Tag Archives: history


“Education and Experience” or balancing social and individual knowledge

In “Experience and Education,” John Dewey describes a balance between the personal nature of learning and importance of acquiring knowledge in an organized manner. According to Dewey, this problem requires “a well thought-out philosophy of the social factors that operate in he constitution of individual experience” (p. 7). In many ways, his philosophy is much more theoretically pragmatic than it is applied readily into practice. This can make Dewey seem unapproachable to some, while very profound to others.

Dewey describes the significance of organizing material and experience in a way that progressively builds upon itself. The structure of an authority that does not facilitate learning and experience in such a manner is thus in question. While reading, I considered the arrangement of more traditional classrooms that entailed a dyadic, teacher-student, and did not necessarily account for the dynamic nature of the construction of knowledge within the dynamic classroom between and direct and vicarious interactions of teachers-students, students-students, as well as these interactions between teachers and students with others outside of the classroom. This traditional classroom dynamic seems to have arisen out of the Common Schools Movement, for which Horace Mann is famous, that sought to equalize education for everyone. At the time Dewey was writing, an education that was considered equal was likely one in which a teacher, serving as an authority, had control over the learning experience the students within the classroom.

In some ways, Dewey’s ideas seem like a philosophical reversion to more organic forms of learning like that of an apprenticeship or mentorship. In a model of education that can be both progressive by maximizing the personal aspects of learning and experience while also providing a social structure of knowledge, Dewey describes three steps that are essential for creating knowledge through observation and judgment. The firs phase involves observation of certain conditions, the second phase involves a recollection of the past, and the third phase involves a judgment that puts together what has been observed and what is recalled and how these two experiences relate.


  1. What roles does a teacher have in terms of facilitating the phases of observation and judgment-formation described by Dewey in chapter 6, The Meaning of Purpose? How does the definition of purpose in this chapter relate to these phases of knowledge construction? Who should assume the primary role of shaping the purpose of learning?
  2. To what extent should the teacher be responsible for transmitting cultural knowledge? In chapter 7, Progressive Organization of Subject Matter, Dewey appears to grapple with this issue in the last paragraph on page 33. Though he suggests that adequate knowledge of how systems have arisen can be used to counter their problems, he appears to be impartial to the teaching of histories of social systems. He writes,

“On the one hand, there [will] be reactionaries that claim that the main, if not the sole, business of education is transmission of the cultural heritage. On the other hand, there will be those who hold that we should ignore the past and deal only with the present and future.”

What role does knowledge of history play in our systems of education? Which side do you support: transmit or ignore? Is it possible to reconcile the two?


Dewey, J. (1998). Experience and Education. Kappa Delta Pi.