Democracy and Education
According to John Dewey, "the object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth."1
However, in order that all people may be allowed the opportunity to expand their capacities for
growth they would have to live in a democratic society. Dewey believed that mass education,
at least in terms of this definition of education, can take place only in societies where there
is mutuality, and where there is:
"adequate provision for the reconstruction of social habits
and institutions by means of wide stimulation arising from equitably distributed
Dewey's vision of education is thus directly connected with the question of
preparing people for active citizenship in a participatory democracy, and specifically in relation to
American democracy. In view of this,
his program of democratic education is not concerned with subordinating education to goals other than
what he calls "the educative process." Education for democracy addresses itself to the
evenly distributed interests of the whole. In contrast, when special
interests dominate the aims of education, these "educational" goals are
generally skewed toward towards those interests. The inferences we
may draw from Dewey's thesis is that dominant agendas which dictate these
educational aims will tend to prevail in other areas such as politics or the
distribution of resources.
In a discussion on on the meaning of aims, Dewey addresses those that are
"the result of any natural process brought to consciousness."
In his philsophy, true aims also signify "foresight of the alternative
consequences" based on present circumstances, as well as a knowledge of
what options may be viable in any given circumstances. In turn, knowing the
options comes from observation and experiment.
In Dewey's view, true aims in education need to stem directly
from the nature of education itself. When aims are based on outside
agendas they tend to be "fixed and rigid [and are] not
a stimulus to intelligence." Educational directives that are not integrated
with education itself tend as a result to be disconnected and
"remote, divorced from the means by which it is to be reached."
In such an environment:
"instead of suggesting a freer and better balanced activity, it is a limit
set to activity. In education, the currency of these externally imposed aims is responsible for the
emphasis put upon the notion of preparation for a remote future and for rendering the work of both
teacher and pupil mechanical and slavish."3
1John Dewey. Democracy and Education. 1916.
||Democracy and Education