Mediating Work and Culture through Dewey’s Integrative Vision of Vocational Education
Posted by Laura McLoughlin on June 08, 2022 in categoryFacts & Research

The first research article in the new issue of Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy comes to us from George Demetrion of Capital Community College and 1199 New England Training and Upgrading Fund. 

In the article “Mediating Work and Culture through Dewey’s Integrative Vision of Vocational Education,” Demetrion makes the case for using the educational philosophy of John Dewey as a resource to empower adult vocational education. 

Read an excerpt from Demetrion’s article: 

I have studied the pragmatic philosophy of John Dewey for almost thirty years. His imaginative insights have played a substantial role in shaping both my “middle ground” practice and theoretical insights of adult literacy education (Demetrion, 2002). Through his comprehensive view of culture rooted in the exigencies of “lived experience,” which, for Dewey, provides “the proper starting point of any philosophical investigation” (Pappas, 2014, p. 202), he offers an integrated model of knowledge acquisition in bringing theory and practice into close proximity. By culture, Dewey refers to the wide range of practices, customs, and ideas that give shape to the prevailing ethos of an era, which includes scope for pluralistic perspectives as well as those sharply critical of the established order (Stuhr, 2016). He also uses the term in a narrower sense to contrast traditional views of vocational education that emphasize the merely practical realm to the academic subjects, commonly identified with culture, a dualism which he seeks to fundamentally reconstruct. I draw on both meanings throughout this essay. 

According to Dewey (1922/2008), many experiences throughout our lives are rooted in taken for granted, habitual modes of behavior or attitude formation, which typically do not garner much focused attention. It is only when a disruption or question, of some compelling sort, occurs that a need for resolution emerges, provoking a quest for the transformation of a problematic situation to one that leads to its progressive closure. It is the stimulation triggered by the quest to transform a problematic situation of whatever scope, whether through logical inquiry (Levi, 2010), aesthetic attunement (Alexander, 1998; Eldridge, 2010), ethical probing (Pappas, 2008), or community engagement, ultimately rooted in a vision of cultural democracy (Bernstein, 2010; Pappas, 2008; Stuhr, 2003, 2016), that underlies the role of experience in Dewey’s philosophy. It is such a search that gives force to Dewey’s theory of knowledge construction that envisages problem solving in dynamically transactional terms between person(s) and the socio-cultural environment that envelops the quest for the type of knowledge that brings progressive resolution to the particular difficulty at hand. Dewey’s cultural interpretation of vocational education draws on all these dimensions of philosophical reflection. 

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