would say “meow” to anyone she passed. She did not play
with other children. She did not seek interaction from her
teacher. She simply roamed around, meowing.
I asked the teacher about this child. “She likes to think
she’s a cat,” the teacher said.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” the teacher said.
“Does she have a cat at home?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” the teacher said again.
“Do you ever wonder what makes her do it?” I pushed.
“She really enjoys it . . . and that’s enough for me,” the
teacher said, smiling confidently, and added, “Learning should
This is not what Dewey meant by “teacher confidence.” He
said that confidence should spring from the base of knowledge
that the teacher applies to classroom situations. The teacher’s
n knowing the child (Does she have a cat?)
n individualizing curricula (Does she need to work through the
death of a pet?)
n understanding the social nature of learning (How can the
teacher or peers help or join her?)
n preparation for life (What is the point of this behavior? What
is she learning from it that she can use as she goes through
life?) Dewey certainly believed that when children were
engaged, learning was fun and exciting in and of itself.
However, in this example, the teacher was content to accept
“fun” as a justification for aimless activity, without trying to
understand the meaning of the experience for the child. She
did not build on the child’s preoccupation with being a cat to
extend the girl’s knowledge of the world, to advance her skills,
or to support her development. She did not connect the child’s
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