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From A Cyclopedia of Education, edited by Paul Monroe, Ph.D. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1911, vol. II, pp. 398-400).
- John Dewey (Ph.D. LL.D., Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University)
Speaking generically, education signifies the sum total of processes by means of which a community or social group, whether small or large, transmits its acquired power and aims with a view to securing its own continuous existence and growth. The necessity of education rests upon a few simple basic facts. These are the difference of level between the mature and the immature members of a society and the facts of birth and death. Since it is certain that all the mature members of a society will die, it is obvious that the conservation of a society depends upon rearing the newborn members in such a way that they will appropriate its functions and sustain its values. We may imagine a community in which the difference in grade of power and achievement between the immature and the mature is so slight that it will be bridged over in the course of the natural growth of the immature; such is the case, for example, with many of the lower animals. But in human societies, precisely the opposite is the case; the mere physical processes of growth, if not intentionally given a certain direction, do not secure the maintenance of the current habits and ideals of a social group. Failure to direct the natural processes would surely effect the extinction of all that is characteristic of the society. In other words, since the important institutions and purposes of a society are not physically hereditary, they must be maintained through a social heredity; that is to say, by the deliberate direction given to the natural capacities of the newborn by the already existent social forces.
The more primitive, savage, or barbarous a community, the less the difference of level between the mature and the immature, and the less important, relatively, the function of education. Savagery and barbarism mean that there is a comparatively slight departure in the social institutions from the results that would naturally be obtained by physiological development apart from social control — slight, that is, as compared with what is termed civilization, though great absolutely. The relative simplicity and meagerness of social life mean that less is at stake socially, so that there is less need of special supervision of the process of growth from infancy to maturity. Since every advance in the depth and richness of culture marks an increase in the difference of level between the mature and the immature, this constantly widening gap means increased necessity of education as the prime condition upon which the conservation of society itself depends.
This contrast leads us to our first fundamental distinction in education, that between formal and informal. In simpler social groups, the child becomes assimilated to the social activities and aims of his group by sharing, through play and work, in a constantly widening series of activities, in the life of those about him. He learns to do by doing, to share by sharing. Custom regulates the main details of life, and its rules are enforced in his conduct by imitation, suggestion, injunction, and prohibition with accompanying rewards and punishments. No particular social institution is required: the school does not exist as a specific institution of society. The child's natural associates are at the same time his sole teachers. At earlier and later puberty, however, there is something in the nature of more express instruction. There are in almost every tribal group special ceremonies of social commemoration and celebration; in connection with these, there are exercises for initiating the male members of the group into fuller social membership. Frequently these are quite complicated and last several weeks; they are so conducted as to impress upon the minds of the youths, under conditions of awe and intense vividness, the traditions and moral ideals of the group. There is also at an early period a certain amount of more specialized training for the calling of medicine man and priestcraft. As the arts of life, civil and military, became more complex, provision was made for them. The chief cause of the school as a formal institution was, however, the invention of letters. The symbols required special training for their mastery, while their existence permitted and encouraged the accumulation of knowledge far transcending the immediate environment, and hence not capable of acquisition through participating in the direct activities of the environment.
We are not, however, primarily concerned with the distinction between formal and informal education as a historic matter, but as a standing distinction of fundamental importance between out-of-school education and schooling. Children to-day, for example, get their initiation into and chief contacts with their mother tongue in their informal education; that is, they get it by partaking in certain forms of social life which exist on their own account, not for the sake of education. Other matters, technical science, algebra, and "dead" languages, are mainly relegated to formal education; many other topics lie partly in both fields. Many of the most important problems of educational theory and practice are determined by this situation. There are certain obvious advantages in the type of education that depends upon securing the educative result not by subject matter and method selected and arranged for the express purpose of education, but by actual direct participation in some form of contemporary life valued and performed on its own account. Genuineness, vitality, depth of interest and of assimilation, and consequent assurance of influence upon habit and character, are features of the incidental type of education. In contrast with these marks, school education tends to become remote and artificial (abstract in the unfavorable sense sometimes given that term), devoted to modes of technical skill and accumulation of knowledge with only a minimum effect upon character, because its affairs are not organized into the ordinary practices of daily life. Consequently, it is a constant cry of the educational reformer of each age that the school education has got too far away from the actualities of life to be genuinely educative. On the other hand, informal education, however deep, is almost sure to be contracted, since the environment in which an individual can directly share is limited in space and time. Moreover, its incidental character is favorable to its being incidental in the bad sense, viz., casual and fragmentary. Many times the type of activity in which children would naturally take a part by direct sharing is relatively, if not absolutely, an unworthy type; moreover, since family and local environments vary tremendously, excessive reliance upon informal education tends to the perpetuation of class and even caste differences.
These considerations define the problem of formal education. First, the selection, with attendant criticism and rejection, of the social types and subject matter best worth perpetuating. Secondly, the widening of the usual or current environment through supplementing it with the subject matter and aims with which children would hardly come in contact in their usual family and neighborhood environments. Thirdly, the more systematic arrangement of the social subject matter with a view to securing the most economical coordination of its constitutive portions. In other words, conscious or deliberate education has to provide an environment (q.v.) (a) idealized or purified, (b) universalized, and (c) systematized, in comparison with that under which informal education goes on. At the same time, pains must be taken to avoid isolation of motive and matter, and to take advantage of the superior vitality and more intimate connection characteristic of informal methods. Every generation, in a society that is changing, has, to some extent, to work out this problem anew. For the shiftings of social activities change the domestic, and the industrial environment, and hence tend to exclude some factors of educational value from the direct environment and to introduce others. This means that the school must take some account of what the home and neighborhood are letting go, while they may correspondingly relax their attention to matters that are falling more within the scope of out-of-school experience. As the last two or three generations have seen an industrial revolution, which has already profoundly affected domestic and civic life, and as this has also been accompanied with a tremendous cheapening of literary or printed matter and a corresponding increase in its accessibility and ease of circulation, the problem of the proper adjustment of school and out-of-school education is at once more urgent and more serious at the present time than at any previous epoch.
I. A return to the original definition will now serve to bring out the essential phases of education; they are the social-ethical, the biological, and the psychological. The starting point and the aim are both clearly social. Societies, social groups, with their equipment, their traditions, their purposes, always exist, and are, so to speak, in possession of the field. They aim at their own perpetuation; they will not knowingly permit the introduction of anything destructive of their own most cherished aims; and they will insist upon ideals of subject matter and method that seem indispensable to their own continuity of being. We must not, however, be misled by the simplicity of the words, society and social group, into overlooking the very great complexity and diversity of the facts to which these words refer. Any modern state (the United States, perhaps, to a greater extent than any other) is a congeries of communities within communities, of social groups of differing religions, moral traditions, cultural equipments, economic differences, etc. In a modern complex democracy the burden of finding a common denominator amid these differences falls upon the public school system more than upon any other one agency: a fact of great significance in connection with the rapid development of a nationalized and secularized education in the last century. It may be doubted whether any scheme can be devised as well calculated for getting the benefit of the diversity of factors and at the same time avoiding the attendant dangers of centrifugal divisions as is the public, secular system of universal education. But in any case a glance below the surface will show that at all times social considerations have been the controlling considerations in educational systems, and this as regards not merely their institutional forms, but their subject matter and method of study as well.
The biological factor comes into full view as soon as we consider that the necessity of education is due to the existence of immature beings who are to be directed in their growth. The conservation of social values is to take place through individuals who are born helpless, but with certain structural capacities and with certain urgent or impulsive tendencies which manifest themselves in accordance with biological principles. In other words, education, from the side of the beings to be educated, is a matter of taking an animal being whose activities are primarily upon the biological plane and transforming them into functions that operate upon the social plane. Since the values to be transmitted have to be perpetuated through the medium of those whose activities are naturally upon a different plane, the problem of effective and economical education is identified with the problem of discovering the native, or biological, equipment which lends itself most easily and fruitfully to effecting the type of growth desired. Hence the constantly increasing attention in modern educational theory to the nature of infancy and its prolongation, to the biological study of instinct and impulse in the child, and to all the physiological problems of normal, retarded, and abnormal growth. Even details of brain anatomy and of school hygiene get a profound meaning when looked at from this point of view.
The psychological phase of education has to do with the biological factors functioning under conditions of social control for the realization of social ends. In other words, only social psychology is of primary importance for education. However it may be for other purposes, from the standpoint of the educator's interest and problem, "mind," "consciousness" denote the natural capacities of the individual as these become available for social uses and are saturated with social contents. Memory, for example, is a certain biological capacity of retentiveness, shaped with a view to creating socially available habits. Perception, from the educational point of view, is not a bare mental faculty face to face with a purely physical world; it is the capacities of eye, ear, touch, etc., trained to take account of the conditions that are of social importance, and to do so in accord with the values socially attached to those objects. The extreme individualism of much of modern pedagogy is itself a symptom of a certain social fact back of it. Only because modern society is democratic (that is, makes much of the notion of the freedom and relative equality of its members) are initiative, independence, freedom of action and thought, important as educational aims. Hence, at bottom, the psychological strain in modern educational theory and practice presupposes the context of a democratic society in which the individual is to live. The aim is not to understand individuality in the abstract, but to understand individuality with reference to forming and cultivating those traits of character by which the democratic social medium sets store.
II. So far we have considered education from the standpoint of its place and function in societies that make use of it to secure the conservation and expansion of their own ideals. We may, of course, also regard the process from the standpoint of the immature beings who at a given time are being transformed into social members, to sustain the community type of life. So viewed, education may be defined as a process of the continuous reconstruction of experience with the purpose of widening and deepening its social content, while, at the same time, the individual gains control of the methods involved. (See Form and content.) That is to say, from the standpoint of the one educated, the beginning is at the biological end, not the social. Experience is crude, narrow, and largely self-centered. Yet it has within itself capacities of assimilating and re-creating what is most perfected, developed and generalized in culture, for otherwise the wonderful products of art, industry, and science would never have come into being as in the past. Hence the educative process is a constant process of making over the existing experience, so that the social values lying blindly and crudely within it shall be clarified and enlarged. Yet the leverage of this transformation must be sought and found within experience itself; experience cannot be made over from without, but only in the process of its own growth. There are dynamic, transitive tendencies in the very nature of experience which tend to keep it growing and expanding. The educational process provides stimuli that appeal to these intrinsic tendencies. That this making over involves not only an increase in the socialized contents of experience but of self-control is evident in the fact that the stimuli provided by the educator must not work to develop dependence upon foreign supports. On the contrary, while it is true that one can never dispense with stimuli to action and growth, yet a genuinely educative growth always puts it more in the power of the individual to search out the conditions needed for his own further growth. When he has attained this power, schooling ceases. In assimilating into his own experience social subject matter he must do it in such a way as also to master the tools and technique of social progress. So far as this happens, a balance is preserved between the social and the individual, or psychological, aspects of the education of the pupil. There are systems of education which succeed in saturating the pupils with social subject and with loyalty to social aims, but that afford little power of personal control in the reshaping of experience. There are others that yield excellent gymnastic training of isolated individual powers, but that furnish only a slight modicum of socially important content. (See Formal discipline.) But according to our definition, in order to be genuinely educative both results should be simultaneously accomplished.
Historically considered, it is not surprising to find that classic Greek definitions of education emphasize the social aim and the social character of the subject matter, with some tendency to subordinate the individual or psychological side, or at least, to take individual capacity as a pretty definitely fixed thing; that the Renaissance definitions alternate between emphatic assertions of individual claims and equally emphatic recognition of the claims of the new nationalities that were springing up amid the passing away of feudalism; that the typical eighteenth century is individualistic on one side and cosmopolitan on the other; while nineteenth-century conceptions at first perpetuated the notion of "harmonious and complete development of all the powers of the individual," and then reacted to social definitions conceived sometimes in a nationalistic spirit (patriotic citizenship), sometimes in terms of industrially efficient service, and sometimes in a somewhat broad and vague philanthropic spirit. At the present time, "social efficiency" is probably the favored phrase. Social efficiency may, however, be taken in a narrow and external way, or in a broader and more liberal sense. In the former, social efficiency is supposed to be measured on the basis of definite output of overt acts and external products, with little attention to their reaction into the individuals' appreciation of the meaning of these acts and commodities. To be doing something is set over against the enrichment of consciousness at the expense of the latter. In the truer and more generous sense, social efficiency means also increase of ability to share in the appreciation and enjoyment of all values of social intercourse, and thus necessarily includes the enriching of conscious experience. From whichever side education be defined, whether from that of the community carrying it on or that of the individuals educated, it will be found to involve three factors, which may be distinguished but not separated. These are (a) the specific institutions which are differentiated for the special work of education; (b) the subject matter (see Course of study), and (c) the typical methods of discipline and instruction employed to realize the ends in view.
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