Creating the environment in which people can acquire essential knowledge and skills is crucial to the development of a well-functioning and successful society. Therefore, it is imperative to design the system of education that compels people to work on their academic and professional growth, focusing on the enhancement of their competencies and, possibly, developing the propensity toward lifelong and self-directed learning. For this purpose, the creation of a system of values on which the academic system will reside is crucial. Although the ideas suggested by Adam Smith and John Dewey are strikingly different in their approach toward building the system of educational values, the common tendency to cater to the unique needs of the target population, be it culture-related or economy-based aspects of their choices, allows designing a comprehensive value system based on the learner-focused approach.
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Dewey stresses that there is a need to introduce the elements of both utility and liberalism into the environment of education. While he states that the identified concepts have already established a strong presence in the academic environment, there is a possible lack of balance between them: “The ‘utility’ element is found in the motives assigned for the study, the ‘liberal’ element in methods of teaching. The outcome of the mixture is perhaps less satisfactory than if either principle were adhered to in its purity” (Dewey 5). Therefore, the author stresses that learners need flexibility in the academic process as much as instructors do in the choice of the appropriate teaching tools.
Similarly, Smith mentions the necessity to cater to the needs of students based on their unique characteristics. Although he chooses a different domain of social interactions, preferring the economic aspect of people’s lives to the cultural one as the factor determining the choice of the teaching strategy, he still promotes the idea of a learner-focused education process: “They have little time to spare for education. Their parents can scarce afford to maintain them, even in infancy” (Smith and Wright 3). Thus, Smith emphasizes the significance of creating an environment in which people from poor economic backgrounds could receive the required knowledge and skills along with the ones from wealthy families.
In other words, both authors tend to reinforce the concept of equal opportunities for each member of society. As Dewey puts it, “An education which should unify the disposition of the members of society would do much to unify society itself” should be considered the ultimate value on which the academic process must be built. As a result, a gradual improvement in the quality of life can be expected.
The significance of addressing the unique needs of learners can be viewed as the foundation for the system of values as it is viewed by both Smith and Dewey. While each of the theorists provides a different way of looking at the subject matter, Smith considering the economic aspect and Dewey focusing on the philosophical interpretations of utility, both tend to stress the importance of understanding learners’ specific needs. Therefore, it can be assumed that the recognition of students’ characteristics and the acknowledgment of their aspirations can be considered the foundation for the system of values that both Dewey and Smith promoted. As soon as teachers learn to define the specific characteristics of their students and design the strategies that will allow using the learners’ strengths, at the same time working on their weaknesses, a rapid improvement of learners’ performance can be expected.
Dewey, John. “Labor and Leisure.” Democracy and Education, PublishDrive, 2015, pp. 157-163.
Smith, Adam and Jonathan B. Wright. “Part III. Of the Expense of Public Works and Public Institutions.” An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Harriman House Publishing, 2010, pp. 590-665.
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