Rada Muica [inspired by "Experience and education", John Dewey
Building new school systems based on positive actions. The continuous nature of experience
According to the definition, Alternative education is a blanket term encompassing many different pedagogical approaches differing from that of the mainstream pedagogy employed in a culture. Most ( if not all) alternative pedagogies available have their roots in the principles and claims of experiential education, a philosophy of education that describes the process that occurs between a teacher and student that infuses direct experience with the learning environment and content.
As city population is on the rise, causing problems for the state educational systems in terms of managing the quantitative ( too many students) and qualitative ( few teachers unable to deliver a well thought, individual educational experience) and as the Internet became an accessible source of information for most city dwellers, alternative educational systems have started receiving even more attention than they did before. Parents and aspiring teachers, disappointed by the ways of the „traditional” schooling system, seek out alternatives. Given this context, it is of vital importance that, in the enthusiasm of building a better future for the next generations, people keep themselves informed correctly about the what, why and how of educational alternatives.
John Dewey, an American philosopher whose influence manifested itself most strongly in the field of education, wrote a book entitled Experience and Education in which he analyzes both „traditional” and „progressive”, or as we nowadays call them alternative, education systems.
According to Dewey, traditional school systems see the education of young minds as the acquiring of new bodies of information and skills worked out by other people in the past, organized to prepare the young for the responsibilities and success envisioned by adults for them. Schools inflict a moral training of conformity, implemented through strict standards and rules of conduct and having docility, receptivity and obedience as values and markers of „successful students”. The teachers are merely the agents through which knowledge and skills are communicated, and it is their job to reinforce behavior through rewards or punishments. The whole learning process is a static one, imposing adult standards on younger minds and based on the assumption that things in the future will be pretty much like those in the past .
However, it is undeniable that our world is ever-changing. In this context, progressive education brings forth values such as expression and cultivation of individuality, learning through experience, the acquiring of skills relevant to the individual and society and making the most out of the present life in such a dynamic world. The thing that Dewey warns about in his book is the building of new systems as a reaction, rejection and opposition to the old. As he poetically puts it, „human beings like to think in extremes”. We are heavily inclined toward an either/or philosophy concerning everything, from morality to daily life. In this context, the famous education philosopher urges toward a positive and constructive development of purposes, methods, relationships and subjects in progressive schools, and not a negative one born as a counter-reaction to the things not going well in traditional school systems.
Moreover, Dewey emphasizes the need of a coherent, solid theory of experiences. Even though often times experience is seen as the equal of education, a mere experience, disconnected from a broader context and environment, does not equal education. What’s more, some experience can be mis-educative. It is the case of traditional school systems, which does provide their learners with experiences- experiences of conformity, of disconnection from the natural world, of frustration, of fear of authority – experiences which can be categorized as defective, pointing towards the development of a wrong character, of an anxious, depressed, problematic personality for the children who do not fit the standard.
John Dewey claims that every experience and its quality can be measured on two scales – the agreeableness or disagreeableness of the experience, and its influence upon latter experiences. From a developmental and psychological point of view, growth is a continuum- which means, every meaningful and relevant experience an individual has shapes one or more aspects of his social, moral, emotional or cognitive self, thus living on in further experiences, independent of the individual’s desire, intent or conscious control. The job of the efficient educator, thus, is to select the experiences that may live on fruitfully and positively in further experiences of the learners. The educator will judge experience in terms of „how, why, what for, by whom”, working out the materials, methods and social relationships appropriate to facilitate learning in the broader context of a lifelong growth. This learning environment will be a simpler one, imposing less rules and conditions on its learners and being in harmony with the principles of natural growth, yet not easier. Most of all, it will not be a rejection of order and organizations, but a broader view upon these, offering those experiences most appropriate to have a positive, meaningful and useful impact on the further life of each student.
We, at Green School Romania, wish to do exactly this: to create an educational environment according to theoretical principles of education philosophers such as Dewey which will be a provider of positive, meaningful, and coherent experiences for our students while allowing them to express their personality, needs, dreams and vision and explore freely, growing up into the best versions of themselves every day.
*more articles based on the work of John Dewey will follow