The Dog Ate Dewey!

I am not sure what it is that attracted my dog to Dewey’s little book on education.  Maybe it was the musty smell of an old book, maybe it was the fact that I was spending too much time reading and not enough time playing with him but he was adamant that he was going to taste test the spine.  Thank goodness I caught him in time but it did make me wonder what the particular attraction to Dewey was since we have so many book to choose from around the house.

I have just returned from a weekend away for my doctorate and it has been enlightening and inspiring.  One of the readings on my current research list is Dewey’s The Child and the Curriculum (originally published 1902).  This is the book that my dog fancies a taste of, perhaps he is aligning himself with the child?  Dewey argues for more attention to the child and their needs.  In a closing statement when querying ‘the child vs. the curriculum,’ he writes:

“The case is of Child.  It is his present powers which are to assert themselves; his present capacities which are to be exercised; his present attitudes which are to be realized.  […]  ,the teacher knows neither what the present power, capacity, or attitude is, nor yet how it is to be asserted, exercised, and realized.” (p.31)

Essentially Dewey is arguing for a more naturalistic approach, and less of a positivist approach that might be more concerned with the curriculum as an area/object that can be controlled without attention to emotion; and without attention those aspects of an individual’s personality that are not common to all.  The positivist (or normative) approach is also more easily aligned with the concepts that are of interest to the society, that will appeal to the majority and that will be supported by the statistical analysis of progress.  Ultimately a much more quantitative approach, rather than the qualitative strategies that might be more dominantly used in the interpretive paradigm.  Although there is a need for a student-centred (child-centred) approach being outlined by Dewey he also eludes to an interesting concept that I have recently discussed with my YR10 Art class.  The notion that the students and their teacher do not know what the future will bring, what they are being prepared for or where power will be “asserted, exercised, and realized” in the coming years.  As a class we watched the ‘Did You Know 4.0‘ clip from 2009 that, through statistics and interesting facts, outlines how rapidly the world is changing and, as such, how we don’t know what our jobs, lives, etc. will be like in ten years when they(the students) are vying for employment.  How do we prepare students when we do not know what we are preparing them for?

The discussion that ensued was not one of panic or worry but rather of curiosity.  I was pleasantly surprised at how open they were to this concept of uncertainty.  It was perhaps a bit more thrilling to consider options that didn’t yet exist.  However, when I asked them how I was to teach them not knowing what they would need to learn that weren’t sure how to answer?  I tried to direct them toward ideas about skills, motivation and independent learning but they were much more interested in pursuing the ideas of Nano-technology and mobile devices.  At which point we returned to Art and Design.  How will these things look and how can we design for an increasingly mobile world when we don’t yet know what that world will be? And we don’t yet know who those children will be?   If we focus on the present, as Dewey suggests,  will our children be prepared for the future?

… further commentary from 17 May 2011
To add to this discussion it might also be useful to think about Anthony Sneldon’s recent push for Wellington College to get rid of its books and replace the library with a ‘Centre for Research and Innovation’.  In a BBC news article they have outlined how 20,000 books will be replaced with laptops, iPads and Kindles (  They are recognising a “radical shift” in the habits of their students and responding to the movement of their needs with speed, with the new centre to be functioning by January 2012.  This is the kind of forward thinking that is inspiring, although I am also thankful that there will still be a core of 10,000 books for the students to use.  Although our future moves forward it is nice to think that we won’t completely forget the past.

With the disappearance of books and the electronic development of eBooks; one thing is for sure, I will have to keep an eye on the ‘Kindle’ because if my dog fancies that as a treat it may not be as durable as the musty old book!