John Dewey’s Vision of Learning as Freedom

Who wants to attend school to learn to be “human capital”?

Who aspires for their children to become economic or military resources?

Dewey had a different vision. Given the pace of change, it is impossible (he noted in 1897) to know what the world will be like in a couple of decades, so schools first and foremost should teach us habits of .

For Dewey, these habits included awareness of our interdependencenobody is an expert on everything. He emphasized “plasticity,” an openness to being shaped by experience: “The inclination to learn from life itself and to make the conditions of life such that all will learn in the process of living is the finest product of schooling.”

The inclination to learn from life can be taught in a liberal arts curriculum, but also in schools that focus on real-world skills, from engineering to nursing. The key is to develop habits of mind that allow students to keep learning, even as they acquire skills to get things done. This combination will serve students as individuals, family members and citizens — not just as employees and managers.

… learning in the process of living is the deepest form of . [1]


[1] Michael S. Roth. 2013. Learning as Freedom. New York Times, September 5th 2012. 

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