Educational Research Journal

The Centrality of Subject Matter in Teaching Thinking: John Dewey's Idea of Psychologizing the Subject Matter Revisited

2001.第16卷第2期(Vol. 16 No. 2).pp. 193–212

The Centrality of Subject Matter in Teaching Thinking: John Dewey’s Idea of Psychologizing the Subject Matter Revisited

Zongyi DENG(鄧宗怡)


This paper attempts to reveal the central role of subject matter in teaching thinking, and in so doing, criticise the skill-oriented approach adopted in Singapore. Based upon Dewey's idea of psychologizing the subject matter, this paper introduces the idea-based approach in which subject matter is used as the most important intellectual resource for developing thinking and as a central framework for introducing educative experience. Focusing on the assumptions about subject matter, learning to think, and teaching thinking, a comparison and contrast between the two approaches has been made to reveal the problems inherent in the skill-oriented approach. This paper contends that the skill-oriented approach fails to consider subject matter to be the most important resource in developing thinking. It is grounded in a faulty assumption which separates subject matter and thinking. It creates a tendency of ignoring the concepts, principles, and criteria embodied in subject matter in disciplining and enhancing thinking, of reducing teaching thinking into generic techniques, and of restricting and undermining the impulses, dispositions, and freedom of learners. Further, this paper espouses an approach which combines teaching subject matter for conceptual understanding and developing higher-order thinking together, based upon Dewey's idea and current advances in cognitive psychology.

Keywords: thinking; teaching; John Dewey