A Dewey-an, Progressive "Philosophy of Education"

The aim of education is to enable individuals to continue their education … (and) the object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth.” –John Dewey

What makes Homo sapiens sapiens distinct is the capacities of their relatively large brains. It is on nurturing the healthy growth and maximizing the productive potential of our human brains that I believe educators should be focused. Human societies and communities benefit when educated young adults graduate from schools. The collective whole is enriched. But individually, the educated person leads a more fulfilling and useful life than those without education. Education serves the requirements of society even as it meets the needs of the individual.

Growth in nature never happens in isolation, and intellectual growth, or learning, happens for humans in groups; to learn is a social act. Researchers have borne out what John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner had stated theoretically: learning happens best when activities are situated in realistic settings with human collaborators, and schools provide a place for and the companionship necessary to learning. The classroom teacher’s role is to guide students through educational learning activities that to the extent possible are “real” and collaborative. Yet within the classroom, each learner learns in a uniquely individual way. For each child’s intellectual growth to be optimized, his/her particular abilities and backgrounds must be made available to the educator and curriculum developed therefrom.

Every child can learn, but the curriculum must be tailored to every child. Then, learning goes apace. A curriculum derived from my philosophy of education meets each learner where s/he is (a determination more possible now than ever before) and challenges him/her to grow into his/her next proximal range of cognitive development. Of course, most teachers with full classrooms cannot individually design a curriculum to each student’s precise level of development and ideosyncrasy, but recent improved means, such as video game-based learning modules, can be employed. Machines facilitate the differentiation of instruction for each learner, as well as the delivery and recording of student learning activities. New technology that differentiate instruction track student learning forms an important part of my ideal curriculum.

In my self-assessment of educational philosophy, “progressivism” was the big winner, with eight of eleven matches. I leaned toward the “existential” through most of the questions, but the “perrenial” or “essentialist” were my other three answers. This means that you might find me making the following statements:

  • The essence of education is growth.
  • The learner is an experiencing organism.
  • Since the needs of man are variable, edcucation should concentrate on developing individual differences in students.
  • The environment of education should be life itself, where students can experience living—not prepare for it.
  • Growth, through the reconstruction of experience, is the nature, and should be the open-ended goal, of education
  • The school should provide an education for the ‘whole child,” centering its attention on all the needs and interests of the child.
  • The school should provide for group thinking in a democratic atmosphere that fosters cooperation rather than competition.
  • Appropriate learning takes place through the experience of problem-solving projects by which the child is led front practical issues to theoretical principles (concrete-to-abstract).
  • The teacher should guide and advise students, since the children’s own interests should determine what they learn, not authority nor the subject matter of the textbooks.
  • The curriculum should concentrate on teaching students how to manage change through problem solving activities in the social studies, empirical sciences and vocational technology.
  • Projects should be the preferred method whereby the students can be guided through problem-solving experiences.

A unit of instruction in this ideal curriculum might look something like this:

A course in new literacies: students in this English class would be asked to use the newest communication tools (note the vocational tech aspect), including social media, in order to develop wiki article stubs or other knowledge bases in various content areas. The environment of their learning (the internet) is where their “real world” experiences now are. Each child would be educated “wholly,” able to follow his or her own interests and abilities. And the democratic nature of wikipedia and other online collaborative work environments imparts cooperative, not competitive values. At the end of the course, students’ content knowledge (in areas such as literature and culture) will have grown, their writing, reading, listening and speaking skills will have strengthened, they will have attained facility of use with some of the most technologically advanced communication tools, and their cognition abilities will grow through problem-solving (and concrete) to conceptual (and abstract). What’s not to like?

2 responses to “A Dewey-an, Progressive "Philosophy of Education"”

  1. Sounds like an entertaining course. Where is the sign in sheet?


  2. I am lucky enough to be designing it now! Will keep you posted when the curriculum is ready for inspection.Thanks for the encouragement!


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