There is a moral value to thinking and philosophizing about what ought to be. But the more important task “is to apprehend and comprehend what is” and how it came to be so. Cause if you don’t know that you can’t change anything. This is what Marx did in Capital. It’s a science, a beautiful science.
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.
Given that I recently made the big decision to alter my career path from aspiring doctor to aspiring teacher and educational reformer, I thought it wise and prudent to end my feigning textbook interest with the inner workings of the human body and start reading up on the great educational philosophers of the twentieth century.
I first encountered the writing of twentieth century American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey in a Philosophy of Education class I took two semesters ago. Of the half dozen or so educational movers and shakers (or maybe not cause I’ve tragically begun to realize just how often our society fails to listen and learn from the most intelligent within it) I studied in that class, he struck a chord within me. Indeed, if I remember correctly my first post on this blog was a series of John Dewey quotes, that I found most fascinating and revelatory, and wanted to share with the rest of the world.
For the past two weeks or so, I have been reading a compilation of some of his writings and now I would like to share some of his ideas with you. Since a philosopher’s writing can get quite tedious and complex, I will try to do this to the best of my ability.
I will begin with his essay entitled “What Psychology Can Do” which attempts to explain the role of psychology in educational practice.
He begins by making the fairly obvious statement that the value of any theory is based on its real world application. If it works well, it is valuable. If it fails to live up to par in practice, it is effectively useless, no matter how much it was cheered and championed beforehand. This relation of theory to practice sums up the relationship between psychology and education. A knowledge of psychology or specific aspects of psychology is as useful to education as is revealed in practice. Education is a rational process and needs to be grounded in both psychology and experience. In order to be efficient and productive it is necessary for educational practice to be a rational experience. This is the role of the educational psychologist: to recognize what type of psychology, if any, is most likely to enrich educational practice, thereby making a given educational experience an exercise in rationality and reason.
He goes to on to answer why psychology should have any role in educational practice. Firstly, Dewey contends that the study of psychology holds high value for the educator in that, due to its logical and reflective nature, it makes him less likely to make student’s amassment of mere facts and figures the highest priority in his teaching style. “Facts and things” are worth nothing lest they are subject to the inherently reflective and critical nature of human intelligence. Put most simply, it is the quality not the quantity of knowledge that is most important to Dewey, and this quality is akin to the reflective power of the human mind and its ability to connect bits of knowledge and discern their greater meaning. By this definition, psychology, as a discipline, is all about the quality. It is an abstract science that engages in distillation and reflection to determine the complicated nature of human consciousness. This high order of thinking is of necessity in a quality teacher.
Dewey’s second reason for asserting that psychology should have a role in educational practice is its value for teacher training. Why should it have paramount value in the training of our educators? It is for the simple reason that the educational dilemma is one with distinctly ethical and psychological roots. It is a dilemma that must be solved by men and women who possess a clear knowledge of what is best for the human mind and what methods and devices will bring out the best of what human nature has to offer this world. Psychology and ethics represent to education what anatomy and pathophysiology represent to medicine. The two former are fields of study which seek to rationally explain human nature just as the two latter are fields of study which explain the workings of the human body. How are you going to be a great educator of human beings unless you understand human nature itself and apply methods by which you can assure a positive and natural growth of mind and character? It seems to be common sense, right? And yet we all encounter those teachers who just completely turn us off and we wonder why. Well, this is part of the reason.
Next Post: Opinion on Dewey’s Thoughts so far And……Dewey’s Three Resources Available in the Work of Education Other than Psychology: Native Tact and Skill, Experience, Authoritative Instruction in Methods and Devices