“For I am so confident of the potentialities of education when it is treated as intelligently directed development of the possibilities inherent in ordinary experience that I do not feel it necessary to criticize here the other route nor to advance arguments in favor of taking the route of experience.”
— John Dewey

Dewey’s Experience & Education seeks to balance “traditional” approaches to education with “new” approaches, circa 1938. In this concise treatise, Dewey clearly advocates for the merits of traditional education while acknowledging the need for forward thinking and education suited to “the living present.” In this case, I am less interested in specific pedagogical techniques and more focused on the approach Dewey takes to balancing old and new ideas. Given that much of my own research is divided along lines that might be called “traditional vs. progressive,” Dewey offers a very appropriate (if historicized) voice in how to negotiate that dichotomy.

Questions and Answers

1. Considering Adichie’s description of being unable to perceive herself as included in a particular community until she had seen herself welcome there, how can we use Johnson’s pleasure-oriented “renegade rhetoric” to create a more inclusive academic community that encourages students to be active, engaged participants rather than feel academics are a toil inflicted upon them?

In his second chapter, Dewey engages with the problem of educational approaches that “associate the learning process with ennui and boredom” (27). While he is concerned that students’ experiences be more than “immediately enjoyable,” he also notes the importance that these experiences not “repel” students. By this third chapter, Dewey also acknowledges the importance of the learning environment–that it must give rise to positive experiences for the student. Though Dewey’s criteria for this are simplistic and essentializing, he nonetheless allows room for discussion of what is needed in a learning environment.

It is this ability of Dewey’s–to break with the absolutely traditional while not leaping to the completely progressive–that strikes me as compatible with Johnson’s rhetoric. Much as renegade rhetoric might allow a student to find a space for themselves within a potentially oppressive system and much the way Adichie discovered space for her identity by virtue of African books, Dewey allows space for the consideration of what in the traditional system might need resisting, might need to be broken away from. While Dewey strikes a more authoritative tone, this flexibility seems to operate in the same vein as Johnson’s renegade rhetoric.

2. In the text, identify a specific community that is discussed. What role does inclusion in and engagement with that community play in forming an identity (both as an individual and as part of said community) that serves to facilitate the goals of liberation and critical consciousness as put forth by Paulo Freire and bell hooks?

In terms of identity and critical consciousness, Dewey acknowledges the importance of considering the connection between individual and environment. As he puts it, “Experience does not go on simply inside a person. It does go on there, for it influences the formation of attitudes of desire and purpose. But this is not the whole of the story. Every genuine experience has an active side which changes in some degree the objective conditions under which experiences are had” (39). However, he is also perhaps more interested in social control and top-down approaches to education than would be particularly compatible with Freire or hooks (59).

Dewey does assert that “The only freedom that is of enduring importance is freedom of intelligence, that is to say, freedom of observation and of judgment exercised in behalf of purposes that are intrinsically worth while” (61). This could, on the one hand, seem compatible with the idea of critical consciousness and mental liberation, though one also must wonder whether Dewey would regard this intellectual freedom as extending to behaviors and activities within and beyond the classroom. He does also state that “There can be no greater mistake…than to treat such freedom as an end in itself” (63). Certainly there seem to be limits to Dewey’s alignment with liberatory pedagogy.

3. How can seeking to orient toward pleasure and satisfaction as pedagogical modes be designed to specifically address the concepts of varied learning styles, multiple intelligences, and the highly varied backgrounds (personal, cultural, academic) of students?

The strongest connection I can find here is Dewey’s idea that “The plan, in other words, is a co-operative enterprise, not a dictation. The teacher’s suggestion is not a mold for a cast-iron result but is a starting point to be developed into a plan through contributions from the experience of all engaged in the learning process. The development occurs through reciprocal give-and-take, the teacher taking but not being afraid also to give” (72). While this does not explicitly address the problem of varied learning styles, et al., it does acknowledge the need for give-and-take between teacher and student, a negotiation that might easily be adapted to include such variations in students’ capabilities and backgrounds.

4. What can we learn about learning, both as students and teachers, by studying the ostensibly enjoyment-oriented concept and practice of “play”? What connects pleasure and play—enjoyment and engagement—to learning, cognition, and individual development?

Dewey does not seem particularly interested in play, though he acknowledges the importance of facilitating student engagement. If one applies Dewey’s own method of balancing past or traditional models of education with more progressive models, then it is not difficult to imagine that one could–treating Dewey as the traditional model in this case–strike a balance between his own approach and that of, say, Johnson. For instance, Johnson advocates for pleasure and play, while Dewey advocates for what we might term pragmatism. It is entirely reasonable to suppose that the more practical benefits of play and pleasure could be shown to serve pragmatic ends–as I hope to continue to do.

5. In considering the concept of “inclusion,” how can a focus on student pleasure and engagement in academic pursuits serve to address fundamental questions of complex exclusion and divided identities? Consider this discussion in terms of a borderland, such as discussed by Gloria Anzaldúa in Borderlands/La Frontera. Students’ language is a kind of homeland for them, a place they have long occupied; what divisions and exclusions are we asking them to navigate (within and without) by asking them to learn to write and use language “correctly” without including their own pre-existing language—their own territory, as it were—into the process?

While Dewey undoubtedly explores a borderland–between traditional and progressive approaches to education–he does not seem to allow much for this beyond the conceptual. However, that conceptual model acknowledges that students come to the classroom with pre-existing experiences that have shaped them and had great influences on their lives and intellects. While I am skeptical that Dewey would have given this specific question much consideration, it comes to much the same points of discussion.

As instructors, we must balance the traditional and the progressive–as well as the the liberatory and the authoritative, the corrective and the inclusive, and many other dichotomies (or, perhaps, spectra). Given this, it is very logical to apply Dewey’s own method of balanced consideration to the problem of what divisions we ask students to explore. The same mindfulness Dewey applies to the teacher could be used to discuss the issues facing the student. I am certain that future texts will elaborate on how this can be explored.


Dewey, John. Experience & Education. 1938. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Print.