1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Dewey III

One out of three ain't bad

I had hoped to discuss what John Dewey thinks experience is, how it can be (or cannot be) communicated, and its telos, but at least through the second chapter, he has not given a defintion of experience. I had assumed that he would provide a definition because he says, "To know the meaning of empiricism we need to understand what experience is" (25).

Communicating experience. He does suggest that teachers help students experience things in an orderly fashion: "It is [the educator's] business to arranged for the kind of experiences which ... engage [the student's] activities and ... promote desirable future experiences" (27). Something curious about this the lack of his discussion of inter-subjectivity. That is, he does not discuss how one can create a lesson that is for one student a powerful, life-changing experience, but for another student it is "boring." (What teacher hasn't seen this?). In any event, we'll see if he goes into communication of experience in more detail.

I'm happy to report that he does define what the end or goal of experience is: further future experience. No joke. Here are a couple of examples:

Any experience is mis-educative that has the effect of afresting or distroting the growth of further experience (25).

"[Y]oung people in traditional schools do have experiences [but the trouble is] their defective and wrong character -- wrong and defective from the standpoint of connection with further experience" (27).

Wholly indepedent of desire or intent, every experience lives on in further experiences. Hence the central problem of an education based upon experience is to select the kind of present experiences that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences (27-28).

"[A] coherent theory of experience ... is required by the attempt to give new diretion to the work of the schools.... It is a matter of growth, and there are many obstacles which tend to obstruct growth and to deflect it into wrong lines" (30)

All of these are from Experience and Education, but this zinger comes from Democracy and Education: "The educational process has no end beyond itself; it is its own end" (59).

If this is accurate, I think Dewey's view has staggeringly negative anthropological implications: humanity has no goal, no center, no point of reference beyond "growth" or the "educational process."

Questions so far in this chapter:

#1 Why doesn't he discuss his own experience (either as a student or as an educator)? This chapter is entirely too disengaged from any discussion relating to students and teachers (not even anecdotally do either show up).

#2 Dewey thinks that the empirical sciences "offer the best" kind of educational organization but he doesn't say why. Why?

#3 Is it ultimately coherent to say the primary purpose of education is to have experiences that lead to more experiences, ad infinitum? To achieve that goal, one could play in traffic, take hikes, read books.... Anything would seem to achieve the goal of richer, worthier, better experiences.

#4 How does Dewey's thought converge/diverge from Aristotle? I was think of Dewey's growth and Aristotle's flourishing. Are they compatible?

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