Happiness and Teaching – Insights from Dewey

In earlier postings, I (Clive) talked about the need to see teaching and teacher education in very broad terms; to see ourselves as ultimately helping students develop a satisfying, enjoyable or “happy” way of life. This week I came across some wonderful quotes from John Dewey along these lines.

The first is from Democracy and Education (Macmillan, 1916); it emphasizes that we can’t separate our philosophy or theory of education from our philosophy of life.

“[P]hilosophy is at once an explicit formulation of the various interests of life and a propounding of points of view and methods through which a better balance of interests may be effected. Since education is the process through which the needed transformation may be accomplished…philosophy is the theory of education as deliberately conducted in practice” (p. 387).

Two further quotes are from Theory of the Moral Life (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1960, orig. 1908, revised 1932). They emphasize again the need for a comprehensive philosophy of life and education, and show the connection between this philosophy and human enjoyment, satisfaction, happiness.

“In isolation, one enjoyment cannot be said to be higher or lower than another…a satisfaction which is seen, by reflection based on large experience, to unify in a harmonious way [one’s] whole system of desires is higher in quality than a good which is such only in relation to a particular want in isolation [satisfactions of the former type together constitute “happiness”] (p. 44). … The office of reflection [is] the formation of a judgment of value in which particular satisfactions are placed as integral parts of conduct as a consistent harmonious whole” (p. 60).

Dewey notes, however, that our philosophy of life and education is never complete: it is always a work in progress.

“The business of reflection in determining the true good cannot be done once for all…. It needs to be done over and over and over again, in terms of the conditions and concrete situations as they arise” (p. 62).

I’m going to share these quotes with my students next week and see what they think – and learn from them. My philosophy of life and education is never complete!

 

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