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Thoughts on Dewey and Freire readings

Riley's picture

The reflections on pedagogy of both Dewey and Freire, read in tandem, show some interesting parallels, but also show some surprising differences in terms of conversations surrounding class, race, entitlement, and power. While both Dewey's "Pedagogic Creed" as well as Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed mention that education accounts for the individual as well as the "collective" (for example, Dewey: psychological and sociological aspects of ed), Dewey does not seem to account for the inherent entitlement to power and agency of mainstream (American?) students. While I think Dewey and Freire's pedagogies run parallel in many ways, Freire takes ideas of Dewey--the importance of self awareness; education as an engagement with the world around us; the importance of action/experience--and runs further with them to address what Dewey only hints at when he writes at the end, that the teacher "is engaged, not simply in the training of individuals, but in the formation of the proper social life" (12). Freire helps us learn how to teach from within a problematic societal structure, which Dewey doesn't do as explicitly. 

Self awareness plays a central role in Dewey's "Pedagogic Creed", but the question remains: HOW to teach this to enact not just awareness of society, but the ability to enact change from within? Dewey doesn't account for the "fear of freedom" (Freire) that the oppressor has; he doesn't account for dehumanitization of certain people within the world, and the importance for educators to teach students how to get on the path of understanding our problematic society, but also, thinking past the boundaries imposed by a society that is sometimes hostile. Pedagogy with the oppressed indicates that this self-awareness of being oppressed is necessary. "Emerge from it and turn upon it," Freire writes (33). This means that the oppressed are "'consciously activating the subsequent development of their experiences'": this almost seems to me like an extra step of inquiry is required that Dewey does not seem to account for when teaching students in mainstream society to be self-aware...despite what Dewey writes, not everyone "becomes an inheritor of the funded capital of civilization" (1). 

I still find much of what Dewey writes incredibly engaging, but I really appreciate the way that Freire accounts for all human experiences--there is a hopefulness to both works, but Freire's is made all the more electrifying by its revolutionary ideas. It is thought like this that make me remember how powerful the role of the individual teacher/educator/human can be.


Uninhibited's picture


I agree with you in saying that Friere seems to be much more clear and precise to the kinds of steps that need to be taken in order to achieve such education. I used the part of his text that you mention about the oppressed emerging into self-consciousness as a way to describe my own education at Bryn Mawr. For example, last semester I constantly wondered how "consciousness" could exist within oppressed groups and wondered how I developed my own. Reading his text made me realize that it was a combination of exposure and reflection, no one told me this is how things should be, I came to that conclusion on my own. It was that sort of self-awareness that makes that experience much more meaningful. I wonder how this type of work could be done in public schools, neighborhoods etc. Access seems to be a key word here.