What ought we to do with what we know?


Men still want the crutch of dogma, of beliefs fixed by authority, to relieve them of the trouble of thinking and the responsibility of directing their activity by thought.

They tend to confine their own thinking to a consideration of which one among the rival systems of dogma they will accept.

John Dewey, D&E,- Page 27.


John Dewey,

Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education.

Over one hundred years ago the great test of democratic values was the need for expertise –itself an ideologically authoritarian and elite endeavor where those who know specific information are relied upon to make managerial decisions based on privileged knowledge.

Engineering for example determines the route and design of say the Brooklyn Bridge or the Panama and Suez canals, not the vote of the majority. Dewey saw the conflict in stark detail experts versus the masses deciding for the sake of the society how best to effectuate the balance of knowledge with popular demands for participation.

The expert distrusts the average person, in contrast, the mass of people suspect the expert as being out for her or himself at the expense of the people. So powerful decision makers and people like Dewey raised issues we struggle with today as to where the power of expertise must be circumscribed the very people served by powerfully revealing knowledge–the possessors of which have an advantage in public debates over the direction of policy and governing decisions.

Dewey realized both the expert and the novice were necessary for the success of educating citizens for participating in a democratic community, even as specialization and detailed knowledge separated people into the know-ers and the ignorant. The tension is at times not easily reconciled. Then as today the experts are essential to contemporary technology. Bridging this divide was Dewey's task in redefining education as doing something for and not just thinking about the worlds' problems.

A matrix of meanings

Dialectic know-ers ignorant
doubt condition certainty uncertainty
judgment practice informed uninformed



Experience and Thinking

1. The Nature of Experience.

The nature of experience can be understood only by noting that it includes an active and a passive element peculiarly combined. On the active hand, experience is trying —a meaning which is made explicit in the connected term experiment. On the passive, it is undergoing. When we experience something we act upon it, we do something with it; then we suffer or undergo the consequences. We do something to the thing and then it does something to us in return: such is the peculiar combination."

- Page 113.

"right classification cannot be attained purely mentally -- inside the head. Men have to do something to the things when they wish to find out something; they have to alter conditions. This is the lesson of the laboratory method, and the lesson which all education has to learn. The laboratory is a discovery of the condition under which labor may become intellectually fruitful and not merely externally productive."

". . . traditional methods isolate intellect from activity."

Page 222.


Plato defined a slave as one who accepts from another the purposes which control his conduct. This condition obtains even where there is no slavery in the legal sense. It is found wherever men are engaged in activity which is socially serviceable, but whose service they do not understand and have no personal interest in.

- Page 69.



". . . it is also naively assumed that if the pupils make their statements and explanations in a certain form of “analysis,” their mental habits will in time conform. Nothing has brought pedagogical theory into greater disrepute than the belief that it is identified with handing out to teachers recipes and models to be followed in teaching.

- Page 138.

They imply a somewhat parasitic cultivation bought at the expense of not having the enlightenment and discipline which come from concern with the deepest problems of common humanity. A curriculum which acknowledges the social responsibilities of education must present situations where problems are relevant to the problems of living together, and where observation and information are calculated to develop social insight and interest.

- Page 157.


Our " task —these things are or are not disciplinary according as they do or do not tend to the development of power to recognize what one is about and to persistence in accomplishment. It is hardly necessary to press the point that interest and discipline are connected, not opposed."

- Page 106.

"To ignore the directive influence of this present environment upon the young is simply to abdicate the educational function. A biologist has said: “The history of development in different animals . . . offers to us . . . a series of ingenious, determined, varied but more or less unsuccessful efforts to escape from the necessity of recapitulating, and to substitute for the ancestral

- Page 60.

While all thinking results in knowledge, ultimately the value of knowledge is subordinate to its use in thinking. For we live not in a settled and finished world, but in one which is going on, and where our main task is prospective, and where retrospect -

Page 123.

On the other side, the business of schooling tends to become a routine empirical affair unless its aims and methods are animated by such a broad and sympathetic survey of its place in contemporary life as it is the business of philosophy to provide.

Page 263.


John Dewey, Democracy and Education. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916.