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As a teacher, I have always been told about John Dewey's great contributions to education. I knew this was an embellishment somewhat and knew of Dewey's involvement in the Humanist Manifesto. However, recently I decided to read Dewey's works for myself, and they are the most perverse things that I have ever read.

Example: "Examinations are of use so far as they test the child's fitness for social life and reveal the place in which he can be of the most service and where he can receive the most help" (My Pedagogic Creed, pp. 7-8). According to Dewey, this is the only thing that should be assessed, subject matter should not be tested.

That quote alone pretty much sums things up. But if that is not enough, Dewey also discusses things like avoiding emphasizing individuals when teaching history. He argues that the importance of history lies in the social aspects, heroics and individuals are not appropriate. Dewey also argues that general and abstract thought is dangerous. He then goes on to express admiration for 19th century German schools that were highly regulated by the government, and intended to produce complacent citizens. In fact, this German system was so successful and created such a degree of complacency in society, it was a major factor facilitating the committing of atrocities in the early 20th century. (see Dewey's German Philosophy and Politics)

I was horrified by what read; particularly, because Dewey has been extremely influential and is held with such high regards in the field of education. Because Dewey's influence is the realm of education where it impacts so many individuals, I am scratching my head wondering if Dewey is the greatest monster in American history. Sure there where other villains, but no other villain attempted to reach into every American household and steal every American child (and he did so with a measurable degree of success).

Thoughts on my conclusion?

Edited by Nigel
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The progressive era philosophy isn't really what he is remembered for from I have been told. You can read hundreds of people from the 1900-1950s saying things like that aloud, in writing. The Dewey of today, the one they want us to know about just wanted kids to learn through experience (or something nice like that), something that on its face isn't completely absurd. Just like the progressive era was all supposed to be about workers safety and women's suffrage, which on its face isn't completely absurd.

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Dewey is nonsense. His "democracy in the classroom" idea (on which his entire educational philosophy is based) is not rooted in any rational principles or scientific understanding of the psyche of the young, developing brain. He basically extended the idea of democracy in its purest form to the classroom, limiting the progress of individual students to the progress of their classmates. His philosophy is also the biggest influence on the modern day American public school curriculum.

As far as I'm concerend, the greatest educator was Maria Montessori. Montessori was sort of the opposite of Dewey. She believed that each individual student should be encouraged to reach his maximum potential, and she went to much greater lengths than Dewey ever did in order to foster her form of education, including inventing new materials and creating a very unique learning environment.

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In fact, this German system was so successful and created such a degree of complacency in society, it was a major factor facilitating the committing of atrocities in the early 20th century. (see Dewey's German Philosophy and Politics)

Thoughts on my conclusion?

The Prussian educational model is still the foundation of most public schools in the US. In some ways, Dewey offered a beneficial, though still terrible, alteration of those methods.

"Sit still at a station," "perform a function repeatedly," "move to the next station at the sound of the bell," and most importantly, "do as the supervisor commands." This is the basics of the model; To create cogs in the wheel of the industrial revolution. In a world filled with people who lack the capacity to think outside of soundbites and bromides, I'd say that they largely succeeded in their task.

Dewey's alteration of the Teacher/Supervisor-centric model, I think helped. Not...you know...a lot...but I can't say that it was worse because of his views. He wrote so bloody much that some of his ideas probably made some teachers a bit better.

His trashing of Montessori was probably his biggest crime against education.

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Dewey's alteration of the Teacher/Supervisor-centric model, I think helped. Not...you know...a lot...but I can't say that it was worse because of his views.

I strongly disagree. While Dewey's alterations allowed more 'freedom', this is an illusion. Examining Dewey's work, Dewey wants the teacher to be less overbearing, but that is only so students can work in groups. Dewey advocates this as a way to enforce social structures and teach individuals to submit to the ideas of their peers. Dewey's ideas were a means of teaching collectivism. In doing so, Dewey says outright that the content is secondary this "social" learning. Dewey's ideas were intended to accomplish the same thing as the German approach, just redirected to submit to society rather than a dictator. In both cases, learning is subordinated to teaching people to be submissive.

Which is worse? I argue Dewey. The dictator can be dethroned, but subordinating to society is much more difficult to correct.

Edited by Nigel
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The following is from John Dewey’s very influencial little book My Pedagogic Creed, pages 15-16. Note how in the third item he inverts the idea of individualism:

I believe that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform.

I believe that education is the regulation of the process on coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction.

I believe that this conception has due regard for both individualistic and socialistic ideals. It is duly individualistic because it recognizes that this right character is not to be formed by merely individual precept, example, or exhortation, but rather by the influence of a certain form of institutional or community life upon the individual ...

...

I believe that it is the business of every one interested in education to insist upon the school as the primary and most effective instrument of social progress and reform in order that society may be awakened to realize what the school stands for ...

The following two quotes are from his book The School and Society (1899, 1907), after he refers to the school as a small society (page 44):

When the school introduces and trains each child of society into membership within such a little community, saturating him with the spirit of service, and providing him with the instruments of effective self-direction, we shall have the deepest and best guaranty of a larger society which is worthy, lovely, and harmonious.

Ayn Rand quotes the following from the book (page 10) in one of her essays:

The mere absorbing of facts and truths is so exclusively individual an affair that it tends very naturally to pass into selfishness. There is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere learning, there is no clear social gain in success thereat.

Now here are some quotes that might be new to many people. In 1928 Dewey visited Soviet Russia and wrote several articles for the magazine The New Republic gushing over what he saw. In 1929 these were assembled into a book Impressions of Soviet Russia. Among the many outrageous things in it:

(page 14-15)

The sense of a vast human revolution that has brought with it-or rather that consists of-an outburst of vitality, courage, confidence in life has come to the front. ... the outstanding fact in Russia is a revolution, involving a release of human powers on such an unprecedented scale that it is of incalculable significance not only for that country, but for the world.

Page 57

... there is an enormous constructive effort taking place in the creation of a new collective mentality; a new morality I should call it, were it not for the aversion of Soviet leaders to all moral terminology; and that this endeavor is actually succeeding to a considerable degree – to just what extent, I cannot, of course, measure.

Page 61

... the import of all institutions is educational in the broad sense – that of their effects upon disposition and attitude. Their function is to create habits so that persons will act cooperatively and collectively as readily now in capitalistic countries they act ‘individualistically.’ The same consideration defines the importance and the purpose of the narrower educational agencies, the schools. They represent a direct and concentrated effort to obtain the effect which other institutions develop in a different and roundabout manner. The schools are, in current phrase, the ‘ideological arm of the Revolution.’ In consequence, the activities of the schools dovetail in the most extraordinary way, both in administrative organization and in aim and spirit, into all other social agencies and interests.

Page 72-73

... the great task of the school is to counteract and transform those domestic and neighborhood tendencies that are still so strong, even in a nominally collectivistic régime. [new para] In order to accomplish this end, the teachers must in the first place know with great detail and accuracy just what the conditions are to which pupils are subject in the home, and thus be able to interpret the habits and acts of the pupil in the school in the light of his environing conditions ...

Page 68-69

I have become involved in a diversion [that is, digression], though one naturally suggested by the marvelous development of progressive educational ideas and practices under the fostering care of the Bolshevist government – and I am speaking of what I have seen and not just been told about.
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And if those "young skulls full of mush" (as Limbaugh calls children) fail to conform to the demands and expectations of the Comprachicos, well then surely they are mentally ill (ADHD, etc.) and in "need" of medication, their saviors applauded for their heroic efforts by a credulous public.

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I strongly disagree. While Dewey's alterations allowed more 'freedom', this is an illusion. Examining Dewey's work, Dewey wants the teacher to be less overbearing, but that is only so students can work in groups. Dewey advocates this as a way to enforce social structures and teach individuals to submit to the ideas of their peers. Dewey's ideas were a means of teaching collectivism. In doing so, Dewey says outright that the content is secondary this "social" learning. Dewey's ideas were intended to accomplish the same thing as the German approach, just redirected to submit to society rather than a dictator. In both cases, learning is subordinated to teaching people to be submissive.

Which is worse? I argue Dewey. The dictator can be dethroned, but subordinating to society is much more difficult to correct.

I don't know that "dethroning a a dictator" is such a simple thing. They sat all over Europe for over a thousand years and continue to in many parts of the world, often times, with near universal love and fear.

At any rate, to be clear, I don't mean to defend the man. Just to point out that he had a pretty massive and divergent body of work in a number of fields and it's very prone to cherry picking for good and bad. So if someone were to be selective they might come away with a useful principle or two. At least in a more free situation, a child has a fighting chance to become something other than an automaton. In the Prussian model, precious few come out intellectually alive.

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