Delving Into Dewey – A Book Club

John Dewey By Eva Watson-Schütze (1867-1935) [Public domain]

John Dewey
By Eva Watson-Schütze (1867-1935) [Public domain]

I’m reading a textbook for fun! No…really…I am; and whats more is that five other educators: Michelle Cordy, Sharon Moskovitz, Dina Moati, Deborah McCallum and Shelly Vohra are reading and discussing it with me. What amazes me most about our John Dewey’s Educational Philosophy in International Perspective book club is that this is not a required read. We are dedicated and passionate educators who live across Canada coming together to learn, connect and better ourselves and our practice out of intrinsic motivation.

I’ve always loved reading books with depth and content; Stories and ideas that can transport me and shift my perspectives. I need to be able to connect what I’m reading to relevant experiences in my life in order to find enjoyment in it. This is something new I have learned about why I enjoy reading and why certain texts at different times in my life appealed to me more. I am finding now, five years into my profession, a better love and appreciation for the ‘educational’ texts I was told I had to read during both of my university careers. At the time, they were unattached to any real teaching experiences and therefore reading them then meant I was to memorize for the future, whereas reading them now allows me to connect, reflect and apply to my practice.

For those unfamiliar with the work of John Dewey, he was truly ahead of his time in regards to educational reform. His philosophies and publications are by no means considered easy reading, but they are of such high importance and relevance to the current changes occurring in education today, that I was drawn into reading more and more.

Our book club has been meeting bi-weekly using Google Hangout and sharing parts of the assigned chapters that have spoken to us and to our practice. We have engaged in discussions as to how Dewey’s philosophies still resonate today and how poignant some of his work has been. We are currently on Chapter 5, and I wanted to share some of the learning from the text that has struck a chord with me below:

“What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside? We want to do certain things and not just have the experience of doing them.”  – Robert Nozick  This to me is about that intrinsic feeling we get when we are truly engaged in constructing and creating something that will have an impact on the world and the lives of others. It’s not about just simulating life experiences in the classroom for students, but about actually doing these things in the here and now. I must have read this over more than I can count, because this is an area that I want to grow my practice in. I want the learning in our classroom to have an impact beyond our walls and beyond simulations of the world, but to transcend and become an active part of it.

“Coming to know others who are different from ourselves draws us out; we are educated. This is because only those different from ourselves have the vocabulary, grammar, and style we need. Those who are most like us can only tell familiar stories.” – Jim Garrison How often is it that we surround ourselves with others of differing opinions, views and life experiences? Not very often because it can be uncomfortable. Yet, this is where learning and education can occur and only if we are open to it and only if we are open to realizing our own deficiencies and needs.

“We only experience ourselves within a community, and we only create ourselves within a community. The kind of self which is formed through action which is faithful to relations with others will be a fuller and broader self than one which is cultivated in isolation from or in opposition to the purposes and needs of others. Playing lovingly with others is profoundly more creative than playing alone or playing only to win the war.” – Jim Garrison, Hans Joas Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration! Dewey spoke of self-creation and democracy and how these can be formed through active communities of individuals uniting for the betterment of all. We benefit and grow when our ideas, thoughts and actions are combined to create things we may have never even imagined on our own.

“The lack of imagination binds us to the conditions to which we were born. A failure of imagination chains us to the false choices dictated to us by our culture. It is the greatest possible slavery, for we experience our lives as free even as we choose among values dictated to us by others. It is by a sense of possibilities opening before us that we become aware of constructions that hem us in and of burdens that oppress.” – John Dewey and Jim Garrison Our roles as educators is to open doors of learning and experiences for our students. It’s to broaden their horizons, their goals and their worlds beyond that which they see or live in everyday. The possibilities are everywhere and it comes down to how and if we are harnessing them and the power we have to change our culture which binds us to our current states. Are we building the foundations for students imagine the ‘different’ or the ‘possibility’?

“Cornel West on Prophetic Pragmatism: The mark of the prophet is to speak the truth in love with courage-come what may. Given the fate of prophets, what often comes is humiliation, rejection, and even death. Prophets are not old men with beards; they are anyone who will speak the needed value in destitute times. I want to suggest that educators may become prophets and that frequently good educators must.”-  Cornel West and Jim Garrison Why is it that some educators feel like lone wolves or an island onto itself? How do they fuel themselves and keep going in what they truly believe to be in the best interests of their students? It’s not an easy task to pave the path to change, but we need to continue to share and speak to the learning that is happening in our schools.

I have learned more than I had ever thought I would when I first said yes to this book club, and all that I have read continues to permeate in my mind daily. It has caused me to shift my perspectives on many items and apply a different lens when self-reflecting on my own practice. There are eight more essays and chapters left in our John Dewey reflection group. I am looking forward to our next meeting so that I can learn and share with my fellow educators and adapt my thoughts from their understandings.


2 thoughts on “Delving Into Dewey – A Book Club

  1. Thank you for bringing together a wonderful selection of some of the quotes from the #DeweyBookClub. This has been a challenging and supremely rewarding read. I couldn’t not have gotten this far without our peer group. It is not in our innate selves to do many things, they must be experienced and learned. Reading difficult text is uncomfortable, but the experience of doing it socially makes it a good experience and one that makes me feel better and more informed. From your quotes and the reading I realize that the experience can’t be the only pay off, there must be something larger. At the same time, we can’t always delay gratification and endure a crud experience just to serve some future accomplishment. Learning at all stages is a balance between the experiencing self and serving the future self. This is one of the key ideas from the quotes above and the chapters we have read so far. Why is this important? I think some movements in education hijack Dewey to further the aims of purely experiential learning that do not sufficiently serve to honour the future development of the child. IT’s not enough to have glitter and feel good content, there must be learning that helps the individual achieve something better. Inspiring writing. Thank you for synthesizing.

    You’re brilliant. A wonderful learning companion! Thank you Dana!


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