John Dewey’s dream

“John Dewey dreamed of the teacher as a guide helping children formulate questions and devise solutions. Dewey saw the pupil’s own experience, not information imparted by the teacher, as the critical path to understanding. Dewey also contended that democracy must be the main value in each school just as it is in any free society. The education system in Finland is . . . shaped by these ideas of Dewey and flavored with the Finnish principles of practicality, creativity, and common sense. What the world can learn from educational change in Finland is that accomplishing the dream of a good and equitable education system for all children is possible. But it takes the right mix of ingenuity, time, patience and determination.

The Finnish Way of educational change should be encouraging to those who have found the path of competition, choice, test-based accountability, and performance-based pay to be a dead end. . . . the Finnish way reveals that creative curricula, autonomous teachers, courageous leadership and high performance go together.”  (Sahlberg, Pasi 2011 Finnish Lessons, What can the world learn from educational change in Finland?)

John Dewey (1859 – 1952) was an American philosopher and educator. Dissatisfied with traditional practices for what he saw as their inability to keep pace with changing needs of learners and society, opened his Laboratory School in Chicago, proposing a more child-centred approach focusing upon individual needs of the children who would be engaged in a variety of activities of interest and meaning to them. The term “progressive education” refers to the movement against formal traditional practices which, following Dewey’s lead, began in America in the late 19th Century.

Pasi Sahlberg’s book “Finnish Lessons” is “about Finland and how the Finns transformed their educational system from mediocre in the 1980s to one of the models of excellence today. International indicators show that Finland has one of the most educated citizenries in the world”.

In the introduction Ann Lieberman writes, “In the Finnish context, teaching is a high-status profession, akin to being a doctor. Those who enter not only stay in teaching, but many continue their studies, not to leave, but to learn more and contribute more to their profession. This heightened sense of professionalism makes teaching a sought-after position and one obtained only by those who are fortunate enough to be chosen for candidacy.”

The debate about the value of a traditional versus a child-centred approach to education has waged for centuries. It seems that Finland has incorporated many of Dewey’s progressive ideals into their educational philosophy and pedagogical practice. I can’t help but get excited when I read of what happens in schools in Finland.

Which other countries will follow Finland’s lead to transform their educational system into one of excellence? For me, it can’t happen soon enough!

What do you think?

4 thoughts on “John Dewey’s dream

  1. Bec

    Very interesting, thank you Nor. I think it would be great if teachers were more valued in our society here in Australia, but we seem to place more value on individuals who are able to earn money just for themselves. It’s a shame, I wonder if we ever will be able to shift away from this devaluation of those people who are so critical to the future.


    1. nco04662 Post author

      Hi Bec, Thanks for your comment. Once upon a time, in the not-too-distant past, teachers in Australia were valued and respected. Now they seem to be the whipping post for all of society’s ills, with more and more responsibilities passed to schools instead of being shouldered by the family and community as a whole. I agree that a shift in attitude towards education is required.



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