John Dewey on The Psychology of Occupations, The Development of Attention, and The Aim of History in Education

This is the last of my posts based on my transcriptions from The School and Society. After this I will move on to my reflections on Democracy and Education, which will not include such large block quotes for the very pragmatic reason that I had no need of transcribing large chunks of the book… because I own a copy I can annotate. I really hope we sort out a good electronic (searchable and cut and paste-able) way to read and annotate books… soon.

At any rate, I took fewer transcriptions from the final chapters of the book. Still these are themes that I have recognized in Democracy and Education also, and of course I find them relevant to Educational Technology in general, and Games in Education specifically.

The Psychology of Occupations

“By occupation I mean a mode of activity on the part of the child which reproduces, or runs parallel to, some form of work carried on in social life.” (p. 132)

The important thing here is that students’ work aught to be driven by a social context.

“The work is reduced to a mere routine or custom, and its educational value is lost… wherever… the mastery of certain tools, or the production of certain objects, is made the primary end, and the child is not given, wherever possible, intellectual responsibility for selecting the materials and instruments that are most fit, and given an opportunity to think out his own model and plan of work, led to perceive his own errors, and find out how to correct them – that is, of course, within the range of his capacities.” (p. 133-134)

Educational technologists struggle to express this to other educators (and administrators) today. I am thrilled to have this quote now. This happens to also be the antithesis of many of the content standards. The California English Language Arts standards can accommodate something very like this, but many of the others are much more prescriptive… and I can’t speak for other states’ standards.

“Thinking… arises from the need of meeting some difficulty, in reflecting upon the best way of over coming it, and thus leads to planning, to projecting mentally the results to be reached, and deciding upon the steps necessary and their serial order. This concrete logic of action long precedes the logic of pure speculation or abstract investigation, and through the mental habits that it forms is the best of preparations for the latter.” (p. 135)

Here we again see a hint of what would become Piaget’s stages, but the important thing is the articulation of why we might use problem-based learning.

The Development of Attention

“True reflective attention… always involves judging, reasoning, deliberation; it means that the child has a question of his own and is actively engaged in seeking and selecting relevant material with which to answer it, considering the bearings and relations of this material – the kind of solution it calls for.” (p. 148)

This then extends the previous quote to provide a statement of why we might advocate inquiry-based learning.

The Aim of History in Education

“To study history is not to amass information, but to use information in constructing a vivid picture of how and why men did thus and so; achieved their successes and came to their failures.” (p. 151)

Not only is this something I’ve heard countless times in reference to the history classes of our time, but this ties together many of the points above, including the need for a social context, and the need for students to learn the tools (and content for that matter) while using it.

Finally, it is also worth pointing out that Dewey was clearly interested in students studying occupations, and leaning through adopting the identity of an occupation, not unlike the theories espoused by Jim Gee. :)