John Dewey On Schools as Ecosystems


The child is an organic whole, intellectually, socially, and morally, as well as physically. We must take the child as a member of society in the broadest sense, and demand for and from the schools whatever is necessary to enable the child intelligently to recognize all his social relations and take his part in sustaining them. . . .To isolate the formal relationship of citizenship from the whole system of relations with which it is actually interwoven . . . is a hampering superstition which it is hoped may soon disappear from educational discussion. . . 

The informally social side of education, the æsthetic environment and influences, are all-important. In so far as the work is laid out in regular and formulated ways, so far as there are lacking opportunities for casual and free social intercourse between pupils and between the pupils and the teacher, this side of the child’s nature is either starved, or else left to find haphazard expression along more or less secret channels. When the school system, under plea of the practical (meaning by the practical the narrowly utilitarian), confines the child to the three R’s and the formal studies connected with them, shuts him out from the vital in literature and history, and deprives him of his right to contact with what is best in architecture, music, sculpture, and picture, it is hopeless to expect definite results in the training of sympathetic openness and responsiveness. . . 

We need to translate the moral into the conditions and forces of our community life, and into the impulses and habits of the individual.

All the rest is mint, anise, and cumin. The one thing needful is that we recognize that moral principles are real in the same sense in which other forces are real; that they are inherent in community life, and in the working structure of the individual. If we can secure a genuine faith in this fact, we shall have secured the condition which alone is necessary to get from our educational system all the effectiveness there is in it. The teacher who operates in this faith will find every subject, every method of instruction, every incident of school life pregnant with moral possibility.

–John Dewey, Moral Principles In Education 

And just what have we been focusing the preponderance of our efforts in education reform upon? On mint, anise, and cumin.

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