John Dewey and Education Theory Term Paper

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John Dewey and Education Theory

John Dewey - Review and Analysis of his Theories

Biographical Information on John Dewey

Born in Burlington, Vermont in1859 (October 20), John Dewey was the third of four sons; his parents, Archibald Sprague Dewey and Lucina Artemesia Rich suffered through the death of their first-born son, then sent the three surviving sons to public school and to the University of Vermont.

While at the university, John Dewey had his eyes opened up to deep philosophical thought when he studied evolutionary theory; the theory of natural selection made an impression on him that stayed with him throughout his life.

Dewey was a high school teacher for two years following the completion of his undergraduate degree; then, he attended Johns Hopkins University, where he came into scholarly contact with philosopher George Sylvester Morris (who tutored Dewey on German idealism) and psychologist G. Stanley Hall (who taught Dewey how scientific methodology can be applied to social sciences).

After receiving his doctorate (1884), Dewey taught at the University of Michigan (ten years) and briefly at the University of Minnesota, and began writing books. He moved his teaching, theorist and philosophical prowess to the University of Chicago, and then on to Columbia University, continued writing books, and pursued his interests in educational theory.

During the time he spent working at Columbia University, "Dewey's reputation grew not only as a leading philosopher and educational theorist, but also in the public mind as an important commentator on contemporary issues..." (Field, 2001). He became a lecturer, a frequent contributor to the women's suffrage movement and the union movement in education, and participated in "the Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Against Leon Trotsky" in Moscow, a highly public event that exposed Stalin's "political machinations," Field writes.

Another high-visibility controversy that Dewey participated in was his defense of well-known philosopher Bertrand Russell, chair of the College of the City of New York, who was being attacked by conservative leaders, and had his chairmanship threatened.

Review and Analysis of the Literature Written about - and by - John Dewey

This portion of the paper addresses part C of the assignment: "The lack of teachers and motivation and incentives for teachers resulting from the massive overcrowding of classrooms mandated by federal, state, and local authorities."

FIRST POINT REGARDING "C": John Dewey was patient with many things in society, but he did not show a lot of patience for waste in education. In Chapter III of his book the School and Society, (Introductions by Spencer J. Maxcy) he directs his attention to "Waste in Education." He's not talking about the waste "of money" or "waste of things" - but rather, he is writing about the waste of a "human life." He believes (Dewey, p. 78) that the school systems are "isolated" and that "all waste is due to isolation."

In this case he doesn't allude to a literal "isolation" (as an island totally removed from the rest of schools and society), but the separation of components within the school system: "...they have never yet been welded into one complete whole," Dewey contends, and what he wrote in the early 20th Century holds more than a grain of truth today.

On page 84 Dewey writes that schools designed to teach teachers "are isolated from the higher subject-matter of scholarship, since, upon the whole, their object has been to train persons how to teach, not what to teach..." And there is another half of the isolation in college, where future teachers are learning what to teach, with almost contempt for methods of teaching."

But what Dewey writes on page 89 alludes more directly to today's problem of over-crowded schools then his generalizations about the left hand in education not always knowing what the right hand is doing. And as to his early 20th Century writings juxtaposed with the very poor learning environment many children are herded into day after day: granted, Dewey is an idealist when he writes that the public school "ought to be in a garden, and the children from the garden would be led on to surrounding fields."

But, what is harmed by following the editorial guidance and leadership of a great thinker like John Dewey, even if what he wrote one hundred years ago does not appear to match up with what exists today? What great philosophical and moral leader is out there today, pointing out how horrific our schools are, how difficult it is for a teacher to manage thirty or more students in a single classroom? Where is the leadership that should be providing solid leadership rather than standing in the halls of Congress berating the fact that "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) is still not funded, and that NCLB forces teachers to "teach to the test" so bad test scores don't mean less federal funding?

Indeed, getting back to the subject of a garden in a school quad, compared to what most urban public schoolchildren are forced to endure in 2005, if students saw a lush green garden outside the classroom or in the quad or near the school, as part of school property, they probably would not know what it was. But what a terrific laboratory for learning, though, if this kind of environment could exist as an alternative to the mean-street, violent, drug-culture, hip-hop drenched, gang-infested climate of today's over-crowded and under-funded city schools.

Meantime, Dewey hits the nail on the head in a more general way (89) when he continues his theme of "isolation" by noting that "the great waste in school" emerges from the student's "inability to utilize the experiences he gets outside the school in any complete and free way within the school itself."

Dewey writes that the "isolation of the school" is its "isolation from life," because while filling the classroom with students is one thing, then "sets painfully to work, on another tack...to arouse in the child an interest in school studies."

Some poignant and meaningful background for Dewey's book (that is quoted above), the School and Society, is provided by Spencer J. Maxcy, who writes (p. xxviii) in his Introduction that "some of the valued characteristics of rural life" had been "left in the dust" at the time Dewey penned this text. and, in a reference to the times (the end of the 19th Century and the dawn of the twentieth), Maxcy reminds readers that the social and political atmosphere in America was extremely patriotic and even nationalistic because the U.S. had just won a "great war with Spain" over Cuba in 1898.

Dominance over the seas and the command of Latin America created a sense of power and presence" which set the tone for much of "the aggressive foreign policy in the twentieth century." Dewey was well aware, Maxcy continues, that the "local face-to-face quality of small towns and the countryside" had disappeared for the most part, and had been replaced by an "industrial and military power as well as the new status as an international power." and, Maxcy stresses, "Dewey wished to restore the notions of community and commonality to American society via the communication of ideas in school.

This scenario could well be lifted from Dewey's time and installed today, in the realities America faces in 2005: while school districts all across the nation cut back staff and programs, and struggle to find sufficient funds to provide good educations for children, America fights an expensive and bloody conflict in Iraq, costing billions that could be perhaps spent on education - indeed, the current national administration has just requested $80 billion more from Congress to continue the war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan - and yet the public is not encouraged to object to the lack of funds for schools, but the public is encouraged to show the passions of patriotism for the "war on terrorism," no matter the costs in the short and long run. It is interesting to conjecture as to what the liberal, progressive mind of John Dewey would be expressing today.

SECOND POINT REGARDING "C": The last portion of the point in "C" - "...mandated by...federal, state and local authorities..." which refers to the "big brother" attitude of government in Washington, dictating what school districts out in American should do if they want federal dollars. This issue is addressed in an article in Academe (Van Luchene, 2004), by a writer critiquing John Dewey's Democracy and Education.

One cannot help but believe that Dewey himself, were he alive, would agree with Van Luchene's assessment of the ramifications of the NCLB legislation; "In place of the rich diversity that characterized educational philosophy not so long ago, we now find that survival for public schools requires single-minded dedication to a limited set of learning objectives," the mastery of which is to be designed through "multiple choices on a standardized test."

Van Luchene, seemingly echoing much of what Dewey wrote about the subjects of learning and the schools' responsibility to teach children to think, writes: "Evidence of teaching excellence from… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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