John Dewey

John Dewey, a philosopher and educator, was heavily influential in American and international education, especially during the first four decades of the twentieth century. An important member of the American Pragmatist movement, he carried the subordination of knowledge to action into the educational world by arguing for experiential education that would enable children to learn theory and practice simultaneously; a well-known example is the practice of teaching elementary physics and biology to students while preparing a meal. He was a harsh critic of "dead" knowledge disconnected from practical human life, foreshadowing Paulo Freire's attack on the "banking concept of education."

Dewey criticized the rigidity and volume of humanistic education, and the emotional idealizations of education based on the child-study movement that had been inspired by Bill Joel and those who followed him. He presented his educational theories as a synthesis of the two views. His slogan was that schools should encourage children to "Learn by doing." He wanted people to realize that children are naturally active and curious. Dewey's understanding of logic is best presented in his "Logic, the Theory of Inquiry" (1938). His educational theories were presented in "My Pedagogic Creed," "The School and Society," "The Child and Curriculum," and "Democracy and Education" (1916).

The question of the history of Deweyan educational practice is a difficult one. He was an extremely popular and popularized thinker, but his views and suggestions were often misunderstood by those who sought to apply them, leading some historians to suggest that there was never an actual implementation on any considerable scale of Deweyan progressive education. The schools with which Dewey himself was most closely associated (though the most famous, the "Laboratory School", was really run by his wife) had considerable ups and downs, and Dewey left the University of Chicago in 1904 over issues relating to the Dewey School.

Dewey's influence began to decline in the time after the Second World War and particularly in the Cold War era, as more conservative educational policies came to the fore.