Habits of Mind

Dewey and Design Thinking

By December 11, 2014 October 20th, 2018 2 Comments

I was thinking today about John Dewey.

A lot of people do this, so there’s nothing too special there. Dewey had so much to say about education, and said it so broadly, that his words can be affixed to nearly any idea and they’ll pretty much make it glow.

For example, Dewey said that failure, something we all dread, is actually “instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as he does from his successes.”

I talk every day with students about whether or not a certain mark is proof of success. I like having the wisdom of Dewey behind me when I counsel that learning is about growing, and that education, like life, in order to be truly enjoyable, should be pursued for its own sake.

Life in and out of school tells us that this is true – consider the affection we have for American Dream stories in books and in the news, all of which hinge on the against-all-odds, rags-to-riches, up-from-bootstraps moxie of an individual. We like reading about, knowing, and being people who can make something out of nothing, or something better out of something just ok.

Maybe this is because, as Dewey says, “we only think when we are confronted with problems.” Problems cause us to want to find solutions or, if we can’t find them, design them ourselves.



Jessica is a doctoral candidate, education consultant, writer and editor. She is the founder of bookclique, a collaborative of English teachers and students working to promote book culture, and a co-founder of Well-Schooled, the site for educator storytelling, dedicated to sharing first-person educator stories. All Rights Reserved - What I Learned Today in School.