there is a
decrease in the importance of the subject-matter or the teacher’s role in a
child progress. After all, “subject-matter never can be got into the child from
without. Learning is active. It involves reaching out of the mind. It involves
organic assimilation starting from within”8
(Dewey, 1902, pg.13).  He also explained
that the child’s brain is different than adult’s and can’t interpret all the
subject matter which will lead to lack of motivation and interest.

            On
the other hand, teaching the subject-matter has its own flaws as well as there
is a lot of inactivity on the children’s part. They are just listeners who are
absorbing new knowledge provided to them by the educator. It is centered only
on curriculum and subject-matter with little importance given to the child’s
interests. The children, according to Dewey are treated like, “simply the
immature being who is to be matured;”9 (Dewey,
1902 pg.13). This results in the children memorizing the subject matter rather
than making sense of it. This method of teaching only considers the outcomes or
final product rather than the stages and experiences gained throughout the
process.   

             “Subject-matter is but spiritual food,
possible nutritive material. It cannot digest itself;”10 (Dewey,
1902, pg.14). By saying this, Dewey is giving us a solution to these
contrasting ideas as neither subject matter alone nor the children can work
alone. A Balance needs to be reached between delivering the necessary knowledge
while also listening and working on the children’s interests and experiences.
The child needs to be willing to take interest in the subject-matter in order
to learn. This could only ensue if the educator delivers a lesson which the
children can relate to due to prior experiences.

            Subsequently,
Dewey reflects on the two aspects of learning experience which are the logical
and the psychological aspects. The psychological aspect, “notes steps actually
taken, the uncertain and torturous, as well as the efficient and successful”
and “it follows actual growth”11
(Dewey, 1902, pg.25). This aspect focuses on the emotional stages that occur
during the process as it considers the child’s experience rather than the end
product. Then again, the logical aspect “neglects the process and considers the
outcome”12 (Dewey, 1902, pg.25). The
children are only thought a limited set of skills and information for a
particular job. It considers only the end product rather than the experience.
However, both of them are mutually dependent. According to Dewey, an ideal
curriculum should meet the child on his own terms. A child should be allowed to
explore experiences through which new information is acquired. He focused not
only on a more improved curriculum and acquiring knowledge but also how it is
transmitted to the learner by the expert and vice-versa.   

            Another
opinion which Dewey emphasized a lot was the importance that to introducing
children and preparing them for democratic citizenship, hence, social life. He
wrote a lot about this topic through his book, “Democracy and Education”
written in 1916. Various other authors continued to further explain Dewey’s
ideas such as Robert B. Westbrook who wrote, “John Dewey and American
Democracy”.

            Dewey
sees democracy as not a political matter but a quality that any individual in
society is capable of having. “humanity cannot be content with a good that is
procured from without, however high and otherwise complete that good” (Westbrook.R.B,
1991, pg 42). Through democracy, one finds his individuality and sense of self,
different from others, “it is through association that man has acquired his
individuality and it is through association that he exercises it” (Westbrook.R.B,
1991, pg 44).

            A
democratic life’s objective is the fulfillment of human virtue and nobility,
not personal political statuses or corruption. Democracy is a way of life where
each individual has the opportunity to express, release and fulfill his or her
different capabilities. The outcome of this life would be the creation of
shared values among society.

            “Like
every true ideal, it signifies something to be done rather than something
already given, something ready-made”. Through this quotation, Dewey links
education to democracy. He states that school should be a community of
participation and communication where moral reasoning develops. He encouraged scientific
thinking which includes free exploration, communication, and inquiry. He wanted
children to develop practical reason when faced with moral situations. He urges
educators to avoid ready-made knowledge and use a method to enhance reasoning.

            For
education to be a democratic process, it must not be limited to the classroom
only. It must be exploratory and participatory. The environment has to be
inclusive and accept diversity. Education has to be implemented in a way that
children are active thinkers rather than passive. It is not only the students
who learn from the teacher but both learn from each other. Children should not
be looked down on but should be treated with respect in order for them to
learn.

            Many
people disagreed with his approach and named him the man that ruined education.
However, he mentioned that “the “new education” is in danger of taking the idea
of development in altogether too formal and empty way”13
(Dewey, 1902, pg.24). Many people misunderstood his view on education and
didn’t implement it correctly, hence why they disagreed with his method of
teaching.

            All
in all, Dewey seems to always have three main characteristics present throughout
his work. These are; the importance of exploration, the importance of using
experience as a tool for teaching and last but not least, the importance of
finding a balance between teaching the subject matter and teaching the child.
It is very evident that these were the main basis of his philosophy on
education.

            In
my personal opinion, Dewey’s thoughts on education are very instructive and
eye-opening. I agree with him completely as education isn’t simply about
teaching the students for a good grade but to instill in him a sense of
enthusiasm towards the subject. It is our job as educators to bond with the
children and make our lessons as relatable to them as possible. However, his
main flaw was that he used difficult phrasing which made it very easy for
people to misunderstand what we have trying to say, thus, implementing the
incorrect method of teaching. I think that he talks more about the ideal
education curriculum and how it should rather than explain how this can be
implemented in the schools.

1 progressive
education. (n.d.). The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition.
Retrieved January 8, 2018 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/progressive-education

2
The Compass School (June 16, 2015). A Child-Centered Kindergarten. Retrieved
January 8, 2018 from https://www.thecompassschool.com/blog/what-is-child-centered-kindergarten/

3
Dewey. J (1897) My Pedagogic Creed Retrieved from http://infed.org/mobi/john-dewey-my-pedagogical-creed/

4
Dewey. J (1897) My Pedagogic Creed Retrieved from http://infed.org/mobi/john-dewey-my-pedagogical-creed/

5
Dewey. J (1897) My Pedagogic Creed Retrieved from http://infed.org/mobi/john-dewey-my-pedagogical-creed/

6
Dewey. J, (1897). My Pedagogic Creed. Retrieved from http://infed.org/mobi/john-dewey-my-pedagogical-creed/

7
Dewey. J, (1902). The Child and the Curriculum. Retrieved from https://ia902700.us.archive.org/15/items/childandcurricu00dewegoog/childandcurricu00dewegoog.pdf

8
Dewey. J, (1902). The Child and the Curriculum. Retrieved from https://ia902700.us.archive.org/15/items/childandcurricu00dewegoog/childandcurricu00dewegoog.pdf

9
Dewey. J, (1902). The Child and the Curriculum. Retrieved from https://ia902700.us.archive.org/15/items/childandcurricu00dewegoog/childandcurricu00dewegoog.pdf

10
Dewey. J, (1902). The Child and the Curriculum. Retrieved from https://ia902700.us.archive.org/15/items/childandcurricu00dewegoog/childandcurricu00dewegoog.pdf

11
Dewey. J, (1902). The Child and the Curriculum. Retrieved from https://ia902700.us.archive.org/15/items/childandcurricu00dewegoog/childandcurricu00dewegoog.pdf

12
Dewey. J, (1902). The Child and the Curriculum. Retrieved from https://ia902700.us.archive.org/15/items/childandcurricu00dewegoog/childandcurricu00dewegoog.pdf

13
Dewey. J, (1902). The Child and the Curriculum. Retrieved from https://ia902700.us.archive.org/15/items/childandcurricu00dewegoog/childandcurricu00dewegoog.pdf