experience and education

Ben Nicholson OM, Rafael, 1967.


Commentary on the Book of John Dewey

No one in modern times has had such a great and lasting influence on education as John Dewey (1859-1952). Among us, Fernando de Azevedo, Anísio Teixeira, Lourenço Filho and Paulo Freire, among others, in action or reflection, were marked by his thought. New School or Progressive School – here called “progressive” or new school –, began to call more than a fashion, a conception and educational practices in fact.

Functioning as general guidelines for practice and course correction, this experience and education it is strategic for anyone who wants to know the origins of this proposal for educational renewal. It is a lecture presented in 1938 by Dewey, published immediately, and republished in 1998, in commemoration of the 60th. conference anniversary.

The present translation reproduces the entirety of the commemorative edition, with the 1998 “Presentation” and “Critical Commentary”, which brings greater interest to the variety of views and evaluation on the progressive school in the United States. Renata Gaspar's translation is quite efficient and adequate, approaching the original text without becoming incomprehensible. Furthermore, it is a conference for “professional educators and the general public”.

Unlike the translation by Anísio Teixeira, from 1971, this one preserves the inter-titles that divide the chapters, maintaining the didactic objective of the original text, and the incisive tone given to each paragraph, indicating a thesis or principle of his philosophy – another advantage compared to the previous edition. There is greater care with the contextualization of examples. This is the case of the translation of a passage that, dealing with the abyss between adults and young people, becomes more understandable: “It is up to them (students) to deal with this and learn, just as the mission of the six hundred Confederate soldiers was to fight and to die". Teixeira's edition lacks “confederate soldiers”.

Responding to the request of the Kappa Delta Pi Executive Board – “debate some controversial issues that divide American education” – Dewey proceeds to summarize the confrontation between progressive and traditional education. Here, well outlined, are the principles and practices that characterize each conception, rediscovering expressions and oppositions that today, as sediments that form the pedagogical discourse, we would not even know what their origin would be.

A summary example explains this: “The cultivation and expression of individuality is opposed to top-down imposition; free activity is opposed to external discipline; learning from experience as opposed to learning from texts and teachers; the acquisition of skills and techniques as a means to ends that correspond to the student's direct and vital needs as opposed to their acquisition through exercise and training; making the most of present opportunities is opposed to preparing for a more or less remote future; contact with a world in constant process of change in opposition to static objectives and materials.”

Deepening the criticism, it presents a set of questions about the harmful effects of the traditional school: “how many students, for example, have become insensitive to certain ideas, and how many have lost motivation to learn because of the way they experienced the learning process? (…) How many came to associate the learning process with something tedious and dull? (…) How many have come to associate books with such a boring task that they are 'conditioned' to quick and occasional readings?”

Democracy and experience are the focus of the debate. The progressive school aims at a “democratization of teaching”, against the authoritarian and autocratic reality of the traditional school. This leads to a shift in education: do teacher, do teaching and da matter for the student, for the learning process, and for experience, but this transition does not mean excessive freedom, lack of planning and direction. Although there is “an intimate and necessary relationship” between experience and education, these “are not directly equivalent”, as “some experiences are uneducational” – it all depends on the quality of the experiences.

Traditional education provides wrong experiences, because the relationship between past experience (cultural heritage to be transmitted) and the future (for which young people are prepared) is not one of connection, but an abstraction, imposing itself through an outside curriculum. of the present life. The experience at the new school has the present as a reference, a necessary connection between past and future, in a continuum. Continuity is, therefore, one of the basic characteristics of the educational experience. The other is interaction: experience is the interaction between an individual, objects and other people, which must be adjusted to the needs and conditions (developmental stage) of the students in order to have “educational value” – which does not occur in traditional education.

John Dewey recognizes the difficulties that the centralism of experience offers “when it comes to thinking about the curriculum”, considering that “the weakest point in progressive schools is in the question of selection and intellectual organization of its curricular subject”. But even knowing that “without a clear concept of experience” that guides a plan of decisions in curricular matters, teaching methods, discipline and didactic resources and social organization of the school, the text does not find a clear, objective concept of what is educational experience.

We are closer to a philosophy of education than to a discussion of teaching methodologies – at least within the limits of this work. In the terms of John Dewey, it is difficult, starting from an education that is based on what “is incorporated in the books and in the minds of previous generations”, which is “taught as a finished product”, to imagine what would be the curriculum centered on experiences. The alternative to the traditional school “is to systematically use the scientific method as a standard and as an ideal for intelligent exploration of the potential inherent in experience”. To check.

Teachers who adhered to the proposal and were not sufficiently prepared for the task and those responsible for educational policy who did not provide the necessary support for the implementation of progressive schools explain, according to Darling-Hammond, the relative practical failure of these schools. But such vicissitudes affect all philosophies of education when moving from theory to practice. However, over time, its principles become sediments of the pedagogical discourse.

* Amaury Cesar de Moraes He is a professor at the Faculty of Education at USP. Author, among other books, of Philosophy: reading exercises (Of reading).

Originally published on Journal of Reviews no. 10, November 2010.



John Dewey. experience and education. Translation: Renata Gaspar. Petropolis. Voices, 166 pages.


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