John Dewey was an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer. He was born in 1859 and died in 1952. His ideas have been influential in education and social reform. He was one of the early developers of pragmatism and functional psychology. The following are some of his ideas about education and society.

Education and Democracy

John Dewey considered two principal elements to be fundamental in  strengthening democracy, namely schools and civil society. According to Dewey, it is not enough to extend the voting rights. It is of paramount importance to form public opinion through education as well. The aim is to ensure  effective communication among citizens, experts, and politicians. The latter must be  accountable for the policies they adopt.

Dewey argued that education and learning are social and interactive processes, and thus the school itself is a social institution through which social reform can and should take place. Thus, Dewey makes a strong case for the importance of education not only as a place to gain content knowledge, but also as a place to learn how to live. In his eyes, the purpose of education should not revolve around the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills, but rather the realization of one’s full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good in society. In addition to helping students realize their full potential, Dewey goes on to acknowledge that education and schooling are instrumental in creating social change and reform.

John Dewey and Education

Along with Jean Piaget, John Dewey was one of the first major contemporaries to develop a clear idea of what constructivism consists of.  He was concerned with the learner. He wanted to shed light on the learner as an important agent in the learning process. He had precise insights regarding how education should take place within the classroom. According to Dewey there are two major conflicting schools of thought regarding educational pedagogy.

  • The first is centered on the curriculum and focuses almost solely on the subject matter to be taught. Dewey argues that the principal weakness in this methodology is the inactivity of the student; within this particular framework, the child is simply the immature being who is to be matured; he is the superficial being who is to be deepened.
  • The second is learner-centred. He argues that in order for education to be most effective, content must be presented in a way that allows the student to relate the information to prior experiences, thus deepening the connection with this new knowledge.

Although Dewey believed in the second view of education, he was alarmed by the excesses of “child-centered” education. He argued that too much reliance on the child could be equally detrimental to the learning process. The potential flaw in this line of thinking is that it minimizes the importance of the content as well as the role of the teacher. For this reason he tried to strike a balance between delivering knowledge while also taking into account the interests and experiences of the student. For Dewey the child and the curriculum are simply two sides. One can not do without the other. These ideas made John Dewey one of the most famous advocates of hands-on learning or experiential education.

In addition to Dewey’s ideas about how the learning process should take place, He also re evaluated the role that the teacher should play within that process. According to Dewey, the teacher should not be the sage on stage anymore. The role of the teacher should be that of facilitator and guide. The teacher becomes a partner in the learning process, guiding students to independently discover meaning within the subject area.

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