John Dewey the Legacy

By 1928 John Dewey was famous enough to make the cover of Time magazine. He retired in 1931, and died at the age of 92 in June 1952. That fall Rev. John Hardon published three articles for The Catholic Educational Review analyzing Dewey’s philosophy and impact on American education.

Dewey’s most lasting influence, however, was exercised personally and directly as professor of philosophy at Columbia University since 1904. Teachers College of Columbia, with which Dewey was associated, is the largest in the country. Of the 23,631 students at the University in 1950, over a third 9,032, were enrolled in Teachers College, training twice as many teachers and educational administrators as any other college in America.

Teach the teacher Dewey white backgroundDewey didn’t merely teach the teachers. He taught those who taught teachers and administered educational programs. This year is the 125th anniversary of Teachers College, and on the admissions page it states it is the oldest and largest education graduate school. Wikipedia has a list of its current and past faculty and alumni, and I’m sure you’ll recognize some of the “usual suspects”!

Even by the 1950’s the disastrous results of Dewey’s philosophy were being seen in the classroom. In The Dewey Legend in American Education, Rev. John Hardon quotes from an article written by Virginia Rowland that was published in October 1951.

Her article, entitled “My Adventures as a Teacher,” is a series of almost incredible incidents that are the daily lot of suffering teachers in progressive schools. One day the students brought a portable radio to school and insisted on listening to a ball game during her history class; she had to submit. On another occasion, she relates, “I corrected a noisy girl who talked incessantly. Her reply was: `You are wasting your time telling me not to talk, because I intend to continue talking.’ Progressive education!” She continues: “After three weeks of inattention, rudeness, and the growing knowledge that none of my students were reading their textbooks, I decided I had taken enough of this progressive school and decided to ask for a transfer. With a long term of experience on which to draw, she sums up her verdict on this new pedagogy minus teacher domination:

Progressive education is based on some false assumptions. It assumes that all boys and girls can be entertained to a point where they will be interested in all subjects. This is untrue…. The old-fashioned theory that a student should study what he needs to know rather than what interests him is sounder than the new theory.

Progressive education which overemphasizes “learn by doing” and underemphasizes “learn by thinking, reading, and writing” is turning out men and women who are not leader material. Its products are not thinking men.

She concludes with pungent humor, “At one time the qualifications for teaching were personality, intelligence and a social conscience. Under the progressive system the main qualification is iron nerves . . . which drives so many teachers from the profession.”

Solidarity Forever posterDewey’s influence is still felt today through the numerous organizations he helped found or lead, including the First Humanist Society of New York (see John Dewey the Humanist), the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the League for Industrial Democracy (originally the Intercollegiate Socialist Society), the New York Teachers Union, the American Association of University Professors, the New School for Social Research., the New York Teachers Guild, the International League for Academic Freedom and the Committee for Cultural Freedom.1 The Solidarity Forever poster is from the League for Industrial Democracy, an organization that changed its name in 1960 to the SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. Those of you who were in college during the 1960’s and early 1970’s won’t have any trouble recognizing the name of that radical group.

I haven’t even touched on Dewey’s reach around the globe in his overseas influence in his visits to Japan, China and the U.S.S.R., but I do want to mention one other agent of change he left our country.  His granddaughter, Alice Dewey, is a retired anthropology professor at the University of Hawaii. One of her doctoral students and someone she closely mentored was Ann Dunham, the mother of Barack Obama.

There is no god and there is no soul. Hence, there is no need for the props of traditional religion. With dogma and creed excluded, then immutable truth is dead and buried. There is no room for fixed and natural law or permanent moral absolutes.

The divide in America today is not one of politics, but one of beliefs and ideology. It is a clash between the worldview of our Founders of fixed and natural law, and permanent moral absolutes rising from a Christian understanding of God and man, and the worldview of those who see government as Hegel did, “the state is the divine idea as it exists on earth” and in Dewey’s words: “the state has the responsibility for creating institutions under which individuals can effectively realize the potentialities that are theirs.”2 In John Dewey and the Philosophical Refounding of America Tiffany Jones Miller wrote, “Dewey was hardly alone in encouraging this transformation, but few would deny the preeminent role he played in it.”
Time magazine cover June 4, 1928, RJJensen: According to Conservapedia, fair use for commentary or parody..
Diagram is a cropped and modified version of Teach the teacher. It “demonstrates the concept “Teach the teacher” and multiplier of information.” Original image by Anna Bauer. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
1See John Dewey, The Real John Dewey, Dr. John Dewey Dead at 92; Philosopher a Noted Liberal, and Stealing Capitalism: The Crime of the Century.
2Thomas G. West and William A. Schambra, “The Progressive Movement and the Transformation of American Politics,” The Heritage Foundation, July 18, 2007.
For further reading on Dewey, I recommend beginning with John Dewey and the Philosophical Refounding of America by Tiffany Jones Miller. I’ve quoted from her in several of my posts on Dewey. Even though these articles are over 60 years old, I recommend the following by Rev. Hardon. I’ve also previously quoted  from him. (In case you’re wondering, I’m not Catholic, and linking to him or any other source does not indicate complete agreement with all beliefs or opinions).
Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J., “John Dewey: Prophet of American Naturalism,” The Catholic Educational Review, Sept., 1952.
Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J., “John Dewey — Radical Social Educator,” The Catholic Educational Review, Oct., 1952.
Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J., “The Dewey Legend in American Education,” The Catholic Educational Review, Nov., 1952.


One thought on “John Dewey the Legacy

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s