robertogreco + interests + elitism + race   1

Dewey knew how to teach democracy and we must not forget it | Aeon Essays
"In 1897, Dewey described his ‘pedagogic creed’ as ‘individualistic’ and ‘socialistic’ because it sees the need to nurture each child’s unique talents and interests in a supportive community. …

For Dewey, however, it was not enough to ensure that his own children received a good education. He maintained that the future of US democracy hinged on offering a well-rounded, personalised education to all children and not just those of the wealthy, intelligent or well-connected. Dewey’s pedagogic creed is that ‘education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform’. Schools could teach students and communities to exercise autonomy and make democracy a concrete reality. The very name of the Laboratory School suggests that Dewey wanted the ideas developed there to be disseminated among education researchers and policymakers. What was unacceptable was a two-tiered education system that reinforced class and racial divisions. …

Why does this matter? Progressive education teaches children to pursue their own interests and exercise their voice in their community. In the 20th century, these kinds of young people participated in the movements against the Vietnam War and for civil rights. They founded Greenpeace and Students for a Democratic Society, listened to the Beatles and attended Woodstock, and established artistic communities and organic groceries. Though Dewey was not a beatnik, a hippy or a countercultural figure himself, his philosophy of education encourages young people to fight for a world where everyone has the freedom and the means to express their own personality. The education reform movement is not just about making kids take standardised tests; it is about crushing a rebellious spirit that often gives economic and political elites a headache. …

Dewey’s philosophy exercised a profound impact on US education in the mid-20th century. One reason is that many powerful individuals and groups advocated his ideas, including at Teachers College, Columbia University, as well as at the Progressive Education Association, at the US Office of Education and at state departments of education. Dewey’s influence peaked during the ‘Great Compression’, the decades after the Second World War when the middle class had the clout to say that what is good for wealthy people’s kids is what is good for their own. In Democracy and Education, Dewey envisioned schools ‘equipped with laboratories, shops and gardens, where dramatisations, plays and games are freely used’. If a public school has a gymnasium, an art studio, a garden, a playground or a library, then one can see Dewey’s handiwork.

In 1985, a few scholars wrote a book called The Shopping Mall High School to deride the tendency in the US to offer a wide array of courses, many of which have a tenuous connection to academic subjects. For Dewey, however, the other side of this story is that schools and communities were trying to find ways to engage children. As we shall see, Dewey did not think that schools should simply pander to children’s current interests. At the same time, he opposed efforts to impose a ready-made curriculum on children across the country – or, more pointedly, on those whose parents could not afford to send them to private schools. …

The task of the teacher, according to Dewey, is to harness the child’s interest to the educational process. ‘The problem of instruction is thus that of finding material which will engage a person in specific activities having an aim or purpose of moment or interest to him.’ Teachers can employ Dewey’s insight by having a pet rabbit in the classroom. As students take care of the animal, and watch it hop about the classroom, they become interested in a host of topics: how to feed animals, the proper care of animals, the occupation of veterinarians, and biology. Rather than teach material in an abstract manner to young children, a wise teacher brings the curriculum into ‘close quarters with the pupil’s mind’.

According to Dewey, teachers should cultivate a student’s natural interest in the flourishing of others. It is a mistake to interpret interest as self-interest. Our thriving is intimately connected with the flourishing of other people. The role of democratic education is to help children see their own fate as entwined with that of the community’s, to see that life becomes richer if we live among others pursuing their own interests. Democracy means ‘equitably distributed interests’. All children – rich, poor, black, white, male, female, and so forth – should have the opportunity to discover and cultivate their interests. Schools ought to be the site where we model a society that reconciles individualism and socialism, and that allows each child to add her own distinct voice to society’s choir.

What is controversial about Dewey’s concept of interest? Sometimes, far-right groups share the following quote attributed to Dewey: ‘Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society, which is coming, where everyone is interdependent.’ There is no factual basis for this attribution, and for good reason: it contravenes Dewey’s ambition to achieve a higher synthesis between strong-willed individuals and a democratic society, not to crush a child’s individuality for the sake of social uniformity. Dewey makes this point crystal clear in his essay ‘The School and Society’ (1899), where he announces a Copernican revolution in education whereby ‘the child becomes the sun about which the appliances of education revolve’.

Here, then, we understand the explosive core of Dewey’s philosophy of education. He wants to empower children to think for themselves and cooperate with each other. The purpose of widely distributing interests is to break down ‘barriers of class, race, and national territory’ and ‘secure to all the wards of the nation equality of equipment for their future careers’. Imagine a world without racism or sexism, one where all children get the same kind of education as the wisest and wealthiest parents demand for their own children, and one that trains workers to question whether their interests are being served by the current ownership and use of the means of production. Dewey is the spiritual head of the New Left whose writings have both inspired teachers and infused schools, and provoked a reaction from those who detest this political vision. …

Dewey believes that educators need to place themselves in the mind of the child, so to speak, to determine how to begin their education journeys. ‘An end which is the child’s own carries him on to possess the means of its accomplishment.’ Many parents who take their families to children’s museums are acting upon this idea. A good museum will teach children for hours without them ever becoming conscious of learning as such. Climbing through a maze gives children opportunities to solve problems; floating vessels down an indoor stream teaches children about water and hydrodynamics; building a structure with bricks and then placing it on a rumbling platform introduces children to architecture: all of these activities make learning a joy.

For Dewey, however, it is essential that educators lead children on a considered path to the cutting-edge of scientific knowledge on a multitude of topics. A good teacher will place stimuli in front of children that will spark their imagination and inspire them to solve the problem at hand. The goal is to incrementally increase the challenges so that students enter what the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky in the 1920s called ‘the zone of proximal development’ where they stretch their mental faculties. At a certain point, children graduate from museums and enter a more structured curriculum. There can be intermediary or supplementary steps – say, when they make a business plan, learn to sail, or intern at an architect’s office. Eventually, teachers have to rely on traditional methods of reading, lecturing and testing to make sure that students learn the material.

In the conclusion to ‘The Child and the Curriculum’, Dewey enjoins: ‘Let the child’s nature fulfil its own destiny, revealed to you in whatever of science and art and industry the world now holds as its own.’ He has faith that the child’s nature will find expression in the highest forms of human endeavour and that, for example, a kindergarten artist might grow into an accomplished painter. Dewey also believes that individual expression tends to lead to socially beneficial activities. These articles of faith are not necessarily vindicated by experience. Sometimes children choose the wrong path, and sometimes well-educated individuals seek to profit from other people’s misery. …

Dewey shows us that appeals to democracy carry weight. We recoil at the notion that some children deserve a better education than others because of their parents’ political or economic status. Nobody will say with a straight face that wealthy children should be raised to lead, while middle- or lower-class children are raised to follow, or that the kind of education available at the finest private schools in the US should be an exclusive privilege of those born with silver spoons in their mouths. ‘What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.’ Dewey’s words ring as true today as they did a century ago. In the face of the unrelenting attack of the education reform movement, we must fight to actualise Dewey’s vision of great schools providing the foundation for a living democracy."
via:anne  education  johndewey  sfsh  openstudioproject  tcsnmy  lcproject  democracy  schools  learning  pedagogy  society  individualism  individuals  community  class  inequality  us  policy  rttt  nclb  anationatrisk  race  training  howweteach  meaning  purpose  elitism  theshoppingmallhighschool  edhirsch  hannaharendt  vygotsky  zpd  interests  interest-basedlearning  children  criticalthinking  autonomy  interest-drivenlearning 
august 2016 by robertogreco

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