Thursday, September 30, 2010

Theory - One Cornerstone

I first studied John Dewey when I was a grad student at the University of Illinois. My first semester, Fall 1977, I took a course with Joe Burnett, Dean of the College of Education at U of I and the world's foremost expert on Dewey. In that class, Burnett shared an example of Dewey's ideas about reflective thought from his book How We think.

It involved Dewey standing on the deck of a Lake Champlain ferry in the 1920s, the same ferry as the one in the picture, trying to work out the purpose of the pole protruding from the ferry wheel house. You can just see the pole bisecting the word Champlain. After much reflective thought, and to keep a long story short, Dewey concludes the purpose of the pole is to serve as a false bow for the ferry so the captain has something to aim the vessel with; the ferry has no conventional pointed bow.

Learning to become a teacher involves the development of many different skill sets and theoretical ideas. The relationship between them is what Dewey called using one's executive means to achieve one's inspired vision. In other words we must have opportunbities to develop our ideas about teaching and then put them into practice.

In my Schools and Society course one of the assignments requires the students to write a paper on what they think their Teacher Licensure program will be like at SMC based on the "Great Educators" whose theories form the basis of the program. Before the semester started I asked my colleagues which "Great Educators" had influenced their thinking most. The students and I then created a Great Educators web-page with links to information about those 18 Great Educators (9 elementary and 9 secondary, for the purpose of the assignment). They will use this resource to construct their papers which are due around Thanksgiving.

One of the first things I did when I arrived in Vermont in 1982 was to visit Dewey's house on the UVM campus.

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