Experience and Education

John Dewey may have wrote about education over 100 years ago, but his words have never been more true.

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Dewey says the, “Ability to share effectively in adult activities that depends upon prior training given with this end in view. Intentional agencies - schools - and explicit materials - studies - are devised. The task of teaching certain things is delegated to a special group of persons.” (11) A global economy with an international workforce may not be what John Dewey had in mind when he wrote Democracy and Education; however, his ideals still carry weight in today’s world. Dewey goes on to say, “As a matter of fact, industry at the present time undergoes rapid and abrupt changes through the evolution of new inventions. New industries spring up, and old ones are revolutionized. Consequently an attempt to train for too specific a mode of efficiency defeats its own purpose. When the occupation changes its method, such individuals are left behind with even less ability to readjust themselves than if they had a less definite training.” (126) What Dewey knew then and what we know now is that humans need the ability to adapt to an ever-changing world.

Common phrases in the world of education are child centered or whole child, but our slant needs to be larger than the child. We need to consider a human centered approach to education. The phrase human centered is regarded as the notion of growing to be throughout a lifetime. With the human centered approach, the traits that will begin to develop in childhood will serve as a springboard in creating the next generation of thinkers, innovators and leaders. Among the most important traits are curiosity and flexibility, collaborating and risk taking, persevering and reflecting.

It is unrealistic to think that by continuing on the current path of teacher led lessons about specific, fixed skills and content that our children will be properly prepared to lead and work collaboratively towards a shared goal. Educators are often singularly focused on the transmission of large quantities of specific content. Aims should merely be a suggestion to the educator on how to shape and guide experiences for the student, not a rigid standard to which they must hold. To follow a strict set of standards stifles an educator’s ability create unique, personalized experiences that reach all students. Standards should take into consideration the interpersonal skills students may need to learn and grow. Aims should encompass a students ability take risks, negotiate an opposing viewpoint, reflect on their experience or work collaboratively to a shared goal. We must develop the interpersonal skills and traits of our students as much as the knowledge of content. The need to work together, to share ideas, to embrace spontaneity and allow inquiry to drive discovery and thinking are critical in today’s world. We need to focus our efforts on the idea of inquiry and our role as educators in developing the human centered traits our students need to become successful leaders. In fact, a shift in the entire approach of education must occur for educators to foster the skills necessary for our ever-changing world.

We as educators need to create a new set of standards that address these human centered skills. We need to provide experiences where children are able to grow their capacities as a collaborator and risk taker. Students need the ability to persevere when a task is challenging and understand that failure is acceptable as long as one learns from the experience. They need to be provided with the opportunity to be creative and flexible with their thinking and problem solving. They need the time to reflect on their learning and to make personal connections to these experiences. They need to be able to identify where they could have done things differently to improve their process of growing and learning. Again, the human centered traits are not a fixed set of skills, but rather a flexible standard that will continue to grow throughout a lifetime. These traits are necessary for the advancement of a global and collaborative society.


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