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Monday, November 14, 2005

John Dewey on The School and Society

I'm finally diving into the reading for my next research project, and I'm beginning with Dewey. I'm having to read actual library books at this point, and I find myself transcribing a shocking amount of quotes into TextEdit.

I thought I should share some of them here, and I've tried to cut it down to the top ten quotes from the first chapter of The School and Society, 2nd Edition... written in 1915. The original was written in 1899! It's amazing to me that these things are as true now as they were a century ago, or rather, the real shock is that the opposite is true.

And yes, over the next two months, all of this will be brought home, via Vygotsky, Bruner, Bandura... and then Squire, Steinkuehler, and Shaffer... and finally to serious games and games for change.

So, in the order they appear, the top ten quotes from "The School and Social Progress":

"[School work] is somewhat remote and shadowy compared with the training of attention and of judgement that is acquired in having to do things with a real motive behind and a real outcome ahead" (p. 12). This sounds like an educational technologist in 2005!

"The radical reason that the present school cannot organize itself as a natural social unit is because just this element of common and productive activity is absent" (p. 14). This has been difficult for me to articulate in 2005, but is still absolutely true.

"[When introducing real word occupations into the curriculum] the entire school is renewed. It has the a chance to affiliate itself with life, to become the child's habitat, where he learns through directed living, instead of being only a place to learn lessons having an abstract and remote reference to some possible living to be done in the future. It gets a chance to be a miniature community." (p. 18) So let's see, we've got project-based learning, school to industry connections, and small learning communities - maybe even professional learning communities... sounds like cutting edge 21st century educational reform to me.

Dewey sees sewing as a "point of departure from which the child can trace and follow the progress of mankind in history, getting an insight also into the materials used and the mechanical principles involved" (p. 20) This reminds me of Seymour Papert's gears, which I talked about with AB 75 principles just today! This is of course, also the foundation behind inquiry based (and project based) learning.

"The children worked this out for themselves... aided by questions and suggestions from the teacher." (p. 21) Ah, I recognize a modern coaching model of teaching!

"Plato somewhere speaks of the slave as one who in his actions does not express his own ideas, but those of some other man. It is our social problem now, even more urgent than in the time of Plato, that method, purpose, understanding, shall exist in the consciousness of the one who does the work, that his activity shall have meaning to himself." (p. 23) As a former philosophy minor, I really appreciated this one. I think I can build upon it by saying "it is our social probelm now, even more urgent than in the time of Dewey..."

"Knowledge is no longer an immobile solid; it has been liquefied. it is actively moving in all the currents of society itself" (p. 25) Dewey's accompanying arguments about the changes in transportation and communication technologies (and world markets) sound a lot like Friedman's The World is Flat.

"It is an education dominated almost entirely by the mediaeval conception of learning. It is something which appeals for the most part simply to the intellectual aspect of our natures, our desire to learn, to accumulate information, and to get control of the symbols of learning; not to our impulses and tendencies to make, to do, to create, to produce, whether in the form of utility or of art." (p. 26) So, we are all calling this the industrial age system of education, but infact, Dewey, in the industrial age, called it mediaeval. I think I will now call this mediaeval in my presentations!

"The obvious fact is that our social life has undergone a thorough and radical change. If our education is to have any meaning for life, it must pass through an equally complete transformation. This transformation is not something to appear suddenly, to be executed in a day by conscious purpose" (p. 28). This is interesting first for the call for transformation, which of course is even more intensely necessary now, and second for the suggesting that it cannot happen in a day. Dewey here was explicitly interested in an evolution of the educational system! This should sit well with educational technologists who have tried to implement too many changes too fast.

"When a school introduces and trains each child of society into membership within such a little community, saturating him with the spirit of service, and providing him with the instruments of effective self-direction, we shall have the deepest and best guaranty of a larger society which is worthy, lovely, and harmonious" (p. 29). This sounds like it come from a daring 21st century school district mission statement. How many people believe this? And when will we act on these beliefs. How about a serious game to help change people's perceptions of a 'good' education?

I'm sure some of you have had this awakening long ago, but I am glad to be starting this project by finally taking the time with Dewey. I hope it will serve as a foundation for my own work... and perhaps these quotes will serve as a foundation or inspiration for others. Thanks for reading.



At 2:36 PM, Blogger Mr.Ball said...

Mark those are some great quotes!

The second one...
"The radical reason that the present school cannot organize itself as a natural social unit is because just this element of common and productive activity is absent" (p. 14).

Can you clarify what is meant by this quote. I was going to take a stab at it but I'm not sure I understand the context that it was written in.

At 12:02 AM, Blogger Dave Thomer said...

Hi Mark. Found your blog through a Technorati search for John Dewey - I'm finishing up a philosophy PhD that focuses on Dewey's theory of democracy. (If you haven't put Democracy and Education on your reading list, I heartily suggest it.) I like your lineup of quote, and I especially like the way you key them to how we discuss education today. On the Web I've seen a lot of criticisms of Dewey as being somehow responsible for the current state of the academic system, and I always wonder how anyone could look at academics today and not see how we have the exact problems Dewey was warning us about a hundred years ago. I'd be excited to hear about your continued reading of Dewey from an educator's perspective - once I lick this PhD I may be going back to school for an education degree myself.

At 1:23 AM, Blogger Mark Wagner said...

Mr. Ball,

Thanks for the comment. Here is the quote in context. I hope it helps... and look forward to your interpretation if you care to post it:

"A society is a number of people held together because they are working along common lines, in a common spirit, and with reference to common aims. The common needs and aims demand a growing interchange of thought and growing unity of sympathetic feeling. The radical reason that the present school cannot organize itself as a natural social unit is because just this element of common and productive activity is absent. Upon the playground, in game and sport, social organization takes place spontaneously and inevitably. There is something to do, some activity to be carried on, requiring natural divisions of labor, selection of leaders and followers, mutual co-operatioon and emulation. In the schoolroom the motive and the cement of social organization are alike wanting. Upon the ethical side, the tragic weakness of the present school is that it endeavors to prepare future members of the social order in a medium in which the conditions of the social spirit are eminently wanting." (p. 14-15)

Perhaps this last bit is the more important quote, actually.


At 1:27 AM, Blogger Mark Wagner said...


I enjoyed discovering NotNews.org... thank you for posting a commment. (A blog that covers this one, buddhist brain size, and Glen Philips is bound to be a good one. I was something of a Toad fan, too, and still follow Glen, though mostly through some friends who are true super-fans.)

It's also always wonderful to meet someone who is going through a phd as well. I hope we'll be able to correspond about Dewey as we progress in our work.

And we need all the help we can get in education. ;)


At 5:20 AM, Blogger Dave Thomer said...


Thanks for the kind words. Not News has been going for about five years now, but I only turned it into a blog in the last week or so. Before that it was a combination of a message board and articles on individual pages. There are quite a few pieces on Dewey and education in there, but not as much of a dialogue with others as I would have liked. It's been interesting to me to see how my own interaction with other writers has changed since I went to the blog structure. How much of that is the architecture of the blog itself and how much of it is the culture associated with blogging, I'm not sure.

I'm adding this site to my links section, and I'll definitely be poking my nose in here from time to time. It's quite valuable to me to see how someone is reading Dewey from a contemporary education perspective.


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