John Dewey on Froebel’s Educational Principles

This will be a brief entry on this chapter of The School and Society. The first two of [Dewey’s renditions of] Froebel’s educational principles bear repeating on this blog:

“1. The primary business of school is to train children in co-operative and mutually helpful living; to foster in them the consciousness of mutual interdependence; and to help them practically in making the adjustments that will carry this spirit into overt deeds.

2. The primary root of all educative activity is in the instinctive, impulsive attitudes and activities of the child, and not in the presentation and application of external material, whether through the ideas of others or through the senses; and that, accordingly, numberless spontaneous activities of children, plays, games, mimic efforts, even the apparently meaningless motions of infants – exhibitions previously ignored as trivial, futile, or even condemned as positively evil – are capable of educational use; nay, are the foundation-stones of educational method.” (p. 117)

Could a school ask for a better mission statement than that first principle? I suppose I am slowly becoming something of a social activist… what with 2 and a half years of learning with the purpose of “transforming society” at Walden Univeristy and more recently with reading Michka Assays’s amazing Bono on Bono.

Regarding the second principle, I think it captures the constructivists concern with the internal thought process of the learner, and also touches on the importance of play. One could easily imagine this excerpt being in relation to video games in education. The following, though, is more explicitly about the importance of play…

“Play is not to be identified with anything which the child externally does. It rather designates his mental attitude in its entirety and in its unity. It is the free play, the interplay, of all the child’s powers, thoughts, and physical movements, in embodying, in a satisfying form, his own images and interests. Negatively, it is freedom from economic pressure – the necessities of getting a living and supporting others – and from the fixed responsibilities attaching to the special calling of the adult. Positively, it means that the supreme end of the child is fulness of growth – fulness of realization of his budding powers, a realization which continually carries him on from one plane to another.” (P. 118-119)

This reflects the difficulty I’ve seen many theorists have in defining play – and in defining games. This is also what Henry Jenkins III is getting at when he says in our webcast, “when I do my job at MIT, I am engaged.”

“The teacher must be absolutely free to get suggestions from any and every source, asking herself but these two questions: Will the proposed mode of play appeal to the child as his own? Is it something of which he has the instinctive roots in himself, and which will mature the capacities that are struggling for manifestation in him? And again: Will the proposed activity give that sort of expression to these impulses that will carry the child on to a higher plane of consciousness and action, instead of merely exciting him and then leaving him just where he was before, plus a certain amount of nervous exhaustion and appetite for more excitation in the future?” (p. 120)

Here I wasnt to point out the importance of teacher freedom in the games in education movement… and in educational technology in general! Also, these questions are important when it comes to selecting specific games or technologies for use with specific students.

“The materials, then, must be as “real,” as direct and straightforward, as opportunity permits.” (p. 124)

We live in a society where this is quite a bit less possible than in Dewey’s day, yet simulations and game technologies can now provide a powerful alternative to lectures and traditional school experiences.

Through the end of the chapter Dewey discusses the importance of unity (in the curriculum), the concept of constructive or “built up” work, and quite a bit about the kindergarden, which, as my wife is a kindergarden teacher, I am plenty interested in despite having only taught in high schools myself.