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.