American Philosophy

John Dewey

Did John Dewey hold views on education for children?

Yes, and some have considered this unusual in a philosopher. He was married twice and had six children himself and adopted three. Although Dewey did not want to be known as an “educator,” because it would detract from his philosophical reputation, his contribution to education was at least as lasting as his philosophical innovations.

When Dewey began to consider education, school children were expected to sit quietly and absorb information passively. While Dewey did not believe in a completely child-centered method of instruction, he emphasized the activity of learning, with an understanding that children are already curious and energetic participants in common, ordinary life outside the classroom.

Dewey thought that children should be taught skills to solve problems, including moral problems. When he became chair of the department of philosophy, psychology, and education at the University of Chicago, he founded The Laboratory School. It was based on his theory of education, the motto of which was “Learn by Doing!”

However, he acknowledged practical advice from Ella Flagg Young, the first woman president of the National Education Association, who was able to translate his ideas into actual practices and exercises in the classroom. He was also in contact with Jane Addams, who had cofounded the educational mission at Hull House. Dewey spent considerable time there himself, talking to working people about their problems and aspirations. His 1899 The School and Society was a best seller. Dewey’s subsequent works on education were The Child and the Curriculum (1902), How We Think (1910), and Democracy and Education (1916).


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