The aim of education is the creation of a thriving democracy; the activity of education is itself an embodiment of democracy.
Education as a Practice of Democracy
Education is democratic when it creates the possibility for growth in experience, the possibility for a better quality of human experience. You cannot do this alone. Thus, we teach and learn actively seeking to create democratic community.
Education is Experience
Education is best understood as “intelligently directed development of the possibilities inherent in ordinary experience” (Experience and Education, chapter 8). All experience is educative, but not all experience educates as we might desire; some experiences are mis-educative. (Experience and Education, Chapter 2) Thus, in the classroom, we create contexts that will foster genuinely educative experiences, that is, experiences that will promote further intellectual growth.
Theory is Practice
The relationship between theory and practice is actually a relationship between two forms or modes of practice. When theory and practice operate together effectively, learners act reflectively and inquiringly, with a sense of purpose and for the sake of learning.
Education begins with student experience and focuses on learning-the-activity, not learning-the-product
Learning happens best when it begins from students’ experiences; when questions arise from them. Thus, we work to understand where students begin, what they know. Education emphasizes not things-learned (nouns), but learning (a verb). Learning emerges from experience, with a question or confusion. It leads to further experience. Thus, we seek to foster in students a capacity to ask the “next question” rather than to come up with “the right answer.”
Aims and Means Interact
A true aim, as opposed to one externally imposed, is something that will actually be a factor in choosing how one acts. True aims translate into means that a learner can understand, in which they can become engrossed, and which they can see to the end. Thus, in teaching we work to enable students to identify and own their own aims.
Far from being trivial, play is “interested absorption in activity for the sake of activity itself” (“Growth in Activity”). Defined thus, it is the heart of education. As learners mature, this activity becomes more and more shaped by aims that are acknowledged, and even determined, by the learner. Thus, we treat play with serious respect, and make opportunities for it. Play can help to place children, e.g., at the center of their education; the same can be true for adult learners.
Chance and Change
Uncertainty is part of the fabric of our world, the fabric of our experience. Our interactions in the world must “live” with that fact. Thus, we aim to create in students the capacity to function flexibly in a world of chance and change.
Nature and culture are deeply intertwined; humans are parts of nature. Human experience, human culture are thus both deeply natural and deeply cultural.
Mind is a Verb
The human “mind” is not an organ, but a general character or attribute that infuses all of a human being, and draws upon the entirety of our bodies. To inquire, to investigate, to “mentally” explore our world always involves bodily engagement with that world. Thus, we create learning contexts that explicitly involve such engagement.
Experience is “Double-Barreled”
Human experiences are potentially either “instrumental” or “consummatory” or both; they lead us to a further experience, or they are enjoyed for their own sake. Education draws upon both kinds of experience.