Saturday, July 6, 2013

Dewey: Beyond Blue Ducks (ED504)

Before we drive into a dissection of the John Dewey readings, I think it is important to clarify Dewey. When someone mentions Dewey, it's Melville Dewey who first comes to mind. He's the Dewey decimal system creator. If you wanted to read a book about John Dewey, you would look in 040 for biographies thanks to Melville. One could also look in section 370 for topics related to education. The second Dewey that comes to mind has brothers Huey and Louie. Dewey wears blue. This discussion is to go beyond blue ducks and dusty stacks to talk about educational reformer and philosopher John Dewey.

Beginning with the educational creed, the first thought that jumped to me came from the section talking about children learning to speak. He observes "...through the response which is made to the child's instinctive babblings the child comes to know what those babblings mean; they are transformed into articulate language and thus the child is introduced into the consolidated wealth of ideas and emotions which are now summed up in language." Having seen children learn to speak, the point strikes home. Nowhere is the social aspect of learning more present than that related to speech. Even as adults, it matters little what we say compared to what meaning it conveys to the listener. Learning to effectively communicate is inherently a social task. It's a troubling issue. How do I know if she understands what I am saying? How do I know if you understand what I am writing? Feedback.

"[I]t is impossible to foretell definitely just what civilization will be twenty years from now. Hence it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions. To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself..." It struck me that even in 1897, Dewey was marveled by the rapid pace of change in the world. When I started high school, Google did not yet exist. I googled a picture of a duck, then I used one Gmail account to e-mail my Dewey notes to another Gmail account so that I could post them on Blogger. I am using learning tools now that were still nascent during my secondary education. I wonder what technology students will be taking for granted ten years from now. Twenty years in inconceivable.

It's ironic that later in the text, Dewey recommends "cooking, sewing, manual training, etc., in the school." What exactly he means by manual training, I don't know. It is funny to think of sewing as a life skill.

Dewey's benediction to his education creed also struck me. "I believe, finally, that the teacher is engaged, not simply in the training of individuals, but in the formation of the proper social life. I believe that every teacher should realize the dignity of his calling; that he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of proper social order and the securing of the right social growth. I believe that in this way the teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of God." Here, Dewey asserts that the teacher is not teaching skills [training], but helping to create full human beings. The kingdom of God reference gave me a better understand of phrase "social life" that Dewey used so frequently earlier in the text. The social life isn't just about getting along; it is not just about existing. It is a unity in love and service to one another. It is a life of giving.

Moving onto the second reading, two things stuck out.

The first was Dewey's quote: "Now such a method is really stupid." The bluntness made me chuckle; he wrote this later in his life. He was talking about the unguided discovery activities that we've all suffered through. We all remember those mindless group activities that lead us to questions "What are we doing?" or "Have we done enough to stop now?"

The second point was the mention of Dale's cone of experience. During my previous existence as a tutor, the ideas behind Dale's cone were reinforced at every bi-weekly group meeting and every start-up meeting. My boss has a truncated cone on her door. Now I have know what it is called.

[The result is that I will likely remember 70% of my thoughts on Dewey, since I have written about it]

Finally we come to the connection. Dale and Dewey tell us that we learn by doing. How does technology help us do something? A couple thoughts come to mind. The first case is time management. If I can use technology to make the mundane tasks of schooling easier to do, I can spend less time taking attendance and more time engaging students. The second thing is that technology helps translate math into visuals. If I have a white board or a graphing calculator, I can show students what a parabola looks like. As we moving from talking to seeing, we've moved deeper into the cone. Still, I struggle with how technology helps us do more. That is something that I am still trying to wrap my head around.

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