Dewey’s notion of Communal Inquiry and the Australian Curriculum

Year: 2016

Author: Bleazby, Jennifer

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper examines the extent to which, Dewey’s notion of communal inquiry is reflected in the Australian Curriculum and related policies. It is argued that Dewey’s notion of communal inquiry, which is synonymous with his notion of democracy, shares many of the stated educational goals of the Australian Curriculum and the Melbourne Declaration on the Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008) – a statement of national educational goals. However, it is argued that 100 years after the publication of his seminal Democracy and Education (1916), Dewey’s educational ideas remain widely misunderstood in Australia (and elsewhere). Many of the so called ‘progressive’ ideas attributed to Dewey, such as inquiry based learning, are often taken up in a superficial manner or in a manner that is inconsistent with Dewey’s own theories. Such problematic understandings of ‘progressive educational ideals’ can be seen in Australian Curriculum documents. Dewey recognised that rapid social, economic, technological, political and cultural changes during his lifetime necessitated a new approach to schooling. Old approaches, with their emphasis on the ‘the cold storage of static facts’ and on rigidly compartmentalised knowledge could not prepare children for the modern world. He recognised that, more than ever, schools must produce individuals who are able to respond to new and complex problems in creative and ways, by integrating knowledge and skills from a variety of disciplines and through collaborating with diverse others in order to construct inclusive solutions to intercultural social problems. In essence, he argued that schools must foster the capacity for communal inquiry, which is the means to human flourishing. He comprehensively outlined this notion of communal inquiry, detailing how schools and societies must foster it.Dewey’s call for a new type of schooling is not dissimilar to the contemporary call for ‘21st century learning’. For example, the Melbourne Declaration, argues that rapid and continuing technological, scientific, social, political and cultural developments, necessitate schooling that produces individuals who are “creative, innovative and resourceful, and are able to solve problems in ways that draw upon a range of learning areas and disciplines” and who have “respect for social, cultural and religious diversity, and a sense of global citizenship”. This idea is echoed throughout the Australian Curriculum documents. However, Dewey’s notion of communal inquiry, which epitomises such learning, is not really reflected in these policies and, in some ways it is undermined by them.