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John Dewey October 20, - June 1, was an American philosopher and educator.
Throughout the United States and the world at large, the name of John Dewey has become synonymous with the Progressive education movement. Dewey has been generally recognized as the most renowned and influential American philosopher of education. During his lifetime the United States developed from a simple frontier-agricultural society to a complex urban-industrial nation, and Dewey developed his educational ideas largely in response to this rapid and wrenching period of cultural change.
His father, whose ancestors came to America in , was the proprietor of Burlington's general store, and his mother was the daughter of a local judge. John, the third of their four sons, was a shy boy and an average student. He delivered newspapers, did his chores, and enjoyed exploring the woodlands and waterways around Burlington.
His father hoped that John might become a mechanic, and it is quite possible that John might not have gone to college if the University of Vermont had not been located just down the street. There, after two years of average work, he graduated first in a class of 18 in There were few jobs for college graduates in Burlington, and Dewey spent three anxious months searching for work. After two years of teaching high school Latin, algebra, and science, Dewey returned to Burlington to teach in a rural school closer to home.
With the encouragement of H. Torrey, his former philosophy professor at the University of Vermont, Dewey wrote three philosophical essays a; b; which were accepted for publication in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, whose editor, William Torrey Harris, hailed them as the products of a first-rate philosophical mind.
There he studied philosophy—which at that time and place primarily meant Hegelian philosophy and German idealism—and wrote his dissertation on the psychology of Kant. In his first year at Michigan, Dewey not only taught but also produced his first major book, Psychology In addition, he met, wooed, and married Alice Chipman, a student at Michigan who was herself a former schoolteacher. Fatherhood and ten years' teaching experience helped his interest in psychology and philosophy to merge with his growing interest in education.
In the University of Chicago offered Dewey the chairmanship of the department of philosophy, psychology, and pedagogy. At Chicago he established the now-famous laboratory school commonly known as the Dewey School , where he scientifically tested, modified, and developed his psychological and educational ideas. An early statement of his philosophical position in education, My Pedagogic Creed , appeared three years after his arrival at Chicago.
Four other major educational writings came out of Dewey's Chicago experience. The first two, The School and Society , which was first published in , and The Child and the Curriculum , were lectures which he delivered to raise money and gain support for the laboratory school. Although the books were brief, they were clear and direct statements of the basic elements of Dewey's educational philosophy and his psychology of learning.
Both works stressed the functional relationship between classroom learning activities and real life experiences and analyzed the social and psychological nature of the learning process. Two later volumes, How We Think and Democracy and Education , elaborated these themes in greater and more systematic detail. Dewey's work at Chicago was cut short when, without consulting Dewey, Chicago's president, William Rainey Harper, arranged to merge the laboratory school with the university training school for teachers.
The merger not only took control of the school from Dewey's hands but changed it from an experimental laboratory to an institution for teacher-training. Dewey felt that he had no recourse but to resign and wrote to William James at Harvard and to James M. Cattell at Columbia University, informing them of his decision.
Dewey's reputation in philosophy had grown considerably by this time, and Cattell had little difficulty in persuading the department of philosophy and psychology at Columbia to offer him a position. Because the salary offer was quite low for a man with six children three more had been born during his ten years at Chicago , arrangements were made for Dewey to teach an additional two hours a week at Columbia Teachers College for extra compensation.
For the next twenty-six years at Columbia, Dewey continued his illustrious career as a philosopher and witnessed the dispersion of his educational ideas throughout the world by many of his disciples at Teachers College, not the least of whom was William Heard Kilpatrick. Dewey retired in but was immediately appointed professor emeritus of philosophy in residence at Columbia and held that post until his eightieth birthday in The previous year he had published his last major educational work, Experience and Education In this series of lectures he clearly restated his basic philosophy of education and recognized and rebuked the many excesses he thought the Progressive education movement had committed.
He chastised the Progressives for casting out traditional educational practices and content without offering something positive and worthwhile to take their place. He offered a reformulation of his views on the intimate connection between learning and experience and challenged those who would call themselves Progressives to work toward the realization of the educational program he had carefully outlined a generation before. At the age of ninety he published his last large-scale original philosophical work, Knowing andthe Known , in collaboration with Arthur F.
The starting place in Dewey's philosophy and educational theory is the world of everyday life. Unlike many philosophers, Dewey did not search beyond the realm of ordinary experience to find some more fundamental and enduring reality.
For Dewey, the everyday world of common experience was all the reality that man had access to or needed. Dewey was greatly impressed with the success of the physical sciences in solving practical problems and in explaining, predicting, and controlling man's environment. He considered the scientific mode of inquiry and the scientific systematization of human experience the highest attainment in the evolution of the mind of man, and this way of thinking and approaching the world became a major feature of his philosophy.
In fact, he defined the educational process as a "continual reorganization, reconstruction and transformation of experience" , p. Dewey was careful in his writings to make clear what kinds of experiences were most valuable and useful.
Some experiences are merely passive affairs, pleasant or painful but not educative. An educative experience, according to Dewey, is an experience in which we make a connection between what we do to things and what happens to them or us in consequence; the value of an experience lies in the perception of relationships or continuities among events.
Thus, if a child reaches for a candle flame and burns his hand, he experiences pain, but this is not an educative experience unless he realizes that touching the flame resulted in a burn and, moreover, formulates the general expectation that flames will produce burns if touched. In just this way, before we are formally instructed, we learn much about the world, ourselves, and others.
It is this natural form of learning from experience, by doing and then reflecting on what happened, which Dewey made central in his approach to schooling. Reflective thinking and the perception of relationships arise only in problematical situations. As long as our interaction with our environment is a fairly smooth affair we may think of nothing or merely daydream, but when this untroubled state of affairs is disrupted we have a problem which must be solved before the untroubled state can be restored.
For example, a man walking in a forest is suddenly stopped short by a stream which blocks his path, and his desire to continue walking in the same direction is thwarted. He considers possible solutions to his problem—finding or producing a set of stepping-stones, finding and jumping across a narrow part, using something to bridge the stream, and so forth—and looks for materials or conditions to fit one of the proposed solutions.
He finds an abundance of stones in the area and decides that the first suggestion is most worth testing. Then he places the stones in the water, steps across to the other side, and is off again on his hike.
Such an example illustrates all the elements of Dewey's theoretical description of reflective thinking: A real problem arises out of present experiences, suggestions for a solution come to mind, relevant data are observed, and a hypothesis is formed, acted upon, and finally tested.
For Dewey, learning was primarily an activity which arises from the personal experience of grappling with a problem.
This concept of learning implied a theory of education far different from the dominant school practice of his day, when students passively received information that had been packaged and predigested by teachers and textbooks. Thus, Dewey argued, the schools did not provide genuine learning experiences but only an endless amassing of facts, which were fed to the students, who gave them back and soon forgot them.
Dewey distinguished between the psychological and the logical organization of subject matter by comparing the learner to an explorer who maps an unknown territory. The explorer, like the learner, does not know what terrain and adventures his journey holds in store for him.
He has yet to discover mountains, deserts, and water holes and to suffer fever, starvation, and other hardships. Finally, when the explorer returns from his journey, he will have a hard-won knowledge of the country he has traversed. Then, and only then, can he produce a map of the region.
The map, like a textbook, is an abstraction which omits his thirst, his courage, his despairs and triumphs—the experiences which made his journey personally meaningful. The map records only the relationships between landmarks and terrain, the logic of the features without the psychological revelations of the journey itself. To give the map to others as a teacher might is to give the results of an experience, not the experience by which the map was produced and became personally meaningful to the producer.
Although the logical organization of subject matter is the proper goal of learning, the logic of the subject cannot be truly meaningful to the learner without his psychological and personal involvement in exploration. Only by wrestling with the conditions of the problem at hand, "seeking and finding his own way out, does he think ….
If he cannot devise his own solution not, of course, in isolation but in correspondence with the teacher and other pupils and find his own way out he will not learn, not even if he can recite some correct answer with one hundred percent accuracy" Dewey , p. Although learning experiences may be described in isolation, education for Dewey consisted in the cumulative and unending acquisition, combination, and reordering of such experiences. Just as a tree does not grow by having new branches and leaves wired to it each spring, so educational growth does not consist in mechanically adding information, skills, or even educative experiences to students in grade after grade.
Rather, educational growth consists in combining past experiences with present experiences in order to receive and understand future experiences. To grow, the individual must continually reorganize and reformulate past experiences in the light of new experiences in a cohesive fashion. Ideas and experiences which are not woven into the fabric of growing experience and knowledge but remain isolated seemed to Dewey a waste of precious natural resources.
The dichotomy of in-school and out-of-school experiences he considered especially wasteful, as he indicated as early as in The School and Society:. From the standpoint of the child, the great waste in the school comes from his inability to utilize the experiences he gets outside the school in any complete and free way within the school itself; while on the other hand, he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning in school.
That is the isolation of the school—its isolation from life. When the child gets into the schoolroom he has to put out of his mind a large part of the ideas, interests and activities that predominate in his home and neighborhood. So the school being unable to utilize this everyday experience, sets painfully to work on another tack and by a variety of [artificial] means, to arouse in the child an interest in school studies …. To bridge this chasm between school and life, Dewey advocated a method of teaching which began with the everyday experience of the child.
Dewey maintained that unless the initial connection was made between school activities and the life experiences of the child, genuine learning and growth would be impossible. Nevertheless, he was careful to point out that while the experiential familiar was the natural and meaningful place to begin learning, it was more importantly the "intellectual starting point for moving out into the unknown and not an end in itself" , p.
To further reduce the distance between school and life, Dewey urged that the school be made into an embryonic social community which simplified but resembled the social life of the community at large. A society, he reasoned, "is a number of people held together because they are working along common lines, in a common spirit, and with reference to common aims. The common needs and aims demand a growing interchange of thought and growing unity of sympathetic feeling. Thus Dewey affirmed his fundamental belief in the two-sidedness of the educational process.
Neither the psychological nor the sociological purpose of education could be neglected if evil results were not to follow. To isolate the school from life was to cut students off from the psychological ties which make learning meaningful; not to provide a school environment which prepared students for life in society was to waste the resources of the school as a socializing institution. Dewey recognized that the major instrument of human learning is language, which is itself a social product and is learned through social experiences.
He saw that in providing a pool of common meanings for communication, the language of each society becomes the repository of the society's ideals, values, beliefs, and accumulated knowledge. To transmit the contents of the language to the young and to initiate the young in the ways of civilized life was for Dewey the primary function of the school as an institution of society.
But, he argued, a way of life cannot be transmitted by words alone. Essential to acquiring the spirit of a way of life is immersion in ways of living. More specifically, Dewey thought that in a democratic society the school should provide students with the opportunity to experience democracy in action.
For Dewey, democracy was more than a form of government; it was a way of living which went beyond politics, votes, and laws to pervade all aspects of society. Dewey recognized that every social group, even a band of thieves, is held together by certain common interests, goals, values, and meanings, and he knew that every such group also comes into contact with other groups.
He believed, however, that the extent to which democracy has been attained in any society can be measured by the extent to which differing groups share similar values, goals, and interests and interact freely and fruitfully with each other. A democratic society, therefore, is one in which barriers of any kind—class, race, religion, color, politics, or nationality—among groups are minimized, and numerous meanings, values, interests, and goals are held in common.
Biography of John Dewey
In the Pullman strike, workers fought against having their wages cut. Dewey saw the turmoil as symbolic of a rapidly changing America in need of school reform. The strike ended two weeks later, took the lives of thirty people, and symbolized a rapidly changing America dominated by corporations that set laborers against owners. The philosopher had entered a city whose population was exploding with immigrants, many of whom were illiterate; a city of half-built skyscrapers and noisome meatpacking plants; a city with a new university funded by John D. Rockefeller, the University of Chicago, whose Gothic buildings and eminent faculty would rival those of Harvard and Yale. John Dewey had arrived to chair the philosophy and pedagogy department. Worried about working for a university dedicated to laissez-faire capitalism, Dewey found himself becoming more of a populist, more of a socialist, more sympathetic to the settlement house pioneered by Jane Addams, and more skeptical of his childhood Christianity.
John Dewey. "The School and Social Progress." Chapter 1 in The School and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press ():
The school and society
Source: Internet Archive. Philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer, John Dewey was convinced a progressive education held the power to transform society. His legacy has lived on, as The John Dewey Society , and peer-reviewed scholarship. K teachers often speak of his influence on their teaching philosophy you can learn more about him here.
In the lectures included in the initial publication, Dewey proposes a psychological, social, and political framework for progressive education. Notably, this includes collaborative practical experimentation as the central element of school work. He argues that the progressive approach is both an inevitable product of the Industrial Revolution and a natural fit with the psychology of children. A final chapter details some of the experiments done at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Articles in the edition extended his argument with reprints of Dewey's work published in the Elementary School Record.
Experience and Reflective Thinking
Throughout the United States and the world at large, the name of John Dewey has become synonymous with the Progressive education movement. Dewey has been generally recognized as the most renowned and influential American philosopher of education. During his lifetime the United States developed from a simple frontier-agricultural society to a complex urban-industrial nation, and Dewey developed his educational ideas largely in response to this rapid and wrenching period of cultural change. His father, whose ancestors came to America in , was the proprietor of Burlington's general store, and his mother was the daughter of a local judge. John, the third of their four sons, was a shy boy and an average student. He delivered newspapers, did his chores, and enjoyed exploring the woodlands and waterways around Burlington. His father hoped that John might become a mechanic, and it is quite possible that John might not have gone to college if the University of Vermont had not been located just down the street.
John Dewey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press : We are apt to look at the school from an individualistic standpoint, as something between teacher and pupil, or between teacher and parent.
Skip to search form Skip to main content You are currently offline. Some features of the site may not work correctly. DOI: Dewey and P. Dewey , P.