If you’re new to this site, we publish one post each day in September celebrating a particular theme. This year it’s about people and ideas that have inspired us to think critically. In this post, CPN Exec member Gwyn Owen writes about the work of John Dewey.
I first came across ‘How we think’ while reading John Cowan’s inspiring, critical and beautifully crafted accounts of reflective practice and professional development a few years ago. ‘How we think’ was written by John Dewey – an American philosopher, educator, social critic and political activist. The first edition was published in 1910 & was updated in 1933. In it, Dewey sets out to describe the process of developing ‘a scientific attitude of mind’, and in doing so presents a clearly written account of reflective thought – which he describes as: ‘Active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends… It is a conscious and voluntary effort to establish belief upon a firm basis of reasons.’ (Dewey, 1910, p6) The book presents reflective thinking as a critical way of being/doing that seeks to challenge assumptions and generate new knowledge and understanding from and in practice. It is a dynamic, embodied cycle of inductive and deductive reasoning that occurs as we attend to and seek to make sense of our lived experiences. From Dewey’s perspective, reflective thinking is neither a ‘fluffy’ or ‘woolly’ concept, but is a challenging, critical process that is integral to scientific inquiry.
My copy of Dewey’s book is a battered hardback bought by DK Fraser for 4/6 net – the gold writing on the spine worn away by years of use. While I love the physical feel and slightly musty smell of the book, what really strikes me is how Dewey’s ideas and arguments have travelled through time. The processes he describes resonate with more contemporary literature (from 1970s onwards) about clinical reasoning in medicine and healthcare professions. From a research perspective, it connects with contemporary texts on reflexivity (which I’ve come to understand as a process of reflection –in, -on & -for action associated with praxis of qualitative research). Over the past few months, I’ve found myself drawn back to the book for its critical perspective on ‘science’ and relevance to contemporary debates about the nature of evidence and evidence-based practice…. which leaves me wanting to find out more about the social and political context that prompted Dewey to write ‘How we think’.
Because this book is out of copyright, copies are available to freely download from the Project Gutenberg website http://www.gutenberg.org/
Click here to open a seminar by John Cowan on ‘Learning to be a professional: using our own life experiences to develop principles for designing good educational experiences’
Cowan J (2006) On becoming an innovative university teacher: reflection in action (2nd ed). The Society for Research into Higher Education (selected pages that are available to view Google Books – click here)
Click here to open a set of posts on Critical Physiotherapy Network blog that reflect current debates about evidence-based practice within the profession
Click here to open the results of a quick search on Google Scholar for the literature published about clinical reasoning in physiotherapy that started to emerge from the 1990s onwards. I’d argue that the timing of the appearance of that literature is significant in the profession’s history – but that’s a story for another day.