Dear Kazoo School friends,
As I wrote in my chat a couple of weeks ago, this fall our all-school theme centers around questions related to individual and social identities and accountability. These questions include, Who am I? Who are we? What makes us unique and what ties us together? What are our values? What perspectives or lenses do we have? What does it mean to be part of a group or community? How are we accountable – to ourselves and to one another?
As a proud progressive education nerd, when I think about these questions, my mind turns to John Dewey, the educational philosopher whom many call the “father of progressive education.” Dewey wrote many important texts about the purposes and methods of education between (roughly) 1890 and 1930, and his ideas continue to be influential in education today. In his writings, Dewey returned frequently to the theme of the individual and the social. For him, education is the process by which individual children come to see themselves as part of a larger society, and come to develop the knowledge and skills necessary for participation in society.
In “My Pedagogic Creed” (1897), Dewey wrote, “I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the [human] race.” Dewey envisioned school as a place where children participate in social situations and hone their abilities to meet social ends.
Later, in “The Child and the Curriculum” (1902), Dewey wrote about the child (the individual) and the curriculum (or collective social knowledge) as two ends of the same continuum, in constant interaction. Education becomes unbalanced when it focuses too heavily on either end of this continuum. The fault of what we might call “traditional” education is its focus on subject-matter, without consideration for how this subject-matter relates to students’ current experience. Education becomes a series of meaningless facts and dates to be memorized, disconnected from the realities of the child’s life.
On the other side, however, educators may go too far in focusing on the child. “It is the danger of the ‘new education,’” Dewey wrote, “that it regard the child’s present powers and interests as something finally significant in themselves. In truth, [the child’s] learnings and achievements are fluid and moving.” It is the work of the teacher to honor children’s current abilities and interests, but not to stop there. Teachers must build upon students’ current capacities in order to guide them into deeper understanding.
Ultimately, for Dewey, all education is education for democracy. More than just a form of government, Dewey explained that democracy is primarily a way that people live together. In “Democracy and Education” (1916), he wrote that democracy is characterized by a broad range of interactions among people and groups and the recognition of mutual interests. That is, people adapting their actions in relation to others, out of care for the common good. As children learn more about the world around them, they learn to understand how their choices and actions affect others, and how they can adapt and coordinate their actions in order to achieve social good.
And so, in closing, I have two hopes for our young people: that they develop a strong sense of self, and a strong sense of social purpose. Our democracy depends upon it.
All my best,