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Category Archives: Dewey

Discussing Reconstruction in Philosophy by John Dewey

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We are initiating a discussion on John Dewey’s book Reconstruction in Philosophy’ from 26th May. We invite you all to read this book with us and contribute in our discussions by sharing your thoughts and reflections by posting comments on the subsequent posts based on the discussion on the book.

Looking forward for your participation.

Imposing Furniture and Pedagogy

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Our classroom seating arrangement influences pedagogic interaction. We have known this for a while, but sometimes the rigid educational structure does not allow us to make changes so specific to our classroom.

Every time I enter my classroom (I teach post graduate students), I cannot help but remember John Dewey’s statement about furniture that is made for passive recipients. Furniture that is heavy and imposing, where students try to fit their bodies in. Furniture that is pointed towards the blackboard, thus fixing the seat of the teacher as well. In such a classroom, it is difficult to talk about constructivism and active participation. No wonder my students still have not develop ownership in their learning because they stare at me with blank faces expecting me to fill them with knowledge, something that they so unquestioningly believe that I possess.

Today, I have decided to change this seating arrangement for my class at least. These imposing desks which force me to teach instead of facilitate discussions will have to be arranged in a better way.

The School and the Life of the Child

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This is the second chapter of Dewey’s book The School and Society. In this chapter, Dewey is trying to explore “the relationship of the school to the life and development of the children in the school” (pp. 31). He begins this exploration by arguing that traditional school has an antagonistic relationship with the life and growth of the child. This is because the centre of gravity in this system is anywhere but in the child. Dewey states that living with the child means to be able to “identify ourselves with the real instincts and needs of childhood…” (pp. 54). Therefore to make the child centre of gravity.

This can be possible in the ideal school, which for Dewey is, the expansion of ideal home environment. He anticipates that the reader will ask if a child can learn at home then is there a need for a school. To this he responds that the school is required for two reasons. Firstly, it will give an opportunity to children to meet a comparatively larger number of adults and children. Secondly, in this school, children will get an opportunity to try out their impulses with teacher’s guidance who will question, criticize, and guide student impulses in a constructive manner. This kind of educational experience will help in the active growth of the child. This active growth, Dewey illustrates, rest on four impulses, that is, interest in conversation; inquiry; construction and artistic expression.

During my visits to a Nai Talim (Wardha scheme of education) school, I observed how engagement in productive manual labour actually creates opportunities for the development of these four impulses.

I would like to open this discussion with a question, Dewey here argues for a school which is an extension of home. Can this kind of education address to social change? How?

School and Society- John Dewey; Chapter 1- The school and social progress


 Dewey starts the chapter by making an assertion that the basis of judging a school depends on the progress that we see children making in physical ability to read, write and figure, knowledge, manners and habits and industry. But there is a need to enlarge this scale.

He says that schooling and education system need to evolve with the society, otherwise the changes in school would just be incremental or rather transitory. The most radical change that the society has seen in the past 50 years is industrialisation. It has changed the way production happens and also how nature is used efficiently and inexpensively. It has also resulted in the change in the domestic setting. Earlier most of the work of production happened within the household and provided for participation and learning opportunities alike. This built in children a kind of discipline and sense of obligation.

The schools need to be catering to this change in society. Though we see an inclusion of occupation and manual training in the schools, but the reasons and thus motivation for it according to Dewey is not well understood. Reasons like they engage the children, or make them helpful at home or better prepared for future in the sense of self sufficiency are not good enough reasons.

The question is that if the school is supposed to prepare the children for the future community life, then thats what it shpould be able to present. Domestic setting focused around work had community involvement in it. Even now if we see the classes of cooking or carpentry we see an evolution of community.

As dewey puts it, “The tragic weakness of the present school is that it endeavors to prepare future members of the social order in a medium in which the conditions of the social spirit are eminently wanting.”

This community life focussed towards productive work provides for the opportunity where children learn the discipline which is cooperative and supportive of production which is very different from the discipline that a classroom focused towards learning/ recitation requires and inculcates.

Dewey also emphasises that when the productive work is delinked from economy, it has the potential of becoming ‘active centre of scientific insight’. He takes the example of weaving and how it allows for various enquiries; historical, scientific and sociological.

Training in manual work brings meaning/ human significance to action, thus preparing human beings who will be more mindful and knowledgeable about what they are doing.

He ends the chapter by saying that a few centuries ago, learning was restricted to very limited number of people. But with industrialisation priniting became cheap and availability of books increased, similarly travelling and communication became cheaper so the interaction of ideas has been enabled. This has affected the high status that academics and intellectual life once enjoyed. But the schools are still aimed at preparing for the profession of learning. Only 1% people are really interested in intellectual life, most others have to do things and thus need to be prepared for this. Due to this disjunct their interest in schools and the number of years they want to give to schools is very limited.

A question that Dewey has sidestepped is to present details of what will be the nature of the discipline needed for the manual work classes?

An important difference that seems in his selection of work and reasons for inclusion from Gandhi seem to be in not attaching any economic value to it. As a result any occupation can be introduced in the school and need not be relevant in the contemporary times.



School and society

Dear Friends,

We will use this forum, to discuss issues, books,news, experiences and much more. To start this journey of learning together. We decided to start with discussing a bookImage by John Dewey, School and Society