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A Conversation on Education

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A Conversation on Education:

Coles, Freire, and Dewey



There are many aspects of education and different theorists have chosen an angle from which to explore education and its issues. Robert Coles chose to examine the power that stories can have on students, Paulo Freire chose to focus on the importance of viewing education as unfinished, and John Dewey chose to write about the value that experience has for students. All of them, however, found it essential for students to be aware of their own education. They felt that with an awareness of a student’s own position in their education or life, and then they would be able to effectively make progress. I had my own experience with education this past semester where I had to evaluate my own standing in a class. I feel that my experience reflects a lot of the things that Coles, Freire, and Dewey find important when it comes to education.


This past semester I started the year off feeling uncomfortable participating in my Non-Fiction Prose class. This class was different that most classes that I had taken previously because it was more abstract that I was used to. I also felt as if I was in competition with the rest of my classmates and I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my opinions. Soon I got into the habit of not speaking during class. Some time after being asked to evaluate myself, I began to realize that the semester would soon end. I didn’t have many things to say about my position in the class because I felt pretty disconnected with it. I wasn’t a part of the classroom discussion and it became harder for me to become active as the classes went by.


The type of discussion that was occurring was not only different because it was more abstract, but it also occurred online on Serendip. Towards the end of my classroom experience it was through Serendip that I finally began to connect with the classroom discussion. I was able to continue thinking about the readings and make up my own thoughts about them. I finally began to feel a sense of ownership over my own progress rather than feeling that I was just listening to other people express their views. By beginning to think about my own standing in my class, I was able to make some strides in my involvement in the class. This experience is exemplary of the type of educational processes that Coles, Freire, and Dewey speak about in their books.



In Robert Coles’ book “The Call of Stories,” he wrote about how stories were able to help his students reach some understanding about their lives. In retrospect, my Non-Fiction Prose class was about sharing our stories: what each of us took away from the books that we had read and how we related to each one. It provided us with an opportunity to connect to each reading in an individual way. There was a range of point of views throughout the class, so there were some arguments or disagreements throughout the class.


Coles speaks about how people in different careers benefit from reading stories, and sometimes seek comfort from them. He spoke about his own experience of learning the power of stories and of becoming a doctor. He explains that “an important part of our lives [as doctors] would be spent ‘listening to people tell you their stores’; and in return, ‘they will want to hear your story of what their story means’ (pg. 105)." He reflects on how stories can affect people in different types of careers because they appeal to something intrinsic in human beings. They speak a truth that is undeniable, and that we can relate easily to. His book is his way of conveying that stories have a power that calls many of us.


Coles believes that stories can be a way of educating people, and making their souls at peace with the world. This type of ethical introspection demands that people become more educated and more involved with the world. For Coles, education goes past just being a student in a classroom trying to acquire a degree; it requires a moral commitment. It’s a constant process where most of the people he writes about do not feel like they have reached a state of moral peace.


In the book “Pedagogy of Freedom,” Paulo Freire speaks about the fact that the world is unfinished and that other people should consider thinking about education as unfinished as well. Although he did not place an emphasis on morality in the same sense that Coles did, he did believe that educators should include social and political realities. An advantage behind speaking about politics in the classroom is that it would help students become more connected with their education. It would help them get past the impersonal boundaries that are sometimes set by educators. It would help them feel more motivated because they feel like what they’re doing in the classroom affects them directly.


In his opinion, if people view education as a process then they will stop limiting themselves. The danger of viewing education as finished is that people end up accepting issues instead of thinking that they can make change happen. Freire describes this as “fatalism” because it makes students feel as though they have no leverage over what happens in their life or the educational system itself. He believes that education is not just the “transference of knowledge,” but can also be used to “create the possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge (Freire, p. 30).” He has a more proactive view of education, where students don’t just sit down and take in information. Students are partners in the process of their education and they can create knowledge as much as they can receive it. They should be held accountable for making change happen. I believe that students are more willing to be involved if they believe that they are responsible for their own progress.  




In John Dewey’s book “Experience and Education,” he decides to focus on how experience can help educate people effectively. He believes that classrooms should find a balance between traditional education (focus on achieving skills and textbook knowledge) and progressive education (emphasis on the individual). He stresses the fact that you cannot have much of a reliance on either because they are both imperfect educational systems. The most effective way to create a positive environment is to foster experiences. Experiences shape the way that students approach problems, and they therefore should be cultivating “educative” experiences that benefit them. He believes that students should experience things on their own in order to truly learn. These types of experiences have some of the same advantages that stories have in Cole’s perspective: they have the ability to provide some grounding for people. They can both encourage people to take a step back and evaluate their situation.


Dewey believes that the most important thing is to get the students to “stop and think (Dewey, 64)” about the consequences of their actions rather than going off on impulse. This is not unlike the ‘pause’ that Coles says that stories give readers: a time to stop and reflect on everything in your life. It is in these moments that people can reflect and grow.


I think that if I were to speak to Coles, Freire, or Dewey about my experience that they’d have similar advice to give me. They all seem to believe in the responsibility that a student has for their own education. They would want me to realize on my own where I could improve and to have enough motivation to change whatever it is that I needed to. Coles would probably tell me something about the human character that would nudge me to take courage and make a change. Whereas Freire might point out that I must not accept my quietness in the classroom, and that everything is a process. Just because I started the year off quiet does not mean that I cannot improve. I believe that Dewey would delight in the fact that this was an educative experience for me, and that I would hopefully use it as an example of what to do next time I am having trouble with a class. Although they focus on different aspects of education, I think that they would probably agree with each other on many things. One of the distinctions is that Coles focuses on more on morality than the other two who focus on being good students as well as citizens.







1. Coles, Robert. The Call of Stories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,




2. Dewey, John. Experience & Education. New York, NY: TOUCHSTONE,




3. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic


Courage. Lantham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.,