What are some similarities between John Dewey's and Paulo Freire's theories of education?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the most overwhelming similarity between both Dewey and Freire was the idea that the individual and community are not separate concepts in the education of the individual.  Rather, they are linked to one another and have to be seen as reciprocal concepts.  They do not exist in isolation, as if one has to make a choice between them.  Rather, one has to seen them in conjunction with one another. Freire's idea that education is a tool for social policy and to express political reality is an important idea in his work.  He does not see the education of the individual as separate from the social condition in which one lives.  Either one is using education as a tool to remedy social inequality or one perpetuates it, in Freire's writing.  To this extent, the individual and their social condition are strongly linked.  In terms of Dewey, his critique of Rousseau as being too individualistic in his beliefs of education as well as Plato for being too socially driven in his reflects how Dewey himself believed that educational thought is one whereby the individual is taught to see themselves as part of a larger configuration.  The development of the mind was a part of "the communal process" by which individuals do not have to be separate from society, but rather seek to develop education of the individual within it.  Like Freire, this construct of education is one where the traditional philosophical binary division between individual and society is not as apparent:

Thus [Dewey believes] the individual is only a meaningful concept when regarded as an inextricable part of his or her society, and the society has no meaning apart from its realization in the lives of its individual members.

In here, there is a convergence of educational ideas between both thinkers in seeking to make the education of the individual a process of social construction, whereby elitism and oppression is replaced in a notion of community enhancement of the individual.

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dewey believed very strongly that a student must experience things directly in order to learn them or learn about them. He felt that the traditional model of the teacher standing in front of the room instructing students was deeply flawed and tried to change the structure of schools. He wanted students to be able to move in and out of different rooms and to find connections between subjects, rather than the way schools structure them in isolated towers.

This matched very much with Freire's distaste for the idea that a student was an empty vessel waiting to be filled with the information and knowledge that a teacher possessed (and would ultimately pass on). He felt that the ability to ask questions or the ability to examine effectively and exhaustively was far more important than the absorption of certain facts and theories.

They both believed that education could be a vehicle for social change. Dewey felt that a better educational system could do more to place children on equal footing, irrespective of socioeconomic status. Freire believed that by encouraging students to question the status quo and the accepted wisdom of the world around them, they could keep democracies healthier and develop engaged and critical citizens. This type of dynamic and child-centered education was, in their minds, an effective way of reducing and combating oppression and pushing back against what Freire called the "culture of silence."