What is particularly interesting about this book is the link Dewey highlights between democracy and education reflecting his advocacy of democracy. Democracy is not only about extending voting rights, a big issue in 1916, but also equipping citizens with the ability to take on the responsibility to make informed, intelligent choices and decisions leading to the public good. He believed that democracy is not just a political system but an ethical ideal with active informed participation by citizens.. Established beliefs and theories should be critically questioned and revised in the light of developments, pragmatically evolving to meet the needs of changing times. If democracy is to work it required informed, knowledgeable and wise citizens and, therefore, education has a moral purpose. Classroom teachers and schools have a responsibility to nurture character as well as teach knowledge and skills.
The writings of John Dewey span a broad range of subjects, including psychology, epistemology, ethics, and democratic politics, but his philosophy of education lies at the heart of his work. Democracy and Education, published in 1916, is Dewey's seminal work on education and arguably its most influential on this topic. In Democracy and Education, combining his philosophical pragmatism and his progressive pedagogical ideas, Deweyoutlines the social role of education, both formal and informal, as the transmitter and bearer of a society's identity through the preparation of youth for adult society. This general discussion is then applied to the type of contents and methods that are necessary in a progressive democratic community. The final section of the book examines the intellectual roots of social divisions that impede the application of democratic education in the contemporary society. These divisions stem from the dualisms embedded in philosophical systems of education, which dichotomize certain domains or relationships, such as the mind and the body, the mind and nature, and the individual and society. Dewey argues for a philosophy of education that nullifies these dualisms, and is centered on the freedom of the mind and thought in directed, social activity. Dewey defines education as a process of growth, and it is through this concept that he links education with democracy. Democracy, understood as a mode of associated, conjoint, communicated living, is the only type of society in which individuals are able to grow and socially participate in a manner that allows for the realization of their unique interests and gifts. Conversely, for a democracy to flourish, it requires individuals who maximize their potential in activity with others. Learning in isolation perpetuates the duality of mind and action, and of the individual and society. Another important concept in the book is freedom, which is not just the ability to move or act as one pleases, but it also "means intellectual initiative, independence in observation, judicious intervention, foresight of consequences, and ingenuity of adaptation to them" (352), and entails the participation in group activities. Moreover, Dewey argues, certain capacities can only be learned in a group. He claims that this type of free social and intellectual interaction, in which each member of the group considers the actions and interests as information for informing their own actions, dissolves the artificial social barriers of race and class by allowing for free communication of interest between varied social groups (100-01). The method of Deweyan democratic education is an experimental process in which thought and reason are applied to activity to find the best answer to a problem at a particular time and place. This, the scientific method and his applications to the field of education, is one of the great themes in his work. The scientific method shows that knowledge does notexist statically or separate from action. Knowledge that is isolated from action and is acquired passively prevents the formation of new habits and the reconstruction of experience, thereby preventing growth and learning. The experimental method unites mental activity and experience, and allows for the creation of new knowledge. This presupposes that knowledge is not a body of universal truth waiting to be uncovered by rational, objective thought. Experimental science has shown that "there is no such thing as genuine knowledge and fruitful understanding except as the offspring of doing" (321). In seeking to overcome the idealization and remoteness of reason, making it experimental and practical, Dewey called for a curriculum that combines liberal and vocational education, and enlarges personal experience "by furnishing their context, their background and outlook" to the present community life (247). In summary, in Democracy and Education Dewey emphasizes the associational and communal aspects of democracy, and finds that conscious, directed education is necessary to establish these conditions and form democratic character in children. Growth, experience, and activity are the preferred terms by Dewey to describe the tying of learning to social, communicative activity that allows for the flourishing of democratic community. Source:Dewey, J. (1926 ). Democracy and education: An introduction to thephilosophy of education. New York: Macmillan. For an electronic version, see Prepared by John P. Myers (OISE/UT)
Dewey departs from the traditional conflict in education because he does not consider participation in politics as a form of leisure. Democracy demands a variety of obligations upon its citizens. Alexis de Tocqueville was quick to recognize the difference in culture between the United States and France. He believed the distinct political demands of democracy were a key influence on the behavior of citizens in the United States. Dewey elevates this insight to consider how education can be shaped to produce the citizens able to fulfill these expectations.
Dewey believes there is a false conflict between the different goals of education. It is not necessary to align industry and education to produce economic growth nor is it necessary to redirect education toward aesthetic ideals through literature and the arts. An education focused on democratic citizenship works to align these goals into a single coherent direction. A thicker form of democracy does not view the problems of industry or business as distinct from society. The skills necessary to thrive in the modern economy are similar to those necessary to govern society. Unlike technocracy, democracy is a team sport. It requires the ability to bring diverse skills and insights to public deliberation.
It is about democracy, but in a broad sense; about the ethics of democracy and about developing systems of education that prepare young people to live, reflect, analyse, discuss, learn and to continue learning.
Upon the educational side, we note first that the realization of a form of social life in which interests are mutually interpenetrating, and where progress, or readjustment, is an important consideration, makes a democratic community more interested than other communities have cause to be in deliberate and systematic education. The devotion of democracy to education is a familiar fact. The superficial explanation is that a government resting upon popular suffrage cannot be successful unless those who elect and who obey their governors are educated. Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education. But there is a deeper explanation. A democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. The extension in space of the number of individuals who participate in an interest so that each has to refer his own action to that of others, and to consider the action of others to give point and direction to his own, is equivalent to the breaking down of those barriers of class, race, and national territory which kept men from perceiving the full import of their activity. These more numerous and more varied points of contact denote a greater diversity of stimuli to which an individual has to respond; they consequently put a premium on variation in his action. They secure a liberation of powers which remain suppressed as long as the incitations to action are partial, as they must be in a group which in its exclusiveness shuts out many interests.
The widening of the area of shared concerns, and the liberation of a greater diversity of personal capacities which characterize a democracy, are not of course the product of deliberation and conscious effort. On the contrary, they were caused by the development of modes of manufacture and commerce, travel, migration, and intercommunication which flowed from the command of science over natural energy. But after greater individualization on one hand, and a broader community of interest on the other have come into existence, it is a matter of deliberate effort to sustain and extend them. Obviously a society to which stratification into separate classes would be fatal, must see to it that intellectual opportunities are accessible to all on equable and easy terms. A society marked off into classes need be specially attentive only to the education of its ruling elements. A society which is mobile, which is full of channels for the distribution of a change occurring anywhere, must see to it that its members are educated to personal initiative and adaptability. Otherwise, they will be overwhelmed by the changes in which they are caught and whose significance or connections they do not perceive. The result will be a confusion in which a few will appropriate to themselves the results of the blind and externally directed activities of others.
Over the next 10 years, many called Dewey and the other philosophers in his department the "Chicago Pragmatists." Pragmatism meant they relied heavily on scientific experimentation to solve social and ethical problems (see box on page 13). Soon after Dewey began teaching at the University of Chicago, he launched a bold experiment in education that he hoped would transform American democracy. 781b155fdc