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John Dewey A Pioneer in Educational Philosophy

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John Dewey

A Pioneer in Educational Philosophy
Steven Devendorf
TED502
State University College at Oswego

Introduction
John Dewey (1859 - 1952) has made, arguably, the most significant contribution to the development of educational thinking in the twentieth century.  He was an American psychologist, philosopher, educator, social critic and political activist.  Dewey's philosophical pragmatism, concern with interaction, reflection and experience, and interest in community and democracy, were brought together to form a highly suggestive educative form. John Dewey is often misrepresented - and wrongly associated with child-centered education. In many respects his work cannot be easily slotted into any one of the curriculum traditions that have dominated north American and UK schooling traditions over the last century.
John Dewey's significance for informal educators lays in a number of areas. First, his belief that education must engage with and enlarge experience has continued to be a significant strand in informal education practice. Second, and linked to this, Dewey's exploration of thinking and reflection - and the associated role of educators - has continued to be an inspiration. Third, his concern with interaction and environments for learning provide a continuing framework for practice. And finally, his passion for democracy, for educating so that all may share in a common life, provides a strong rationale for practice in the collaborative settings in which educators work.
In this paper, it is the writers intention to provide the reader with the pinnacle experiences and works of John Dewey that influence the theories and practices of the modern educational community today.  This account of John Dewey’s life has been researched and composed as a snapshot of  the magnitude of his work which began in the 1890s, and became a lifetime of intellectual accomplishments (40 books and over 700 articles, in addition to countless letters, lectures, and other published works) which continue to play an influential role in the many fields of knowledge today.
Dewey’s Early Years
John Dewey was born October 20, 1859, in Burlington, Vermont. His father, Archibald, decided to give up on  the third generation of family farming  to pursue a career in the grocery business, which was opened in the small city of Burlington. Dewey's mother, Lucina, was also raised in the farming business. With the onset of the Civil War,  Archibald sold the grocery business when he volunteered to join the Union Army, but after the war he soon became the owner of a cigar and tobacco shop (Field, 2001).

John and his two brothers were raised in a middle class environment in a community consisting of  natural born Americans and newly settled immigrants from Ireland and French Quebec.  Dewey completed grade-school at the age of 12 in Burlington's public schools. He entered high school in 1872 and selected the college-preparatory track (this option became available only a few years previously).  Dewey completed his high school courses in three years.  He began his college studies at  the University of Vermont, in Burlington, in 1875, when he was 16 years old. The curriculum in college was traditional in the sense that it was similar to Dewey's high school courses, which emphasized studies in Greek and Latin, English literature, math, and rhetoric. The faculty did, however, encourage their students to be themselves and to think their own thoughts. This was the first exposure that Dewey had to his future beliefs and theories. By his senior year, Dewey was immersed in studies of political, social, and moral philosophy (Field, 2001).
Dewey graduated from the University of Vermont in 1879. Through a relative, he obtained a high school teaching position in Oil City, Pennsylvania, where he was part of a three-member faculty for two years. Dewey returned to Vermont in 1881, where he combined high school teaching with continuing study of philosophy, under the tutoring of Dewey's former undergraduate professor, Henry A. P. Torrey.
Dewey Peruses his Doctorate
In September 1882, Dewey enrolled at Johns Hopkins University to begin graduate studies in philosophy. Johns Hopkins was one of the first American universities to offer graduate instruction that was considered comparable to the European universities, emphasizing original scholarly research as an expectation for graduate students and faculty members. Dewey's professors included Charles Sanders Peirce (logic), G. Stanley Hall (psychology), and George Sylvester Morris, whose interest in the work of Hegel and Kant greatly influenced Dewey. Dewey's dissertation, "The Psychology of Kant," was completed in 1884. The manuscript was never published and has never been found; however, an article by Dewey titled "Kant and Philosophic Method," published in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy in April 1884 is believed to cover some of the same material as the dissertation.

The Road to Chicago

Upon completion of his Ph.D., Dewey was recommended, by one of his advisers, for a position as a junior professor at the University at Michigan, where he inevitably became the department chair of the philosophy department.  Dewey taught at Michigan from 1884 to 1888, and also from 1889 to 1894.  During the first four years at Michigan, Dewey’s reputation as a scholar and teacher was  recognized by the University of Minnesota, and they in turn offered Dewey a Position as Professor of Mental an Moral Philosophy.  He did take the position, but only remained in Minnesota for one year, returning to Michigan for the department head position.
In 1894, Dewey joined the staff at the four year old University of Chicago. Like John Hopkins, He was expected to perform scholarly work including publishing, as well as excellence in teaching.  It was here that Dewey began his extensive research, publications, and dialogue on philosophy, psychology, and the study of pedagogy.  Dewey felt that the pedagogical studies should stand alone from the studies of philosophy and psychology, and upon agreement form the college president, the Department of Pedagogy was developed.  Chicago’s program (now called the Department of Education) became the most respected in the country by the early 1900s.

Dewey’s Pedagogic Creed

            By the end of the 1800s, Dewey began to focus much of his attention to the newly developed Department of Pedagogy at Chicago.  In 1896, through the direct efforts of Dewey, the first experimental school, called the University Elementary school was established. It was in this laboratory school, and many to follow, that the philosophical beliefs of Dewey, later to be called Pragmatism, were engaging students in the classroom.  Less than a year later, one of John Dewey’s many famous writings, called My Pedagogic Creed appeared in The School Journal, Volume LIV, Number3, on January 16, 1897. This was an extremely powerful essay in which Dewey outlined several aspects of his views on education and school.  Ultimately, Dewey believed that school and education should be rooted in the experiences of the child.  School should connect to the values of the home, to the child's everyday life and interests, as well as developing new interests and experiences.  Dewey stated  I believe that the teacher's place and work in the school is to be interpreted from this same basis.”   “The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these influences” (1897).  This was one of many quotations that the educational community faulted, in that it was felt that the teacher would lose control of the students in a child-centered environment.  Dewey also states his belief in authentic education by writing  “I believe that the only way to make the child conscious of his social heritage is to enable him to perform those fundamental types of activity which make civilization what it is.”  I believe, therefore, in the so-called expressive or constructive activities as the center of correlation.”  I believe that this gives the standard for the place of cooking, sewing, manual training, etc., in the school” (1897).

Progressive education

During this timeframe of the late-19th century, many educational programs began to emerge out of the American reform effort called the progressive movement with its philosophies rooted in the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau, Johann Pestalozzi, and Friedrich Froebel. Considered a pluralistic phenomenon, it embraced industrial training, agricultural and social education, and educational theorists' new instructional techniques. The progressives insisted that education be a continuous reconstruction of living experience, with the child the center of concern. (Rugg, 1960) Firmly committed to a democratic outlook, he considered the school a laboratory to test his notion that education could integrate learning with experience.  Dewey cited in Edmen’s book, Makers of the American Tradition, “the advance of psychology, of industrial methods, and of the experimental method in science makes another conception of experience explicitly desirable and possible” (pp. 195-196).
John Dewey’s Laboratory School in Chicago (1896-1904), the public schools of Gary, Ind., and Winnetka, Ill., and such independent schools as the Dalton School and the Lincoln School of Teachers College, Columbia, were notable progressive institutions. The University Elementary School or Laboratory School, established by Dewey, grew quickly. Parents were drawn to a curriculum that focused on the child along with the subject matter. The learning process was just as important as what was learned, and where curiosity was encouraged (Brubacher, 1960). Unlike earlier models of teaching, which relied on authoritarianism and rote learning, progressive education contented that students must have an investment in what they were being taught.

School and Society

John Dewey maintained that schools should reflect society.  He believed that there was a strong connection between education and social action in a democracy. Trained as a philosopher at Johns Hopkins, Dewey was intrigued by the relationship between the individual and society. In a book written by Dewey in 1899, entitled School and Society, he wrote “democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.” He felt that schools should not simply be places where lessons are disseminated that could, or could not, one day play a role in a student’s life.  School should be full of activities that are vital and important to the learner now.  It should “be a miniature community, an embryonic society” (p. 15). Dewey felt that in the new industrial society children were not realizing the basic foundational skills that had led to the development of their current society.  School should provide children with that foundation so they could in turn make meaningful contributions to, and play important roles in, society. They would be able to use their mind as a powerful tool to help both themselves and the society in which they live.
 From Dewey’s viewpoint, traditional education set up the child to play a passive, receptive role in the educational process.  The schoolrooms and curriculum that were being utilized during this time were that of a one size fits all mentality. However, children are unique, full of spontaneity and imagination.  There minds are active and naturally inquisitive.  Hence, when information is merely disseminated and expected to be regurgitated, it is no wonder that children lose interest and it becomes hard work just to gain their attention. Dewey’s philosophy of education embraced the natural urges of the child.  He encouraged questioning and testing to discover truth.  “A thought is not a thought, unless it is one’s own” (p. 50).  However, according to Dewey, children’s interest are not simply to be freely explored without direction.  The interests are to be controlled and fostered by the educator with a specific purpose and enduring goal in mind.

Democracy and Education

            In 1916 John Dewey wrote another powerful book which was written within the framework of how education was to fulfill the needs of society. The book entitled Democracy and Education defined democracy as a way of defining culture.  Dewey viewed democracy as a way of government that allows for the members of society to enjoy freedom in a well organized civilization.  He refers to the countries that do not use technology and mass elections to govern themselves as "savage".
  According to Michael Boucher’s research in the Capstone Project, this book was written in a time that World War I was underway and was promised to end all wars.  Child labor laws were creating unprecedented need for schools in urban areas where there previously had been no need, and these children were in school to learn the new skills for a new non-agrarian society (1998). The events of the world at the time certainly influenced Dewey’s work and helped to fuel his philosophies. Dewey theorized that societies that are more “complex” needed more complex systems to transmit the culture to the young.  This transmission takes place through "communication" which comes through the social interaction between children and adults.  Education was defined by these social interactions; this transmission of culture. Dewey again associates the existence of society as a living and growing entity in his statement:
“Society exists through a process of transmission quite as much as biological life.  The transmission occurs by means of ideals, hopes, expectations, standards, and opinions from those members of society who are passing out of the group to those who are coming into it.  Without this, social life could not survive” (p. 3).

In his analysis, Boucher feels that Democracy and Education was above all a treatise on the purpose of teaching and it challenged teachers to work on specific areas of knowledge and become scholars in those fields.  Dewey felt that teaching critical thinking skills was a far better utilization of education versus memorization of rote knowledge.  “He challenged teachers to think and reflect on why they do things and to look at math, science, geography, and art as ways of learning to learn” (1998).  Dewey’s commitment to democratic education practices at the Dewey School was evidence of these philosophical beliefs.  This school was a community of learners.  Dewey was not only concerned with developing the minds of students, but also that of teacher's.

Conclusion

            In Dewey’s extensive works throughout his life, he outlined his views on how education could improve society. The founder of what became known as the progressive education movement, Dewey argued that it was the job of education to encourage individuals to develop their full potential as human beings. He was especially critical of the rote learning of facts in schools and argued that children should learn by experience. In this way students would not just gain knowledge but would also develop skills, habits and attitudes necessary for them to solve a wide variety of problems.
               Dewey attempted to show the important links between education and politics. Dewey believed that active learning would help people develop the ability and motivation to think critically about the world around them. Progressive education was therefore a vital part of a successful democracy as it was necessary for people to be able to think for themselves. Dewey also argued that the development of critical thought would also help protect society from the dangers of dictatorship.  Students must be engaged in meaningful and relevant activities which allow them to apply the concepts they are endeavoring to learn. Hands-on projects are the key to creating authentic learning experiences.

Bibliography
Boucher, M. (1998). John Dewey: Democracy and Education. Retrieved October 11, 2003, from Hamline  University site: http://www.hamline.edu/~mboucher/capstoneproject1998/dewey.html

Blewett, J. (1960). John Dewey: his thought and influence. New York: Fordham University Press

Boydston, J. (1979). John Dewey: the middle works: volume 7, 1899-1924. Carbondale, CA: Southern Illinois University Press

Campbell, J. (1995). Understanding John Dewey. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company

Dewey, J. (1915). School and society. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Edman, I. (1955). John Dewey: makers of the American tradition. New York: The Bobs-Merrill Company, Inc.

Field, R. (2001) John Dewey: Life and works. Retrieved October 10,2003, from University at Tennessee site: The Internet Encyclopedia of Psychology: http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/d/dewey.htm

InFed.Org. Archives:E-texts. (n.d.). John Dewey: My pedagogic creed. Retrieved October 10,2003, from http://www.infed.org/archives/e-texts/e-dew-pc.htm

Ratner, J. (1939). John Dewey’s philosophy. New York: The Modern Library

Rugg, H., Broudy, H., & Brubacher, J. (1960). John Dewey in perspective. Bulletin of the School of Education: Indiana University. Division of Research and Field Services













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