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Monday, January 02, 2006

John Dewey's Pedagogic Creed, Educational Technology, and Video Games

John Dewey's Pedagogic Creed, Educational Technology, and Video Games

Happy new year, all!

I dropped Eva and her girl friends off at the airport at 6am this morning and only 15 hours later, I'm back from my blog break. So, back to the John Dewey, Educational Technology, and Video Games...

I am not at all ready to tackle Democracy and Education or Experience and Education right out the gate, so I'll begin with the brief (but dense with quotable material) "My Pedagogic Creed", written by Dewey in 1897, 109 years ago. It still turns out to be a lengthy post. ;)

Dewey begins the first "Article" of his creed with an explanation of what education is. IHe believes that all education is social, even formal education, which can only organize of differentiate the social process. He also feels it is important to balance the psychological elements of education with these social elements. In this way his creed may represent both an early constructivist view (the psychological) and social constructivist view (the social) - the later being why I am studying him for the Knowledge Area Module (KAM) I am currently writing. Put another way, Dewey (as he writes later) believes that "education must begin with a psychological insight into the child's capacities, interests, and habits" and must translate these "into terms of their social equivalents - into terms of what they are capable of in the way of social service". This of course sits well with me as I become more committed to Walden's vision of effecting positive social change. (Dewey states the straightforward belief that "education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform"!)

I've often been struck these past few months but how relevant Dewey's writing sounds with respect to 21st Century education - and educational technology in general. This happened again at the end of "Article 1."
It is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions. To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities; that his eye and ear and hand may be tools ready to command, that his judgment may be capable of grasping the conditions under which it has to work, and the executive forces be trained to act economically and efficiently.
This concept is related to the use of educational technology in two ways. First, the same can be said of teaching any specific technology - attempting to prepare students to use the precise technologies they will be required to master in their future is a foolish enterprise, but preparing them to understand and master technology is a worth while pursuit. Second, computers can now be used as what David H. Jonassen calls "Mind Tools" to facilitate the development of such meta-skills (as Dewey is describing) by today's students. Consider the role of computers in the 21st Century Skills I am so often referencing.

Dewey's creed resonated with me again when in "Article Two: What the School Is" he declared that the school is primarily a social institution (an extension of community life) and that education "is a process of living and not a preparation for future living." He goes on to suggest that "much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life." His writing continues to make me happier with the title I chose for this blog... and with my own educational philosophy. I am particularly fond of his take on the role of the teacher... and the purpose of an examination:
The teacher's place and work in the school is to be interpreted from this same basis. The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these influences.
Examinations are of use only so far as they test the child's fitness for social life and reveal the place in which he can be of most service and where he can receive the most help.
As for subject matter, Dewey's writing supports my early attraction to project-based learning, and later to constructivist teaching and learning:
The true centre of correlation of the school subjects is not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child's own social activities.
As a former literature teacher it is a bit tough to see him say that literature "cannot be made the basis" of education, but I understood even when I was in the classroom that part of what I enjoyed about the job was the feeling that anything I knew contributed to my effectiveness as a teacher and might in one way or another help a student make progress, though not always in the subject (or standards) I was formally charged to teach.

Though he doesn't mean it as constructivist educators do now, I often find it significant when Dewey uses the word "constructive" - as he does in this quote:
I believe, therefore, in the so-called expressive or constructive activities as the centre of correlation.
This is followed closely by a point that may at first seem anachronistic, but which I found to be one of the most relevant of the paper:
I believe that this gives the standard for the place of cooking, sewing, manual training, etc., in the school.
This refers to what we might consider "vocational" education today, and today this would certainly include "technical" education of the sort offered by Introduction courses for productivity applications, programing, hardware troubleshooting and other classes of the sort that ROP programs often offer. Though he doesn't go into depth in this creed, he wrote elsewhere about how sewing can be the gateway to teaching all human knowledge... and the same could be said of computers... consider using Neal Stepheson's Cryptonomicon to teach the fundamentals of computing... some basics of venture capitalism, and a little history of World War Two. (Ok, maybe not with public school kids... but perhaps in college... still, I'll let the example stand.)

This bit requires more thought, particularly the second half of the sentence, but I thought I'd pass it on here for the time being:
I believe finally, that education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience; that the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing.
Having studied Piaget for my last KAM, I can now see Dewey as a clear predecessor when he states that "the question of method is ultimately reducible to the question of the order of development of the child's powers and interests." (Like Piaget, though with considerably less clinical data to support his assertions, Dewey then suggests several stages of development... these too seem to be a bit arbitrary and simplistic by modern constructivist standards. Dewey too believes that actions precede ideas and the symbols play an important part in a child's development.)

I saw precursors to Dewey's own thoughts on waste in education when he explained that in traditional schools...
The child is thrown into a passive, receptive or absorbing attitude. The conditions are such that he is not permitted to follow the law of his nature; the result is friction and waste.
And I loved this next sentiment!
Interests are the signs and symptoms of growing power. I believe that they represent dawning capacities. Accordingly the constant and careful observation of interests is of the utmost importance for the educator.
Personally, I know I have only become interested in new subjects or new skills as my own zone of proximal development included the necessary pre-requesites. It is exciting to see early evidence of something like Vygotsky's theories in Dewey's work as well.

When Dewey then suggests that "only through the continual and sympathetic observation of childhood's interests can the adult enter into the child's life and see what it is ready for, and upon what material it could work most readily and fruitfully," I immediately considered the importance of computers and video games in our students' social lives and ways in which serious games or games for change might be able to introduce adult society into a child's life.
"All reforms which rest simply upon the enactment of law, or the threatening of certain penalties, or upon changes in mechanical or outward arrangements, are transitory and futile."
Hallelujia, brother. I am often arguing for educational technology policies that rely on education of the students in order to work, as opposed to those that rely on policing by the teacher.

While most of Dewey's creed made me proud to do what I do (particularly the bit about "education thus conceived mark[ing] the most perfect and intimate union of science and art conceivable in human experience", which reminded me of the lyric of U2's Miracle Drug, "Of science and the human heart there is no limit"), there were never the less a few things that really made me jump at the end of "Article Five."

There was the bit about society recognizing its obligation to education and providing unimaginable "resources of time, attention , and money," not to mention "sufficient equipment", which just made me laugh.

Then there was the final belief... "the teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of God." This is a blog, so I think I can share my personal reaction, which was something like, "WTF?" On further reflection though, I realized I may not be comfortable with his language, but I suppose people can associate these beliefs and effects with whatever underlying meaning they choose - its no less positive a perspective. Also, this creed qualifies as an academic work; there are no works cited, and no data presented. (But, then, perhaps very little of Dewey's seminal work stands up to that kind of scrutiny.)

Thanks for reading on into a new year... I look forward to any comments you might share.



At 6:55 PM, Blogger Dave Thomer said...

Welcome back from your break! Another round of solid quotes and commentary.

Do you have a post on the blog or in your archives where you discuss "constructivist" from an educational perspective? I have a sense it means something different than in philosophy. You'd think disciplines could get together and keep their terminology straight . . .

I thought your comments about project-based learning and Dewey's quotes on sewing, cooking, etc. were interesting. Have you ever watched Alton Brown's Good Eats program on Food Network> He's a big proponent of putting food and cooking at the center of an educational process. In his episodes, he'll use a particular ingredient or recipe as a platform to talk about biology, chemistry, history, anthropology, and so on. It's great stuff.

I confess I also got a chuckle out of your WTF moment. I'm so used to reading critics attack Dewey for being a godless socialist humanist corrupting the minds of our kids that it was interesting to see something like the opposite reaction. I do think that the reference to God was connected to his use of the word Creed in his title. He took a similar approach in attempting to tie the religious impulse toward his democratic, hamanistic ideal in A Common Faith.

At 9:02 PM, Blogger Mark Wagner said...


Thanks again for the comment. After considering a more involved response, I headed to the wikipedia and found definitions of constructism for various disciplines all together on one page.


Though the nuances and practical applications are certainly different, the underlying principle seems to be the same... that we construct meaning within our own minds; it is not provided by direct perception of an external objective reality. Incidentally, are there practical applications of the philosophy? ;)

And I agree, Good Eats is a great example of constructivist science education! It also illustrates Dewey's concept of using any (interesting) subject as a gateway to the sum of human knowledge... the way Seymour Papert, perhaps the seminal educational technologist, talks about his childhood love of gears leading to his love of math, artificial intelligence, and the way children learn.

Regarding the WTF comment, it's good to get additional perspective on it. I often feel Dewey was a man after my own heart (or vice versa I suppose) and Im interested to see what he has to say further on the subject of religion. In any case, once this practical issue of completing some papers and a dissertation is out of my way - oh, sometime in early 2007 if all goes well - I'm going to have a lot of Dewey references to follow up on... and thank you for your part in that.


At 11:16 PM, Blogger Dave Thomer said...

Thanks for the Wiki link. Academia sure does seem to want to recreate the Tower of Babel sometimes, doesn't it?

From the Wiki entry, it seemed like educational constructivism is centered more on how knowledge gets transmitted from one person to another, and less on the metaphysical/epistemological question of what knowledge is and how it hooks onto the world. But the definition you give in your comment suggests that some of that philosophical content is packed into the educational notion. Which I guess shows one way the philosophical notion has practical use. :)

The other way that constructivist philosophies can have a tangible impact is on a person's basic mindset toward the world. If I think there are a set of absolutely, objectively true facts that I just have to input into my brain in order to have knowledge, I'm going to be much more likely to take a black-and-white, either-or kind of view of things around me, and I'll probably have less patience for disagreement. Whereas if I believe that meanings differ based on people's personal experiences, I'm going to have to take a much more cautious and tentative view of the world. (Ideally, anyway. A constructivist can certainly become excessively enamored of his own construction.)

My sense of where Dewey comes from on religion comes a bit from A Common Faith and rather a lot from Robert Westbrook's excellent intellectual biography, John Dewey and American Democracy. If you've checked out the Dewey-related posts on my blog the last few days, you'll note that many people have a decidedly different view of Dewey and faith.

I'm also in the midst of reading The Dewey School, written in the 30s by two teachers/administrators at the University of Chicago's Laboratory School while Dewey was running it. I'm early in so far, but it's interesting to get a closer look at the one time Dewey really tried to put his theories into practice.

Good luck on the dissertation.

At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is not really a comment. I am a Moneague college Student studying to become a teacher. I have an assignment to present next week on the constructivist theory of learning. In doing so, i am required to talk about the views of Jean Piaget and John Dewey. You seem to know alot about these theories. Can you help me please? Am Desperate! You can send me the information via email at kayanjohnson@yahoo.com. Thanks in advance.


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