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The Educational Theory of John Dewey (1859 - 1952).

Analyst: N. I. Emand
Analyst: Sarah Fraser (DE2)


Theory of Value: What knowledge and skills are worthwhile learning? What are the goals of education?

D.E: The term "value" has two quite different meanings. On the one hand, it denotes the attitude of prizing a thing, finding it worth while, for its own sake, or intrinsically This is a name for a full or complete experience. To value in this sense is to appreciate. But to value also means a distinctly intellectual act-an operation of comparing and judging to evaluate. This occurs when direct full experience is lacking, and the question arises which of the various possibilities of a situation is to be preferred in order to reach a full realization, or vital experience. 291-292

P.M: Values that are "extrinsic" or instrumental may be rationally estimated. For they are only means; are not ends in any genuine sense. As means their efficacy may be determined by methods that will stand scientific inspection. But the "ends" they serve (ends which are truly ends) are just matters of what groups, classes, sects, races, or whatever, happen irrationally to like or dislike. 9

Q.C: Of the many consequences that result, the state of education is perhaps the most significant. As the means of the general institution of intelligent action, it holds the key to orderly social reconstruction. 252

DE2-- 239: We cannot establish a hierarchy of values among studies. In so far as any study has a unique or irreplaceable function in experience, in so far as it marks a characteristic enrichment of life, its worth is intrinsic or incomparable. Since education is not a means to living, but is identical with the operation of living a life which is fruitful and inherently significant, the only ultimate value which can be set up is just the process of living itself. And this is not an end to which studies and activities are subordinate means; it is the whole of which they are ingredients. 359: the absence of a social environment in connection with which learning is a need and a reward is the chief reason for the isolation of the school; and this isolation renders school knowledge inapplicable to life and so infertile in character

Theory of Knowledge: What is knowledge? How is it different from belief? What is a mistake? A lie?

D.E: Knowledge is the tool for managing experience-no such thing as genuine knowledge and fruitful understanding except as the offspring of doing. 321-322

R.P: Knowledge is power and knowledge is achieved by sending the mind to school of nature to learn her processes of change. 42

Q.C: On the side of knowledge, the division carried with it a difference between knowledge, in its full sense, and belief. The former is demonstrative, necessary-that is sure. Belief on the contrary is only opinion; in its uncertainty and mere probability, it relates to the world of change as knowledge corresponds to the realm of true reality 18

L.T.1: But in popular usage, belief also means a personal matter; something that some human being entertains or holds; a position,. which under the influence of psychology, is converted into the notion that belief is merely a mental or psychical state. 7

- There is not belief so settled as not to be exposed to further inquiry. 8

R. P: The great thing is not to avoid mistakes but to have them take place under conditions such that they can be utilized to increase intelligence in the future. 175

DE2 -- 340: Knowledge is a perception of those connections of an object which determine its applicability in a given situation. 338: our beliefs are only hypotheses, theories, suggestions, guesses, and are to be entertained tentatively and to be utilized as indications of experiments to be tried. 197: making mistakes is an incidental requirement. appliances which forbid a chance for mistakes to occur, restricts initiative, reduces judgment to a minimum, and compels the use of methods which are so remote from the complex situations of life that the power gained is of little availability. 176: Intellectual integrity, honesty, and sincerity are at bottom not matters of conscious purpose by of quality of active response

Theory of Human Nature: What is a human being? How does it differ from other species? What are the limits of human potential?

C.C: Human nature being what it is, however, it tends to seek its motivation in the agreeable rather than in the disagreeable, in direct pleasure rather than in alternative pain. 29

P.P: Everything which is distinctively human is learned, not native, even though it could not be learned without native structures which mark man off from other animals. 24

EX The interaction of human beings, namely, association, is not different in origin from other modes of interaction .... Everything that exists in as far as it is known and knowable is in interaction with other things .... The significant consideration is that assemblage of organic human beings transforms sequence and coexistence into participation. 145

DE2 -- 12: Even dogs and horses have their actions modified by association with human beings; they form different habits because human beings are concerned with what they do. There was no complete discussion related to the distinctions between animal and man in this resource. 197: limitation of capacity is one of the things which has to be learned; like other things, it is learned through the experience of consequences.

Theory of Learning: What is learning? How are skills and knowledge acquired?

C.C: Learning is active. It involves reaching out of the mind. It involves organic assimilation starting from within. Literally, we must take our stand with the child and our departure from him. It is he and not the subject-matter which determines both quality and quantity of learning. 9

D. E: ... learning means something which the individual does when he studies. 390 He learns in consequence of his direct activities. 199 Thinking is the method of intelligent learning, of learning that employs and rewards the mind. 171

DE2 -- 334: there are two senses of the word “learning”; (1) the sum total of what is known, as that is handed down by books and learned men, and (2) something which the individual does when he studies; an active, personally conducted affair. 3: This transmission occurs by means of communication of habits of doing, thinking, and feeling from the older to the younger

Theory of Transmission: Who is to teach? By what methods? What will the curriculum be?

C.C: As a teacher he is concerned with the subject-matter of the science as representing a given stage and phase of the development of experience. His problem is that of inducing a vital and personal experiencing. Hence, what concerns him, as teacher, is the ways in which that subject may become a part of experience. 23

D. E: This does not mean the teacher is to stand off and look on; the alternative to furnishing ready-made subject matter and listening to the accuracy with which it is reproduced is not quiescence, but participation, sharing, in a activity 188

M. P. C: ... every teacher should realize the dignity of his calling; that he is the social servant set

apart for the maintenance of proper social order and the securing of the right social growth.

... the question of method is ultimately reducible to the question of order or development of the child's powers and interests. 435

... the subject-matter of the school curriculum should mark gradual differentiation out of the primitive unconscious unity of social life. 432

... the true center of correlation on the school subjects is not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child's own social activities. 433

DE2 -- 3: adult members (of society) who possess the knowledge and customs of the group through communication. 163: student is systematically led to utilize his earlier lessons to help understand the present one, and also to use the present to throw additional light upon what has already been acquired. The best type of teaching bears in mind the desirability of affecting interconnection. 249: The tendency to assign separate values to each study and to regard the curriculum in its entirety as a kind of composite made by the aggregation of segregated values is a result of the isolation of social groups and classes.

Theory of Society: What is society? What institutions are involved in the educational process?

RR Society is one word, but infinitely many things. It covers all the ways in which by associating together men share their experiences, and build up common interests and aims. 200

D.E: Any education given by a group tends to socialize its members, but the quality and value of the socialization depends upon the habits and aims of the group. 96

As societies become more complex in structure and resources, the need of formal or intentional teaching and learning increases. 11

P.M: All institutions are educational in the sense that they operate to form the attitudes, dispositions, abilities and disabilities that constitute a concrete personality. 62

DE2 -- 22: The social environment consists of all the activities of fellow beings that are bound up in the carrying on of the activities of any one of its members. 6: Social institutions including economic, domestic, political, legal and religious all enlarge and improve experience.

Theory of Opportunity Who is to be educated? Who is to be schooled?

D.E: The dominant vocation of all human beings at all times is living-intellectual and moral growth. 362

Since growth is the characteristic of life, education is all one with growing; it has no end beyond itself. The criterion of the value of school education is the extent in which it creates a desire for continued growth and supplies means for making the desire effective in fact. 62

The inclination to learn from life itself and to make the conditions of life such that all will learn in the process of living is the finest product of schooling. 60

M.P.C: I believe that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform .... By law and punishment, by social agitation and discussion, society can regulate and form itself in a more or less haphazard and chance way. But through education society can formulate its own purpose, can organize its own means and resources, and thus shape itself with definiteness and economy in the direction in which it wishes to move .... Education thus conceived marks the most perfect and intimate union of science and art conceivable in human experience. 437-438

DE2 -- 3: there is the necessity that these immature members (of society) be not merely physically preserved in adequate numbers, but that they be initiated into interests, purposes, information, skill, and practices of the mature members: otherwise the group will cease its characteristic life. 51: The inclination to learn from life itself and to make the conditions of life such that all will learn in the process of living is the finest product of schooling.

Theory of Consensus: Why do people disagree? How is consensus achieved? Whose opinion takes precedence?

C.C: Solutions of problems comes only by getting away from the meaning of terms that is already fixed upon and coming to see the conditions from another point of view, and hence in a fresh light. 3

Opinions should be treated as a factor in a problem needing adjustment. 3

D.E: Consensus demands communication The experience has to be formulated in order to be communicated. To formulate requires getting outside of it, seeing it as another would see it,

Considering what points of contact it has with the life of another so that it may be got into such form that he can appreciate its meaning. Except in dealing with commonplaces and catch phrases one has to assimilate imaginatively, something of another's experience in order to tell him intelligently of one's own experience.67

DE2 -- 5: Consensus demands communication. To be a recipient of a communication is to have an enlarged and changed experience. The experience has to be formulated in order to be communicated.


C.C. - Dewey, J. The Child and the Curriculum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1902.

D.E. - . Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan Company, 1924.

DE2 - Democracy and Education: an introduction to the philosophy of education (NY :Free Press, 1916)

E. N. - - Experience and Nature. Chicago: Open Court Pub. Co., 1958

L.T. 1. -. Logic: The Theory of Inquiry. New York: Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1938.

M.P.C.- My Pedagogic Creed. In R. D. Archambault (Ed.) John

Dewey on Education: Selected Writings. - New York: The Modern Library, 1964.

P.M. - Problems of Men. New York: Greenwood Press, 1946.

P. P - The Public and Its Problems. Chicago: Swallow Press Inc., 1954.

R. P -. Reconstruction in Philosophy Boston- The Beacon Press, 1957.

Q.C. -. The Quest for Certainty. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1929.

FURTHER information relating to John Dewey can be found at
Service Learning: Challenges and Opportunities .