A Brief Summary of the Veritas Tutors™ Humanist Pedagogical Approach:
What nutrition and reproduction are to physiological life, education is to social life. This education consists primarily in transmission through communication. Communication is a process of sharing experience till it becomes a common possession.
– John Dewey¹
Influential in twentieth-century American educational theory and practice, John Dewey’s “pedagogical creed” was both social (external) and psychological (internal) in orientation.² The Pragmatist school of thought provided the philosophical basis for Dewey’s approach to education, and his beliefs were shared by contemporaries in the Pragmatist tradition, including the Harvard philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, and the renowned physician, philosopher, and founder of Harvard University’s psychology department, William James. The Pragmatists viewed education as a co-construction of knowledge between teacher and student, of necessity dependent upon the student’s pre-existing beliefs and experiences.
Dewey and his colleagues emphasized the importance of learning through practical, relevant experience in authentic social contexts in which the learner is an integrated participant. Dewey also stressed the importance of reflective thinking, an internal, iterative process through which initial understandings of new concepts are expanded and refined, and ultimately connected to broader conceptual frameworks. Reflective thought occurs over time and is a habit of mind that can be consciously developed in a supportive educational environment, one that does not rely exclusively on drilling and a one-way transmission of “facts” from teacher to student.³ James observed that education “cannot be better described than by calling it the organization of acquired habits of conduct and tendencies to behavior.” Rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching new material, responsive, intellectually flexible teachers can accommodate differences in their students’ prior experiences and initial understandings.
By attending to both internal and external learning processes, Dewey’s approach to education straddled two important pedagogical methods that might seem to contradict each other: constructivist epistemology and the socio-cultural theory of education.
The “child-centered” educational practices developed by Maria Montessori in Italy informed Swiss scientist Jean Piaget’s developmental theory and his empirical investigations of the structure of children’s knowledge. Piaget’s pioneering experimental work revealed the stages of human cognitive development, yielding important insights about children’s preparedness at different ages for different types of conceptual knowledge. Piaget’s work serves as one of the cornerstones of the field of developmental psychology. Montessori’s innovative educational approach sparked a world-wide movement that bears her name and is still popular more than a century later. Together Montessori and Piaget were flag-bearers of the Constructivist school of thought, which held that learning best occurs when it is self-directed and allowed to unfold according to the learner’s innate interests and proclivities. Piaget’s famous analogy compared the child to a scientist, testing intuitive hypothesis about the physical and conceptual worlds through direct experience, and building on prior understandings to explore the world in increasingly sophisticated ways. Montessori and Piaget both emphasized the importance of capitalizing on a student’s innate, internal capacities for learning, arguing that teacher-led education fails to take advantage of a student’s natural curiosity and also imposes arbitrary constraints in approaching concepts that can actually hamper a student’s learning.
Piaget’s discovery of the developmental stages of human cognition and Montessori’s early success in teaching underprivileged children hitherto considered uneducable attest to the power of the constructivist approach in helping children to develop skills and knowledge based initially on their native interests and abilities.
While Montessori and Piaget stressed internal processes and self-directed learning, the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky saw learning in general, and education in particular, as an inherently social undertaking. Vygotsky distinguished between spontaneous concepts (concrete understandings of an action or an aspect of the environment, e.g. the form or function of an object) and scientific concepts (abstract relationships between concepts), suggesting that without the guidance of a skilled instructor, students are unlikely to recognize, let alone understand, abstract scientific concepts. Like the Pragmatists, Vygotsky emphasized the importance of the real-world function of the information or skill to be learned, contending that knowledge presented without contextual relevance for the learner is unlikely to be mastered. He stressed the importance of guided learning with a more skilled partner with whom the student has a meaningful rapport. Vygotsky’s theories about the socio-cultural and contextual dimensions of learning and education have been borne out in empirical studies, e.g. in her investigation of the efficacy of an after-school program in boosting inner-city children’s writing skills, McLane found that when presented with a socially relevant context and purpose for writing, children who previously struggled to master the rudiments made great improvements in their writing skills.
Veritas Tutors™ follows the path forged by Dewey and his Pragmatist peers with a syncretic but coherent approach, which holds that harnessing a student’s native curiosity and intuitive ideas, while honing them through the help of a more skilled and knowledgeable tutor, will yield authentic, meaningful, and lasting understanding of academic material.