Experience and Constructivism in Education:

How John Dewey’s Experience and Education and “Having and Experience” from Art and Experience can enhance education and life.

The first of several prominent theorists and theories I have investigated in the 2016-2017 academic year was John Dewey. Just dipping my toes into his work, I read his book Experience and Education (Kappa Delta Pi Lecture). Dewey’s philosophy of the importance of experience and constructivism in the realm of education peaked my interest and I found that the topics, first introduced to me by Dewey, were also prominent themes of the readings of James A. Banks and Albert Bandura and my class discussions around the theory of constructivism. Dewey’s work itself is an example of the connection between experience and constructivism in education, as he develops a deeper understanding by posing questions incessantly about what has worked in the past based on the experiences of him and others. Albert Bandura was also a great example of the efficacy of approaching learning with a constructivist attitude. After these readings I have begun to focus on how I may be able to teach students to see everything as an experience and then teach them how to make every experience, good and bad, outside and inside the classroom, meaningful to their education. I want to allow students to approach their experiences and the learning of the experiences of others throughout history with a constructivist mindset. If students understand that all of their experiences, including the experience of learning subject-matter in school, are connected to one another, and if they evaluate their experiences to find what works and what does not, they can consistently improve their knowledge and increase their learning skills. I realized that in order to find operative ways to use experience and constructivism in the classroom it was imperative to ask important questions that evaluate the standard ideologies that have surrounded these concepts in the past. Some of those questions for me are, what is a real, true, productive experience? What does it mean to have an experience in our society? To look further into these questions I turned to chapter three, “Having an Experience” of Dewey’s book Art and Experience.

Much of John Dewey’s work centers around experience and the idea of constructivism and how these ideas intertwine. Dewey discusses his idea of what it means to have an experience in his book Art and Experience, where he essentially explains how an esthetic experience, which refers to experience as appreciative, perceiving, and enjoying from the producers viewpoint, involves constructivism (1934):

Experiencing like breathing is a rhythm of intakings and outgivings. Their succession is punctuated and made a rhythm by the existence of intervals, periods in which one phase is ceasing and the other is inchoate and preparing. William James aptly compared the course of a conscious experience to the alternate Rights and perchings of a bird…. Each resting place in experience is an undergoing in which is absorbed and taken home the consequences of prior doing, and, unless the doing is that of utter caprice or sheer routine, each doing in itself carries in itself meaning that has been extracted and conserved. As with the advance of an army, all gains from what has been already effected are periodically consolidated, and always with a view to what is to be done next. (1959)

Earlier in this chapter, Dewey would explain the importance of creating an experience for yourself rather than for the consumer of what you make from your experience. However, Dewey also points out if the producer goes through experiences with blind passion it will subsequently takes away from education because it disconnects experience from reality. (1959) I now grapple with how I can bring students to feel passion in their experience, to avoid participating in experiences solely to produce outcomes for the consumer, while also connecting their experiences to the realities of the society that surrounds them.

In his book Experience and Education Dewey ties these ideas of experience and constructivism back to education. Although Experience and Education is a dense piece with complicated language, Dewey provides numerous diverse analyses of constructivism in education, many that include metaphors like those he uses in other works such as the metaphors seen in the example above. This variety of explanation allows the reader several chances to generate an understanding of his theories. In this next quote I found clarity on Dewey’s theory of experience, education, and constructivism:

Admit that traditional education employed as the subject-matter for study facts and ideas so bound up with the past as to give little help in dealing with the issues of the present and future…Now we have the problem of discovering the connection which actually exists within experience between the achievements of the past and the issues of the present… We may reject knowledge of the past as the end of education and thereby only emphasize its importance as a means. When we do that we have a problem that is new in the story of education: How shall the young become acquainted with the past in such a way that the acquaintance is a potent agent in appreciation of the living present? (1938)

As we see here, in this book Dewey does not explicitly outline solutions for the problems that he identifies within education, or within experience, but he does ask the important questions that might allow us to create new and better understandings of these problems, and hopefully to construct more effectual solutions.

Constructivism and Dewey’s philosophy of education rely substantially on the framework that experience is a continuous flow of beginnings and endings. To allow for experience to be more than “monotony and useless repetitions” as often seen in schools, Dewey would find that we must do two things, participate in experiences passionately for yourself, avoiding the expectation that each experience must produce the expected outcome (outcomes that are often to the benefit of others rather than the person having the experience) and approach each new beginning only after relating the experience to reality, through asking questions about them over and over to reach fulfillment, until “what is conceived is brought forth and is rendered perceptible as part of the common world” (1959). Through this study of theories and theorists not only I have identified a potential approach to teaching that I believe fits with my philosophy of life and learning, I have also begun adopt aspects of these theories of constructivism and experience. I continue to ask deeper questions that get to the root of experience and learning, like, “does the “experience” of education in America imply the students, or does it imply those who at the time can perceive and enjoy the product that comes out of our education systems?

Sources

Banks, J. A. (2001). An introduction to multicultural education (3rd ed.).             extension://bjfhmglciegochdpefhhlphglcehbmek/content/web/viewer.html ?file=file%3A%2F%2F%2FUsers%2FKerrinMcTernan%2FDownloads%2FB  ANKS.pdf

Dewey, John. (1959). Art as experience. New York: Capricorn Books.

Dewey, John. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

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