Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Art of Dewey's Pedagogy

My pedagogical assumptions owe much to the pragmatic philosophy of John Dewey. In the aesthetic/artistic arena, Dewey parses "an experience" as a consequence of wresting from the relatively inchoate and undifferentiated flow of experience a finite temporal span (one with a clear beginning and ending) imbued with a certain degree of significance or meaning (so that the cessation -- the ending -- has the character of a consummation). In like fashion, a successful learning experience is one born of those deliberate efforts to cull an educational experience from conscious life generally.

Consider this summary from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

The roots of aesthetic experience lie, Dewey argues, in commonplace experience, in the consummatory experiences that are ubiquitous in the course of human life. There is no legitimacy to the conceit cherished by some art enthusiasts that aesthetic enjoyment is the privileged endowment of the few. Whenever there is a coalescence into an immediately enjoyed qualitative unity of meanings and values drawn from previous experience and present circumstances, life then takes on an aesthetic quality--what Dewey called having "an experience." Nor is the creative work of the artist, in its broad parameters, unique. The process of intelligent use of materials and the imaginative development of possible solutions to problems issuing in a reconstruction of experience that affords immediate satisfaction, the process found in the creative work of artists, is also to be found in all intelligent and creative human activity. What distinguishes artistic creation is the relative stress laid upon the immediate enjoyment of unified qualitative complexity as the rationalizing aim of the activity itself, and the ability of the artist to achieve this aim by marshaling and refining the massive resources of human life, meanings, and values.

It seems to follow as well that "intelligent and creative human activity" in educational settings can and should include Dewey's aesthetic emphasis on immediate satisfaction. That is, along with its obvious utilitarian value, learning can and should be enjoyed for its own sake.

[On a related note, Matt Silliman and I will be reading from our new book, Bridges to Autonomy, tonight, beginning at 7 pm, at Water Street Books in Williamstown.]

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