What Dewey and Yoda reveal about learning – a #twisted pair challenge

The #twisted pair blogging challenge was proposed by Steve Wheeler recently and it’s been twisting  in my mind since I was called on by Sarah Honeychurch. The idea is to match a pair of real or imaginary characters, personalities or people while thinking about learning and teaching. This has certainly extended my thinking about how things go together – teaching and learning, salt and pepper, digital and analog. It has also connected for me to a learning opportunity about the elusive concept of ‘learning’ where I am exploring What Do We Mean By Learning Anyway?. As part of my dive into this topic, I’m exploring how my learning and teaching connect to the ideas and actions of John Dewey and the Jedi Master Yoda.

As I compared and contrasted their perspectives through an education and learning lens, three truths emerged.

Truth #1: Look beyond the conflict of ‘either-or’

Dewey states “It would not be a sign of health if such an important social interest as education were not also an arena of struggles, practical and theoretical.”  If it is important, then it’s important to argue about it. Dewey describes the ‘either-or’ issue and determines that, once the causes of conflict are determined, instead of dividing an argument, it’s important to move to a deeper and more inclusive representation in practices and ideas.

Jedi Master Yoda is a product of conflict. After living for 900 years and spending his final years on a swamp planet, he is a powerful force within the Jedi Council. He has experienced battles between the light and dark forces and accepts the inevitable conflict that exists. He works beyond the either/or in the conflict between good and evil to find balance within himself, his ‘padawans’ and the universe.

These perspectives inform the underlying truth that learners and teachers need to have an awareness and understanding of both sides to a topic or issue and generatively evolve their work through conflicts to create innovative, inclusive solutions. As a learner and teacher, I need to examine both sides of an argument, discourse, or practice to find a balancing point for my students and myself.

Truth #2: Experience is an essential instructional tool

Dewey examines theoretical principles in their abstraction and determines that theories “become concrete only in the consequences, which result from their application”. Actions are external applications of thoughts. Dewey exposes the “organic connection between education and personal experience”. But Dewey cautions about a “belief that a genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative”. Dewey sees the important role played by the interactions between the ‘mature and the immature’ in shaping learning and experience.

Jedi Master Yoda would agree that experience is essential. After 900 years of training Jedi knights, he is sought out as the mature influence on a younger, inexperienced but promising student, Luke Skywalker. In his instructional practice, Yoda strategically uses experience to teach Skywalker about the power of the force within. Raising an X-wing fighter out of the swamp indelibly teaches the young Jedi about the power of mind over matter. The phrase ‘do or do not – there is no try’ is attached to this learning experience.

For both Dewey and Yoda, experience is an essential component of instruction. Experience teaches valuable lessons. The challenges faced by learners and teachers is in choosing the right experiences that lead in the desired direction. Not all experiences will instruct the right way – they can lead to good or not-so-good consequences.

For my own teaching and learning, experiences provide opportunities for growth and reflection. When looking back or looking forward to events, actions or experiences, my learning and my teaching practices evolve and transform. Conflict between ideas, theories and practices create new opportunities to experience.  It’s up to me to determine the right path.

Truth #3: Learning is growth on a continuum

Dewey states “Growth, or growing as developing, not only physically but intellectually and morally, is one exemplification of the principle of continuity”. This continuity means “every experience both takes up something from those which have gone before and modifies in some way the quality of those which come after”. For Dewey, learning is a continual process of evolution and change.

After 900 years of living, Jedi Master Yoda has seen many developments that result from experiences that have gone before – his work with Anakin Skywalker modifies and changes the quality of his experiences with Luke Skywalker. The evolution of the forces for good and evil in the Republic impact how the Jedi Master teaches his young ‘padawans’.

Both Dewey and Yoda would see the transition and transformation of teaching and learning as a continuum – relying on the past to inform the present and shape the future. The ‘disruption’ of the continuum by forces of either-or, light-or-dark, would result in imbalance and hardship.

For my own learning, there is a clear path or continuum where I can trace the steps in my growth and perspectives on the events, experiences and opportunities in my past, present and soon to occur. These stepping-stones lead me to where I am today and shape the educational decisions I make. Looking back and reflecting is an important part of the continuum of growth. Sometimes, as Yoda states, it’s a process of unlearning what I have learned. As I teach others about educational technology it’s important for me to visualize this continuum but not be bound by the process – sometimes leaps of learning can jump the line.

If you would like to read more about the #twisted pair challenge, take a look at this collection of posts relating some unusual pairings with a focus on learning and teaching practice.

Who would you twist together and how do these #twisted pairs influence, inform, expand your understanding or confirm your experiences in teaching and learning? The twisting continues!


Dewey, J. (n.d.) Experience and Education http://ruby.fgcu.edu/courses/ndemers/colloquium/experienceducationdewey.pdf

Jedi Master Yoda, http://yoda.locutus.be/yoda.php

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