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An Analysis of John Dewey’s “Experience and Education”

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    Useful education theories are clearly presented in John Dewey’s book “Experience and Education.” This paper aims to interpret the author’s ideas, philosophies and concepts of education. Additionally, the paper will present how Dewey is regarded by his colleagues. A comparison of his education theories to education of today as well as his influences on modern education will also be made. For the public to realize the importance of experiences and their link to one’s education is what this paper ultimately aims to achieve.

    An Analysis of John Dewey’s “Experience and Education”

                For a man who is recognized as the 20th century’s most excellent educational theorist or philosopher, “education is life itself” which needs to be experienced, practiced and understood. This distinct perspective, according to John Dewey, is that people enter educational institutions not only to learn theories but most importantly, to do or apply the theories and things which schools provided. Thereafter, educated people inhabit in the society which, in turn, offers them true and sincere as well as steered experiences, awareness and a clear grasp of all the educational philosophies and facts. These are manifested in true-to-life duties, disputes and necessities. In fact, Dewey deemed that it is essential for students to be engaged in a diversified form of learning exercises in such a way that a subject or any field of study is practically imparted, not only into their minds, but more so into their lives. Hence, the subject matter of history may be understood by going through how early people existed while geography may be perceived by comparing different climates as well as the development of other living things such as animals and plants (Neill, 2005). In doing so and by recognizing Dewey’s wisdom for signifying actions that acquired the focus of what his lectures were finding out, his education theories help advanced the idea of “progressive education” and produced the improvement of “experiential education” agenda and research (Neill, 2005).

                John Dewey’s educational ideas, theories and concepts are comprehensively explained and clearly evident with his book entitled “Experience and Education” which was first published in 1938. Through this work, Dewey is viewed by his colleagues in a manner that he exudes mastery or knowledge of educational philosophies as well as depicts a significant experience and familiarity of life events. According to Dewey, the facts or theories of various subject areas which are taught in schools need to be applied or implemented as realities of life. Hence, this is what the concept of “new education” is all about. Being an educational theorist at the turn of the century, Dewey’s learning philosophies are basically similar to contemporary education or what education of today has essentially adapted. Aside from the concepts of progressive and experiential educations, Dewey’s fresh education influences on modern education include clear identification and understanding of the criteria or principles of experience, the principles of interaction and of continuity as social controls of education, the nature of freedom, the meaning of purpose, a progressive organization of subject-matter and most importantly, experience itself as the basis, means and ultimate goal of education (Dewey, 1998).

    Experience and Education, an Overview

                The book “Experience and Education” is Dewey’s most straight to the point work which revealed his thoughts and objectives as well as the requirements, hindrances and all the potentialities of modern education. These factors evolved after Dewey became familiar and eventually understood the theory of progressive education while at the same time that his real-life education philosophies are hurled with criticisms (Dewey, 1998). As the recognized best educational philosopher of today’s education, Dewey wrote the book after he recreated his views as a consequence of his superseding and dominant moment at progressive schools and during the time his concepts are being attacked.

                The foundation of the Dewey book was not established by a critical and clear analysis of the relationship between “traditional” and “progressive” education (Dewey, 1998, p. 1). As discussed on its first chapter, Dewey wrote that the nature of education philosophy is indicated by conflict between views that learning is a growth from within and that it is structure from without (Dewey, 1998, p. 1). The author added that education is attributed from innate rewards and that it undergoes a procedure of prevailing over natural tendency and replacing it with practices obtained under an outside force (Dewey, 1998, p. 1). In short, traditional education prepares students for responsibilities and demands which progressive education will require. Additionally, since discontentment is depicted in the nature of progressive education, in turn, it serves as a critique of traditional education (Dewey, 1998, pp. 3-4). This emphasized that either the traditional or progressive education is enough or that each of misperceived. This is because not one from the two implements the standards of a well-created philosophy of experience.

                Meanwhile, many accounts in the book exemplify the author’s thoughts for the theory of experience and its link with education. As presented and stressed in Chapters 2. 3 and 8, Dewey specifically encourages all concerned educators and people, who are working in learning institutions and searching for changes, to think in a manner or taking into consideration the profound and bigger concerns about education instead of by means of several disruptive “ism” relating to education. Dewey’s education theories, which was conveyed in its most significant and understandable structure, predicates the status of the educational system in the United States in such a way that it regard all bases of experience, the ones which provide a correct educational condition which is both chronological and ethical as well as both systematic and active.

    Experience and Education, an Interpretation

                Based from his general belief that education needs to have full of life while schooling is unreasonably lengthy and preventive, Dewey provided the public with various education ideas, theories and concepts such as what were identified in his “Experience and Education” book. These include his views about the conflict between traditional and progressive education, the requirements of a philosophy of experience, standards of experience, social dominance, the character of freedom, the value of purpose, progressive association of subject-matter and above all, an emphasis on experience as the measures and objective of education (Dewey, 1998).

    As pointed by Dewey, experience and education are definitely and closely linked. Hence, it perceived or worthy to consider that good education, according to Dewey’s ideas, theories and concepts, need to have an objective for both the community and student in particular. Notably, Dewey was clear enough when he stated that both the continuing and temporary natures of an educational experience matter or have their respective importance. It is, therefore, expected from educators and concerned people managing or operating educational facilities, to give students with experiences which are readily and right away are significant. This is because such kind of experiences pave the way and better allowed the students to be a part of the cause or for them to simply share something to the society.

                In the initial part of the book, Dewey is in full authority to discuss the two utmost perspective of learning such as the traditional and progressive education. In polarizing the two education philosophies, the author presented the ongoing conflict where a comparatively structured, regimented, prepared and moralistic traditional education clashes with a somehow unstructured, liberated and student-centered progressive education. Dewey’s criticism against traditional education is worthy to be considered as appropriate. This is because traditional education is likely to be more of a reactionary learning and which supposedly stands as a liberated method but not truly identifying the process and reason behind why liberty may be of most use or value in education. Hence, liberty just for the sake of liberty is a flimsy theory of learning. In doing so, it is also notable to regard Dewey’s debate that people must turn away from this standard battle and instead advocate the experience theory of education by realizing the quality of human experience.

                The fourth chapter of the book which presented that experience resulted from social controls such as the principles of interaction and continuity also contributed to the requirement of experience in education. Since continuity manifests an individual’s will and control over the forthcoming events while interaction depicts only the situational power of a person’s experience, a current experience will perform as a relation between previous experiences and current circumstances.

                As Dewey also pointed out, it is essential to realize that no experience has pre-established worth hence a satisfying experience for one individual may be an unfavorable one for another person. It goes to say that the worth and significance of experience in education is to be attributed by its implications to a person’s previous, current and forthcoming life or even based from a condition whether a person can give something to the community.

                In the existence of the theory of experience in education, educators need to put up progressively systematized fields of learning in a manner that it takes into consideration a student’s previous experiences and the offered them with experiences which will assists to unlock, instead of closing down, one’s entry or access to potential development experiences thus widening his or her possible input to the community.


                Dewey’s theories of education are definitely aimed at being parallel to the demands and requirements of today’s modern education. His influences and contributions to education of today are of notable value since it provided the public, particularly the students and educators the opportunity to expand the subject matters of their learning specifically if they are based from one’s experiences. Hence, it is just valid that Dewey is regarded or viewed, not only by his colleagues but of the general population, as the modern-day education philosopher who paved the way for effective and useful learning alternatives.

                “Experience and Education” is, therefore, a vital education tool which emphasized on the individualized character of a person’s experience as well as the requirement for educators and people of educational institutions of grasping and considering the previous experiences of a person in order to efficiently and ultimately plan a series of beneficial educational experiences which will pave the way for students to fulfill their abilities as part of community.


    Dewey, J. (1998). Experience and Education. New York, NY: Kappa Delta Pi.

    Neill, J. (2005). John Dewey: Philosophy of Education. Experiential Learning & Experiential Education: Philosophy, theory, practice & resources. Retrieved October 16, 2008 from Wilderdom database.


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    Frequently Asked Questions

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    What is John Dewey's theory of experience?
    For Dewey, experience is a 'natural' phenomenon, not outside of the human species but completely inside of it as part of our evolutionary make-up. Experience denotes the way living organisms interact with their environment. For humans, the environment is social, cultural and political.
    What is the relationship between experience and education?
    1. Education, in general, is a bigger concept compared to experience. 3. The source of knowledge for education is in printed materials, whereas, with experience, the knowledge is gained either through involvement or exposure.

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