Curriculum Theory / EDUC-910 Week 6 Readings

Dewey, talking sense… and nonsense.

John Dewey

John Dewey

Dewey, J. (1897). My pedagogic creed. School journal, 54(3), 77–80.


“I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race. This process begins unconsciously almost at birth, and is continually shaping the individual’s powers, saturating his consciousness, forming his habits, training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions. Through this unconscious education the individual gradually comes to share in the intellectual and moral resources which humanity has succeeded in getting together. He becomes an inheritor of the funded capital of civilization. The most formal and technical education in the world cannot safely depart from this general process. It can only organize it; or differentiate it in some particular direction.” (p. 77)

This opening paragraph pretty much summarizes what is to follow of Dewey’s pedagogic creed. To me, what Dewey is describing is the all-encompassing complicated conversation described by Pinar (1975) as currere. The curriculum of an individuals’ social life and psychological experience, interweaving with the overt curriculum of formal education. Once again however, Dewey concentrates on the child by discussing pedagogy. Why is this so different from andragogy (adult education)? I don’t believe it really is. I don’t believe that our educational experiences are fundamentally different as adults. They have simply matured and grown with experience.

Dewey argued that social influences and psychological experience combine to form a worldview that education must appeal to or else becomes haphazard and arbitrary, at best failing to interest the student, and at worst resulting in friction or disintegration (p. 77).

“If we eliminate the social factor from the child we are left only with an abstraction; if we eliminate the individual factor from society, we are left only with an inert and lifeless mass.” (p. 77)


“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.” (p. 78)

Dewey argued that education was therefore a process of living, part of the experience and development of life, rather than a preparation for future living (as was the focus of the social efficiency movement and epitomized by the Tyler Rationale).

Talking Point: Once again, I’ve got to equate this with Pinar’s currere. What are everybody else’s thoughts?

“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.” (p. 79)

Dewey’s criticism of didactic, teacher-led instruction, here strays into Freire’s ideas of problem-solving education (Freire, 2008). The teacher should not be imposing learning or discipline, but should be a facilitator of learning through assisting a student to respond to the community influences of the school.

Talking Point: Whilst I’m a fan of Freire’s problem-solving ideas, with the teacher as a facilitator, I just can’t see such an informal, structure-less method providing everything that’s required. Particularly in some schools with low socio-economic catchment areas and inherent issues with behavior and learning difficulties.


 “I believe that the social life of the child is the basis of concentration, or correlation, in all his training or growth. The social life gives the unconscious unity and the background of all his efforts and of all his attainments.

I believe that the subject-matter of the school curriculum should mark a gradual differentiation out of the primitive unconscious unity of social life.

I believe that we violate the child’s nature and render difficult the best ethical results, by introducing the child too abruptly to a number of special studies, of reading, writing, geography, etc., out of relation to this social life.” (p. 79)

From this Dewey concluded that the centre of the school curriculum should not be any of the academic subjects, but the students’ own social interests. Dewey saw academic subjects such as literature as the product of social experience, and that teaching should reflect that, rather than make studying literature a means to fit into a community.


“I believe that the question of method is ultimately reducible to the question of the order of development of the child’s powers and interests. The law for presenting and treating material is the law implicit within the child’s own nature.” (p. 79)

Once again, the child is the focal point of the method of teaching. What appeals to the social experience and approach to learning of the child, is the method of instruction to be adopted. Without that focus…

“[T]hey are a mass of meaningless and arbitrary ideas imposed from without.

I believe that the image is the great instrument of instruction. What a child gets out of any subject presented to him is simply the images which he himself forms with regard to it.” (p. 80)

Dewey believed that a great deal of resources were misdirected toward making a student learn what the curriculum demanded, which could achieve far superior results by simply facilitating what a student’s social experience meant they were interested in learning.


“I believe that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform.

I believe that all reforms which rest simply upon the enactment of law, or the threatening of certain penalties, or upon changes in mechanical or outward arrangements, are transitory and futile.” (p.80)

Dewey believed education to be a tool for regulating social consciousness, and the only sure method of social reform.

Talking Point: I completely agree with Dewey. To have a society with a depth of thought for political and community welfare issues, the only sure route is to equip that society with enough information to come to an informed opinion. The only sure method of coming to an informed opinion is education. Dewey’s “paramount moral duty” (p. 80) thus becomes clear.

“I believe, finally, that the teacher is engaged, not simply in the training of individuals, but in the formation of the proper social life.” (p. 80)

A logical extension of Dewey’s teaching with a social conscience, but…

“I believe that in this way the teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of God.” (p.80)

… is pitiable.


A product of the religiosity of the times, Dewey’s final paragraph ruins the entire article with an appeal to a complete lack of reasoned thought. Does this ultimately make the entire piece pointless? Possibly. Much of Dewey’s philosophy appeals to my own social conscience, but his closing remarks I find simply nonsensical.

One thought on “Dewey, talking sense… and nonsense.

  1. Pingback: Traditional vs progressive education… either-or? | Talk Curriculum

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