John Dewey

Democracy and Education

According to John Dewey, "the object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth."1 However, in order that all people may be allowed the opportunity to expand their capacities for growth they would have to live in a democratic society. Dewey believed that mass education, at least in terms of this definition of education, can take place only in societies where there is mutuality, and where there is:

"adequate provision for the reconstruction of social habits and institutions by means of wide stimulation arising from equitably distributed interests."2

Dewey's vision of education is thus directly connected with the question of preparing people for active citizenship in a participatory democracy, and specifically in relation to American democracy. In view of this, his program of democratic education is not concerned with subordinating education to goals other than what he calls "the educative process." Education for democracy addresses itself to the evenly distributed interests of the whole. In contrast, when special interests dominate the aims of education, these "educational" goals are generally skewed toward towards those interests. The inferences we may draw from Dewey's thesis is that dominant agendas which dictate these educational aims will tend to prevail in other areas such as politics or the distribution of resources.

In a discussion on on the meaning of aims, Dewey addresses those that are "the result of any natural process brought to consciousness." In his philsophy, true aims also signify "foresight of the alternative consequences" based on present circumstances, as well as a knowledge of what options may be viable in any given circumstances. In turn, knowing the options comes from observation and experiment.

In Dewey's view, true aims in education need to stem directly from the nature of education itself. When aims are based on outside agendas they tend to be "fixed and rigid [and are] not a stimulus to intelligence." Educational directives that are not integrated with education itself tend as a result to be disconnected and "remote, divorced from the means by which it is to be reached." In such an environment:

"instead of suggesting a freer and better balanced activity, it is a limit set to activity. In education, the currency of these externally imposed aims is responsible for the emphasis put upon the notion of preparation for a remote future and for rendering the work of both teacher and pupil mechanical and slavish."3

________________ 1John Dewey. Democracy and Education. 1916.

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