Becoming through Being: Dewey’s Relevance to Educating for the Future of Work

January 5, 2022


Steven McGee

The Learning Partnership

Todd Crowl

Florida International University

Randi McGee-Tekula

The Learning Partnership

Many economists argue that we are entering a 4th industrial revolution. The first revolution in the late 18th century brought about mechanization through steam. In the second revolution in the late 19th century, electricity enabled mass production. The third revolution in the late 20th century generated physical automation through electronics and information technology. Artificial intelligence is driving the current 4th industrial revolution. Across the revolutionary eras, the nature of work has shifted from physical labor to knowledge production. Economists are projecting another significant shift in the nature of work as knowledge production becomes automated. This projected shift raises important questions about what work is uniquely human and what can be automated.

While Dewey’s career was concerned with the development of an education system to support the societal shifts that were a consequence of the 2nd industrial revolution, his ideas and philosophy are still relevant today at the dawn of the 4th industrial revolution. As was the case in Dewey’s time, policymakers define the aims of education in terms of the structure of the disciplines. However, as Dewey prophesied over a century ago, “the principle of preparation makes necessary recourse on a large scale to the use of adventitious motives of pleasure and pain. The future having no stimulating and directing power when severed from the possibilities of the present, something must be hitched on to it to make it work.” This prophecy is borne out in the system of rewards and punishments built into the assessment regime that underlies the modern standards-based movement.

For Dewey, aims are the lens through which teachers view the current activity of the students. Making explicit the connection between the aims of adult society with the students’ current aims helps the student make an emotional attachment to the aims of society and gives reason for students to develop the adult knowledge and skills to accomplish their present goals. A second role of aims is to broaden the perspective of the student. The modern standards mostly focus on the technical domains. Dewey also argues for the importance of fostering morality through the study of history and geography and aesthetic appreciation through the study of the arts. A benefit of the 4th industrial revolution is the opportunity to rethink society’s educational aims. Much of the technical content that comprises the standards will become automated through artificial intelligence. Analyses of current and projected professions in the future focus on the knowledge and skills that are uniquely human.

In the chapter, we provide an analysis of policy documents to show the connection between workforce preparation (becoming) and college readiness standards as the foundation for presenting Dewey’s critique of education as preparation. We then examine reports on the current and projected workforce skills that are uniquely human as they provide an opportunity to re-examine our aims in education to more closely align to Dewey’s century-old conception of becoming through being in the present. The chapter ends with the implications for teacher preparation.

Suggested Citation

McGee, S., Crowl, T., & McGee-Tekula, R. (2022). Becoming through being: Dewey’s relevance to educating for the future of work. In J. Avila, AG Rudd, L. Waks, & E. Ring, The Contemporary Relevance of John Dewey’s Theories on Teaching and Learning. New York: Routledge.

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