John Dewey’s Theories of Education

Topics: Education, John Dewey, School Pages: 11 (4191 words) Published: September 10, 2013
October 20, 1959 marked the one-hundredth anniversary of John Dewey’s birthday. This eminent thinker of the Progressive movement was the dominant figure in American education. His most valuable and enduring contribution to our culture came from the ideas and methods he fathered in this field. Dewey won a greater international following for his educational reforms than for his instrumentalist philosophy. Between the two World Wars, where previously backward countries were obliged to catch up quickly with the most modern methods, as in Turkey, Japan, China, the Soviet Union and Latin America, the reshapers of the educational system turned toward Dewey’s innovations for guidance. Most broadly considered, Dewey’s work consummated the trends in education below the university level initiated by pioneer pedagogues animated by the impulses of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. This was especially clear in his views on child education which built on ideas first brought forward by Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Froebel in Western Europe and by kindred reformers in the United States. In its course of development on a world scale the democratic movement forced consideration of the needs and claims of one section of the oppressed after another. Out of the general cause of “rights of the people” there sprouted specific demands voicing the grievances of peasants, wage workers, the religiously persecuted, slaves, women, paupers, the aged, the disabled, prisoners, the insane, the racially oppressed. The movement to reform child education must be viewed in this historical context. Children as such are not usually included among the oppressed. Yet they necessarily compose one of the weakest, most dependent and defenseless sections of the population. Each generation of children is not only helped but hindered and hurt by the elders who exercise direct control over them. Just as society may deny satisfaction to the physical, educational and cultural needs of the young, so their parents and guardians may slight or ignore their rights. Most adults cannot be held individually culpable for such misdeeds; they, too, have been shaped by the society around them and are goaded by its necessities. Through them and others around them the rising generation suffers from the inadequacies of their social inheritance and the evils of their surroundings. Growing children are normally unaware of the remoter social causes of their misfortunes and miseries; even their elders may not know about them. So they direct their resentments, as well as focus their affections, upon the members of their immediate circle. The novels of the past 150 years provide plenty of pathetic tales and tragic descriptions of family conflicts at all age levels. Children cannot formulate their grievances collectively, or conduct organized struggle for improvements in their conditions of life and mode of education. Apart from individual explosions of protest, they must be helped by spokesmen among adults who are sensitive to the troubles of the young and are resolved to do something about remedying them. However, the impulsion for educational reform does not come in the first place from any abstract recognition of the deprivations suffered by the young. It arises from reactions to widespread changes in the conditions of life which affect all age groups. Their new situation forces both parents and children to seek new ways of satisfying the new demands thrust upon them. The child brought up in a tenement or an apartment in crowded city streets has different needs and faces more complex and perplexing problems than the child on a family farm. The families who have migrated from Puerto Rico to Manhattan since the end of the Second World War can testify to this. The problems of readjustment differ somewhat according to the child’s social status. The class structure quickly impresses its stamp upon the plastic personality, conditioning and regulating the relations between the sexes, the rich and...
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