Democracy and Education’

‘Democracy and Education’


John Dewey

Chapters reviewed and summarized by

Tamkeen Fatima. M.Phil. (2088)

Date of Posting: 01/05/2010

Labor And Leisure

Dewey discussed here the separation of the educational values that was divided in the domains of Culture and Utility and thought to be intrinsic and absolute in nature. He pointed out that in fact this distinctions was historical and social and was initiated by Greek Philosophers, where this ;division was further translated in educational termsand caused a division between liberal education and a useful practical training for mechanical occupations devoid of intellectual and aesthetic contents.
Then Dewey talks about the situations in his time and indicated that even though the situations are much changed bu still there are factors from old theories exist sufficiently to maintain this educational distinction with lots of compromises. Finally Dewey commented that

‘In a democratic society the goal of education is to do away with the dualism and to construct a course of studies which make thought a guide of free practice for all and which make leisure a reward of service’.

Intellectual And Practical Studies:
Antithesis of Experience and True Knowledge
In this section John Dewey starts the discussion by pointing out the philosophical dualism on the nature of knowledge and the practical life.

‘The matter of the relationship and alleged separation of knowing and doing needs to have an explicit discussion’, Dewey states.

This division of knowledge and practice is rooted back in Greek history of educational thoughts, where the concepts of experience and of reason were formulated by the most influential philosophers of the time Plato and Aristotle. Besides having many differences in thoughts they both agreed in taking experience as purely practical and material concerns, placing the rational knowledge at a privileged position, sacred and independent of practical involvement.
Factually this state was a result of continous failures of the Greek society in resolving the practical issues relating all departments of the society.the customs and traditions were criticized and search for the alternative ways of conduct and beliefs was started. This quest hit upon reason as the only adequate guide of life. They related experience with their customs and traditions so they attempted to reject them at once. Again experience was looked down and as purely physical with no spiritual and cognitive values.
John Dewey severely criticizes plato’s educational ideas and his political system based on an unjust division of human beings in the society.

This approach presented two aspects of knowledge as some thing external or Objective and something purely internal or Subjective. Dewey identifies another distinction of activity and passivity in knowing, that is to is to merely involving sense organs and involving mental reasoning respectively.


Vocational Aspect of Education

Here again John Dewey criticizes the traditional trends of dualistic approach in keeping the knowledge and avctivities of life in separate domains

“Traditionally liberal culture has been linked to the notion of leisure, purely contemplative knowledge and spiritual activity not involving the active use of bodily organs. Culture has also tended latterly, to be associated with purely private refinements, a cultivation of certain states and attitudes of consciousness, separate from either social directions or service. It has been an escape from the former, and a solace of the latter.”

Dewey defines vocation in more broader and wide-ranging context to re establish the concept of Vocational Eduction which was thought to be narrow and limited. He states

“ A vocation means nothing but such a direction of life activities as renders them perceptibly significant to a person, because of the consequences they accomplish and also usefull to his associates”

Every individual has a variety of talents and he may be able to use them intelligibly, but we know him and identify him for the calling which distinguishes him from others he has in general. But it does not mean that other callings are denied. For example the efficiency of an Artist in the human sense of efficiency is determined by its associations with other callings. It is not purely based on skill or technical methods, so the Education is not supposed to foster this tendency but to safeguard against it.
It means a scientist is not merely a scientist, a musician is not only a musician and so on.
Dewey describes a close association between occupation and happiness of a person. He makes a correct diagnosis of the present psychological problems when he states,
“Nothing is more tragic than failure to discover one’s tru business in life, or to find that one has drifted or been forced by circumstances into an uncongenial calling”

Then Dewey defines the right occupation in these words

“A right occupations means simply that the aptitude of a personare in adequate play, working with the minimum of friction and the maximum of satisfaction.. With reference to other members of a community , this adequacy of actions signifies of course, that they are getting the the best service the person can render.”

To have this standard of vocational tendencies in future generations vocational phases of education must be able to provide means and ways for sufficient preparation for the later responsibilities, and through indirectly engaging pupils in those active occupations which are indicated by the needs.
Dewey further states the causes of the stress on vocational education based on the extended concepts of dispositions in practical terms. These are the causes
1. The changed concepts of manual labor into the concept of services
2. The needs of the new industrial period
3. The demand for a productive labor force with diverse skills and talents
4. The demand for the mechanical and technical skills enriched with the deep understanding and insight.
5. Modern psychology highlights the fundamental importance of the initial instincts of exploring, experimenting and ‘trying on’. It has declared that’ learning is not the work of something ready made called mind. But that mind itself is an organization of original capacities into activities.’
In these contexts the main concern of the education system should be

· to reconstruct the school materials and methods to encompass and utilize various social aptitudes and callings and to highlight their intellectual and moral aspects
· to realize that the social reorganization depends upon educational re-construction
· Promoting such a vocational curriculum which not only address the demands and standards of the time but the scientific and social factors to develop courageous, practical and executive intelligence.


Theories of knowledge

In the last sections of his book Dewey discusses different theories of Knowledge in different times and by different schools of thoughts, those who reserved themselves for contemplation, those who only believed on practical rationalism, those who come in direct contact with things and objects were Realists, those who isolated the meanings of these things and put them in a spiritual world, were the Idealists, those who were willing to change the received beliefs, emphasized the individual factor in knowing were Progressivists, those who wanted to hold up change and preserve the received truth, insist on universal and fixed values of knowledge.
Dewey points out the contrasting philosophic themes in these theories where experience have more individualistic account and is set apart as one sided event. These approaches, Dewey argues were greatly lacking the vital role of social intercourses. Where experience is enriched and supplemented by that of others who have different situations and circumstances.

John Dewey, acquired an empirical approach when talks about knowledge and education. He advocates connection of knowledge and every day world of actions and interactions

“Knowledge is not just something which we are now conscious of , but consists of the dispositions to consciousness with a view to straightening out a perplexity, by conceiving the connection between ourselves and the world in which we live.”

His theory is often called as Transactional theory of knowledge. This lays emphasis on

· Transactions of living organisms and their environments
· Experience as “the close connection between doing and undergoing”
· It is not a mental construction but a construction-in-transaction
· All construction is re-construction

Mind and experience are the two sides of a same coin that is knowledge. Transaction need freedom for social exchanges, since Democracy supports principles of free intercourse and of social continuity so it must search for such a theory of knowledge in which one experience is made available in giving directions and meanings to an other.

“In educational terms it is the connection of the acquisition of knowledge in the schools with activities or occupations carried on in a medium of associated life.”


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