Saturday, July 13, 2013

Intellectual development is not enough

In his pedagogic creed, John Dewey states, “I believe that moral education centers about this conception of the school as a mode of social life, that the best and deepest moral training is precisely that which one gets through having to enter into proper relations with others in a unity of work and thought. The present educational systems, so far as they destroy or neglect this unity, render it difficult or impossible to get any genuine, regular moral training."

There is already enough responsibility put on schools and the education system to develop students intellectually, should they also be responsible to develop students socially? Previously, I always felt that it was the responsibility of the parents or family for the moral training and development of a child. Whenever I have experienced a child misbehaving in public, or heard a story on the news about a child being convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison, my first thought has always been that his or her parents didn't raise him right. 

This happened to me just before I started graduate school. I was at dinner with my mother at a small restaurant. This restaurant had a large sheet of paper posted on the wall with a container with crayons next to them and the paper was laden with drawings and written works from other customers. At the sight of this paper, two young boys from a family sitting at a table across from us ran up to the wall so they could add their own artistic pieces. However, since the sheet of paper was pretty high off the ground, the two boys jumped onto the chairs and then proceeded to climb on top of the table so they can draw. Two young boys standing on an old and unstable table where people eat off of didn't seem very safe or sanitary. I looked over at their family across from us, more specifically at the parents, and they didn't respond or pay any attention to their children. Immediately, in response to the lack of response from their parents, my mother said to the boys, "No no no! Don't stand on the table!"

Although the above situation wasn't the end of the world, and my mom probably exaggerated the urgency of the situation a little bit, I still agreed that the boys needed to be told to come down. I'm not too sure about most people, but I personally got most of my moral training from my parents, my religious background, and from the military. The truth of the matter is that many children that we see in schools may not have had that training from their parents, may not even have parents, and might not have any affiliation with a religion. The reason why I, like Dewey, believe that school should be responsible for the social development of a student is the simple fact that every child is required to go to school. 

Dewey also says that school is an extension of social life. Imagine if no one had said anything to those boys in the above situation. They might have gone to school and jumped or climbed on the desks and might have fallen off because my mother wasn't there to tell them to get down. Okay, I'm exaggerating but you get the picture. Also, in class we heard about a high school student tweeting about drinking and other unacceptable behavior using racial slurs, profanity, etc. The student started following his teacher on twitter, but was completely oblivious to the fact that his posts were visible to the public including his teacher. The teacher approached him and told him that the posts were visible, and the student immediately ceased the posts on twitter and most likely resulted in the deletion of the previous posts and maybe the entire account. There has also been instances in the past where students ranked highly in athletics lost or didn't receive scholarship offers from top universities because of twitter posts that were racist or obscene. Dewey argues that education's goals and purpose are the same and that the purpose of school is not only to prepare students for life in the future, but school is responsible for teaching students how to live life now. As soon as I make a connection with a student, I immediately feel a responsibility for the student's intellectual development. I know now that as a future educator, I am responsible for the student's social, emotional, and ethical development as well.


  1. Jonathan,
    Interesting anecdote, and I couldn't help but notice the irony that the kids were trying to be creative--something we encourage in school.

    You make a great point about the importance of school as a place for social education, and yet often we as teachers get so wrapped up in the content that we forget that. For example, you will probably notice this year that many of your students have trouble participating in a whole class discussion. It will behoove you to teach a lesson on how to have a discussion in an academic setting (using classmates' names, waiting your turn to talk, etc). I've found that the more I do things like this, the better the learning environment and therefore the more learning goes on.

    I really enjoyed reading your post and look forward to hearing from you in class.

  2. Jonathan,

    I agree with Rory. I like the fact that you included the story about the young boys in your post. However, it did make me think that if socialization was not coming from the parents is this something they should learn in school? I do agree with you that most of your social upbringing comes from areas outside of school. But when I think about how many hours you spend in school amongst peers, it seems to me that some social guidance should also come from the community at your school. Whether it is the responsibility of the teacher, I am not sure. It is interesting to think about though, and to notice the ways we will start to interact with students. Are we there solely to encourage and scaffold academics or are we advising social situation as well?

  3. Hi Jonathan!

    I also previously thought that the social behaviors of children were at the stake of their parents. And I think you are not alone in the fact that the first thing people do when they see children misbehaving is give the parents a stare. I really liked your example of the students on the table and the fact that if they were in class, they wouldn't have their parents to correct them, but that it would have to be the teacher's responsibility. Putting it this way, social development makes absolute sense to be a part of education.

    This made me think of an example that relates. My good friend's Mom is a Kindergarten teacher. Growing up and being out in about with their family, I can remember numerous times when she would go into "teacher mode" in a store, at the movie theater, or a park when a child was misbehaving or doing something that could potentially harm them. My friend would always reminder her "Mom, this is not your don't know those kids." She would interject as your mom had done in your example. Is this over reacting though? If Dewey wanted education to be social and a part of the community, it almost makes sense that this would happen in and out of the classroom, and that teacher's especially have a role in helping in both the classroom and the community.

  4. I fell confident enough that my wife and I are educated enough to take care of our 6-year-old daughter's "ethical development." Do we really want our children's emotional, social, and ethical well-being to be placed in the hands of their state-sponsored educators?