As Dewey himself believed, his writings on education put his more abstract opinions to work; the heart of his philosophy, he once admitted, was expounded in “Democracy and Education. ” The primary reason for this was that Dewey’s philosophy of education embodied the paradigm of experimentalism in its most practical and concrete form. In education, experimental science, intelligent knowing, and progress became one. As Dewey summed it up, “The reconstruction of philosophy, of education, and of social ideals and methods
Go hand in hand; . . . philosophy may even be defined as the general theory of education” (Dewey, 1961:331). Dewey was sensitive to the perspective that a theory of education is linked irrecusably to the sort of political system within which it is exercised. A philosophy of education must keep one eye focused on philosophical anthropology to understand the possibilities and limitations of human beings. The other must focus on the political system which sets the general goals of education.
According to Dewey, “the conception of education as a social process and function has no definite meaning until we define the kind of society we have in mind” (Dewey, 1961:103). Therefore, at the end of their education, students primarily become elements of US democratic system, which means that they should be aware of the role they play in social as well as political process. Since Dewey made an important distinction between a narrowly “vocational” education, and one that is built around what he calls “occupations,” students are neither profession-centered individuals nor they narrowed by their specialization.
From the critical point of view, this model caused much misunderstanding of Dewey’s position. He was thought to be suggesting narrow vocationalism, “pragmatic” training so that students could be well shaped for the jobs that awaited them. However, practically Dewey resisted strenuously any attempt to transform education into vocational training. The latter, he believed, would aggravate class differences by sorting out students into the privileged who received a liberal education, and the lower classes, trained only for a particular task.
As he asserts, “While training for the profession of learning is regarded as the type of culture, or a liberal education, the training of a mechanic, a musician, a lawyer, a doctor, a farmer, a merchant or a railroad manager is regarded as purely technical and professional. The result is that which we see about us everywhere – the division into “cultured” people and “workers,” the separation of theory and practice (Dewey, 1961:18). According to Dewey’s concept, the graduates have to undergo schooling in “occupations.
“Occupation” here does not mean a job or even training for a particular kind of work. It means, rather, an enterprise which marshals energy for the accomplishment of a goal. Sewing, building, gardening, and cooking are all examples of occupations. An occupation is an activity which reproduces, or runs parallel to, some form of work carried on in social life. An occupation maintains “a balance between the intellectual and practical phase in experience” (Dewey, 1961:92). The centrality of occupations in schooling does not derive from the desire to prepare for a particular career.
“Occupation as thus conceived must, therefore, be carefully distinguished from work which educates primarily for a trade” (Dewey, 1958:92). Therefore, what students have been learning for the last two or four years, should be naturally integrated in their experiences. Furthermore, after the school, students are to be curious to learn. From this perspective, occupations offer an opportune context within which schooling can succeed because they allow the child’s natural curiosity to be channeled in the direction of more specialized work.
An education built around “occupations” thus allows educators to draw on natural interests in the hope of building genuine curiosity about intellectual matters. Education then proceeds in widening concentric circles around the center of occupations. The aim is always that of reaching as many students as possible, and reaching them in the most effective manner. The traditional subjects are not neglected, while abstract work associated with advanced levels of instruction is minimized.
In each case, the continuities with ordinary life activities are recognized rather than ruptured. According to Dewey, the school is “the essential distributing agency for whatever values and purposes any social group cherishes,” (Dewey, 1961: 362) and its methods and goals could be viewed as omens in microcosm of society’s destiny. This was why Dewey put such emphasis on the kind of knowing schools engaged in and made this, rather than any specific lesson, the goal of education.
Such an education taught students how to know and how continually to grow in their capacity for knowing. Progressive schools would produce students who always quested for new knowledge and who would progressively seek newer and deeper meanings in that knowledge. Progressive education thus reflected the instrumental, doubling effect of experimentalism in a concrete way; its goal was the public teaching of intelligent knowing, and this by definition meant continual improvement in the process by which such knowing accrued.
If society was in the midst of a protracted crisis arising from an inadequately socialized definition of intelligence, the place to attack the problem was where intelligent knowing was in fact defined and promulgated. John Dewey had, then, a larger social purpose in mind when he advocated progressive education. If the schools taught first and foremost the method of experimental knowing, then the task of constructing an open, progressive society would be much easier. And a progressive society, for him, meant a democracy.
It was for this reason that in choosing a title for his all-important book written in 1916 Dewey yoked “democracy” and “education” together. Dewey stated, “The conception of education as a social process and function has no definite meaning until we define the kind of society we have in mind” (Dewey, 1961:97). Democracy gave education its frame of reference just as progressive education furnished democracy, hence society with the socialized intelligence it so desperately needed.
John Dewey (1961). Democracy and Education, 1916; reprint ed. , New York: The Macmillan Co. John Dewey (1958). Experience and nature, New York: Dover