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  • Destiny Yarbro

Educative or Miseducative Experiential Learning in the Minority Language Classroom

Child standing by a large globe of the world with parent teaching them where Europe is.

John Dewey (1938) promoted experiential learning. However, he made clear that not all experience is the same in the classroom; that some are "educative" while others are "miseducative" (p. 8).

Experience as Miseducative:

This experiential learning is an end to itself. It doesn’t spark a desire to learn more. It doesn’t guide students to a deeper level of understanding and reasoning. It may be enjoyable in the moment, feel progressive in the moment, but does little to further the quest for knowledge. I believe these learning experiences are more abstract and academic than genuine or relatable in nature.

“The belief that genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative. Experience and education cannot be directly equated to each other… Any experience is miseducative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience” (Dewey, 1938, p. 8)

Experience as Educative:

This experiential learning inspires students to learn outside of the classroom. Rather than an end to itself, it leads to more complex, deep, or stimulating discussions. It requires enough flexibility on the part of the teacher and enough genuine love of learning on the part of the student to allow a flow of reasoning, to nurture budding ideas, and to engender a deep, life-long love of learning.

“Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only the particular thing he is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history that is learned. For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future. The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning” (Dewey, 1938, p. 20).

Experience in My Milieu of Teaching American Sign Language:

I believe that each of us would hope that every element of our lesson plans are educative and not miseducative, but I tried to identify which elements in the traditional teaching of American Sign Language would be considered miseducative.

As I have hinted to before, my goal in teaching minority languages is to provide the tools students need to achieve communication and connection with the minority language community. In this way, I believe that my activities are educative because they inspire learning outside of the classroom and are not simply academic exercises. I am averse to teaching my students fingerspelling for this exact reason and now I better understand why I avoid it. I have seen how students who learn fingerspelling early on tend to rely much too heavily on this English-ized method. It is miseducative because they see fingerspelling as the way to communicate any idea without the need to learn real American Sign Language. It becomes a crutch that I have seen stunt students’ growth for the remainder of their language studies.


Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster.

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