Comments and reactions to the "mystery" quote by John Dewey

Hi listers,

Can you guess who wrote the following statements and when they were written? The author has done a marvelous job of defining why the lecture method of teaching is so widely used while at the same time warning of its limitations and drawbacks. In addition the author provides a very strong philosophical and practical basis for cooperative learning, something many people have asked for in previous discussions.

I was considering giving a prize to the first ten correct replies, something like a trip to the Bahamas during the winter months, but that is financially impractical so your prize will have to be the satisfaction of knowing your were correct.

The following paragraphs are taken from the same source and are continuous and unedited. Quotation marks are left out for convenience. WHO IS THE MYSTERY AUTHOR??? For the answer see the first response below.

Who said this???

            Intentional education signifies, as we have already seen, a specially selected environment,
the selection being made on the basis of materials and method specifically promoting growth
in the desired direction. Since language represents the physical conditions that have been
subjected to the maximum transformation in the interests of social life- physical things which
have lost their original quality in becoming social tools- it is appropriate that language should
play a large part compared with other appliances. By it we are led to share vicariously in past
human experience, thus widening and enriching the experience of the present. We are
enabled, symbolically and imaginatively, to anticipate situations. In countless ways,
language condenses meanings that record social outcomes and presage social outlooks.
So significant is it of a liberal share in what is worth while in life that unlettered and
uneducated have become almost synonymous.

               The emphasis in school upon this particular tool has, however, its dangers-dangers which
are not theoretical but exhibited in practice. Why is it, in spite of the fact that teaching by
pouring in, learning by a passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still
so entrenched in practice? That education is not an affair of "telling" and being told,
but an active and constructive process, is a principle almost as generally violated in practice
as conceded in theory. Is not this deplorable situation due to the fact that the doctrine is itself
merely told? It is preached; it is lectured; it is written about. Bit its enactment into practice
requires that the school environment be equipped with agencies for doing, with tools and
physical materials, to an extent rarely attained. It requires that methods of instruction and
administration be modified to allow and to secure direct and continuous occupations with
things. Not that the use of language as an educational resource should lessen; but that its
use should be more vital and fruitful by having its normal connection with shared activities.
"These things ought ye to have done, and not to have left the others undone." And for the
school "these things" mean equipment with the instrumentalities of cooperative or joint

         For when the schools depart from the educational conditions effective in the out-of-school
environment, they necessarily substitute a bookish, a pseudo-intellectual spirit for a social
spirit. Children doubtless go to school to learn, but it has yet to be proved that learning
occurs most adequately when it is made a seperate conscious business. When treating it
as a business of this sort tends to preclude the social sense which comes from sharing in
an activity of common concern and value, the effort at isolated intellectual learning
contradicts its own aim. We may secure motor activity and sensory excitation by keeping
an individual by himself, but we cannot thereby get him to understand the meaning which
things have in the life of which he is a part. We may secure technical specialized ability in
algebra, Latin or biology, but not the kind of intelligence which directs ability to useful
ends. Only by engaging in a joint activity, where one person's use of material and tools is
consciously referred to the use other persons are making of their capacities and appliances,
is a social direction of disposition attained.

        The natural or native impulses of the young do not agree with the life-customs of the
group into which they are born. Consequently they have to be directed or guided. This
control is not the same thing as physical compulsion; it consists in centering the impulses
acting at any one time upon some specific end and in introducing an order of continuity
into the sequence of acts. The action of others is always influenced by deciding what stimuli
shall call out their actions. But in some cases as in commands, prohibitions, approvals, and
disapprovals, the stimuli proceed from persons with a direct view to influencing action.
Since in such cases we are most conscious of controlling the action of others, we are likely
to exaggerate the importance of this sort of control at the expense of a more permanent and
effective method. The basic control resides in the nature of the situations in which the young
take part. In social situations the young have to refer their way of acting to what others are
doing and make it fit in. This directs their action to a common result, and gives an
understanding common to the participants. For all mean the same thing, even when
performing different acts. The common understanding of the means and ends of action
is the essence of social control. It is indirect, or emotional and intellectual, not direct and
personal. Moreover it is intrinsic to the disposition of the person, not external or coercive.
To achieve this internal control through identity of interest and understanding is the business
of education. While books and conversation can do much, these agencies are usually relied
upon too exclusively. Schools require for their full efficiency more opportunity for conjoint
activities in which those instructed take part, so they may acquire a social sense of their own
powers and the materials and appliances used.
From: Kim Mackey <mackeys@Alaska.NET>

Well, that wasn't too difficult to find. The quote comes from the end of
chapter 3: Education and Direction in the book "Democracy and Education",
1916 by John Dewey. For those interested in seeing the complete section and
possibly the entire book on the web the url is
for an interesting critique of Dewey and Developmentalism see
"Developmentalism: An Obscure but Pervasive Restriction on Educational
Improvement", by J.E. Stone in the April 21, 1996 volume of Education Policy
Analysis Archives at Arizona State University.
From: "Ralph A. Raimi" <>

Thanks; I'm glad I got it right. And there is no doubt that with
a knowledgeable teacher and few students his idea is correct. The problem
has always been, what to do with 30 students and a teacher who doesn't
know much mathematics (especially in K-6 or so) or recognize the nature of
the 'errors' the students come up with. Experience has shown the result
often to be a putdown of the out-of-line student (often by "kindly"
correction, without comprehension of the relationship of the student's
original idea and the truth) and an assignment of busywork to the ones who
already have it right and might turn into behavior problems if forced to
sit through lessons they don't need.

In assigning priorities, assuming you are the U.S. Dept of
Education and the NSF combined, plus fifty state houses and all the local
authorities: how much money would you put into teacher education relative
to increasing their numbers so as to make classes smaller, relative to
rewriting curriculum so as to make sure that students with poor teachers
have a chance at understanding the books? Obviously increasing all of
these is fine, but since the total is finite, one has to think about ratios. What
do you see as most important, etc.?
From: Linda Dehnad <>

I can't believe it! I actually won! How lovely it feels. As a Sarah
Lawrence graduate with an MA from there too, I'd be very embarassed if I
didn't know Dewey when I saw him. Helen Lynd who taught me my freshman
year studied with Dewey so I feel connected.

You say it will take fifty years, but maybe not. I'm seeing some
developments which encourage me, like the whole language movement in
California and the Fluency First movement in ESL in New York and a few
other places. On the internet find people interested in giving
education a new infusion of inspiration, and people like you. It's
admirable how much time you've put into educating people about CL. Some of
it is bound to stick.

It must be winning your little contest that has made me feel so chipper.
Normally I suffer from the reactionary antihumanist, anti-intellectual
forces I seem to meet everywhere I teach. Most of those with power in ESL
hold onto their anachronistic teaching methods with a vengeance, like
terrapins who won't let go until it rains.

Actually my happiness today comes from some students who wrote on my
blackboard in big letters: Welcome to Linda's world, our favorite world.
Not such a big event but enough to sustain me for a while.
Thanks for the contest,
From: Annette Gourgey <FMCBH@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU>

Hi Ted,
I'm going to guess, did the quote come from John Dewey?
May I share with you some end-of-semester thoughts about CL? If you
think they would be of general interest you may share them with the

I see more and more that students can't learn just from listening to
what I tell them, and believe that the more active they are, the better.
At this point the only obstacle I still can't get past is time. Once
again I have begun the semester using CL about 1/3 of the time and
curtailed it after the midterm when I saw how far behind on the
syllabus I was. I have cut some topics to allow for more depth
in others, but when I watch students struggle with the material
(statistics) I really see how much they need to work with it to
make it their own, and that takes more time than we'd like to believe.
One alternative that seems to help is to give students interpretive
writing assignments that force them to explain what the concepts
mean. That way, if I can't fit in enough hands-on work *in*
class, they will at least do it outside of class.

Those have worked very well this semester. I give 3 2-page
papers: (a) interpreting charts from the newspaper on a business
or health-care program; (b) collecting, analyzing and reporting on
their own questionnaire data; and (c) analyzing correlations and
making recommendations on whether red wine really affects heart
disease. One student told me yesterday, "I really see how you
can't learn this until you get your own data and have to explain
it." Another has thanked me for giving her an assignment that
really made her think.

I'm sure that not every one of them has enjoyed these difficult
assignments. But I have become aware that some study groups have
formed independent of my matchmaking, and I think that whatever ways
we can make students wrestle with and discuss the implications of
the material, the more the better. I hope that in this way
I am turning out fewer students who can compute by rote alone, and
more who will listen to news reports of polls and health statistics
and say, "Now I finally have some idea of what they're talking about!"
Next semester I'll try again. I keep hoping that if I can get
better organized, I'll be able to do more hands-on group work
and still cover the minimum number of topics. But I think that time
will always be a problem because our courses are based on the idea that
lecture equals learning.
MAIL> reply from Ted

Hi Annette,

You are right, it is Dewey. Now you are entitled to treat yourself to a
vacation anywhere yoou can afford. probably the east side, on a teachers

Your approach to getting the students involved by having them write
papers is a good one. I am wondering if it is possible to turn that into
a CL activity somehow? How about having them share their papers wth someone
else in class. They could each read a partners paper and review or critique
it and then discuss them with each other. I started using pairs reading in
two engineering classes this semester because I found that they were just
not used to reading a technical text. It worked very well. Basically each
person reads a section of the text then one person explains a paragraph to the
other who checks for accuracy and understanding. Then they switch and the
second person explains the next paragraph while the first listens for accuracy
and understanding. If neither person understands the material then I get involved.
I tried it in my engineering classes first since the students there are somewhat
more motivated. I plan on using it in my algebra classes next semester. The
effect was great. By the later third of the semester every time they started
to ask me a question they stopped and reminded themselves that they
should check the book and ask a neighbor first.

I have been resisting doing this because it feels somewhat sophomoric, but
I am finding that the students coming out of high school and now even the older
returning students are not used to reading or doing homework for that matter.
I am afraid this may be a trend. Anyway I am optimistic that the pairs reading
will help me to get the students through the material a little faster in the
math classes as it did in the engineering. I used it in an engineering graphics
class (mechanical drawing) and a 2nd year statics class. It was fun to listen to
them discuss, argue and finally come to agreement on the technical wording.

You mentioned that you use Cl for the first third of the class and then
start lecturing more to meet the sylabus. Do you see any difference in their
performance on tests when you lecture more, i.e. do they appear to learn less?
I find that when I start lecturing they actually tune out or try to chat with
their friends. Even when I repeat and highlight key methods they don't really
listen. The little lecturing I do is meant to satisfy their need to see me
teach. I do it for 10 minutes and then give them worksheets. The next class I go
over the new material for ten minutes and then use worksheets or some other
group activity. That way I feel like I have covered the material and I can keep
reminding them that I did lecture on that material.
From: Marc Sheffner <sheffner@TEZUKAYAMA-U.AC.JP>
Sender: Active and Collaborative Learning <L-ACLRNG@PSUVM.PSU.EDU>

> Why is it, in spite of the fact that teaching by pouring in, learning by a passive
>absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so intrenched in
>practice? That education is not an affair of "telling" and being told, but an
>active and constructive process, is a principle almost as generally violated in
>practice as conceded in theory.

My guess is the author is John Dewey. But my point is that there was
recently an article in the "Guardian Weekly" (culled from Brit daily "The
Guardian") concerning qualifications for TESL teachers: (from memory) 1 of
hte points was that in the US, THE TESL qualification is a TESL/TEFL M.A.,
which is entirely academic and includes no teaching practice, unlike the
British rivals, the RSA Cert. and Diploma in TEFL which are built around
lessons designed and taught by the students, and evaluated by the
instructor. The article went on to suggest the US M.A. revealed a North
American tendency to prize academic knowledge over practical competence
(not a US prerogative as Brit education has shown all to often), and that
the days of the monopoly of the US-style M.A. IN TESOL (when it comes to
employment) are numbered.

If any other reader of this list can identify the article, I would be grateful.

Marc Sheffner Tezukayama University Liberal Arts Dept., 1-1, 7-chome Tezukayama Nara 631, JAPAN Tel: +81-742-45-4701