Pedagogical activism: Dewey and the others…

May 3, 2024

With today’s article, we will dive into the world of pedagogical activism, a current that has revolutionized the way we understand teaching and learning. You may have heard of it, if you take an in-depth interest in your children’s education, then we will tell you in brief what it is all about.

What is meant by pedagogical activism?

Pedagogical activism is an educational philosophy emphasizing direct learner experience as the primary means of learning. Opposed to more traditional and authoritarian approaches, this current saw lived experience, experimentation, and active participation as the keys to effective and engaging education. The main goal is to form individuals who are autonomous, critical, and able to adapt creatively and responsibly to the challenges of the changing world.

In this context, the educator is no longer seen as a mere transmitter of knowledge, but rather as a facilitator who guides students in discovering and exploring, stimulating curiosity and providing the tools for a deep and personal understanding of reality.

What are the principles and methods of the pedagogical current of activism?

As we have mentioned, pedagogical activism is based on certain cardinal principles that outline its methods and practices. First among them is the recognition of the importance of direct experience: children and students learn by doing, through direct contact with reality and manipulation of objects. This approach is known as “learning by doing” and emphasizes the importance of hands-on, laboratory-based activities.

In addition, pedagogical activism encourages interaction and collaboration among students, promoting the shared construction of knowledge. Group work and collaborative projects are seen as valuable opportunities to develop social, communication and problem-solving skills. Another key method is Socratic dialogue, which through challenging and reflective questions, aims to guide students toward deep realizations and understandings.

What characterizes Dewey’s active method?

John Dewey is an emblematic figure of pedagogical activism and helped define its active method. Dewey argued that education should be relevant and interconnected with real life, and that the educational process should enable students to have meaningful experiences and be less self-centered. The school, according to Dewey, was to be a microcosm of society, a place where students could practice living in a democratic community.

Dewey’s active method is characterized by the centrality of experience in learning. Students are encouraged to investigate, explore and discover, being guided by an inherent curiosity. The role of the educator, in this context, is to provide stimulating environments and intellectual challenges that foster personal and collective growth.

Who are the theorists of activism?

In addition to John Dewey, many other theorists have contributed to the development of educational activism. Among them, we can mention Jean Piaget, whose theory of cognitive development highlights how children actively construct knowledge from their direct experiences. Lev Vygotsky, with his socio-cultural learning theory, highlighted the importance of social and cultural context in learning, arguing that intelligence develops through social interaction.

Other theorists, such as Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner, have proposed educational models that, while differing, share with activism a focus on the individual and his or her authentic development within a collective context.

To which current does Montessori belong?

Maria Montessori, an Italian pedagogue and physician, is often associated with a current akin to pedagogical activism, although her method has distinctive features. Montessori pedagogy is based on respect for the natural development of the child, self-directed learning and the importance of the prepared environment. This approach educates toward independence, freedom within well-defined limits, and self-education. Montessori emphasized the importance of specific teaching materials and the child’s freedom to choose what to learn, thus promoting personalized and intrinsically motivated learning.

What are the three currents of thought in pedagogy?

In the vast world of pedagogy, we can identify three major currents of thought that have shaped educational models: essentialism, progressivism and constructivism. Essentialism emphasizes the transfer of fundamental knowledge and traditional skills from one generation to the next. Progressivism, of which activism is a manifestation, promotes student-centered education and practical experience as the driver of learning. Finally, constructivism is based on the idea that knowledge is actively constructed by the learner, who interprets and makes meaning of the world based on his or her prior experiences.

A new kind of discipline?

While some of the features of these methods are still good for this digital and complex reality in which we live, there is probably a need for a new, more comprehensive type of Discipline, one that can intercept people’s new needs and new ways of approaching life for today’s children. We at Informed Parent are actively working on it, and in a few months, our new educational method will be available to everyone.

We are with you.

We at Parentalife are here to support you throughout the parenting journey, from the childbearing period to pre-partum, to life with children. We do this through personalized guides, classes and counseling. You will never be alone along this journey, we are with you.


Silva D. John Dewey: implications for schooling. Am J Occup Ther. 1977 Jan;31(1):40-3. PMID: 319676.

About the Author

Claudia Denti

Claudia Denti is the founder of Genitore Informato and Parentalife.