John Dewey on Education: Impact & Theory

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Jordan

Adam is a special educator with a Ph.D. in Education

John Dewey is one of the most influential thinkers in the history of modern educational theory. In this video, we will briefly explore his philosophical position and how his ideas have impacted education for decades.

John Dewey and Education

John Dewey is nothing less than a rock star of modern education. His ideas and approaches to schooling were revolutionary ideas during his lifetime and remain fundamentally important to modern schooling today. In this video, we will take a brief look at the background of John Dewey as well as a more in depth look at his educational philosophies and ideals. When we're done, you should be able to describe Dewey, but more importantly, you should be able to identify his philosophy in action.

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  • 0:34 Biography
  • 1:35 The Views of John Dewey
  • 2:21 How John Dewey…
  • 4:07 The Teacher Is Important Too
  • 4:55 Dewey's Legacy in Action
  • 5:58 Lesson Summary
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John Dewey was born in Burlington, Vermont, on October 20, 1859. He was a bright kid, attending college at the University of Vermont at only 15 years old! At the University of Vermont, Dewey focused on the study of philosophy. Dewey graduated with his bachelor's degree in 1879. He then began his teaching career. He taught two years of high school in Oil City, PA, and one year of elementary school in Charlotte, Vermont.

In 1884, Dewey received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University and immediately began his university teaching career at the University of Michigan. Dewey spent most of his early career there, except for a one-year stint at the University of Minnesota. In 1894, Dewey left for the University of Chicago, where he would become the head of the philosophy department. At the University of Chicago, Dewey would work to develop much of his viewpoints that have lasted far beyond his time. In 1904, Dewey would become a professor at Columbia University, where he would retire in 1930.

The Views of John Dewey

John Dewey is probably most famous for his role in what is called progressive education. Progressive education is essentially a view of education that emphasizes the need to learn by doing. Dewey believed that human beings learn through a 'hands-on' approach. This places Dewey in the educational philosophy of pragmatism.

Pragmatists believe that reality must be experienced. From Dewey's educational point of view, this means that students must interact with their environment in order to adapt and learn. Dewey felt the same idea was true for teachers and that teachers and students must learn together. His view of the classroom was deeply rooted in democratic ideals, which promoted equal voice among all participants in the learning experience.

How John Dewey Reformed Education

Dewey's pragmatic and democratic approach to schooling may not stand out as radical today, but in the early and mid-1900s, his view of education was in contradiction to much of the then-present system of schooling. Dewey's approach was truly child-centered. A child-centered approach to education places the emphasis of learning on the needs and interests of the child. In Dewey's view, children should be allowed to explore their environments.

He believed in an interdisciplinary curriculum, or a curriculum that focuses on connecting multiple subjects, where students are allowed to freely move in and out of classrooms as they pursue their interests and construct their own paths for acquiring and applying knowledge. The role of the teacher in this setting would be to serve more as a facilitator than an instructor. In Dewey's view, the teacher should observe the interest of the students, observe the directions they naturally take, and then serve as someone who helps develop problem-solving skills.

Traditionally, a teacher would stand in front of a group of students who are all sitting in rows. The teacher is usually the deliverer of information and the job of the students is usually to receive this information and regurgitate it in some form of a written test.

In contrast, in a classroom based on the ideas of John Dewey, you may see a teacher deliver background content information, but you would also likely see students working in groups, with those groups exploring differing concepts within the content. You would see lots of conversation and lots of collaboration. While you may see a written test, you may also see student projects, presentations, or other differentiated techniques of evaluation.

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