... this page is part of the Web Site of George North ...
Philosopher -- John Dewey

"People only truly think when they are confronted with a problem. Without some kind of dilemma to stimulate thought, behavior becomes habitual rather than thoughtful."

EDCI 6658, Spring 1998
Dr. Mike Paulsen
March 4, 1998

Tzu-Yi Hsu
Brian J. McDonald
George J. North, Jr.


Early influences on Dewey's philosophy came at Johns Hopkins University. There he worked with George Sylvester Morris (a German-trained Hegelian), who exposed him to the organic model of nature. An American experimental psychologists, G. Stanley Hall, provided Dewey with an appreciation of the power of scientific methodology as applied to the human sciences.

Dewey's work is associated with philosophical pragmatism and he is one of the founders of the progressive movement in education. Dewey believed that education must engage with and enlarge experience. Education must be an exploration of thinking and reflection. Education must be an interaction with and an environment for learning. Education must be a democracy where all share in a common life that provides associational settings.

Dewey's contributions to educational philosophy is matched by his contributions to many other fields of philosophical inquiry. He sought to fundamentally reorient philosophical work. In epistemology he elaborated a conception of truth that turned on the uses of what we know. In aesthetics he sought to move inquiry away from abstract theory and judgment forward toward a socially grounded consideration of art. He was most concerned with ethics, where he believed that forming an adequate ethical code would happen only when people based their value system on human experience in the natural world.

Along with pragmatism, Dewey's work was gradually eclipsed during the middle of this century as phenomenology (in Europe) and the analytic philosophy grew to ascendancy. Recent trends show these these rigid paradigms are themselves loosing favor. A renewed openness and pluralism has meant a renewed interest in Dewey's philosophy, an interest that promises to continue for some time to come.

Curricula Influences

John Dewey's contributions to education is perhaps the most profound in todays education curricula. His legacy and influence today has established initiations and institutional studies based solely on his philosophy. The likes of The University of Chicago Laboratory School, University of Michigan School of Education, Foundations School Community in Van Nuys, Ca, The Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation at Teachers College at Columbia University, The Center for Dewey Studies at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, John Dewey High School in Brooklyn, Charles University in Prague, and the John Dewey Academy in Barrington, Massachusetts have adopted his philosophies.

The University of Chicago Laboratory School, Chicago Illinois is one of the finest college preparatory schools in the nation which includes Kindergarten, Lower, Middle, and High Schools. As an educational pioneer, "John Dewey started an experimental school in a private house on 57th St, with just 12 pupils and two teachers. Dewey envisioned a school where children would grow mentally, physically, and socially, where they were challenged to think independently and investigate the world around them."

University of Michigan, School of Education hosts an innovative methodology of teaching that continues Dewey's legacy and philosophy. The Dewey Web is an experiment in using the World Wide Web for not only providing information, but also facilitating communication between students from all over the world. The Dewey Web was inspired by the work of the University of Michigan ICS, and the Indiana University World School for Adventure Learning. These projects attempt to expand the classroom experience with reports from scientist and explorers, as well as linking district schools together through telecommunications.

The Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation at Teachers College, Columbia University curricula uses field trips, social studies, and the needs of a community as its learning base. Social studies, language arts, math, science, and the creative arts are used together to foster integration of knowledge and create an interactive learning environment.

In the Classroom

If John Dewey were to teach a lesson on the Panama Canal, he very well could pretend that Japan and the US were at war. He would use maps, group discussions, role-playing, and exciting games. The mane themes in Dewey's education style are:

1. Students do all the work, keeping as much as possible the responsibility and initiative out of the hand of the teacher.

2. Students are encouraged to ask each other questions, to make their objections and corrections aloud, and to think out for themselves each problem that comes up.

3. Experimenting and acting-out are used to show problems and possible solutions to give students understanding before seeing it in print.

Important Publications

(1915) Schools of Tomorow. "New York: E. P. Duton & Co. This book points out how instruction emerges from educational theories and how the needs of modern education can be met.

(1916) Democracy and Education. An introduction to the philosophy of education (1966 edn.), New York:Free Press. A classic discussion of 'sharing in a common life' that includes an important reconceptualization of vocational learning.

(1933) How We Think. A restatement of the relations of reflective thinking to the educative process (Boston: D.C. Heath). An exploration of thinking and its relationship to learning, is concerned with experience, interaction and reflection.

(1938) Experience and Education, (New York:Collier Books). This book seeks to move beyond dualities such as progressive / traditional - and to outline a philosophy of experience and it relation to education.