Dewey and Education in the 21st Century

Fighting Back

edited by Ruth Heilbronn, Christine Doddington & Rupert Higham

This book features a chapter written by PAAT teachers.

The Role of the Educators’ Disposition and Mental Processes in a Student’s Experience of Democracy

Dewey argues throughout Democracy and Education that schooling plays a powerful role in forming how we are disposed towards democracy. Disposition underlies and determines both thinking and activity. A disposition which operates habitually tends to maintain the moral, social and intellectual status quo. A humane democracy demands a disposition which both challenges existing conditions and is concerned to change them for social well-being. A student’s experience at school would ideally need to be one which supports the motivation and skills to foster such a democracy.

Dewey claims that we dispose ourselves to think in particular ways. If our mental processes are habitual then teaching and pastoral care may be done in a way that might impose rigidity of thought on students. If the intelligent concern for social well-being is missing from our thinking, then the educational experience we offer provides neither model nor means for the development of a humane democracy.

Using vignettes from our own experience as educators in schools, together with our interpretation of Dewey’s thinking in Democracy and Education and How We Think, we consider how our own mental processes as educators and dispositions which underlie them might impact for good or for ill on students’ day-to-day experience.

We argue that the main responsibility for conditions of experience falls on policy makers, school leadership, management and teachers, who, we conclude with Dewey, should aim to be aware of their disposition and its manifestation in thinking and activity in order to create conditions which make schooling a truly democratic experience.