Link to new site additions. Dewey: "Learn by Doing"

Dear Habermas Logo and Link to Site Index A Justice Site

Praxis: Learn by Doing
About Us - Site Map: Where to Find Stuff - NEW on Site
WHAT'S NEW: jeanne's World - Susan's World


Embedding It In My Apperceptive Mass

James Powell's version of Monster Blot

I have a free form apperceptive mass. So when I happened to see something about the Monster on the Free Form Crochet list, I couldn't resist a quick side trip to check it out. Stefan Bucher offers an open source Monster Blot that you can draw with, and then displays it on Daily Monster, if you send it to him. This is James Powell's version, displayed on September 5, 2007.


RESOURCES: Community-Building - Visual Sociology - Message-Building
POST on YAHOO GROUP: Dear Habermas Discussion Group - Write Free
SEARCH: - Site Index - Topics Index - Archives - Online Sources
FACULTY ASSISTANCE: Susan - jeanne - Pat
UWP Criminal Justice Dept. - CSUDH Dept. of Sociology

Merriam-Webster Dictionary Search:


California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: September 7, 2007
Latest Update: September 8, 2007

E-Mail Icon

Making Knowledge Your Own

Dewey told us more than half a century ago that we learn most effectively by "doing." A doctor may have learned all the chemicals that might interact with a given virus, but when it gets right down to it, viruses change. Our bodies and metabolisms differ, and the doctor needs to figure out a cure that works for us, in all our difference. Passing a test on which chemicals react how with which viruses won't cut it in the changing reality we live in every day. Dewey was talking about how we learn deeply, or at higher levels than rote, recognition and recall. (Reference: Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives)

Rote learning is learning. It's the kind of learning that will let you win at Trivia. You'll know the answers that any "educated" person would be able to give. You won't sound stupid on Jay Leno's Tonight Show if he interviews you on the Universal City walkway and asks you what a jury of your peers is. But rote learning isn't nearly enough when it comes to building bridges that won't collapse twenty years later, deciding on a reasonable and proud way to honor and replace the Twin Towers, creating a social and communications network that will assure us all that the FBI, the CIA, the military, the Pentagon, the White House, and homeland security all have access and input to the systems that protect us. That's a job for embedded learning, learning that you've explored, applied to your own field of skills, evaluated, and used for creative approaches to more effective and efficient uses in your own area of contribution.

We use class projects to encourage you to embed the learning of facts and theories within your own apperceptive mass. Dewey didn't mean to offer you any plausible excuse to work together at some artificial task that doesn't fit into any real world endeavor. He didn't mean to give you "grades" on your "team's" presentation of your group project. We believe (Susan and jeanne) that Dewey meant that you will learn most effectively when your climate of learning offers you opportunity to try out what you've leaarned with your own unique skills, either doing something you want to do, or working with others to produce something that gives you a chance to share your skills. Susan would say that Dewey wanted you to do something "really real" with what you're learning, either alone or cooperatively with others.

We and others have asked why doing didn't incorporate "learning by doing" into his college lectures. We believe that it is increasingly hard to find meaningful tasks for "learning by doing" because our educational system has been riddled by the "right answer" testing that can be standardized to cover all levels of learning. Yes, we can give multiple choice tests in which the questions are sufficiently complex that they require you to move to analysis and multiple varies to come up with the "correct" answer, but that process introduces ambiguity and issues of its own that complicate the measurement of learning. For one thing, it assumes that you are good at reading and solving written word problems, and then making minute distinctions in that context. A future doctor who might be incredibly talented at judging body language and a good enough listener to pick out the key facts in a patient's rambling list of complaints might not be so good at translating those skills into complex word problems. In college classes, even with future doctors, we tend to rely on written tests. They are "objective" and manageable within the academic framework. But the real test comes when you go out and build the real bridge. And the results come in twenty years later when the real bridge falls down. Oops!

Now we can't send you out on a field project to build a bridge or work with real prisoners on real rehabilitation projects. Not practical within the context of mass higher education today which is even more overcrowded and routinized than in Dewey's days in the 1930s. But twenty-five years of trying have led us to believe that you can apply what you're learning to the process of sharing that information and understanding with friends, family, neighbors, even strangers. And we believe that sharing education is one of the most important factors in embedded learning. It's the ultimate test of learning.

Jerome Bruner once said (in something that I was reading of his thirty years ago) that if you know your subject really well, you could explain it to a sixth grader. I often recall that when I see someone talking in jargon and impressing his listeners with how impossible it would be for them to really understand what he as an expert "knows." This happens all the time in city council meetings when some "expert" wants the city to accept an outrageously padded budget. Statistics are rolled at and the council understands that they could never really "question" the expert because what he knows is so over their heads. Puffed up bull froggery, folks. No such thing. If you really understand it, you can explain it to reasonable adults so they can understand. Or, as one ad keeps saying on TV, for all the wrong reasons, "People are smart." Well, yes, they are. So what's your problem that you can't explain why a toilet seat should have cost you $300?

In the interest of encouraging you to embed the information we read, challenge, investigate, analyze, and evaluate, we want you to choose a project that fits your unique interest and skills and use that project in the sharing of what you are learning. We aren't going to ask you to do this all on your own because it's not customary in the educational infrastructure, and you need some examples and models at first. We started doing this years ago and found that we were forced to do projects that were fairly simplistic, and to schlep lots of materials to class to let you make and do things. That produced some wonderful exhibits, but ultimately the process of our choosing the projects and bringing the materials, or even sending you off to use your own materials led us to the same impasse that we think stopped Dewey from learning by doing in his lectures.

What one person loves doing is boring to another. We are smart. We are different. We are unique. So we needed to find something that allowed us to let everyone play at his or her choice at his or her skill level and embed their learning in their unique apperceptive mass. Turned out that "play" was the operative word. Play is the one activity we have all found ways to engage in, at a level that is satisfying to us, individually. Play had suggested "crafts" originally. So we started with paper and pencil and paints activities. Witness "scrapbooking." From there we progressed to "building" activities with boxes. And, thanks to Qiana, a six-year-old at Challenger's Boys and Girls Club, we caught on that knitting and crocheting had re-entered the scene, and were lots easier to schlep around than all those paints and stamps, etc.

Problem: we're both females. Calling on our own experience meant that we needed an approach to what males do for fun. Jeanne turned to the Do It Yourself network and many of our suggested activities have grown from that experience. We want to remind you that many of the world's great artists, chefs, psychiatrists are male, engaged in activities that in their outset are judged to be "feminine." Think on that. But not for too long. We're most interested in helping you find something that will guide you to embedded learning. Worry about how we got there later.

As an artist, I love sculpture. I spent some of my time at Otis welding a life-size abstract of my husband. I created wax models, and poured bronze. I am transfixed by pouring melted metal. This background led me to explore the possiblities of "funky" clothing, art, cards, boxes, etc. While learning to knit beaded evening purses, I slipped in bags decorated with safety pins, washers, doodads from the hardware store. These have all contributed to the projects we'll suggest. Please don't choose as your first project an elegantly beaded knitted bag if you've never knitted. If you want the elegant bag, start with a beginner's knitted project, and increase your knitting and beading skills with each new project you choose until one day you make the elegant bag. We'd love the motivation. But our classes are about social and criminal justice, not about teaching you to knit.

I love to wear my art. Leads to meeting lots of interesting people, and I don't mind showing off. That means that projects will include bracelets, belts, necklaces, wrist bands, hats, mittens, scarves, all things that can be embellished with words or images that will provide a stimulus for sharing what we're learning.

Notes to myself on what is to come:

  • application - but each of us are fascinated by different applications -

  • group learning sucks - people rarely feel the "work" was equally divided

    but teamwork is essential to any functioning past cottage industry and craft levels, and as a globe we've grown way past the cottage and craft level

  • factories lead to alienation - a loss of any sense of where our efforts fit into the whole (reference the "longwall" problem

  • collaboration permits people to put their work together through a team - competition makes it hard for us to accept that some of us are more talented or "luckier" than others

  • if teams reward accomplished skill without regard to contribution of time and learning and consistent effort, some like CEOs will be paid zillions, while some, who put in time, learning, and consistent effort will receive less than a livable wage. what about that? what is fair? what is justice? to the smartest shall go the largest spoils? to the most powerful (biggest guns) will go the largest spoils? where did the idea of "spoils" even come from?

  • Our projects are designed to ask you to find something that does interest you, into which you can put a little time, a little effort and learning, and find a visual representation of something you have learned. That makes sense in terms of what Dewey meant.

  • dissertation - learning to build a crystal radio is not a reasonable activity or project from which to learn to respect others - especially if you could care less about a crystal radio

  • More soon. jeanne

    Discussion Questions

    1. What does Herbart's apperceptive mass have to do with Dewey's "learn by doing"?

      Getting the learning into your apperceptive mass:

      One of jeanne's stewpot drawings for Herbart's appecrceptive mass.

      The stewpot is my image, not Herbart's, so for goodness' sakes don't cite Herbart's "stewpot." But I'll never be able to think Herbart without seeing a stewpot. That embeds his concept into my apperceptive mass. When I retrieve the stewpot, I retrieve Herbart's theory with it. That's how embedding works. It's kind of like pulling up a paper clip from a box and finding that one clip is linked to another, and you get a whole string of memories at once. The fish to the right of the stove are like paper clips. I guess when I drew this I was putting fish into the stewpot.

      The stewpot represents the context into which the content (the experience) is added. What Dewey meant by "learn by doing" was that the result of adding content (experience) to context (unique collection of experiences) is your creative production of that experiential learning in your own unique context. One explanation for why practice works might be that as you add new examples of your experience, new associations are made (new paper clips caught and brought back to conscious memory from out of your apperceptive mass), thus embedding the learning even more deeply.

    2. Here's a funky necklace I wore a lot this summer. Strangers kept stopping me to admire it, and then to ask what interdependence means. How would you answer that for the effects of race in criminal justice?

      A Necklace that Says "Keep an Open Mind"

      Crocheted necklace, with simple statement of interdependence.

      "Interdependence": A Reminder that Context Affects Interpretation

      Consider that race has never been shown to exist apart from our conceptions of it. Southerners used to refer to "colored blood." You may still here "I haven't a drop of Indian blood." There is no physical measure like that of race. When I wrote my dissertation on integration in Los Angeles schools in the very early 1970s, race was defined as "what his mother says his race is." Some of the "blacks" in our sample were lighter skinned than the "whites."

      There are so many misunderstandings of race floating about in today's society that context matters increasingly in an understanding of racial discrimination. Our experiences and beliefs have changed impreceptibly over many years to the point that some of us would be surprised by what we actually "believe," if we ever tried to sort it out.

      It's probably a good idea to make your wearable art a little abstract. If a nice little old lady who might be offended by a discussion of race stops me to admire the necklace, I can switch to point out that it's made of Fancy Feast can pop tops. Behold: recycling and it's importance to global warming and global dimming. Now everyone loves my necklace.


    • Up soon,

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.
Individual copyrights by other authors may apply.