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Chhaapptteerr 77::

Upon completion of this chapter, you should be able to:

Trace the life of John Dewey
Identify his works
Explain his view on education
Describe his experimental school

Chapter 1:
Philosophy & the Malaysian Philosophy of
Chapter Outline Education

Who is John Dewey? Chapter 2:

His Works Socrates, Plato & Aristotle
Aims of Education
Chapter 3:
Al-Farabi and Ibnu Sina
The Dewey School
Chapter 4:
Jean Rousseau and John Locke

References Chapter 5:
Confucius and Mencius

Chapter 6:
Paulo Freire and Froebel

Chapter 7:
John Dewey

Chapter 8:
Rabindranath Tagore and Vivekananda

Chapter 9:
Other Philosophical Traditions

This chapter discusses the works of John Dewey, a well-known American philosopher
who led the progressive movement. He emphasised the need for students to learn by
doing and to learn through inquiry. He set up an experimental school to try out his ideas.
Chapter 1: Introduction 2


Dewey was born in 1859 in Burlington,

Vermont in the United States of modest family origins.
He graduated from the University of Vermont and
became a high school teacher in Oil City, Pennsylvania
and one year as a primary school teacher in a small
town in Vermont. Later he received his PhD from John
Hopkins University and in 1884 accepted an academic
position at the University of Michigan which he served
until 1894 and joined the University of Chicago until

Here he developed his philosophy of education

and initiated the University of Chicago Laboratory
School where he was able to experiment with beliefs
about education and teaching. Dewey married twice, John Dewey
first with Alice Chipman. They had six children. His (1859 1952)
second wife was Roberta Lowitz Grant.

In 1899, John Dewey was elected president of the American Psychological

Association. From 1904 until his retirement in 1930 he was professor of philosophy at
both Columbia University and Columbia University's Teachers College. In 1905 he
became president of the American Philosophical Association.Dewey continued to
write and speak about intellectual and social issues until shortly before his death on
June 1, 1952.
Chapter 1: Introduction 3


John Dewey wrote hundreds of articles and dozens of books in his lifetime.
The following are some examples:

In this book (written in 1916), Dewey wrote about his

philosophy of education. He argued that learning was
active and unfortunately schooling was restrictive. His
idea was that children came to school to do things and
live in a community which gave them real, guided
experiences which fostered their capacity to contribute
to society. For example, Dewey believed that students
should be involved in real-life tasks and challenges:
mathematics could be learnt via learning proportions in
cooking or figuring out how long it would take to get
from one place to another by mule history could be
learnt by experiencing how people lived, geography,
what the climate was like, and how plants and animals
grew, were important subjects

In this book (written in 1933), Dewey explains the

general process of human thinking. It compares
deductive reasoning with inductive reasoning. The two
forms of reasoning are essential to all humans, but few
have ever taken the time to understand these two types of
thinking. Both deductive and inductive reasoning are
important, and they are both opposite approaches for
humans to draw conclusions. Deductive reasoning starts
with a theory to push us to look for facts, while inductive
reasoning starts with observations and pushes us to form
a theory.

Experience and Education is a small book by Dewey

that gives a clear and quick overview of his ideal
approach to teaching and education. In it he compares
traditional and progressive education, discusses the
relationship of experience and learning, and theorises on
ways to implement effective experiences in educational
Chapter 1: Introduction 4


a) Trace the life of John Dewey
b) What were some of the books he? What were
they about?


Dewey argues that there are two major conflicting schools of thought on
school curriculum and teaching:

o The first school of thought focuses almost solely on the subject matter
and content to be taught. He argued that the major flaw with this
school of thought is that the student is inactive. The child is the child
is simply the immature being who is to be matured; he is the
superficial being who is to be deepened (Dewey, 1902, p. 13).

o The second school of thought content is presented in a way that

allows the student to relate the information to prior experiences,
thus deepening the connection with this new knowledge. Dewey
strongly advocated the second school of thought if education is to be
most effective.

Children must not be treated as miniature adults and education seeking to

lead them to become adults. They have their own rights and they should enjoy
their childhood and not to robbed of their childhood.

Students should participate in meaningful projects, learning by doing, and

solve problems. This not only facilitates the acquisition and retention of
knowledge but fosters the right character traits such as unselfishness,
helpfulness, critical intelligence, individual initiative, etc.

Dewey saw it important to integrate the school with society. Students should
be exposed to actual problems of life. For example, the school could be a
miniature version of society where equality and consideration for all would

The school should be open and completely free through application of the
principles and practices of democracy where all are equal without any
restrictions or segregation on account of colour, race, creed, national origin,
sex or social status.
Chapter 1: Introduction 5

Education should seek to erase unjust distinctions and prejudices. It should

aim to equip children with the qualities and capacities required to cope with
the problems of a fast-changing world.

Education should produce alert, balanced, critical-minded individuals who

would continue to grow in intellectual and moral stature after graduation.


According to Dewey, there are two meanings learning:

o First, learning is the sum total of what is known, as that is handed
down by books and learned men,
o Second, learning is something which the individual does when he or
she studies, i.e. thinking and feeling about the content


a) Discuss the aims of education according to Dewey.
b) What is his conception of learning?


What is Progressivism?
Progressivism is a philosophical belief that argues that education must be
based on the fact that humans are by nature social and learn best in real-life activities
with other people. The person most responsible for progressivism was John Dewey
(1859-1952). The progressive movement stimulated American schools to broaden
their curriculum, making education more relevant to the needs and interests of
students. Dewey wrote extensively on psychology, epistemology (the origin of
knowledge), ethics and democracy. But, his philosophy of education laid the
foundation for progressivism. In 1896, while a professor at the University of Chicago,
Dewey founded the famous Laboratory School to test his educational ideas. His
writings and work with the Laboratory School set the stage for the progressive
education movement.
Chapter 1: Introduction 6

According to Dewey, the role of education is to transmit societys identity by

preparing young people for adult life. He was a keen advocate of democracy and for it
to flourish, he felt that education should allow learners to realise their interests and
potential. Learners should learn to work with others because learning in isolation
separates the mind from action. According to him certain abilities and skills can only
be learned in a group. Social and intellectual interaction dissolves the artificial
barriers of race and class by encouraging communication between various social
groups (Dewey, 1920). He described education as a process of growth and
experimentation in which thought and reason are applied to the solution of problems.
Children should learn as if they were scientists using the scientific method proposed
by Dewey (1920):

1. To be aware of the problem (eg. plants need sunlight to grow)

2. Define the problem (eg. can plants grow without sunlight)
3. Propose hypotheses to solve it
4. Test the hypotheses
5. Evaluate the best solution to the problem

Students should be constantly experimenting and solving problems;

reconstructing their experiences and creating new knowledge using the proposed five
steps. Teachers should not only emphasise drill and practice, but should expose
learners to activities that relate to he real life situations of students, emphasising
Learning by doing.

The Progressive Curriculum

Progressivists emphasise the study of the natural and social sciences. Teacher
should introduce students to new scientific, technological, and social
developments. To expand the personal experience of learners, learning should be
related to present community life. Believing that people learn best from what they
consider most relevant to their lives, the curriculum should centre on the
experiences, interests, and abilities of students.

Teachers should plan lessons that arouse curiosity and push students towards
higher order thinking and knowledge construction. For example, in addition to
reading textbooks, students must learn by doing such as fieldtrips where they can
interact with nature and society.

Students are encouraged to interact with one another and develop social virtues
such as cooperation and tolerance for different points of view.

Teachers should not be confined to focusing on one discrete discipline at a time

but should introduce lessons that combine several different subjects.

Students are to be exposed to a more democratic curriculum that recognises

accomplishments of all citizens regardless of race, cultural background or gender.
Chapter 1: Introduction 7

By including instruction in industrial arts and home economics, progressivists

strive to make schooling both interesting and useful. Ideally, the home, workplace,
and schoolhouse blend together to generate a continuous, fulfilling learning
experience in life. It is the progressivist dream that the dreary, seemingly
irrelevant classroom exercises that so many adults recall from childhood will
someday become a thing of the past. Students solve problems in the classroom
similar to those they will encounter outside school.


a) What is progressivism?
b) Discuss the characteristics of the progressive
curriculum? How relevant is it to the Malaysian

The Dewey school

Dewey proposed a school to university officials that would keep theoretical

work in touch with the demands of practice .In January 1896, the Laboratory School
of the University of Chicago opened its doors. The school began with sixteen
children and two teachers, but by 1903 it was providing instruction to 140 students
and was staffed by twenty-three teachers and ten graduate assistants. Most of the
students were from professional families, many of them the children of Deweys
colleagues. The institution soon became known as the Dewey School.

At the centre of the curriculum of the Dewey School was what Dewey termed
the occupation, that is, a mode of activity on the part of the child which reproduces,
or runs parallel to, some of work carried on in social life. Divided into eleven age
groups, the students pursued a variety of projects centred on particular historical or
contemporary occupations.

The youngest children in the school, who were 4 and 5 years old, engaged in
activities familiar to them from their homes and neighbourhoods: cooking,
sewing and carpentry.
The 6-year-olds built a farm out of blocks, planted wheat and cotton, and
processed and transported their crop to market.
The 7-year-olds studied prehistoric life in caves of their own devising while
their 8-year-old neighbours focused their attention on the work of the sea-
faring Phoenicians, on Robinson Crusoe and adventurers, like Marco Polo,
Magellan and Columbus.
Local history and geography occupied the attention of the 9-yearolds.
Chapter 1: Introduction 8

While those who were 10 years old studied colonial history, constructing a
replica of a room in an early American house.

7.1 The Textile Room in

Deweys School

The work of the older groups of children was less strictly focused on particular
historical periods (though history remained an important part of their studies) and
centred more on scientific experiments in anatomy, electro-magnetism, political
economy, and photography. The 13-year-olds built a substantial clubhouse when they
could not find another suitable place for their debate club to meet. Building the
clubhouse was a group effort that enlisted children of all ages in a co-operative project
that was, for many, the emblematic moment in the schools history.

The occupational activities pointed on the one hand toward the scientific study
of the materials and processes involved in their practice and on the other toward their
role in society and manual training and historical inquiry but also for work in
mathematics, geology, physics, biology, chemistry, reading, art, music and languages.

In the Laboratory School, Dewey reported, the child comes to school to do; to
cook, to sew, to work with wood and tools in simple constructive acts; within and
about these acts cluster the studieswriting, reading, arithmetic, etc. Skills such as
reading were developed when children came to recognise their usefulness in solving
the problems that confronted them in their occupational activities. If a child realizes
the motive for acquiring skill, Dewey argued, he is helped in large measure to secure
the skill. Books and the ability to read are, therefore, regarded strictly as tools.

For example, the 6-year-old students in the school, building on the experiences
with home activities they had had in kindergarten, concentrated their work on
occupations serving the home. They built a model farm in the sand-table in their
classroom and in the schoolyard they planted a crop of winter wheat. As was the case
with most constructive activities in the school, the building of the model farm
provided an occasion for learning some mathematics:

In instances such as this, one can see how the childs interest in a particular
activity of his/her own, such as building a model farm, served as the foundation for
instruction in a body of subject-matter, the skills in measurement and the mathematics
Chapter 1: Introduction 9

of fractions. Moreover, this method introduced children to the methods of

experimental problem-solving in which mistakes were an important part of learning.

Providing children with first-hand experience, the problematic situations

largely of their own making, was the key to Deweys pedagogy. He believed that
until the emphasis changes to the conditions which make it necessary for the child to
take an active share in the personal building up of his own problems and to participate
in methods of solving them the mind is not really freed.


a) Discuss the characteristics of the Dewey School.
b) Comment on it.


Robert B. Westbrook, John Dewey. Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative

education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXIII, no. 1\2,
1993,p. 277-91.