A Canadian politician, Harold Taylor, once said “Most of the important experiences that truly educate cannot be arranged a head of time with any precision.” This quote imitates the lessons explained by John Dewey in his 1938 book Experience and Education; moreover, he refers to how ineffective traditional education can be opposed to progressive education which is based off personal experience and understanding of useful interactions.
Traditional education is based off the idea that a teacher lectures students about subjects that do not have any bearing towards them or understanding of the subject. Information is almost being fed to the developing minds and this information is being taught by an individual who is teaching off their own experiences as well as the written criteria. “Books, especially textbooks, are the chief representatives of the lore and wisdom of the past, while teachers are the organs through which pupils are brought into effective connection with the material. Teachers are the agents through which knowledge and skills are communicated and rules of conduct enforced.” (18)
This quote reflects that the information in a text book can only do so much and teachers are the ones who are supposed to fill in the gaps and explain why things happen the way they did. Traditional education is seen as one sided and John Dewey did not agree with this being the best method of learning for developing minds. An example would be a teacher explaining how important it is to recycle and use less paper products to save trees, but students have no idea how many trees are being torn down or what they are doing by recycling. Recycling means nothing to the students because they have no experience with recycling. This method of teaching can be inaccurate due to the quality of the teacher or the one sidedness of the teacher’s experience.
John Dewey believed progressive education is a better method of learning. Progressive learning is learning from ones own experiences. Students would retain information from their own experiences and then thirst for knowledge about those experiences they have encountered. “As an individual passes from one situation to another, his world, his environment, expands or contracts. He does not find himself living in another world but in a different part or aspect of one and the same world. What he has learned in the way of knowledge and skill in one situation becomes an instrument of understanding and dealing effectively with the situations which follow.” (44)
This type of learning helps students relate past experiences to their education. Once again going back to recycling, if you show a student and explain how many North American forests are being cut down for lumber and paper products and show the complete process they will be aware of how important our earth is to our survival; therefore, the students will now want to recycle actively. Progressive learning is based off students first hand experiences and if they can experience or witness the act or process they have a much better chance of retaining the information.
In summary traditional learning is seen as the biggest form of education and can be inaccurate do to the level of instructor; however, John Dewey’s progressive model of learning is valuable to all types of education because an instructor does not even have to be present for a student to learn because they have past encounters to refer to and make decisions based off those. Experience and Education made good observations; consequently, experiences in life are the best forms of education.
Dewey, John (1938). Experience and Education. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company