Department of Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education


First Advisor

Edmund T. Hamann

Second Advisor

Theresa Catalano

Third Advisor

Lauren Gatti

Date of this Version


Document Type



Blum, S. (2017). A Revitalized Conception of Growth in the 21st Century for Contemporary Education Praxis in Nebraska. PhD diss., University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Lincoln, Nebraska.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies (Teaching, Curriculum, and Learning), Under the Supervision of Professor Edmund T. Hamann. Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2017

Copyright © 2017 Scott Blum


My dissertation argues for a revitalized conception of growth in the 21st century and contemporary education. Through reconstruction, re-conceptualizing, and re-emphasis of growth, this revitalization attends to acute challenges in schooling and can impact praxis in education today. This pragmatic and philosophical work places a revitalized conception of growth as the purpose of education and, to the extent that education is life, continual growth as a process for living.

John Dewey provided his conception of growth during the 19th and 20th centuries as he valued the natural capacities a human being possesses for experiencing life. He recognized immaturity, dependence, plasticity, and habits as the powers a human has for growing and recognized that educative experiences, those in which there is continuity and human interactions, were essential for growth to be cultivated. Furthermore, Dewey’s conception of growth called for continual reconstruction, as the context of the world we live in today matters and provides for the reconciling of growth in the 21st century. I argue that Dewey’s expansive conception of growth matters in contemporary education, but differs from today’s dominant conceptions (e.g., Carol Dweck’s work), and must be revitalized.

The current dominant conceptions of growth in education are limited with a focus primarily on English Language Arts and mathematics achievement of students. In contemporary education today, there are three conceptions of growth: student growth, professional growth, and a growth mindset. These are narrow conceptions that are reflective of a process meant to increase something, like a score on a test. Contemporary growth thus becomes defined by student assessments over time, professional activities to help educators improve those student assessment scores or achievement over time, and the utilization of a mindset in which one believes he has the ability to increase his reading and math scores. This conception of growth underserves the possibilities of children and adults in contemporary education.

In the 21st century, the re-conceptualizing and re-constructing of growth provides new possibilities for student growth, professional growth, and a mindset in support of growth. Thus embracing and weaving the personal – or the consideration of one’s identity and what is occurring with oneself – with the social in the context of an educative experience that sees children and adults as unique and vibrant human beings. As the purpose of education and in the context of the 21st century, a revitalized conception of growth provides a way of rethinking and re-imagining how students and adults experience school as a part of society. Reconciling a conception of growth for today means the continual re-construction of oneself through educative experiences in the context and involvement of others and in which education in schooling and education in life are interwoven. Growth occurs in our time, which is wherever we are, and is always changing. Therefore growth and what it means to grow evolves with the time we are in and is never final.

Advisor: Edmund T. Hamann

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