John Dewey pp 81-92 | Cite as

Learning to Be

  • John BaldacchinoEmail author
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Education book series (BRIEFSEDUCAT)


While many would assume that child-centered learning is key to education, Dewey turns out to be surprisingly critical of those who invest all education and focus their pedagogy on child-centeredness. Instead, the agency of learning is found in the primacy of activity, experimentation, and an open-endedness that cannot be left to the child or to the teacher, but which is realized from beyond the closed walls of schooling. In valuing the child as an individual who belongs to everyday life, rather than the pupil one receives in the classroom amongst many other children, Dewey leaves no doubt in our mind that he cares for the individuality of the child. This also reveals a major concern in Dewey’s approach to development. His work urges us to be cautious about those claims that somehow assert developmental learning as given and where everyone is expected to “grow”. While some might misread Dewey as imposing on the learner an environment that would ultimately shape her ways of learning, his critique of learner-centeredness does the exact opposite: it recognizes the contradictory nature of learning and extends it to the open horizons of experience. By way of discussing the various aspects of Dewey’s approach to organization, policy making, and the relationship between education and business, this chapter leads to its concluding discussion of what does a pedagogical disposition represent within the open framework of Dewey’s philosophy. Drawing from the experience of Black Mountain College in North Carolina—whose experimental premise was very close to Dewey’s work in Chicago and later in New York—one begins to approach the idea of a pedagogical disposition from two opposite angles. On one end there is the angle of institutional sustainability, which in the case of Black Mountain College would be regarded as a downright disaster given that it lasted for only twenty-four years. On the other end there is a far more important approach, which is concerned with the import of an open-ended understanding of education whose objective embodied a pedagogical disposition that radically relates the school “so intimately to life as to demonstrate the possibility and necessity of such organization for all education”—as Dewey puts it. Those who look at schools from the position of sustainability would jump in and state that a pedagogical disposition as embraced by Black Mountain is never feasible. This prompts a counter-objection: Feasible in terms of what? In terms of the school as an institution which, in order to survive, is ready to waste its community’s potential by narrowing education down to standardized goals? Or feasible in terms of a vision of education that takes risks in order to capture the fullness of associated living?


Learning Unlearning Education’s waste Pedagogical dispositions Associated living 

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of DundeeDundeeUK

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