John Dewey, the Father of Modern Experiential Education

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John Dewey: Philosophy of Education

Introduction to John Dewey's Philosophy of Education
Education is life itself.
- John Dewey
John Dewey (1859-1952) believed that learning was active and schooling unnecessarily long and restrictive. His idea was that children came to school to do things and live in a community which gave them real, guided experiences which fostered their capacity to contribute to society. For example, Dewey believed that students should be involved in real-life tasks and challenges:

maths could be learnt via learning proportions in cooking or figuring out how long it would take to get from one place to another by mule •history could be learnt by experiencing how people lived, geography, what the climate was like, and how plants and animals grew, were important subjects Dewey had a gift for suggesting activities that captured the center of what his classes were studying. Dewey's education philosophy helped forward the "progressive education" movement, and spawned the development of "experiential education" programs and experiments. Dewey's philosophy still lies very much at the heart of many bold educational experiments, such as Outward Bound.

Summary of Dewey's Biography

(adapted from the Concise Columbia Encyclopedia (1991) - Columbia University Press) •Born 1859, Burlington, Vermont, USA. Died 1952.
American philosopher and regarded as the foremost educator of his day. •Major books include
o"Democracy and Education" (1916)
o"Logic" (1938)
o"Experience and Education" (1938).
Had a profound impact on progressive education
Rejected authoritarian teaching methods.
His educational theories were permeated by his primary ethical value of democracy. •Regarded education in a democracy as a tool to enable the citizen to integrate his or her culture and vocation usefully. •To accomplish these aims, Dewey said radical reform was need of both pedagogical methods and curricula. •He lectured all over the world and prepared educational surveys for Turkey, Mexico, and the Soviet Union. Summary of Dewey's Philosophy of Instrumentalism

Dewey's philosophy was called instrumentalism (related to pragmatism). •Instrumentalism believes that truth is an instrument used by human beings to solve their problems. •Since problems change, then so must truth.

Since problems change, truth changes, and therefore there can be no eternal reality.

John Dewey, the Modern Father of Experiential Education

Dewey is lauded as the greatest educational thinker of the 20th century. His theory of experience continues to be much read and discussed not only within education, but also in psychology and philosophy. Dewey's views continue to strongly influence the design of innovative educational approaches, such as in outdoor education, adult training, and experiential therapies. In the 1920's / 1930's, John Dewey became famous for pointing out that the authoritarian, strict, pre-ordained knowledge approach of modern traditional education was too concerned with delivering knowledge, and not enough with understanding students' actual experiences. Dewey became the champion, or philosophical father of experiential education, or as it was then referred to, progressive education. But he was also critical of completely "free, student-driven" education because students often don't know how to structure their own learning experiences for maximum benefit. Why do so many students hate school? It seems an obvious, but ignored question. Dewey said that an educator must take into account the unique differences between each student. Each person is different genetically and in terms of past experiences. Even when a standard curricula is presented using established pedagogical methods, each students will have a different quality of experience. Thus, teaching and curriculum must be designed in ways that allow for such individual differences. For Dewey, education also a broader social purpose,...
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