Friday, July 18, 2008

Dewey For Dummies

This is education philosopher week in my grad program. And I'm busy working on an essay in which I'm supposed to examine, based on my readings, the role of independent schools and their intersection with public interest and purpose. The philosopher that's been most interesting to me is John Dewey, not because of his timeless influence on American schools but because of the contradictions between his philosophy and the way it's interpreted and put into practice.

Watered down, my understanding of Dewey's philosophy is that education has no end; it's an end in itself. The more education a person has, the better equipped he/she is to make decisions and live life based on a broad, global perspective that empathizes with the most peoples' needs and ideas. His explanation of the interdependence of the individual and society reminded me of my recent rereading of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and its discussion of the same interdependence, not the individual, not the whole, something else. Dewey attempts to do away with the usual duality in education.

In practice, Dewey's vision looks like a series of ever-expanding, diverse experiences (ideas and interactions included). And what strikes me, based on my experience as a public school teacher in the NCLB era, is that this is exactly what public school is not, in many cases. Diversity is valued as a buzz word but not a reality; variety in ideas is neglected for practice of testable skills and aptitudes...


Autumn said...

Right now I am also in a grad program in education (to become a high school English teacher), and we have also been reading some Dewey. We are also taking a class on technology, so I am pretty new to blogging, in fact this is my first reply to a blog that isn't in my class. Anyway, I was also struck by the way that Dewey saw education as an end in itself... and just recently in one of my classes we were debating how standards sometimes seem to only detract from true education. Thanks for your thoughts... it is cool to see that other educators are thinking about this too!

C. Watson said...

autumn, Thanks for your comment. Must be a pretty cool program if you're blogging! Commenting on other blogs and keeping my own has been on of the most powerful professional development experiences in my career so far. I hope you find the same.
I agree with you that standards are problematic. Now that I work in an independent school, I feel so much more capable of providing the kind of the learning experiences Dewey would approve of.
Yesterday was my last day of the first summer of my program (M.Ed. in school leadership), and I had to turn in a final paper stating my own educational philosophy at this moment. I found myself borrowing a lot from Dewey and mixing in a significant helping of Ivan Illich and George Counts, with a little Internationalist philosophy too. Aloha, Chris