John Dewey: What Psychology Can Do Part II

This is Part II in the series John Dewey: What Psychology Can Do which began with Part I

I said in my last post that this post would be about “Dewey’s Three Resources Available in the Work of Education Other than Psychology: Native Tact and Skill, Experience, Authoritative Instruction in Methods and Devices.”  I lied.  This one is about experience.  So I have decided not to preview any of my future posts lest I lie again.

Again, for Dewey, the value in experience is not in its quantity but in its quality.  Just as one can not practice a musical instrument haphazardly and expect to get better at it, one cannot practice teaching in a nonscientific, undisciplined, and anti-reflective manner and expect to be regarded as a “good” teacher.  30, 40, 50 or however many years of experience does not matter.  What kind of experience was it?

All you students out there, I think we have all had teachers who like to tout their experience before us as the supreme reason why we should regard their every word and method as gospel.  And that experience is not the sort that John Dewey is talking about.  No, no….. its actually the kind of experience we tend to roll our eyes at and dismiss as mere posturing.  Now this is, of course, not at all meant to demonize the entire teaching profession.  That would be absurd and irrational, and indeed teaching is my career path so I have no interest in making unwarranted accusations.  But the fact is there are many stubborn teachers out there who have been teaching for a long time and like to cite their quantity of experience rather than the quality.

After the semester had ended, I e-mailed one of my college professors to express a numbers of concerns I had with his Core 300 (one of a sequence of four required courses at my school) (Journey to Self-Hood) class, chief among them being his pedagogy.  This is what I wrote concerning the pedagogy

The first course objective, as presented in the syllabus, says “Students will maintain a “pilgrim’s journal” throughout the semester in they will record not only their reactions to course “prompts.” and to the literature under study, but also their own thoughts about the semester’s journey.  Several times during the semester, students will be asked to share some of these thoughts to aid on-going class discussions.”  My contention with this objective is that you did not encourage discussion in the classroom.  We students, had to endure a teacher-dominated style of instruction the entire semester.  Respectfully, I ask you how can a class, whose title implies focus on the individual student, ever live up to that billing if the instructor proceeds to monopolize every class period with one-sided lecture?  People learn about themselves through their relationships with other people.  Human beings are social animals, and we function most authentically and effectively in environments that foster interaction.  The class should have been more oriented towards discussion and debate, as the syllabus indicates.  The Core mission statement stipulates that “The Core curriculum moves students from the perfunctory act to the craft of self-reflection, which leads them to understand more fully the relationship between their choices and the lives they can imagine for themselves.”  These are noble and worthwhile goals for a curriculum, but I am also speaking for my fellow students when I write that these goals were not achieved in Core 300.

He gladly informed me of his teaching for 46 years and promptly told me to take a hike.  For god’s sake, I even took the time to dig up and cite the syllabus.  Apparently, he considered his teaching style and methods inviolate and consequently above any type of student criticism.  To me, that response is nonscientific, undisciplined, and anti-reflective and I am sure Dewey would disapprove.

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