What School Is

John Dewey, the father of progressive education, writes here about the role of the teacher, the importance of seeing the student within the context of community and the purpose of education.   He writes directly about “what school is,” but it certainly has huge implications regarding what school isn’t. Dewey is brilliant and this provides a nice antidote to the stifling way that we are too often imagining school currently.

   I believe that the school is primarily a social institution. Education being a social process, the school is simply that form of community life in which all those agencies are concentrated that will be most effective in bringing the child to share in the inherited resources of the race, and to use his own powers for social ends.

       I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.

       I believe that the school must represent present life – life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the play-ground.

       I believe that education which does not occur through forms of life, forms that are worth living for their own sake, is always a poor substitute for the genuine reality and tends to cramp and to deaden.

          I believe that much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed. The value of these is conceived as lying largely in the remote future; the child must do these things for the sake of something else he is to do; they are mere preparation. As a result they do not become a part of the life experience of the child and so are not truly educative.

       I believe that moral education centres about this conception of the school as a mode of social life, that the best and deepest moral training is precisely that which one gets through having to enter into proper relations with others in a unity of work and thought. The present educational systems, so far as they destroy or neglect this unity, render it difficult or impossible to get any genuine, regular moral training.

       I believe that the child should be stimulated and controlled in his work through the life of the community.

       I believe that under existing conditions far too much of the stimulus and control proceeds from the teacher, because of neglect of the idea of the school as a form of social life.

       I believe that the teacher’s place and work in the school is to be interpreted from this same basis. The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these influences.

       I believe that the discipline of the school should proceed from the life of the school as a whole and not directly from the teacher.

       I believe that the teacher’s business is simply to determine on the basis of larger experience and riper wisdom, how the discipline of life shall come to the child.

       I believe that all questions of the grading of the child and his promotion should be determined by reference to the same standard. Examinations are of use only so far as they test the child’s fitness for social life and reveal the place in which he can be of most service and where he can receive the most help.(Emphasis added)

From My Pedagogic Creed

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