John Dewey on The School and The Life of the Child

I am taking a similar approach for today’s post as I did for the last one. Here are my top ten quotes from Chapter two of John Dewey’s The School and Society. Once again, it was very difficult to narrow it down to only ten! It is a strange thing to find a brethren in an author who wrote a century ago. Actually, speaking as a former English Literature teacher, I know this happens all the time – it’s just a shock in this field!

Incidentally, I am getting precious little time to devote to these studies right now… and on top of that I am having to read library books, which I cannot annotate; I’m transcribing notable sections into TextEdit for later reference and composition… so, my iChat status tonight has read “Reading Dewey… Slowly”… it’s very frustrating.

So again, in the order in which they appear, here are the quotes:

“It is all made ‘for listening… there is very little place in the traditional schoolroom for the child to work. The workshop, the laboratory, the materials, the tools with which the child may construct, create, and actively inquire, and even the requisite space, have been for the most part lacking.” (p. 31-32)

These observations came out of a story Dewey related about searching for a student desk and discovering that they were all made for listening, not for doing. He winds up criticizing much of the physical layout of a school for this same reason. I also chose this quote because it was his first use of the word “construct” in a way that might be considered vaguely constructivist… more on this below.

“Another thing that is suggested by these schoolrooms, with their set desks, is that everything is arranged for handling as large numbers of children as possible; for dealing with children en masse, as an aggregate of units; involving, again, that they be treated passively. The moment children act they individualize themselves; they crease to be a mass and become the intensely distinctive beings that we are acquainted with out of school, in the home, the family, on the playground, and in the neighborhood.” (p. 32-33)

This has bothered me for some time! I’m not sure what the answer is… there are some strictly pragmatic reasons why this is so… but at the very least as educators we can strive to take every opportunity to allow our students to act as individuals. I see the read/write web, and certainly video games, as technologies that can facilitate this. Also, when asked how I envision the school of the future, I often must acquiesce that I run up against “the baby sitting problem” very quickly. I suspect necessity will mother an invention here, but I wonder how we will get around this.

“In this school the life of the child becomes the all-controlling aim. All the media necessary to further the growth of the child center there. Learning? certainly, but living primarily, and learning through and in relation to this living.” (p. 26)

This is inspirational… and it once again sounds shockingly close to a modern educator speaking about media (say, a digital camera, iMovie, and a a site to post podcasts on). Also, it was at about this point that I started to be very proud of this blog’s title, something that I’ve grown fond of but which never really sat right with me, Educational Technology and Life. Though I’ve used “and Life” to denote posts not relevant to Ed Tech, I see now that those last two words of the title are an integral piece of the equation. I’m sure I somehow felt that all along.

“Let the child first express his impulse, and then through criticism, question, and suggestion bring him to consciousness of what he has done, and what he needs to do, and the result is quite different” (p. 40)

There was a a host of quotable bits of advice related to the coaching model of teaching, but I thought this offered the most distinct strategies. :)

“Now, keeping in mind these fourfold interests – the interest in conversation, or communication; in inquiry, or finding out things; in making things, or construction; and in artistic expression – we may say they are the natural resources, the uninvested capital, upon the exercise of which depends the active growth of the child.” (p. 48)

Dewey built a case for each of these and then summarized with this statement. I was once again amazed at how many of these I feel are facilitated by the read/write web and video games in education: conversation, inquiry, construction, and expression.

“There is all the difference in the world between having something to say and having to say something.” (p. 56)

This is just plain quotable, and I like to think if I were still an English teacher today it would help me to apply this philosophy to much more of my curriculum, so that if my students were writing, it would be for a personal purpose… again the authentic audience offered by blogging might be effective in helping to accomplish this.

“Reading and writing, as well as the oral use of language, may be taught on this basis. It can be done in a related way, as the outgrowth of the child’s social desire to recoount his experiences and get in return the experiences of others, directed always through contact with the facts and forces which determine the truth communicated.” (p. 56)

This quote builds on the last one, and I think it further illustrates my suggestion that student blogs might be a good tool for student expression.

“Life is the great thing after all; the life of the child at its time and in its measure no less than the life of the adult.” (p. 60)

I know this is a bit out of context… but it is the sort of writing that is attracting me more to Dewey than I expected, and it once again made me happy about the title of this blog. :)

“I have been speaking of the outside of the child’s activity… the real child, it hardly need be said, lives in the world of imaginative values and ideas which find only imperfect outward embodiment.” (p. 60)

Now this is certainly a sort of proto-constructivist quote. Also, as someone who has always valued the importance of imagination, I am drawn to this philosophy. Finally, here are the inspiring words with which Dewey concludes the chapter:

“Unless culture be a superficial polish, a veneering of mahogany over common wood, it surely is this – the growth of the imagination in flexibility, in scope, and in sympathy, till the life which the individual lives is informed with the life of nature and society. When nature and society can live in the schoolroom, when the forms and tools of learning are subordinated to the substance of experience, then shall there be an opportunity for this identification, and culture shall be the democratic password.” (p. 62)

As always, thanks for reading.