Dewey, John (1859–1952) - Influence (2023)

Table of Contents
Influence BIBLIOGRAPHY FAQs Videos

America's foremost philosopher of education, John Dewey grew up in rural Vermont, earned his doctorate at The Johns Hopkins University, and taught at Michigan, Chicago, and Columbia universities. Dewey was one of the founders and the leading philosopher of PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION, an important late-nineteenth-century and twentieth-century movement for school reform that emphasized meeting the needs of the whole child–physical, social, emotional, and intellectual. In addition to his work in developing a new philosophy of education, Dewey, along with Charles Sanders Peirce and William James, created a uniquely American approach to philosophy–Pragmatism.

Dewey developed his educational philosophy when he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1894 and added a department of pedagogy to his responsibilities. Aided by his wife, Alice, he founded the university's Laboratory School to test scientifically his ideas for improving schooling.

As a philosopher who was profoundly affected by the English naturalist Charles Darwin's thinking, Dewey believed that in a post-Darwinian world it was no longer possible to envision life as a progress toward fixed ends. His reading of Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) convinced him that the only constant in life was change or growth (the term Dewey preferred). Therefore, Dewey held that the purpose of formal education was not to prepare children for any fixed goal, but rather that schools should be devoted to encouraging children to grow and to prepare them to continue to grow and develop as adults in the uncertain future that they would face. Childhood was not merely a prelude to adulthood; it was a stage of development that was important and valuable in its own right. Accordingly, schooling should be based on meeting the needs of children, as children, rather than only striving to prepare them for adulthood.

Dewey faulted contemporary schools for regarding children as empty vessels to be filled with intellectual content. Schools treated pupils as passive learners. Dewey argued that children were naturally curious and that outside of school they learned through activities. They came to school with many interests, which he classified in his 1899 publication The School and Society as "the interest in conversation, or communication; in inquiry, or finding out things; in making things, or construction; and in artistic expression." These, he maintained were "the natural resources, the uninvested capital, upon which depends the active growth of the child" (1956, pp. 47–48). The role of the teacher, Dewey argued, was not merely to give pupils the freedom to express these impulses, but rather to guide them toward the learning they needed. As he noted in his 1902 work The Child and the Curriculum, this would not ignore traditional learning. "It must be restored to the experience from which it has been abstracted. It needs to be psychologized; … translated into the immediate and individual experiencing within which it has its origin and significance" (1956, p. 22). Progressive teachers, therefore, should construct a curriculum based on both the interests of the pupils and knowledge of the subject matter that children should master.

(Video) John Dewey, 1859-1952: Educator and 'America's Philosopher'


Dewey was the most significant educational thinker of his time and he influenced educational discussion for a century. His followers took his ideas in many directions. Dewey's disciples, most notably William Heard Kilpatrick, emphasized one part of Dewey's philosophy–the need to appeal to the natural interests of the child–at the expense of consideration of the importance of the traditional fields of study. For Kilpatrick, subject matter was not important. Moreover, some of Dewey's followers extended the idea of relying on the natural curiosity and interests of children to define the curriculum in the upper grades and in secondary schools. This conflicted with Dewey's philosophy: "The new education is in danger of taking the idea of development in altogether too formal and empty a way…. Development doesnot mean just getting something out of the mind. It is a development of experience … into experience that is really wanted…. What new experiences are needed, it is impossible to tell unless there is some comprehension of the development which is aimed at … adult knowledge" (1956a, p.19). Dewey maintained that the study of traditional subjects was important because "they represent the keys which will unlock … the social capital which lies beyond the possible role of … limited personal experience" (1956b, p. 111).

Dewey did agree with Kilpatrick that one of the ultimate goals of education must be social reform. For Dewey the ideal society was thoroughly democratic and the school should be organized as an "embryonic community…. When the school introduces" children "into membership within such a little community, saturating … [them] with the spirit of service, and providing … [them] 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" (1956b, p. 29).

During the GREAT DEPRESSION Progressivism's social reform impulse turned increasingly into a critique of the capitalist system that was blamed for the economic disaster. This, in turn, helped fuel a strong reaction against Progressive education during the anticommunism of the post—World War II period. In addition, in the 1950s Progressive education was increasingly blamed for the academic shortcomings of American students. In this setting, Dewey's reputation waned. The movement toward establishing rigid standards that began with the Reagan administration's 1983 report, A Nation At Risk, regarded Dewey's ideas as not only wrong but harmful. The states joined in a movement to establish knowledge standards and a schedule of rigid testing to see if the children met those standards. Teachers increasingly taught to the test–an educational program that neglected Dewey's ideas of relying on children's natural curiosity and interests.

While a distorted version of Dewey's educational philosophy had weakened the curriculum, especially in secondary schools, a proper understanding of the kinds of schools that Dewey wanted to establish is still regarded as relevant by a dissenting minority who believe that schools need to meet the broader needs and interests of children.

See also: Child Development, History of the Concept of; Education, United States.

(Video) Brief Introduction to philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952)


Cremin, Lawrence A. 1962. The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education, 1876–1957. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Cremin, Lawrence A. 1988. American Education: The Metropolitan Experience, 1876–1890. New York: Harper and Row.

Dewey, John. 1938. Experience and Education. New York: Macmillan.

(Video) John Dewey’s 4 Principles of Education

Dewey, John. 1954 [1910]. "The Influence of Darwinism on Philosophy." In American Thought: Civil War to World War I, ed. Perry Miller. New York: Rinehart.

Dewey, John. 1956a [1902]. The Child and the Curriculum. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Dewey, John. 1956b [1899]. The School and Society. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Dewey, John. 1966 [1916]. Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. New York: The Free Press.

Dewey, John. 1967–1972. The Early Works, 1882–1898, 5 vols. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

(Video) Learn English with VOA Special English - John Dewey, 1859-1952- Educator and 'America's Philosopher'

Dewey, John. 1976–1983. The Middle Works, 1899–1924, 15 vols., ed. Jo Ann Boydston. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Dewey, John. 1981–1990. The Later Works, 1925–1953, 17 vols., ed. Jo Ann Boydston. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Ravitch, Diane. 2000. Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Westbrook, Robert B. 1991. John Dewey and American Democracy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Zilversmit, Arthur. 1993. Changing Schools: Progressive Education Theory and Practice, 1930–1960. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

(Video) A History of Philosophy | 65 John Dewey

Copyright © 2008 - Advameg Inc.
Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Who did John Dewey influence? ›

John Dewey

How did John Dewey impact the world? ›

In 1899, Dewey published the pamphlet that made him famous, The School and Society, and promulgated many key precepts of later education reforms. Dewey insisted that the old model of schooling—students sitting in rows, memorizing and reciting—was antiquated. Students should be active, not passive.

How did John Dewey influence psychology? ›

John Dewey was a liberal philosopher and early psychologist working in the mid-19th and early-20th centuries. He focused primarily on the philosophy of education and helped to develop the philosophy of pragmatism and the psychological philosophy of functionalism.

How did Dewey's ideas influence on modern education system? ›

Dewey's concept of education put a premium on meaningful activity in learning and participation in classroom democracy. Unlike earlier models of teaching, which relied on authoritarianism and rote learning, progressive education asserted that students must be invested in what they were learning.

What did John Dewey do for society? ›

John Dewey was an American philosopher and educator who was a founder of the philosophical movement known as pragmatism, a pioneer in functional psychology, and a leader of the progressive movement in education in the United States.

What is the contribution of John Dewey to Sociology of education? ›

377). Dewey was a proponent of making learning experiences centered around student interests and developing socially responsible citizens; all of these real-world, meaningful connections that occur in place-based education, contribute to creating educational experiences that result in socially responsible citizens.

What is the main point of Dewey's philosophy of education? ›

Dewey's philosophy of education highlights the importance of imagination to drive thinking and learning forward, and for teachers to provide opportunities for students to suspend judgement, engage in the playful consideration of possibilities, and explore doubtful possibilities.

What was John Dewey's purpose of education? ›

According to Dewey, the purpose of education is not the communication of knowledge but the sharing of social experience so that children become integrated into the democratic community.

What is John Dewey's theory of education? ›

Put briefly, Dewey believed that learning was socially constructed, and that brain-based pedagogy (not his words) should place children, rather than curriculum and institutions, at its center. Effective learning required students to use previous (and prevailing) experiences to create new meaning–that is, to 'learn.

What did John Dewey discover? ›

He developed the idea that there is a coordination by which the stimulation is enriched by the results of previous experiences. The response is modulated by sensorial experience. Dewey was elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1899.

What were John Dewey's 4 main principles of progressive education? ›

Dewey's 4 Principles:
  • Learning by doing or experiential learning.
  • Discussion.
  • Interactive.
  • Interdisciplinary.
10 Feb 2021

How did John Dewey influence the field of education quizlet? ›

John Dewey influenced the cooperative learning theory practiced today. Dewey believed it was important that students develop knowledge and social skills that could be used outside of the classroom, and in the democratic society.

Who is John Dewey and his contribution to learning? ›

Often considered one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, Dewey had a vital influence on psychology, education, and philosophy. His emphasis on progressive education contributed greatly to the use of experimentation rather than an authoritarian approach to knowledge. Dewey was also a prolific writer.

What is John Dewey's theory called? ›

John Dewey was born in Vermont in 1859. He was an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer who has long been considered one of the founders of a theory he referred to as instrumentalism, also called pragmatism.

What did Dewey argue was the most important purpose of schooling? ›

Dewey believed it was vital for schools to encourage students to think for themselves. They would then be more likely to become active citizens who could help to shape a better society.

Who was John Dewey What was his impact on the United States? ›

BRIA 24 1 c John Dewey and the Reconstruction of American Democracy. John Dewey was perhaps America's most famous philosopher. He devoted his life trying to reform the public schools and reconstruct American democracy to increase citizen political participation. John Dewey was born in 1859 in Burlington, Vermont.

What is John Dewey's theory of pragmatism? ›

John Dewey developed a pragmatic theory of inquiry to provide intelligent methods for social progress. He believed that the logic and attitude of successful scientific inquiries, properly conceived, could be fruitfully applied to morals and politics.

What is John Dewey's reflective theory? ›

He believed that reflective thought began when we found ourselves having an experience that raised some difficulties or dilemmas, which he referred to as a "felt difficulty". From this experience, Dewey (1933) argued, we then set about reflecting on the problem — asking ourselves the question what's going on?

Why was Thomas Dewey important? ›

As a New York City prosecutor and District Attorney in the 1930s and early 1940s, Dewey was relentless in his effort to curb the power of the American Mafia and of organized crime in general. Most famously, he successfully prosecuted Mafioso kingpin Charles "Lucky" Luciano on charges of forced prostitution in 1936.

What is John Dewey best known for? ›

Although Dewey is known best for his publications about education, he also wrote about many other topics, including epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, art, logic, social theory, and ethics.

What is the contribution of John Dewey in research? ›

Often considered one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, Dewey had a vital influence on psychology, education, and philosophy. His emphasis on progressive education contributed greatly to the use of experimentation rather than an authoritarian approach to knowledge.

What was John Dewey's approach to education? ›

Put briefly, Dewey believed that learning was socially constructed, and that brain-based pedagogy (not his words) should place children, rather than curriculum and institutions, at its center. Effective learning required students to use previous (and prevailing) experiences to create new meaning–that is, to 'learn.

How is John Dewey relevant today? ›

John Dewey's ideas of a child-centred approach and linking school to real-life experiences are just as relevant today.


1. John Dewey
2. Dewey on Democracy
(Nathan Sasser)
3. Louise W. Knight, “John Dewey and Jane Addams Debate War”
(American Institute of Philosophical and Cultural Thought)
4. John Dewey (1859 - 1952)
(Niradhar Dey - SOE)
5. John Dewey's Influence on EL
(Reynaldo Ramirez Jr)
6. John Dewey - 19th and 20th Century Philosophy
(Matthew J. Brown)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Kareem Mueller DO

Last Updated: 01/30/2023

Views: 6038

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (66 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kareem Mueller DO

Birthday: 1997-01-04

Address: Apt. 156 12935 Runolfsdottir Mission, Greenfort, MN 74384-6749

Phone: +16704982844747

Job: Corporate Administration Planner

Hobby: Mountain biking, Jewelry making, Stone skipping, Lacemaking, Knife making, Scrapbooking, Letterboxing

Introduction: My name is Kareem Mueller DO, I am a vivacious, super, thoughtful, excited, handsome, beautiful, combative person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.