I am very interested in education, and in particular in non-traditional models of education. Sometime last year when I was browsing at a used bookstore a slim book by John Dewey titled Experience and Education caught my eye. I had never heard of John Dewey (although I initially mistakenly thought it was the same Dewey who invented the Dewey Decimal System), but the book looked intriguing.
The book is short at 91 pages, but the writing is quite dense, with complex and long sentences. It took me awhile to get through it and a few parts were tedious or difficult to follow, but I stuck with it because the ideas are interesting. Dewey presents a lucid and logical discussion on how education can and should be based on the life experience of individual students.
Essentially, his is an argument for individualized education that looks at the particular needs and life experiences of each student in devising an educative plan for them. Here are a few quotes to give a sample:
It is not enough that certain materials and methods have proved effective with other individuals at other times. There must be a reason for thinking that they will function in generating an experience that has educative quality with particular individuals at a particular time.
What avail is it to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul: loses his appreciation of things worth while, of the values to which these things are relative; if he loses desire to apply what he has learned and, above all, loses the ability to extract meaning from his future experiences as they occur?
The institutions and customs that exist in the present and that give rise to present social ills and dislocations did not arise overnight. They have a long history behind them. Attempt to deal with them simply on the basis of what is obvious in the present is bound to result in adoption of superficial measures which in the end will only render existing problems more acute and more difficult to solve.
Dewey’s arguments are to some extent a direct response to the thinking of the time (1930s) about education, and the concept of “progressive” schools that was arising. However, I found his points compelling and quite applicable to today. I am most struck by the fact that traditional schools still, 70 years later, use methods contradictory to his important suggestions. It is quite depressing to think how little progress we have made. If you are interested in education, I definitely recommend this book.