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John Dewey

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5 Point Essay

Professor Michael Glassman will be presenting information regarding John Dewey and talking about how his ideas on PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY may improve UAC Town Meetings tomorrow. Complete this assignment in preparation for his visit.

Read this article and answer the following questions:

1 - Who was John Dewey?

2 - What was his main educational philosophy?

3 - How did he view the role of democracy in American education?

4 - How do you see his ideas intersecting with those of Upper Arlington Community High School?


Dewey, John (1859-1952), was an American philosopher and educator. He helped lead a philosophical movement called Pragmatism.

Dewey was strongly influenced by the then-new science of psychology and by the theory of evolution proposed by the English scientist Charles R. Darwin. Dewey came to regard intelligence as a power that people use when they face a conflict or challenge. He believed that people live by custom and habit. In most situations, it is sufficient to think and act as we have done in the past, but some physical and social situations present problems calling for new responses. According to Dewey, we cannot solve such problems by habitual action and thought. We must use intelligence as an instrument for overcoming any obstacles. Dewey's philosophy is thus called instrumentalism.

Dewey believed that knowledge is a means of controlling the environment, hopefully to improve the quality of human life. He wrote widely on art, democracy, education, philosophy, and science. In his writings, Dewey always focused on the same problem-how to close the gap between thought and action. Dewey's interpretation of science shows how thought and action are united. He considered science as a method for inquiring into the behavior of things. The results of such inquiry are the joint products of thought and activity. Dewey regarded activity as conducting experiments under controlled situations and thought as those theories that guide our experiments.

In every area of life, Dewey called for experimenting and trying out new methods. As an educator, he opposed the traditional method of learning by memory under the authority of teachers. He believed that education should not be concerned only with the mind. Students should develop manual skills. Learning must be related to the interests of students and connected with current problems. Dewey declared that education must include a student's physical and moral well-being as well as intellectual development.

Dewey developed from these views a philosophical ground for democracy and liberalism. He conceived of democracy not as a mere form of government, but rather as a mode of association which provides the members of a society with the opportunity for maximum experimentation and personal growth. The ideal society, for Dewey, was one that provided the conditions for ever enlarging the experience of all its members.

Educational theory and practice. Dewey's work in philosophy and psychology was largely centred in his major interest, educational reform. In formulating educational criteria and aims, he drew heavily on the insights into learning offered by contemporary psychology as applied to children. He viewed thought and learning as a process of inquiry starting from doubt or uncertainty and spurred by the desire to resolve practical frictions or relieve strain and tension. Education must therefore begin with experience, which has as its aim growth and the achievement of maturity.

Dewey's writings on education, notably his The School and Society (1899) and The Child and the Curriculum (1902), presented and defended what were to remain the chief underlying tenets of the philosophy of education he originated. These tenets were that the educational process must begin with and build upon the interests of the child; that it must provide opportunity for the interplay of thinking and doing in the child's classroom experience; that the teacher should be a guide and coworker with the pupils, rather than a taskmaster assigning a fixed set of lessons and recitations; and that the school's goal is the growth of the child in all aspects of its being.

Among the results of Dewey's administrative efforts were the establishment of an independent department of pedagogy and of the University of Chicago's Laboratory Schools, in which the educational theories and practices suggested by psychology and philosophy could be tested. The Laboratory Schools, the original unit of which began operation in 1896, attracted wide attention and enhanced the reputation of the University of Chicago as a foremost centre of progressive educational thought. Dewey headed the Laboratory Schools from 1903 to 1904.

Dewey's ideas and proposals strongly affected educational theory and practice in the United States. Aspects of his views were seized upon by the "progressive movement" in education, which stressed the student-centred rather than the subject-centred school, education through activity rather than through formal learning, and laboratory, workshop, or occupational education rather than the mastery of traditional subjects. But though Dewey's own faith in progressive education never wavered, he came to realize that the zeal of his followers introduced a number of excesses and defects into progressive education. Indeed, in Experience and Education (1938) he sharply criticized educators who sought merely to interest or amuse students, disregarded organized subject matter in favour of mere activity on the part of students, and were content with mere vocational training.

During the last two decades of Dewey's life, his philosophy of education was the target of numerous and widespread attacks. Progressive educational practices were blamed for the failure of some American school systems to train pupils adequately in the liberal arts and for their neglect of such basic subjects as mathematics and science. Furthermore, critics blamed Dewey and his progressive ideas for what the former viewed as an insufficient emphasis on discipline in the schools.