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Experience And Education Paperback – July 1, 1997
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"No one has done more to keep alive the fundamental ideals of liberal civilization." -- Morris R. Cohen
About the Author
John Dewey, philosopher and social critic, was the author of more than twenty books. He was a professor at Columbia University and a writer for The New Republic. He died in 1952.
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Dewey's recipe for a successful education is clear and can even be inferred from the title of this book in which experience is placed before education. Education is a product of experience. According to Dewey, not just any experience will do. Experience must be related to prior experience and expand upon it so as to stretch the current limits of knowledge.
In order for experience to facilitate further growth in education, the educator must be a keen observer of their students, being able to monitor their current abilities. Rather than simply forcing knowledge onto students, Dewey believes that teachers should act more as group leaders. For Dewey, learning should be driven by the desires of the student with the teacher offering guidance, feedback, and structure to the activities. Dewey's approach is on that can also be used to great effect by parents when planning activities for their children. A little extra preparation time when going to a zoo or museum can turn into a richer, more memorable experience.
There is little doubt that Dewey would be disappointed by the current state of American education. As a result of education slipping as a national priority, the quality of education has been in decline for decades. In addition, as funding has declined and the population has risen, class size has increased. This alone makes giving adequate attention to each student a virtual impossibility. Being unable to engage in careful observation of students prevents the implementation of progressive education. Consequently, Dewey's methods remain relevant and would be useful reading for both educators and parents alike.
The book makes a case for "progressive schools" with which Dewey was associated, while also recognizing the criticisms and misunderstandings of these schools. Given this purpose, Dewey often reacts against those on both sides who put progressive schools and traditional schools in opposition to one another. He is, of course, on the side of progressive schools. However, he also wants a more moderate ground that makes sense out of what each side is doing, and how they may share common principles even if those are manifest in very different ways.
I was impressed that much of what he says here is still relevant after 75 years. It's amazing how much of the reformist agenda he shaped and anticipated, and how much we still fight these battles. If you are interested in improving education, this book still repays reading.
Renee (Rivki) Silverberg
Author of Understanding Children and Families with Autism Spectrum Disorders
has experienced traditional schooling or is interested in the kinds of discussions that should merit
a national discourse, but somehow never edges out celebrity gossip for a spot on the evening
news. It is interesting to look back on to my elementary and high school years through Dewey’s
lens. It is scary to think that on some level, I fell victim to the system, and makes me wonder
who I would have been if I didn’t have to sit through all those oppressive school days in my youth.