Monday, December 29, 2008


John Dewey, by Eva Watson Schütze

(Image from
John Dewey (1859-1952) lived from the Civil War to the Cold War, a period of extraordinary social, economic, demographic, political and technological change. During his lifetime the United States changed from a rural to an urban society, from an agricultural to an industrial economy, from a regional to a world power. It emancipated its slaves, but subjected them to white supremacy. It absorbed millions of immigrants from Europe and Asia, but faced wrenching conflicts between capital and labor as they were integrated into the urban industrial economy. It granted women the vote, but resisted their full integration into educational and economic institutions. As the face-to-face communal life of small villages and towns waned, it confronted the need to create new forms of community life capable of sustaining democracy on urban and national scales. Dewey believed that neither traditional moral norms nor traditional philosophical ethics were up to the task of coping with the problems raised by these dramatic transformations. Traditional morality was adapted to conditions that no longer existed. Hidebound and unreflective, it was incapable of changing so as to effectively address the problems raised by new circumstances.
(By Elizabeth Anderson at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
After graduation in 1879, Dewey taught high school for two years, during which the idea of pursuing a career in philosophy took hold. With this nascent ambition in mind, he sent a philosophical essay to W.T. Harris, then editor of the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, and the most prominent of the St. Louis Hegelians. Harris's acceptance of the essay gave Dewey the confirmation he needed of his promise as a philosopher. With this encouragement he traveled to Baltimore to enroll as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University.
(By Richard Field,Northwest Missouri State University, at the Internet Encyclopedia of Encyclopedia)
Dewey came to Columbia in 1905 after a decade at the University of Chicago, a year before he was elected president of the American Philosophical Association. His arrival made Columbia's philosophy department arguably the strongest in the country. He taught at Columbia for 25 years, retiring in 1930. His teaching style was characterized by long pauses and lots of backtracking, as if he was putting his ideas together as he spoke, the effect of which could either be inspiring or soporific. He also taught the philosophy of education at Teachers College, where his impact on educational theory and practice was both profound and controversial. With his wife, Alice, he helped establish laboratory schools, first at Chicago and later at Columbia. He received the Butler Medal at the 1935 commencement for "the distinguished character and continued vitality of his contributions to philosophy and education."
(© Copyright 2004 Columbia University)

University: University of Vermont (1879)
University: PhD, Johns Hopkins University (1882-84)
Professor: University of Michigan (1884-94 excluding 1888-89)
Professor: University of Minnesota (1888-89)
Professor: University of Chicago (1894-1904)
Professor: Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University (1904-30)
(Copyright ©2008 Soylent Communications)

One of John Dewey's far-reaching ideas was the idea that talking or communication is miraculous. It seemed to him the most wonderful occurrence in the world that things should have evolved beyond externally pulling and pushing one another around, and we should have developed the ability to communicate, should have acquired the art of handling our feelings and meanings to one another.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to hear one another talking. The complexity and speed, and the very weight of life's machinery are forcing the spirit of man to retreat in upon itself. Yet out of the deepest retreat, even out of the fears, suspicions, distrusts, animosities that shout their denunciations on every side, we keep on talking to one another. We ask one another for understanding, for support, for affection. John Dewey was among the greatest of those who persisted in laboring to win better and better means of articulating man's hunger for comradeship in making individual lives and the lives of individuals in togetherness as joyous and worthy as possible. And he did not speak, as have others, for a given culture, a limited geographical area, a particular time.
(By by Max Otto from The Progressive, Madison, July 1952)
According to Dewey, there have been three great revolutions in modern life of which the traditional school has taken little or no account: the intellectual revolution, brought about by the discoveries of modern science; the industrial revolution, consequent upon the invention and development of modern machinery; and the social revolution, resulting from the growth of modern democracy.

Democracy and Education:
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1
Education as a Necessity of Life
Chapter 2
Education as a Social Function
Chapter 3
Education as Direction
Chapter 4
Education as Growth
Chapter 5
Preparation, Unfolding, and Formal Discipline
Chapter 6
Education as Conservative and Progresssive
Chapter 7
The Democratic Conception in Education
Chapter 8
Aims in Education
Chapter 9
Natural Development and Social Efficiency as Aims
Chapter 10
Interest and Discipline
Chapter 11
Experience and Thinking
Chapter 12
Thinking in Education
Chapter 13
The Nature of Method
Chapter 14
The Nature of Subject Matter
Chapter 15
Play and Work in the Curriculum
Chapter 16
The Significance of Geography and History
Chapter 17
Science in the Course of Study
Chapter 18
Educational Values
Labor and Leisure
Chapter 20
Intellectual and Practical Studies
Chapter 21
Physical and Social Studies: Naturalism and Humanism
Chapter 22
The Individual and the World
Chapter 23
Vocational Aspects of Education
Chapter 24
Philosophy of Education
Chapter 25
Theories of Knowledge
Chapter 26
Theories of Morals
Copyright © 1916 The Macmillan Company.
Copyright renewed 1944 John Dewey.
HTML markup copyright 1994 ILT Digital Classics.

Referring to this triad of changes in globo, he said: "One can hardly believe there has been a revolution in all history so rapid, so extensive, so complete. [Consequently,] that this revolution should not affect education in other than formal and superficial fashion is inconceivable." And again, since "it is radical conditions [in the world] which have changed; only equally radical change in education suffices." According to basic Hegelianism, a change in one phase of reality calls for a corresponding change in every other: "The obvious fact is that our social life has undergone a thorough and radical change.
If our education is to have any meaning for life, it must pass through an equally complete transformation."
John Dewey was enough of a psychologist to know that the most formative years of a person's life are his childhood. In many of his writings, therefore, he was specially concerned with using experience as the medium of education for children, from kindergarten through grammar school. Dewey wrote, children in their early years are neither moral nor immoral, but simply unmoral; their sense of right and wrong has not yet begun to develop. Therefore, they should be allowed as much freedom as possible; prohibitions and commands, the result of which either upon themselves or their companions they cannot understand, are bound to be meaningless; their tendency is to make the child secretive and deceitful.
He said, in progressive schools "the children do the work, and the teacher is there to help them to know, not to have them give back what they have memorized" and not experienced. "Tests are often conducted with books open.... Lessons are not assigned"; otherwise, the child would be having knowledge poured into him from the outside instead of learning it from within
Dewey is not satisfied with "the superficial explanation that a government resting upon popular suffrage cannot be successful unless those who elect and who obey their governors are educated." The real reason why education in a democracy is of its very essence is that "a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority [and] must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education."
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Teaching John Dewey: An Essay Review of Three Books on John Dewey
Reviewer: Eric Margolis
Arizona State University at Education Review

For John Dewey, education and democracy are intimately connected. Why do so many students hate school? It seems an obvious, but ignored question. Dewey proposed that education be designed on the basis of a theory of experience. We must understand the nature of how humans have the experiences they do, in order to design effective education. In this respect, Dewey's theory of experience rested on two central tenets -- continuity and interaction.
Continuity refers to the notion that humans are sensitive to (or are affected by) experience. Humans survive more by learning from experience after they are born than do many other animals who rely primarily on pre-wired instinct. In humans, education is critical for providing people with the skills to live in society. Dewey argued that we learn something from every experience, whether positive or negative and ones accumulated learned experience influences the nature of one's future experiences. Thus, every experience in some way influences all potential future experiences for an individual. Continuity refers to this idea that s each experience is stored and carried on into the future, whether one likes it or not.
Interaction builds upon the notion of continuity and explains how past experience interacts with the present situation, to create one's present experience. Dewey's hypothesis is that your current experience can be understood as a function of your past (stored) experiences which interacting with the present situation to create an individual's experience. This explains the "one man's meat is another man's poison" maxim. Any situation can be experienced in profoundly different ways because of unique individual differences e.g., one student loves school, another hates the same school. This is important for educators to understand. Whilst they can't control students' past experiences, they can try to understand those past experiences so that better educational situations can be presented to the students. Ultimately, all a teacher has control over is the design of the present situation. The teacher with good insight into the effects of past experiences which students bring with them better enables the teacher to provide quality education which is relevant and meaningful for the students.
(By James Neill, Last updated: 26 Jan 2005 at

The School and Social Process (1907)
The School and the Life of the Child (1907)
Waste in Education (1907)
Three Years of the University Elementary School (1907)
The Psychology of Elementary Education (1915)
Froebel's Educational Principles (1915)
The Psychology of Occupations (1915)
The Development of Attention (1915)
The Aim of History in Elementary Education (1915)
John Dewey. The School and Society:
Lectures by John Dewey
supplemented by a statement of the University Elementary School, Chicago
University of Chicago Press. (1907)
©2007 The Mead Project.

Honorary Degrees:
1904 LL.D. University of Wisconsin
1910 LL.D. University of Vermont
1913 LL.D. University of Michigan
1915 LL.D. Johns Hopkins University
1917 LL.D. Illinois College
1920 Hon. Ph.D. National University of Peking
1929 Hon. Ph.D. University of St. Andrews
Litt.D. Columbia University
1930 DOCTEUR DE L'UNIVERSITE' honoris causa Paris
1932 Harvard University
1946 D.Sc. University of Pennsylvania
University of Oslo
1948 Dewey refused a proffered honorary degree from Charles University of Prague
( © 2006, Media Matrix)

Below are some key concepts in John Dewey's philosophy of education:
The relationship between the school and the home:
"We cannot overlook the factors of discipline and of character building involved in this kind of life: training in habits of order and of industry, and in the idea of responsibility, of obligation to do something, to produce something, in the world. There was always something which really needed to be done, and a real necessity that each member of the household should do his own part faithfully and in co-operation with others." What Dewey wants in the school system is for the school to reproduce, or if it has to, introduce, what happens or should happen in the home in the school. He wants the school to reflect the household chores in the school. Not necessarily by doing on school what is done at home but relating what is done in school to what is done at home, doing things done at home with an academic twist to it. An example of something that a school could do to uphold this is in math class when teaching children word problems they could use terms in the problem that relate to the home life. Or when teaching the children how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide prices they could use the actual prices and rates of items the children use at home, then the children could even take this home to their parents to help them out. Basically getting work done at school, killing two birds with one stone.
Community Service:
In correlation with Dewey, community service would be a great way to help create a community of learners. Students live, play, and work out in the community and should be happy to make it a better place. If this idea could be instilled at an early age, students would grow with the idea that their involvement is necessary and appreciated. They could take what they know about there own community and use it in the classrooms. For example, one form of community service that I did in high school was helping out with activities at a local nursing home and visiting with the residents. We were able to see how a nursing home was managed and the necessary work it took on the part of everyone involved to keep the residents happy and healthy. Using this as an example, students can incorporate a nursing home into all areas of the curriculum including mathematics (expenses of a nursing home and how many residents per room or activity), reading (reading to residents), science (doctors and medications), health (special diets or types of exercise and physical therapy), and history (stories from older people who have lived through the wars or depressions). Any type of information they learn is extra because they would not have known it unless they out involved in the community. They probably do not realize how much they are learning until it can be tied into what they learn in school. They will be more invested in the education because they are activity involved in it. What they are learning affects more than just them. Their presence and help at the nursing home also affects lives of the residents. This gives their community service a purpose. Another example of a community service project would be building a house for Habitat for Humanity. By doing this you could incorporate a lot of different classes such as: wood shop, electrical class, architecture, and some business classes. All of these classes would contribute to the overall product of designing, and building the house.
"A society is a number of people held together because they are working along common lines, in a common spirit, and with reference to common aims". Dewey thought that, not only should a school teach children how to be a part of the community, but it should also be a society itself. The best example is private schools. Children got a great education, and they were also a kind of little family. They had to all work together to raise money to keep the school open. Classes volunteered to do things for the community (i.e. collecting food for the poor, singing or making cards for people at the nursing home). Also, the students worked together to keep the school clean. Some would volunteer to clean up the grounds. Eighth graders could volunteer to be on the cleaning crew. The cleaning crew got in groups of 4 or 5 and would go in a rotation, each group staying after school and cleaning for a week whenever it was their turn. Parents got involved in school repairs by offering their services and donating tools and equipment from their various businesses. Also, students were given the opportunity to decide what they wanted to do and learn. They had extra classes that were optional. Plus, they did not try out for sports, so anyone could play whatever they wanted. All of these things built a great sense of community. They learned a lot, both inside books and out. They also learned to be responsible. Students treat their school a lot differently when they are the ones taking care of it. Since they knew that either they or some of thier peers had to clean up after them, they respected the school property. Also, since they were the ones that kept their school running, they worked hard at whatever they did, whether it was academics or athletics. There was no point in working so hard to keep a school running and keep it looking nice if they weren't going get something out of it. This sense of responsibility was carried with them whenever they left the school. There is still a part of them that cringes when they see that someone has defaced property in some way. They obviously don't know what it costs!
Discipline is almost self-taught through the steps one must go through when trying to create something from start to finish. Discipline comes through perseverance. "…from having a part to do in constructive work, in contributing to a result …" supports the thought that when someone comes up with an idea, they must work it out to make it a reality. Problems arise during this process, and by working through them one develops discipline. Dewey believes one must be doing something that is for production of results and has self-meaning as shown in his statement, "But out of occupation, out of doing things that are to produce results, and out of doing these in a social and co-operative way, there is born a discipline of its own kind and type." By not giving up, students become their own discipline teacher.
If we try to tie Dewey's concepts into the curriculum, then "diversity education" would necessarily be an integral part of the classroom environment. For example, taking Dewey's ideas both of school as society and school in society, if students were encouraged to work together cooperatively and collaboratively, each student contributing as much as her or she is able, then they would learn to appreciate each other as individuals and value the contributions each person brings to that particular interaction. Then, when those students return to their home environments, they will have a greater sense of the value of diversity and will become more profitable members of society as a whole. The school should be treated as an ideal community in which each person is encouraged to work past his or her individual prejudices and work toward the greater good. If we can involve students in more cooperative activities while giving them an increased awareness of the power of diversity, we would be doing them a great deal of good.
(From Foundations of Education Web home page)

Here are resources critical of Dewey and his philosophy:
A collection of websites critical of Dewey.
Was Dewey a Marxist?, by William Brooks. Also see Dewey's Impressions of Soviet Russia and the revolutionary world
The Unknown Dewey: John Dewey vs. the Alexander Technique. Discussion and quotes put together by a long-time student of the Alexander Technique who objects to Dewey's philosophy generally and in particular to attempts to associate him with the Technique.
Progressive perspectives:
Dewey and the Arrogance of Reason, by Frank Margonis. Criticisms from a multicultural antiauthoritarian somewhat traditionalist educationist's standpoint.
(From Anti-Dewey Page Turnabout at

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