Dewey´s pragmatism and

Social constructivism
Dewey & Vygotsky
Pragmatism, Experience, school and
John Dewey (1859 – 1952)
• American psychologist, philosopher, educator, social
critic and political activist. In 1894 he became the
chairman of the department of philosophy,
psychology, and pedagogy at the University of Chicago.
• Dewey taught at Columbia University from 1905 until
he retired in 1929. During his years at Columbia he
traveled the world as a philosopher, social and political
theorist, and educational consultant. Among his major
journeys are his lectures in Japan and China from 1919
to 1921, his visit to Turkey in 1924 to recommend
educational policy, and a tour of schools in the USSR
in 1928.
• Of course, Dewey never ignored American
social issues. He was outspoken on education,
domestic and international politics, and
numerous social movements. Among the
many concerns that attracted Dewey's
support were women's suffrage, progressive
education, educator's rights, the Humanistic
movement, and world peace.
Behaviour vs experience
Dewey laid the foundation for his concept of
experience in 1896 with a groundbreaking article
in which he criticized how the concept of the
reflex arc concept in psychology(behaviorism) is
used to interpret the relation between action and
In this article Dewey argued against the notion
that it is possible to analyse human action as a
mechanical sequence.
Dewey interpreted in the light of a
need for innovation
(Elkjaer 2009)
• Pragmatism views subjects as future-oriented.
• The consequence of this orientation towards the
future is that knowledge is provisional because
future experience may act as a corrective.
• Dewey may be helpful for the creation of a
learning theory that answers the cry for creativity
and innovation that is in demand in
contemporary knowledge societies.
Problem and inquiry based learning
as source of creativity and innovation
(model: Knud Illeris 2009)
Convergent Curriculum studies
teaching and
• In everyday language a pragmatist is a person
focused on results and solutions to problems
despite ideological and political differences.
• It is future- oriented :What – if”
• American pragmatism is situated in the
optimisms of the promise of new life
surrounding waves of immigration to the US at
the end of the 19th century.
Dewey and pragmatism
• Inquiry is a method in which working
hypotheses are generated through
anticipatory (creative)imagination of
consequences ( thus much more than trial and
• Thinking (critical anticipation) is to use
concepts and theories to solve a problem. The
situation determines the choice of theories
and concepts.
Pragmatism a learning theory for the
future ?
• At the heart of Dewey´s thinking is the term
• Experience is according to Dewey associated
with human beings´lives and living.
• In Dewey´s terms , living is the continuous
interaction between individuals and their
• Includes emotion, aesthetics and ethics as
well as knowledge.
School and society(Dewey)
Experience and inquiry
• The subject-worlds relation makes experience
• Experience is both the process of experiencing
and the result of the process.
• Inquiry ( or critical and reflective thinking) is an
experimental method by which new experience
may be had not only through action but also by
using ideas and concepts, hypotheses and
theories as tools to think with.
Learning by experience Dewey !
• Experience as knowledge
• Knowledge as a subset of
• Experience as both subjective
and objective(weaving)
• Experience as future oriented
• Experience as united
experiences(organic circles)
• Experience as subjective
• Experience as oriented to the
• Experience as isolated
• Experience as action
• Experience as encompassing
theories and concepts and as
such a foundation for
Experience as culture
• Dewey was aware that his use of experience
was similar to the concept of culture (also a
term with many definitions).
• The term practice might be preferred today.
• (cf Lave, Bourdieu)
What is missing ?
• Deweyan philosophy is insufficient today to
describe how power is a key to understanding
how learning is also a matter of access to
participation in educational activities and to
being able to respond to challenges ( Biesta
Vygotsky biography
• Although Vygotsky was never popular within
the Sovjet system his teory, however, is firmly
embedded in its ideals.
• Vygotsky was Jewish-Russian(limited acces to
university etc).
• Vygotsky´s interests belonged to the
humanities and social sciences, e.g.
philosophy, literature & art ( contrast to
Piaget, but similar to Dewey)
Vygotsky biography
• Contrary to expectations he was admitted to
Moscow University (enrolled by draw)
• Admitted to medical school – changed to law
and graduated in history & philosophy from
private university as well as M.U.
• In philosophy Vygotsky looked for an
alternative to Cartesian dualism
• Position at teachers´college and delivered first
lectures in psychology
Vygotsky biogaphy
• Psychcology of Art (Ph.d)(1925)
• The title shows that for Vygotsky psychology
was a method of uncovering the origins of
higher forms of human consciousness and
emotional life rather than of elementary
behavioral acts.
• Psychology cannot limit itself to direct
evidence. Psychology must take into account
indirect evidence and circumstantial clues.
• 1924 Vygotsky challenged the Russian
behaviorists (Pavlov) (cf Dewey)
• Vygotsky ( with Luria) started a programme for
nonreflexological scientific psychology. It had
to solve the problem of interrelation of higher
and lower elementary functions. He wanted to
over the split between naturalist and idealist
Vygotsky´s main concepts
• Socially meaningful activity became the main
explanatory principle.
• Individual consciousness is built from the
outside through relations with others.
• Human higher mental functions are products
of mediated activity.(tools)and interpersonal
Vygotsky´s idea of ”development”
• Development & cultural history
• Vygotsky uses the concept of development with
reference to Marx & Hegel according to which the
essence could only be understood through a
study of its origin and history
• Development both applies to the individual and
the cultural-historical evolution.( contrary to
ideas of maturation).
• Psychological development is a dynamic process
full of upheavals , sudden changes and reversals.
The human condition is based in social
• Vygotsky suggests that it is the ability to develop
cooperative activity through complex social
relationships that separate mature humans from
all other animals.
• Dewey also thinks that human beings are born
social creatures and develop their sense of self
through relationships.
• The main difference lies in how much power the
individual has over future social activities.
Conceptualization of
• Experience is helping to
form thinking
• Culture is the raw material
of thinking
• Social history creates tools
that are of use in present
• Tools developed through
history have a lasting
impact on the social
Dewey, tools and long term projects
• Dewey posits diversity as an important aspect of
educational experience ( diversity as a tool)
• He thinks that environments with a high level of
agreement between subjects are not beneficial,
because they do not engage in free inquiry and
this leads to narrow-mindedness.
• He ( like Vygotsky)sees progress in a
equilibration/disequilibration process. The state
of disequilibration represents a need. Disturbed
equilibration drives exploration of new ideas.
Bottom – up or top-down
• The social is of primary influence in the life of
the individual. Society has a vested interest in
the development and maintenance of tools.
• Dewey wants to educate the individual and
diversify the social milieu (bottom-up)
• Vygotsky wants to use the educational process
to teach new members of the social
community how to use culturally developed
tools (top-down)
Two educational models
long-term projects and Zone of proximal Development
• ”Long-term projects”
• Children are immersed in
everyday activity. children will
work on a topic that is of
interest to them. The topic need
not be of any relevance to the
demands of the larger social
community. The teachers should
act as facilitators. The free
inquiry must be based on the
Children´s own goals. The
children learn that they are
responsible for inquiry in their
lives and they determine what
goals are important.
• ”Zone of proximal
• Adults as representatives of
society mentor children in
specific culturally
appropriate activity. The
role of the educational
process is to prepare
children for more complex
activity in the larger social
The role of teachers
• Are teachers supposed to
have the role as facilitators
who step back from
children´s activity and let it
run its own course ?
• Are teachers supposed to
approach students as
mentors who guide or direct
activity ?
Collaborative learning
• Dewey & Vygotsky
• What principles could be deduced from social
constructivism and social learning ?

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