Hi Howard, this is exactly how I experience disciplines—as new and powerful shared ways of thinking. When studying to be a chemical engineer, something clicked for me at the end of my junior year. It was as though I had a series of insights which forever changed how I saw the world. It was far more than learning and applying a set of skills and knowlege. Just as we travel to experience new cultures, I immerse myself in new disciplines.
In his writing, Dewey mentions multiple times that, by studying a discipline, we gain entry to a discourse. He explains it would be difficult to converse with people if we didn’t share certain common ways of thinking. This is an idea which came up in an earlier conversation I had with Henry Kim around Mathland and learning French in France. Discourse between data scientists who came from a statistics background and data scientists who came from a computer programming background was difficult because they had different ways of thinking.
Dewey is a man who I believe is not well understood and it is often not interpreted in a correct light. Maybe even Dewey didn’t understand all the implications of his thinking.
While Dewey played a major role in launching Discovery Learning and the Progressive Education Movement, he’s clearly unhappy with how they were evolving over time. A lot of his later writing, especially in Experience and Education, is an obvious attempt to correct misinterpretations of The Child and the Curriculum. He sees Discovery Learning heading in a bad direction.
There are a few places where I disagree with Dewey and find him naive, but I have the benefit of hindsight and a hundred year’s worth of testing. Still, I was shocked to see how much I agree with him—and it makes me a little worried to realize how many of his insights were misunderstood, in his own lifetime and beyond, despite his influence and best efforts. I’m not sure how I can possibly do any better. But I think Dewey would appreciate my effort to re-interpret him and stand on his shoulders. Maybe some radical thinker will do the same for me in a hundred years!