Elaine Goodale Eastman
John Dewey (1859-1952)
John Dewey was the most significant educational thinker of his era and, many would argue, of the 20th century. As a philosopher, social reformer and educator, he changed fundamental approaches to teaching and learning. His ideas about education sprang from a philosophy of pragmatism and were central to the Progressive Movement in schooling. In light of his importance, it is ironic that many of his theories have been relatively poorly understood and haphazardly applied over the past hundred years.
Dewey's concept of education put a premium on meaningful activity in learning and participation in classroom democracy. Unlike earlier models of teaching, which relied on authoritarianism and rote learning, progressive education asserted that students must be invested in what they were learning. Dewey argued that curriculum should be relevant to students' lives. He saw learning by doing and development of practical life skills as crucial to children's education. Some critics assumed that, under Dewey's system, students would fail to acquire basic academic skills and knowledge. Others believed that classroom order and the teacher's authority would disappear.
To Dewey, the central ethical imperative in education was democracy. Every school, as he wrote in The School and Society, must become "an embryonic community life, active with types of occupations that reflect the life of the larger society and permeated throughout with the spirit of art, history and science. When the school introduces and trains each child of society into membership within such a little community, saturating him with the spirit of service, and providing him with instruments of effective self-direction, we shall have the deepest and best guarantee of a larger society which is worthy, lovely and harmonious."
Democracy and Education, 1917
Education Today, 1940
John Dewey on Education: Selected Writings, 1964