Category: Big Ideas

Chapter 11 Experience and Thinking

Thinking and experience go hand in hand, active and passive activities of the body combine to create the nature of experience. It is through the experiences in our daily life that we begin to learn. Experience is change, yet these changes are meaningless unless connected consciously to the advantages or consequences that come from it.

Separation of Mind and Body

  • Bodily activity becomes more of a nuisance or distraction – something to be repressed in a learning environment in favor of a more cognitive method of information retention
  • However, students senses are still required: “To keep the eyes on the book and the ears open to the teacher’s words is a mysterious source of intellectual grace.” Repeatedly using their senses in this way creates a mechanical way of “learning” that is little more than automatically writing down what is heard rather than truly synthesizing and absorbing the information.
  • Only using part of the body (eyes, ears, mouth) makes humans into mechanical machines rather than holistic beings. Learning uses the whole body, not just parts
  • When the mind is separated from active experience, an emphasis is placed on individual things and facts rather than the ability to make connections

Faults with Learning in a Traditional School Environment

  • Children do not get to learn naturally (by being curious and being able to move around, rather they are trained to become mannered, and not really experience
  • Dewey argues that learning in school separates the mind and body; so that a student may learn about a subject, but doesn’t connect that subject to outside experiences or other knowledge
  • How we design educational buildings dictates the manner in which students learn. i.e. Lecture halls provide a passive student experience where they are merely sponges absorbing information

Reflection in Experience

Dewey listed five general features of reflective experience to differentiate trial and error from a reflection in experience. Emphasis was placed on points three and four:

(iii) a careful survey (examination, inspection, exploration, analysis) of all attainable consideration which will define and clarify the problem in hand;

(iv) a consequent elaboration of the tentative hypothesis to make it more precise and more consistent, because squaring with a wider range of facts

Senses become gateways and avenues of information to the mind. With conscious reflection on experiences through our mind and body, these connections enable us to learn. In a modern day learning environment we must steer clear of the teacher pupil conflict we see today and work to create a more interactive, vivid learning environment.

Chapter Seven: The Democratic Conception in Education

Chapter Seven: The Democratic Conception in Education

Can you identify with this [chapter/idea], or does it sit uneasy with you?  How might it affect the institution of schools including their spatial arrangement?

Chapter 1 introduces the importance of education in continuing our existence.
More so in Chapter 7, diversity is needed in improving education.

A society that changes and aims to improve will have different standards and methods of education than one that simply aims at following it’s own customs DIVERSITY

“Society” and “community” are not always good in nature. For example, there are societies of criminals.

“There is honor among thieves, and a band of robbers has a common interest as respects its members. … Family life may be marked by exclusiveness, suspicion, and jealousy as to those without, and yet be a model of amity and mutual aid within.” (Ch. 7)

“Any education given by a group tends to socialize its members, but the quality and value of the socialization depends upon the habits and aims of the group.” (Ch. 7)

  • Because of this we need a way to measure the “worth of any given mode of social life” (Ch. 7)
  • avoid extremes when looking for a way to measure worth of social life:
    • An individual cannot make up an ideal society, it must be a collective effort
    • base conception on societies that actually exist in order to make it practical
  • problem comes when we have to take the desirable traits that actually exist in communities and use them to criticize undesirable features and make improvements
  • Social groups are held together by some form of common interest (all consciously shared?) and have some form of cooperation with other groups (to what extent?)
    • These two traits become our standard for measuring social life.
  • “The devotion of democracy to education is a familiar fact. The superficial explanation is that a government resting upon popular suffrage cannot be successful unless those who elect and who obey their governors are educated.” (Ch. 7)

Plato: society is stable when each person working in his or her natural strengths; education should help discover what these natural strengths are and help each person know how to use them.

4. The “Individualistic” Ideal of the Eighteenth Century


“…the voice of nature now speaks for the diversity of individual talent and for the need of free development of individuality in all its variety.”

CHURCH / STATE —> servant

  • individual     capacities of knowledge were hindered by laws/rules set by church     and state

NATURE / HUMANITY — > individualism

  • nature became the new source for ideal laws to follow (Newton)
  • earth-flat-church
  • earth-round-natural laws (science, mathematics)
  • EDUCATION     mind is an empty slate to write ultimate truths upon, natural laws
5. Education as National and as Social.

“The peculiarity of truly human life is that man has to create himself by his own voluntary efforts; he has to make himself a truly moral, rational, and free being.”

“The individual in his isolation is nothing; only in and through an absorption of the aims and meaning of organized institutions does he attain true personality.”

HUMANITY    Democratic      STATE

individual                  EDUCATION                     servant

NATIONAL – educate to serve the state

SOCIAL – educate to serve humanity

The idea of using state-funded education as a means of self-preservation was implemented by the Germans in response to invasions by Napoleon.
  • Imagine a school of fish…

“Each generation is inclined to educate its young so as to get along in the present world instead of with a view to the proper end of education: the promotion of the best possible realization of humanity as humanity.”

Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich

Chapter 1

There is too much value placed in standardized, mandatory “schooling” and it is contributing strongly to modernized poverty.

There are three major ways that the institutional value system negatively impacts society: “physical pollution, social polarization, and psychological impotence.”

Reliance on any institution, most notably education and healthcare, leads to an inability for people to make decisions about their own betterment.

“Both [the rich and poor] view doctoring oneself as irresponsible, learning on one’s own as unreliable, and community organization, when not paid for by those in authority, as a form of aggression or subversion.”

Monetary stimulation of the entire education systems does nothing to either increase learning or diminish the advantages of the rich over the poor.

“Even if they attend equal schools and begin at the same age, poor children lack most of the educational opportunities which are casually available to the middle-class child.”

Funds are wasted by educating everybody with a standardized curriculum. Individual lessons in a specific skill would be much more economical.

Schools are given a monopoly on education, and it is discouraged that the others social institutions (politics, healthcare, recreation and family life) become themselves the means of education.

Institutionalized education conflicts with other aspects of life and is seen to be a prerequisite to be a contributing member of the workforce or society.

The best way to correct the education system is to organize it around the individual seeking the knowledge.

“…the most critically needed principles for educational reform: the return of initiative and accountability for learning to the learner or his most immediate tutor.”

Chapter 6

Illich thinks he can fix the learning experience through creating four “learning webs” which are:

  • Reference services to educational objects
  • Peer Matching
  • Skill exchanges
  • Reference services to educators

Reference services to educational objects are formal learning sites such as libraries, museums, and showrooms.  In general, we go to these places to deliberately learn, but places such as airports, factories, and farms can still have effects on our daily learning environment.

Peer matching uses shared interests to create environments in which people can voluntarily meet and discuss their topics of choice.  This can’t be traditionally found in classroom settings because curriculums require everybody to learn similar topics rather than develop personal interests.

Skill exchanges are like mentor programs in that students can seek out the help of the more skilled.  A more interactive and personalized environment found in the one-on-one learning program is more effective than a formal group session in which students listen to the teacher.

Reference services to educators can be interpreted as a reference list for interested parties. Professionals list their contact information so they can be sought out by individuals based on their interests and experiences.

Democracy and Education: Chapter 12- Group 3


Teaching Components:    acquisition of skill, acquiring information, training of thinking


  • pupils must engage and “have a genuine situation of experience”
  • thinking is challenged as not being limited to pondering in isolation
  • can involve trial and error (like “learn by doing it wrong”)

“They give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of a nature as to demand thinking, or the intentional noting of connections; learning naturally results.”


  • “a genuine problem […] as a stimulus to thought”
  • the teacher should create “a context of experience in which problems naturally suggest themselves”
  • does not overemphasize memorization and regurgitation in examination

“The accumulation and acquisition of information for purposes of reproduction in recitation and examination is made too much of.”


  • the known data should arouse suggestions from which there can be originality of thought
  • intellectual constructiveness: acting as a ‘discoverer’ building from prior knowledge


  • thoughts are incomplete until applied where they gain “full meaning and a sense of their reality”
  • if pupils cannot own and apply the content they are learning, they learn to work the system and BS the work, failing to truly learn

“And the attitudes which spring from getting used to and accepting half-understood and ill-digested material weaken vigor and efficiency in thought.”

“The best type of teaching […] puts the student in the habitual attitude of finding points of contact and mutual bearings.”