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A Phenomenological Interpretation of Dr. John Dewey's Views on Education

Heidegger in his Being and Time presented a comprehensive analysis of human experience .While concluding this analysis he says that all human experience can be reduced to following three categories:

1-MOOD (befundlichkeit)

2-LANGUAGE (verstehen)


According to Heidegger all human experience can be comprehended through these three categories which can not be set apart from each other and which constitute the manner with which we encounter ourselves in a given situation. All human experience can be finally reduced to these three categories. What ever we experience we experience in a certain mood, with a certain understanding of our situation and with a thought expressing itself in a language. In fact these three components that is the mood with which we encounter our own situation, the process of thinking that clarifies and communicates to us the knowledge of our possibilities in a given situation and the language that is being utilized to communicate this understanding to us, are sufficient to clarify the meaning of human experience in general terms.

Dr John Dewey, while describing education, says that education is a kind of experience. He writes, “I take it that the fundamental unity of the newer philosophy is found in the idea that there is an intimate and necessary relation between the process of actual experience and education.” 2 Elaborating this idea further, he says that educative experience has some special qualities that differentiate it from all other experiences. He says,”…that all education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative.”3The quality of experience has two aspects .First, there is an immediate aspect of agreeableness and disagreeableness .Second, and there is its influence upon later experiences.4

He differentiated educative experience from the rest of the gamut of human experiences on the basis that it lives fruitfully and creatively in future experiences and results in a knowledge that occupies instrumental value and is of practical use. Every experience is a moving force and its value can be judged only on the ground of what it moves towards and into.5An educative experience should entail growth and should continue to live in future experiences. That it should result in a growth in a certain direction. An educative experience should change a person in a certain way .Therefore one aspect of educative experience is the impact that a person undergoes while having that experience.

The second aspect is the impact of that experience on objective conditions. Experience does not only affect the person who has it but also the objective conditions in which that experience was had. It depends on the ‘interaction’ of the person with the objective conditions. These objective conditions constitute the ‘situation’. Individual always lives ‘in’ a series of ‘situations’.Here ‘in’ bears a different meaning .It means that an interaction is going on between individual , objects and other persons. 6The immediate consequence of this idea is that an educator should select interactive situations as educative experiences.7

Out of the two poles of an educative experience , that is the person who enters the experience and the situation or objective conditions in which the experience is to have ,only the later are in the control of educator. These conditions include, the words spoken, the tone of speech, books, equipment, and more than every thing the social setup of the situations in which a person is engaged.8This should be done while keeping in view the actual needs of those who are learning. In an educative plan objective conditions are constitutive of some basic areas. He says,”Unless the experience is so conceived that the result is a plan for deciding upon subject matter, upon methods of instruction and discipline, and upon material equipment and social organization of the school, it is wholly in the air.”9

He says it is not the subject matter per se that is educative or that is conducive to growth .Content should be in accordance with the capabilities, needs and requirements of the learner. He says,” The principle of interaction makes it clear that failure of adaptation of material to needs and capacities of children may cause an experience to be non-educative quite as much as failure of an individual to adapt him to the material.”10Further, the principle of continuity in its educational application means, nevertheless, that the future has to be taken into account.11An experience should prepare a person to employ skill that he has learned through that experience in future situation .But this can be done when a person learns those skills in the situation similar to those in which he is supposed to employ those skills in future.12

Dewey raises the question of control and discipline and settles it saying that control should be exercised with out hampering the freedom. Rules should be conceived in the analogy of the rules of a game. Every body that plays games follows rules and asks for justice. No game is possible without rules.13He concludes this debate on social control by saying,” The conclusion is that in what are called the new schools, the primary source of social control resides in the very nature of the work done as a social enterprise in which all individuals have an opportunity to contribute and to which all feel a responsibility.” 14

Although there are exceptions to this general rule. There can be pupil who are docile and passive and can not actively contribute in the process and there are those who are unruly and can not follow regulations teacher should have to deal with every body on individual grounds. That is why exclusions sound as a good working principle. One should exclude exceptional cases from the rule and treat them individually. Since learning or education is a social or community activity therefore teacher assumes the role of an activity leader.15

Educative experience is accompanied by a certain mood and this mood is shaped by the degree of freedom that a child or a learner enjoys while he is learning either in a class room arrangement or in an informal arrangement. He further describes this mood as lying somewhere between absolute freedom and strict discipline, between strictly formal and capriciously informal attitudes. He accepts neither Plato, who advocates the highest degree of formalism in education and restricts all sort of physical movements nor he seems to accept Rousseau who tries to liberate learner from all sorts of formalities and rules.

John Dewey describes the ideas of Rousseau and Plato as extreme representations of reality and comprehends from their views that it is nearly impossible to experience these ideologies practically.16 He says that a relationship between these theories and practice can not be established because of the fact that these theories demand conditions which can never be provided in reality. He also says that both Plato and Rousseau seem to contradict each others views and advocate opposite ideals. Despite this antagonism between the idealism of Plato and the naturalism of Rousseau, the fact is this that these two thinkers are the pioneers of education philosophy and their views ,though if one is considered as a thesis then the other one naturally comes out as its anti thesis, can be synthesized to obtain a practically significant theory. That is why Dewey tries to synthesize the views of Plato and Rousseau to constitute a theory which can be practiced. His theory which is a synthesis of the contradictory to each other views of Plato and Rousseau is a result of careful scientific investigation and experience.

It is possible to synthesize these two models of thought .Dr. John Dewey rightly said that education is a kind of experience. It is a way with which we confront our own self in an educational setup. It means that educative experience can be further elaborated while using the categories of Heidegger. It can be further analyzed and its meaning can be construed anew if it is analyzed in its three essential components including: the mood with which we experience the teaching -learning process; the understanding of our own possibilities, facticity and potentials, and a language that communicates all this stuff to us.

Heidegger described all the qualities and components of human experience in abstraction. However, he did it with success and his work presents to us a set of concepts and a massive vocabulary to manifest the meaning of human existence. It tells us the way in which a person is in this world or the way in which a person exists. It is to be noted that his work also bears a singular importance even in the realm of psychological investigation, because it tells us about a variety of ways to view and understand human experience and it is very rich in its vocabulary through which it explicates both general and specific meanings of human experience. On the other hand Dr John Dewey studied educative experiences in its all possible details and explicated the practical significance of educational theory which was latent in the dialogue between Plato and Rousseau. He not only analyzed the historical dimension but also the existential and pragmatic dimensions of education. Although the methodology of Heidegger who used phenomenological method of investigation differs from the method of scientific inquiry employed by Dr John Dewey, the synthesis of their efforts can be achieved. The aim is to study and organize Dr John Dewey's knowledge in the categories formulated by Heidegger.

In order to establish a connection between the views of Heidegger and John Dewey,it is necessary to highlight the meaning and description of human experience in their thought.In Heidegger’s view man does not know his ‘where to’ and ‘where from’ the only thing a man knows in a given ‘situation’ is the fact that he ‘is’ in a given situation.After realizing that he ‘is’ in a given situation man’s understanding reveals his future possibilities to him.That is why the first dimension of time that is revealed to man is ‘future’.From this future ,after realizing his potential man comes back to his existing situation , this means that understanding goes back to ‘past’. After coming back to the past man decides to take an action in his present ,and in this way man is related to his ‘present’. Man comes back to his situation and decides to act and in doing so he tries to execute a certain project. It is the project of man that makes , things present in his world the instruments to be utilized to achieve certain goals. Thus world in which a man lives is a world in which man is supposed to carry out certain projects. And the things present in this world are his means to achieve his goals. Nothing has absolute meaning and meaning ushers from the nature of project in which man is involved.16

In John dewey’s view learning occurs in a situation and learning is alwys contextual.In order to teach some thing one has to create a situation in which learner can have the experience that educates him.A learner , with reference to his situation in a given experience, does not know his ‘where to’ and ‘where from’ .The only thing that his understanding can reveal to him is his future and various choices that he can have. After learning about possibilities in future this learner comes back to his own situation and decides to act .In doing so a learner makes a choice while undermining all other possibilities.A teacher has to guide a student through this experience, especially at the time when a learner is making his choice. A teacher should analyze all the possible outcomes of a situation and should reveal the various dimensions of the significance of all possible choices to his student.That is why it is necessary to create situations for learning.17

In the second we should explain the first category of experience, i.e., the mood which constitutes human experience along with language and understanding. What should be the mood with which a learner should confront his own situation in a learning environment. We should address the question of discipline here.If we want to have a certain degree of discipline in our learning enivironment , then we should have to restricts our students to certain moods .This we can not do from outside and we have to replace restrictions imposed from outside with a sense of willingness and motivation that ensues from the necessity of experience that we have designed for our learner.This simply means that the experience that we have designed for the learner itself imposes certain constraint that are inherited in the nature of that experience. That is why external discipline and punishment is not necessary. Hence it is kind of experience that will generate a certain kind of mood or feeling in our learner18

We should also study the nature of language in educational experience and should explicate the nature of understanding that education experience gives to a class of people or to an individual .Language should be both scientific and subjective. In fact language should not be treated outside of context .The words and vocabulary that we have to use during an experience should always be meant to refer to certain entities. This means that language has no absolute significance and all meaning is contextual. Since the meaning is always in a certain context, therefore, understanding is also dependent on its context.


Nizamani said…
With a special gift for learning
And with a heart that deeply cares,
You add a lot of love
To everything you share,
And even though
You mean a lot,
You’ll never know how much,
For you helped
To change the world
Through every life you touched.
You sparked the creativity
In the students whom you taught,
And helped them strive for goals
That could not be bought,
You are such a special teacher
That no words can truly tell
However much you’re valued
For the work you do so well.

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