John Dewey is a big influence on American education. He was undoubtedly a brilliant man and he wrote so much that there's bound to be a lot of pearls of wisdom in his works.
He's had a large impact on education in America, where educators treat him almost as a demi-god (much as they do Vygotsky). But what do his works say? What were his ideas on education?
Here's a brief analysis of Dewey's My Pedagogic Creed by Improve-Education.org.
John Dewey's Beliefs about Education
“I believe that the social life of the child is the basis of concentration, or correlation, in all his training or growth. The social life gives the unconscious unity and the background of all his efforts and of all his attainments.
I believe that the subject-matter of the school curriculum should mark a gradual differentiation out of the primitive unconscious unity of social life.
I believe that we violate the child's nature and render difficult the best ethical results, by introducing the child too abruptly to a number of special studies, of reading, writing, geography, etc., out of relation to this social life.
I believe, therefore, that 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.”
Here’s what you need to watch with Dewey. He says education but he means indoctrination. He believes the reason kids go to school is to learn to be part of a group. Dewey had absorbed his collectivism from Marx, Hegel and other big thinkers of the 1800s and had, apparently, never doubted it. But how will we reach that brave new world? That is the tactical problem which Dewey is trying to solve in “My Pedagogic Creed.”
You see the offhand way he tosses aside the traditional school subjects. This contempt for knowledge, for facts, for truths--which Dewey states so openly---has stained the entire twentieth century. Please note the irony. He is himself hugely educated. But he has little interest in letting your kids join him. Instead, he is obsessed with their “social activities.”
Listening to John Dewey, you’d think that children have no families, homes, parents, siblings, friends, relatives, neighbors, communities, sports, religions, hobbies, no life outside the school. If they aren't socialized at his school his way, they’ll be lost souls. Such arrogance. So Dewey inverts the main reason for the school’s existence, which is to provide the intellectual discipline and direction that might not be provided by all those other forces. Dewey wants to take schools out of the education business, as traditionally understood, and put them in the conditioning (or parenting) business. He gallops to this conclusion:
“I believe that the community's duty to education is, therefore, its paramount moral duty...Through education society can formulate its own purposes, can organize its own means and resources, and thus shape itself with definiteness and economy in the direction in which it wishes to move.
I believe that when society once recognizes the possibilities in this direction, and the obligations which these possibilities impose, it is impossible to conceive of the resources of time, attention, and money which will be put at the disposal of the educator....
I believe that with the growth of psychological service, giving added insight into individual structure and laws of growth; and with growth of social science, adding to our knowledge of the right organization of individuals, all scientific resources can be utilized for the purposes of education.”
I can't claim to understand everything Dewey says. I invite you to judge for yourself the murky, imprecise language; the wild claims and sweeping ambition; and the self-aggrandizement lurking behind every word. Especially savor this: THE RIGHT ORGANIZATION OF INDIVIDUALS. This phrase is clearly totalitarian. It drafts a blueprint for commissars to follow. How is Dewey best described? A control freak? An ideological extremist? A dreamer? For me, there’s something pathetic about this shy and awkward professor trying to take over the world via "progressive" education. Socialism, I often suspect, is finally the revenge of the nerds.
As a teacher, it's always annoyed me how often phrases pop up that describe "teaching" children to be "good citizens", or preparing them for our democracy, or something like that. Years after Dewey, an underlying current of thought in American education continues to be molding the minds of children to some political purpose.
How does this serve academics? It doesn't. Dewey and his followers aren't interested in academics. They aren't interested in helping young minds achieve knowledge and therefore, power. Instead, they want to shape the minds of the students so that they see the world according to a specific political agenda.
In my opinion, that isn't education; that's indoctrination.