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John Dewey 

John Dewey  School and its relationship with the society

 He was born in Burlington (USA) in 1859. He studied at the University of Vermont. He specialized in philosophy and pedagogy, became a doctor in philosophy (1884), then professor at the University of Michigan (1889) and of Chicago (1894). He founded in that town the first experimental school annexed to a university. His theories and methods provided the incentive for the modern orientation of the American pedagogy and had, in fact, a universal influence.


  1. A synthetic doctrine

Dewey wanted to synthesize, criticize, and expand upon the educational philosophies of Rousseau and Plato. He saw Rousseau’s as overemphasizing the individual and Plato’s as overemphasizing the society in which the individual lived. For Dewey, this distinction was a false one; he viewed the mind and its formation as a communal process. Thus the individual is only a meaningful concept when regarded as an inextricable part of his or her society, and the society has no meaning apart from its realization in the lives of its individual members.

 In addition to that, Dewey‘s doctrine conciliated the empirical psychological trend and the evolutionist sociology trend. As an emperist, he made of experiment the primary element of education. As a sociologist, he wanted on the one hand to organize school so as to meet the real needs of the real society (the present day society rather than the past society that social conservatism wanted to maintain.). On the other hand, he wanted to prepare the child to live in that modern society. His conceptions are scientific in the sense that each conclusion is not the result of preconceived principles, but rather of observation either of the child psychology or of social facts, or of purely school facts.

  1. Experience

 The pedagogue should elaborate a real philosophy of experience. Traditional school imposes on the child a culture which is conceived by the adult; but the New School must help the child to discover the environment which is all the time imposed upon him as a primary data in spite of the obstacle of prejudices or of the school routines. The analysis of the experiences to which he is subject supposes (assumes) a continuity of the psychic life. The  act of teaching is permanent and global (even when it is unconscious), thus experience must have the same characteristics. Placing the child outside of experience defined in this way is absolutely impossible. If we do, we are then asking him to think in terms of laws which do not belong to him. We are then creating conditions of a false experience- which he will encounter nowhere but in school. We are then preparing him for a life which does not exist.

 3.His View of education

The central concept of John Dewey’s view of education was that greater emphasis should be placed on the broadening of intellect and development of problem solving and critical thinking skills, rather than simply on the memorization of lessons. This is because Dewey saw the school’s relation to society was much like a repair organ to the organism of society. The school’s function was to perpetuate the culture of the society while at the same time creating new members of the society with tools to correct its problems. In this way, society would continue to improve itself and heal any societal growing pangs.

4.Learning by doing

 For Dewey, it was vitally important that education should not be the teaching of mere dead fact, but that the skills and knowledge which students learned be integrated fully into their lives as persons, citizens and human beings. At the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools which Dewey and his wife Alice ran at the University of Chicago, children learned much of their early chemistry, physics, and biology by investigating the natural processes which went into cooking breakfast—an activity they did in their classes. This practical element is referred to as—learning by doing. It is the motto for Dewey’s school. Manual work which is accomplished for its own sake has no educational value. The real mission of school is to stimulate creative actions which lead to reflection as they aim at achieving desired ends. These actions make use of all the experience that a child possesses of the milieu where he lives and give work interest and value.

  1. School, the society fetus

 To make use of the milieu in which the child lives means to make use of the experience that he possesses of the physical milieu as well as of the social milieu. Theoretically speaking, the typical social milieu is the family where every object, every action has an ultra-individual significance. School must become a milieu which possesses the same characteristics found in every society. If school becomes a social milieu in a reduced (fetus) but complete size, it will then allow the school child to realize himself fully and it will prepare him for the society in which he will live in the future. In this respect, school is neither a preparation for exams, nor a purely technical preparation for a job, but rather a preparation for life.

  1. School must be a home

 Dewey believed that no pedagogical renewal is possible if the school milieu remains an artificial and closed milieu. He claims that children are sent to school so that they learn to know in a systematic way the occupations that constitute life. However, school methods and programmes do not take into account the social conditions of life. Instead of organizing all its activities on the basis of the concrete and human aspect of things, school gives priority to all that is abstract, and thus, work becomes academic and no more social. Consequently, this work loses the characteristic of an occupation in which a group of people is engaged, and becomes solitary, personal and individual. This means that it is founded on a conception of the society which does not correspond to reality, a society whose ideal is that each individual lives for his  own. He maintained that the school organization of his time ignored the existence, the needs and the ideal of a democratic and scientific society. It continues to prepare the children for a selfish fight; a fight softened by an intellectual ‘culture’ meant to make the individual life pleasant.

7.The programmes

 Dewey identifies experience to programmes. He claims that there is no opposition between the child experience and the different subjects he will learn at school. The child experience contains elements    –facts and truths- of the same nature as those contained in the school subjects elaborated by the adult minds. It also encloses the attitudes, motives and interests which led to the development and organization of programmes. On the other hand, these programmes have to be interpreted as the result of some active forces in the life of the child. It is also important to discover in these programmes the means by which it will be possible to give to the child’s insufficient experience a richer maturity.

The child’s mental state and the facts and truths contained in the ‘sciences’ delimit instruction. The latter is a continuous reconstruction which progresses from the child’s always changing experience to organized truths which make up what we call ‘studies’. The different branches of study such as arithmetics, geography, languages, botanics, etc, are themselves experiences of the human race. They represent the accumulated efforts, struggles and successes of humanity. They are presented, not as a confused accumulation if experience, but in an ordered and systematic way thanks to reflection. Consequently, the facts and truths which constitute the child’s experience and those which are enclosed  in the programmes of study represent the starting point and the final result of the same reality. So, they cannot be opposed, nor separated.

In addition to that, according to Dewey, one of the major responsibilities of education is to consider two things:


  • Any question asked to the pupils should arise from the experience they are undergoing (being given that this experience is available to him).
  • It must create in the pupils an active quest to increase their information (knowledge) and their aptitude to new ideas.

New ideas and new facts become in turn the basis of future experiences that would engender new problems. The process is, therefore, similar to an endless spiral.


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