Struggles that the education system is facing

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As I begin teaching in a secondary urban school, I start to realize the many struggles our education system is facing. Student behavior has always been a serious issue in many typical urban high schools. There are schools where students can easily adapt to their next grade level and classroom expectations, helping to settle part of the struggle. There are also schools that remain struggling with the chaos. In addition to the behavior issue, particularly in Philadelphia high schools, the curriculum also contributes to the problem. Recent educational legislation has redirected the focus of schooling. Standardization has become a tool to shift the attention to certain subjects such as math and English. Whenever there is a lack of balance in a school curriculum, the academic problems seem to arise. It is no doubt that our children need reading, writing, and arithmetic; however, when students cannot make connections between those three R's and social factors, the academic problems persist, especially in schools with high poverty levels. But what really is the problem? Our urban education system has put aside vocational subjects, limited physical education by having tiny gym floor, and shifted all attention and resources to math, reading and writing. School reforms often stir controversy among teachers and administrators. When I look back to Dewey's curriculum, I realize that he got a brilliant idea to structure curriculum that might provide the solution to current school system. Dewey's ideas influence the work of many later educators, psychologists, and educational theorists but remained in the world of idea rather than the world of practice. This paper examines how Dewy struggled to build the curriculum that he think would harmonize the world and how he rose to the world leader in education. The characteristics of an ethical democratic leader are also analyzed.


John Dewey was born in Burlington, Vermont, October 20, 1859. Dewey went to public schools and graduated in 1879 from the University of Vermont. Dewey began teaching in Oil City, Pennsylvania for a year. He moved to Charlotte to teach grade school for another year before considering philosophy as a career. Dewey borrowed five hundred dollars from an aunt to enroll in Johns Hopkins University where he studied philosophy. Dewey received his doctorate degree under professor Morris who late appointed him as an instructor at Michigan. He taught a course in psychology as an introduction to the course in philosophy and soon became an assistant professor. In 1894, Dewey was invited to Chicago as chairman of the Department of Philosophy, Psychology, and Education. He taught courses in ethics and logics. Dewey is best known for the laboratory school in which he developed and tested his curriculum. Due to a conflict with the president of University of Chicago, Dewey left Chicago and moved to Columbia. He became active in many social and political movements and began to travel around the world. Dewy lectured in Japan, China, and Russia. Since then, Dewey has been highly regarded as one of the greatest thinker, and contributor to psychology, philosophy, and educational pedagogy.

Democratic Leadership

No leader could rise alone. The ability to persuade and work with people makes great leaders. Dewey was not an exception. Dewey was influenced by his study of Huxley's book in physiology which emphasized the unity of the organism and the interaction between organism and the environment. Dewey had applied the idea well into his life. He was aware of the environments that surrounded him and utilize them as resources to support his position throughout his life. Dewey was persuasive and he also often set himself near people who can help him make things happen. His persuading skills were critical for his leadership throughout his life since the beginning, following his college graduation. During the year teaching in Charlotte, near Burlington, Dewey had the opportunity to discuss with Professor Torrey about philosophy. The discussion led to his consideration of philosophy as a career. Dewey was interested in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, edited by W. T. Harris. He submitted an article for publication. Harris accepted the article and gave it a compliment that encouraged Dewy to write two more. Dewey eventually enrolled in Johns Hopkins University to study philosophy under George Morris.

At Johns Hopkins, Dewey began his social networking. He met a group of graduate students, including James Cattel. Meeting and working with Professor Morris was a key in Dewey's success. When Morris was appointed to the chairman of philosophy at University of Michigan, Dewey also became an instructor. After Morris died, Dewy then succeeded as chairman of the department. The succession created a vacancy for James Tufts to join the faculty at Michigan. In 1891, Tuft came to the newly open University of Chicago. Three years later, with the suggestion of Tufts, Dewey was invited to Chicago as chairman of the Department of Philosophy, Psychology, and Education. This event opened the door for Dewey to pursuit his idea in education reform. Dewey opened and operated his laboratory school with the support from the university president Harpert, his wife, and help from Dr. Young. After resignation from University of Chicago, Dewey wrote to several friends in other school. Cattell, who became professor and chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Columbia, secured Dewey a position in the department. Here at the Teachers College, Dewey became active in many social and political movements. He traveled, lectured, and became a world leader in education. Dewey was like a seed planted in good soil. The conditions to succeed were the unity between Dewey and his interaction with the environment. Dewey was clearly aware of his position in the different stage throughout his life, and he made good connections with people who contributed to his success as a world leader in education.

Another common characteristic of an ethical democratic leader is self-confidence. Dewey has the confidence to follow his dream. At any time in life, changing career direction is a big decision to make that requires a lot of self-confidence. Dewey did it at least twice. As he decided to pursuit a career in philosophy, Dewey quitted working as a grade school teacher in Charlotte. He borrowed five hundred dollars from his aunt to enroll in Johns Hopkins University. When Dewey was invited to University of Chicago as chairman of the Department of Philosophy, he showed his great confidence. Chicago in the 1890 was about the same as Chicago of today. The metropolis with political corruptions was also the ground for municipal and social reforms. Dewey has the confidence to take the lead in the department, and open his laboratory within two years. When the conflict between Dewey and president Harper arose in Chicago, Dewy resigned from his position and left without knowing what to do next. He left the school, but he did not leave his dream. He used his confidence to follow his dream and ideas with little regards to where he worked. He changed directions to follow his own direction. Dewey's confidence was more vivid when he traveled around the world. He traveled to different countries that have different political systems like Japan, China, Soviet Union, Dewey involved in activities that advocate democracy in Japan and China. Dewey also became involved in the dispute between Stalin and Trotsky. The serious work put Dewey as a leader in educational and political reform.

Dewey was always a hard worker who worked with passion. Dewey devoted his life to work in the field of philosophy, psychology, and education. He worn multiple hats along his career line. Dewey was originally a grade school teacher, and then served as professor. He joined the University of Chicago as chairman of a department. In 1899, Dewey was elected as president of American Psychological Association. Later, he served as president of American Philosophical Association. He had numerous publications that covered a wide range of topics. Psychology was his first book that appeared ahead of James's Principles of Psychology. When he was a member of the Psychological Review, he published several articles. One of his outstanding contribution to psychology was How We Think, in which Dewey formulate five steps human takes to think. The best known part of his contribution is the work in education. His education method is dominant in the American education system. During his career, publications of methods in almost all fields of philosophy were evident that Dewey was an extremely hard worker who made himself visible and a loud voice in his field. Passion is one of the key characteristics for a successful leader.

Dewey's success in the field of education was a result of solving a conflict. Before developing his innovation around the conflict, Dewey carefully define the problem as a disconnection between an individual and society, "the ultimate problem of all education is to co-ordinate the psychological and the social factors." Dewey focused on making the connection between the interests and development of the individual and those of the society. Dewey interested in coordinating the two factors so that the individual's interest and psychology are not dictated by the social environment. Dewey believed in making the school a miniature community where the child lived, participated, and contribute to the social community while emerging individuality at the same time. He rejected the notion that the function of education was to prepare the next generations to operate efficiently in the existing social order. Dewey also rejected the idea that the present interests of the child must be subordinated to future rewards whether they were represented by vocational competency or by a command of the cultural heritage. The two rejections are still valid in today's society. Our education system aims to prepare children for the modern world, often disregard the individual's interest. As the process of globalization is on the way and competition is on the rise, the individual's interests are less significant in the determination of a student about what to do in the future. Often, a student picks their career based on the availability of jobs. Although it is less relevant, the notion of a child's interest is dictated by a command of cultural heritage exists in today society, especially in Asian countries where adults pave the road of the future for their children. Dewey rejected both and looked for a new process of leading the child from present interests to an intellectual command the modern world. With that in mind, Dewey wanted to use a school as a laboratory to design and test his innovation.

Although Dewey has set the purpose of his school and an experiment to carry out, he did not start without consulting existing ideas. Dewey started with an analysis on Harris's humanist model. Harris's focus was to represent in the course of study the whole human experience. While Dewey saw that as an importance in the curriculum, he found that Harris's five subjects did not represents the whole human experience. He pointed out the problem of isolation. Each subject was taught as isolated from the next and there was no real principal of unity. In addition, each of the group of studies was ready made. Dewey believes that subject taught isolatedly loses its meaning, he noted, "geography loses much of its meaning when separated from history, and history loses a good deal of its content, if you isolate it entirely from geography." In this curriculum, the child's life is an integral. Children pass from one topic to another, on subject to the next. They go to school, and various studies divide the world for them. Each subject is classified while facts are torn away from their origin and rearranged with reference to some general principles. Each topics are divided into studies; each study into lesson, each lesson into specific facts and formula. Children are immature, going to school to become matured and to widen their experience. The problem is then, the provision of logical parts and sequences, and the presentation of each portion in a classroom. Dewey also noted that the problem is severe when it comes to subjects that are presented in a more or less finished form. The main objection of Harris's position was that the process of bringing the child to the intellectual of western civilization was done without respecting the child's interests and how children see their world. They are taught from the perspective of adults who arranged and presented knowledge in organized subjects. In addition, the promise of unity among the subjects in the curriculum was not fulfilled as long as the subjects are treated independently from one another. Having been through a century of reform, the subject-isolated curriculum still exists in today's society as a standard. Subjects of study are organized knowledge in separated books, taught separately by fixed curriculum with fixed standards. In addition, teachers are also divided according to different subjects. Teachers are certified to teacher in certain subject areas. Dewey saw the problem and turned his back from this approach.

Another alternative was the culture-epoch. Dewey had mixed feeling about it but still consider it as a promise for change in the right direction. This approach is appealing to Dewey because it attempted to take the child's interests directly into account in constructing the course of study. In addition, a culture-epoch curriculum proposed to move progressively from the early stages of human evolution to civilization by mean of ability to deal effectively with the modern world. Although the culture-epoch is very promising to Dewey, it still reveals some problems with Dewey's ideal curriculum. One problem is the parallelism between the child and the race that is questionable. Culture-epoch suggested that there is a possibility of a developmental stage in the child that is not easy to make verification whether it exists.

Reject 2 things: the human stages, and the agriculture example of the way it is carried.

Being a voice speak out his ideas

Tact/strategic 6 steps to solve conflicts

Hands on the laboratory school

Indominable spirit conflict with Harper

Resilient Move to Columbia and continue to tour world

View of human dignity the curriculum for children (lots from the child and curriculum)

Idealist/Realist ( ideal school in society)