John Dewey and Teacher Identity

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INTRODUCTION John Dewey’s work on the topic of educational experience was initiated in 1896 at the University of Chicago where he began the University Laboratory School, which was later to become the ‘Dewey School’. Here, over the course of the next forty years, Dewey experimented and researched his conception of education as experience. A final consolidation or summary of this work finally found its capital expression in his book ‘Experience and Education’ in 1938. The legacy of Dewey’s philosophy is far reaching, pervading so much of educational theory particularly in the West, and continues to aid us in designing innovative educational approaches and programs today. Given its pre-eminence, the intention here is to identify and reflect on some of themes presented in this book and to suggest how these ideas might inform my personal development of teacher identity. TRADITIONAL VS. PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION In the first chapter, Dewey draws attention to a conflict in educational theory, between traditional and progressive education. He conceives of traditional education as a system that has that encourages student attitudes of ‘docility, receptivity, and obedience’ (Dewey, p. 3). He considers the task given educators in traditional education to communicate knowledge and skills, and enforce rules of conduct for the next generation. He considers progressive education a system that critiques traditional education for imposing controls and limiting active participation by students in developing subject matter. Progressive education gives learners ‘growth’, freedom of expression and activity. Dewey sees the strengths of progressive education contributing helpfully to an experience of education (p. 20). However, Dewey seeks to show how n... ... middle of paper ... ...cilitator’ or ‘leader’ is not to eliminate authority but rather to, for want of a better word, authorise it. Authoritarian approaches in the end are not ‘authorities’ as such at all. Rather they are better associated with raw irrational power and dictatorships. Alternatively, an authority is authorised for the freedom of the subjects under the authority of the teacher. (What precisely shapes this freedom is another question.) A teacher who rigidly and harmfully oppresses students may be powerful, but not an authority. This means that as a teacher, I remain inevitably an authority, yet I exist as an authority for the freedom or ‘humanising’ (Freire, 1996) or ‘growth’ (Dewey) of my students. Works Cited Dewey, J. (1938) [1997] Experience and Education. Touchstone USA. Freire, P., & Ramos, M. B. (1996). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
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