Experience is Not The Whole Story: The Integral Role of the Situation in Dewey's Democracy and Education

Journal of Philosophy of Education 52 (2):287-300 (2018)
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The central objective of Dewey’s Democracy and Education is to explain ‘what is needed to live a meaningful life and how can education contribute?’ While most acquainted with Dewey’s educational philosophy know that ‘experience’ plays a central role, the role of ‘situations’ may be less familiar or understood. This essay explains why ‘situation’ is inseparable from ‘experience’ and deeply important to Democracy and Education’s educational methods and rationales. First, a prefatory section explores how experience is invoked and involved in pedagogical practice, especially experience insofar as it is (a) experimental, (b) direct, and (c) social-moral in character. The second and main section on situations follows. After a brief introduction to Dewey’s special philosophical use of ‘situation’, I examine how situations are implicated in (a) student interest and motivation; (b) ‘aims’ and ‘criteria’ in problem-solving; and (c) moral education (habits, values, and judgements). What should become abundantly clear from these examinations is that there could be no such thing as meaningful education, as Dewey understood it, without educators’ conscious, intentional, and imaginative deployment of experience and situations.

Author's Profile

David L. Hildebrand
University of Colorado Denver


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