The gap between theory and practice in education

This passage from John Dewey’s Democracy and Education has aged well. In fact I spent part of last week contributing as third author to a paper about how this plays out with regards to math education, particularly the gap between a commitment to student-centred teaching and the frequency with which this lapses into teacher-centred teaching. My instinct was to see this as a problem akin to the value-action gap (or how Jana Bacevic analyses the relationship between knowledge and action, or perhaps as akrasia) but this passage from Dewey suggests the problem may rest with the infrastructure and institution of schooling much more than being a propensity located within the educator:

Why is it, in spite of the fact that teaching by pouring in, learning by a passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so entrenched in practice? That education is not an affair of “telling” and being told, but an active and constructive process, is a principle almost as generally violated in practice as conceded in theory. Is not this deplorable situation due to the fact that the doctrine is itself merely told? It is preached; it is lectured; it is written about. But its enactment into practice requires that the school environment be equipped with agencies for doing, with tools and physical materials, to an extent rarely attained. It requires that methods of instruction and administration be modified to allow and to secure direct and continuous occupations with things. Not that the use of language as an educational resource should lessen; but that its use should be more vital and fruitful by having its normal connection with shared activities.

Loc 645, Democracy and Education

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