Dewey on Imitation and Education: A Contemporary View

Activity: Talk or presentation typesLecture and oral contribution

See relations at Aarhus University

Carsten Fogh Nielsen - Lecturer

I his 2008 book "Imitation and Education" Bryan Warnick argues that imitation and role modelling are crucial for establishing and structuring cooperative, educational communities. Imitation creates common structures of social meaning and provides an important means of both establishing and (re)interpreting communal membership and identity. This, Warnick explicitly claims, is directly relevant for Dewey’s views on education and democracy as presented in "Democracy and Education" (Dewey 1916/1930). Here Dewey famously argues for an intimate, perhaps even necessary, relation between education and democracy. On Dewey’s account education is a process of being initiated into a democratic way of life, while democracy can (and should) be viewed as an educational practice. Education and democracy thus represent two interrelated and mutually dependent aspects of one and the same process: the progressive development of human communities and human capacities.

Warnick’s suggestions concerning the educational and social importance of imitation are interesting, but they also raise a number of questions. Most importantly the idea that imitation and role modelling serve important educational and democratic ends seems to directly contradict Dewey’s own explicit views. In both Democracy and Education and How We Think Dewey thus critically discusses and rejects this very idea (see e.g. Dewey 1916/1930, ch. 3; Dewey 1910, ch 12).

In my talk I present Warnick’s account of imitation, explain how this account is based on a normative conception of exemplarity, and argue that imitation and exemplarity both can and should play an important role within a broadly Deweyan approach to education and democracy. More precisely I will argue Dewey’s understanding of imitation is needlessly restrictive and should be replaced by a broader and more flexible account.

Dewey, John: (1910): How We Think. Chicago: D.C. Heath and Co.
Dewey, John (1916/2004): Democracy and Education. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. New York: Dover Publication.
Warnick, Bryan (2008): Imitation and Education. A Philosophical Inquiry into Learning by Example. New York: State University of New York Press.
2 Nov 2016

Event (Conference)

TitlePragmatism Today
LocationAarhus Universitet
Degree of recognitionInternational event


  • Dewey, Education, Imitation

ID: 105318752