The Educational Philosophy of John Dewey
John Dewey is known as leader of the progressive movement in the history of the American education system and his book, Democracy and Education: an introduction to the philosophy of education, could be used as a textbook to teach the foundations of the movement. Discrediting all previous educational and philosophic approaches as intellectually incomplete or inaccurate, Dewey first presents a new perspective on the nature of knowledge, education, society and philosophy. One fundamental theme of Dewey’s progressive movement is that education is growth and that growth is, in and of itself, the objective. Rejecting any notion of innate knowledge or of an ideal goal to strive for, the progressive movement calls for growth for its own sake and that this growth be directed toward the benefit of society. This comprehensive work then dissects and devalues popular notions of teaching methods, subject matter and even the duality of work and play and replaces them with the more pragmatic beliefs of the progressive movement.
The central prevailing theme in Dewey’s philosophy is that education is a social function and necessary to the continuity of life within a society. Even pre-industrial, tribal societies had need of education to ensure its continuity and the transference of accumulated knowledge to future generations. These simple societies made use of informal education theories such as imitation, custom and habit through the methods of imitation and memorization of oral traditions to assure consistency of tradition from generation to generation. With the approach of the industrial age and the increased globalization brought about by technology, trade and diplomacy, the necessity of a more formal approach to education became evident. As the number and complexity of societies in which men organized themselves grew, so to did the sheer quantity of accumulated knowledge.
What, then, constitutes a society that requires a formal approach to education to not only preserve its accumulated knowledge but to evaluate that knowledge for obsolescence and potential in shaping the society in the future? Societies can be, by definition, small associations of like minded individuals with narrow aims or large nations with broad, diverse aims. Dewey offers two standards which can be applied to assess the value of a society: How numerous and varied are the interests which are consciously shared? How full and free is the interplay with other forms of association? By...