Thoughts - Aims in Education and The Nature of Method (Dewey)

This is the sixth in a series of posts that stem from readings and classroom discussions in the course EDU S105 Philosophy of Education. Here is a link to the first post that also serves as an introduction to the series. Each post contains a link to the next post.

Each text and classroom discussion brought forth many ideas - not always connected and sometimes even at odds with each other! Thus, the posts in this series might lack the comfort of coherence. Think of the points as scattered seeds of thought...

As always, try to make connections between the points and your own experiences. Ask yourself if (or how) you see these points playing out in the world around you today.

The assigned texts were Chapter 8 - Aims in Education and Chapter 13 - The Nature of Method from the book Democracy and Education by Dewey. These chapters are freely available online and can be found here and here.


  • In the activity of learning, every mean is a temporary end until we have attained it. Every end becomes a means of carrying activity further.
  • The path from the aim to the goal is usually not linear or straightforward.
  • Under normal conditions, learning is a product and reward of occupation with subject matter. For instance, children do not set out, consciously, to learn walking or talking; they set out to give in to their impulses for movement and communication.
  • So, the better methods of teaching a child (say, to read) follow the same road - engage his/her impulses, and, in the process of engagement, he/she learns. When the subject matter is not used in carrying forward impulses, it is just something to be learned.


  • Externally imposed ends can be an insult to teachers' intelligence and could restrict their autonomy while devaluing their experiencesIn education, methods tend to be used to tell teachers what needs to be done - sometimes, at the cost of neglecting the teacher's experiences altogether.
  • Subject matter cannot be separated from intelligence - every subject has already been dissected by intelligent minds before its systematic study by students.
  • Thus, method becomes a way of presenting dissected subject matter so as to facilitate its acquisition.


  • An aim implies an orderly activity, one in which the order leads to progressive completing of a process. Thus, simply talking about the aims of education makes no sense as conditions do not permit a foresight of results. After all, we can never definitively say that our education is complete.
  • An abstract idea such as education itself has no aims! Parents, teachers and other adults are the ones who have the aims and go about creating ways to achieve these aims
  • The purpose of aims is to give direction to activities. These aims are constantly being refined. To have an aim is to have acted with thought.
  • Adults have a tendency to propound uniform aims for all children.
  • An "experience" does not distinguish between subject matter and method. For example, the act of eating cannot be divided into 'eating' and 'food'.
  • Thus, experience is a single continuous interaction of many energies - mind, body, world, subject, object etc.
  • A child serves two masters in the classroom - one, a desire to please others and, two, his/her own personal desires. These two desires can often be at odds with one another.


  1. Yes its right as we go further our aims which we achive becomes a path to our new goals

  2. 1. Do you have some examples for engaging a child’s impulses to faciliatate learning in our existing context (wrt to the classroom setup, curriculum and so on)
    2. What all comes under externally imposed ends for teachers?
    3. Can we separate the experienced and the experience?

  3. (1.) You should take a look at the series on posts on understanding - this series is a work in progress but I think you'll find some good examples there... also, read the introduction of the post called "Instructional Practices".

    (2.) It's best I let Dewey speak for himself :-) - "The vice of externally imposed ends has deep roots. Teachers receive them from superior authorities; these authorities accept them from what is current in the community. The teachers impose them upon children. As a first consequence, the intelligence of the teacher is not free; it is confined to receiving the aims laid down from above. Too rarely is the individual teacher so free from the dictation of authoritative supervisor, textbook on methods, prescribed course of study, etc., that he can let his mind come to close quarters with the pupil's mind and the subject matter. This distrust of the teacher's experience is then reflected in lack of confidence in the responses of pupils. The latter receive their aims through a double or treble external imposition, and are constantly confused by the conflict between the aims which are natural to their own experience at the time and those in which they are taught to acquiesce."

    As per my understanding of the text, the "ends" that Dewey is referring to is anything that a government, community or school expects teachers to instill in children's minds and thereby imposes the same on them. These ends replace the fundamental aims of education (which are already complex) and education becomes a means to these externally imposed ends.

    (3.) Can you share a specific example of 'experienced' and 'experience'? I'm not very clear on what you mean by 'experienced'.


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