John Dewey on Democracy and Education

In his essay ‘Democracy and Education’, published a century ago this year, John Dewey champions cultural diversity and the paramount priority for educators to develop a ‘common intelligence’ as the foundation of an harmonious, tolerant community. The idea of a ‘participative’ approach of education where the ‘learner’ is at the core of the learning process sounds like a forerunner of the very philosophy behind the International Baccalaureate, launched over fifty years after Dewey’s seminal publication. Dewey cherished the multi-ethnic dimension of the American Republic and its endless capacity to renew itself through the dynamic spirit of newcomers. No culture can survive in ‘splendid isolation’ and a country reduced to celebrating its own achievements at the detriment of other cultures is, sooner or later, condemned to sclerosis and eventual extinction.

Commenting on Plato’s educational programme, Dewey remarked that ‘although The Republic’ emphasises the way an individual can discover his nature through education, Plato ‘had no perception of the uniqueness of individuals.’ Only a democratic form of education is deemed viable by Dewey since only a democratic society offers ‘a type of education which gives individuals a personal interest in social relationship and control, and the habits of mind which secure social changes without introducing disorder.’

Dewey reminds us that a democratic education, opened to all cultures and dedicated to dialogue across ideologies and faiths, is the only way to prepare future citizens for their social and political responsibilities. In a world torn between global harmonisation and growing internal divisions, IB students are given the unique opportunity to share their differences and learn from them in an ongoing process of intellectual curiosity ans self-discovery.

‘If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.’

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