Bird Droppings August 14, 2010
Experience is the greatest teacher
“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
What a way to start with a line from a fiction book about space travelers. However in the span of ten minutes this morning as I read emails and posts on various blogs the idea of learning through and of experience was prevalent. One fellow mentioned he learned from his friends. Another learned through the doing of something. Still another got into experiential education. We are the sum total of our experiences and great educators along the way have seen this and written about it for many years.
“Any experience, however, trivial in its first appearance, is capable of assuming an indefinite richness of significance by extending its range of perceived connections.” John Dewey, Democracy and Education
Dewey believed that it was through utilizing the previous experiences of a child that we build their education. As I read more on Dewey’s thinking and subsequent thinkers who have built from Dewey I have found within the research when learning has context and relevance it is retained exceedingly more so than when simple a mass of content. It saddens me to see our children learning what they need to for a test and not what they need to walk out of school at the end of twelve years for life.
“Education, in its broadest sense, is the means of this social continuity of life.” John Dewey, Democracy and Education
Each day as I wonder what direction will I go today in my reflections and wanderings I always seem to come back to the interconnections that bind us together? It is through the interconnections of the pieces that we learn and through which our lived experiences become actual learning and knowledge.
“To ‘learn from experience’ is to make a backward and forward connection between what we do to things and what we enjoy or suffer from things in consequence. Under such conditions, doing becomes a trying; an experiment with the world to find out what it is like; the undergoing becomes instruction–discovery of the connection of things.” John Dewey, Democracy and Education
In looking at behavior I use the terms antecedent, behavior and then consequence to show how a behavior is elicited. The antecedent precedes the behavior which is followed by the consequence which is considered how it is to work according to behaviorism. This is very easily applied and followed in animal research and in many school settings is a standard we call it behavior modification. However I do think Dewey was seeing this sequence differently. In order to learn from experience we need to be able to rearrange and redirect the antecedent, behavior and consequence so as we go those interconnections are literally liquid and flow back and forth rather than this then that.
“Thinking, in other words, is the intentional endeavor to discover specific connections between something which we do and the consequences which result, so that the two become continuous. Their isolation, and consequently their purely arbitrary going together, is canceled; a unified developing situation takes place. The occurrence is now understood; it is explained; it is reasonable, as we say that the thing should happen as it does. Thinking is thus equivalent to an explicit rendering of the intelligent element in our experience. It makes it possible to act with an end in view. It is the condition of our having aims.” John Dewey, Democracy and Education
Perhaps as I see it behavior modification can work where thinking is not allowed. When we take away critical thinking and imagination then the standard of Antecedent behavior and consequence is firm in charge. As I reflect today this could be why some teachers like maintaining that hierarchy of teacher and students and have a difficult time with Dewey’s ideas of a democratic classroom. When we mass a group of students and loose the individuality in the masses it is far easier to maintain the status quo. Education is notorious for tracking and grouping kids in ability groups or classes. Might have something to do with control again or could be that research show children learn best when they are with their own kind. Fifty years ago this was the premise for segregated schools.
“How one person’s abilities compare in quantity with those of another is none of the teacher’s business. It is irrelevant to his work. What is required is that every individual shall have opportunities to employ his own powers in activities that have meaning. Mind, individual method, originality (these are convertible terms) signify the quality of purposive or directed action.” John Dewey, Democracy and Education
Trying to provide the right tools and understanding so that children can learn in a setting that will provide them with opportunities to use what they know and build can be difficult and tedious at times. Many teachers give up on this type of learning because there is more work involved. I look at my room two days from school starting back and know I have a good bit to do. Clean organize and sanitize my humble crazy class room. I did feed snakes today and turtles so a few things have gotten done now to getting computers all checked out and each student’s portfolio set up and I will be ready to rock and roll. One thing I have found is that is about kids wanting to be in a class room. If they want to be there amazing things and learning can happen.
“The educator’s part in the enterprise of education is to furnish the environment which stimulates responses and directs the learner’s course. In the last analysis, all that the educator can do is modify stimuli so that response will as surely as is possible result in the formation of desirable intellectual and emotional dispositions”. John Dewey, Democracy and Education
With only two days left for my summer and I am sitting here in my room writing pondering a new year and ideas. Hopefully my students will learn and go away with something that they can carry through their lives. Each day I have ended my droppings with the same line and do so again. Please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.