A year after traveling across China together, a group of 10 students recently shared their distinct journey of retracing the steps taken by pioneering educator John Dewey a hundred years earlier.
The high schoolers—from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, the UChicago Charter Schools, and from Lab’s Beijing partner high school, RDFZ—spoke with educators, policymakers and scholars during the Centennial Colloquium on Dewey: Then & Now. They discussed how even though they could learn facts from newspapers and academic texts, the conversations with peers around the ideas and ideals of the Laboratory Schools founder taught them so much more.
“To have a truly global education, you have to have experiences. I think that there are ways in which you can learn about a culture and learn about a country and history, but until you go it doesn’t really connect. There’s something really solidifying about being there and standing there,” said Gershon Stein, a junior at the Laboratory Schools, during the discussion moderated by Prof. Emeritus Larry Hickman, who served for more than 20 years as director of the Center for Dewey Studies at Southern Illinois University.
The students underscored how the ideas of Dewey and his landmark trip through China continue to resonate. To mark its 100th anniversary, Lab brought together at the colloquium senior Chinese officials, teachers and students, and internationally known policymakers, philosophers and practitioners.
During three days in May, more than 250 people reflected upon Dewey’s role in education and his relevance today in the United States and China. Speakers included James Heckman, Nobel laureate and the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at UChicago; and Shi Zhongying, director of the Mingyuan Institute of Education and a professor of education at Tsinghua University.
“The conference brought together leaders from around the world to discuss the ideas of John Dewey and his global influence, as well as to see how his philosophies of education are being practiced at the Laboratory Schools,” said Laboratory Schools Director Charlie Abelmann. “Building from the ideas of our founder, we are teaching students the skills to reflect upon real-world experience, discuss, and respectfully debate their ideas with peers and educators. This is learning by doing in action.”