11 julio, 2024

John Dewey: biography, theories and contributions

John Dewey (1859-1952) was an American philosopher, psychologist, and educator considered to be the most important philosopher in his country during the first half of the 20th century. He was one of the founders of the philosophy of pragmatism and one of the most representative figures of progressive pedagogy in his country.

The philosopher was one of the characters who most influenced the development of pedagogical progressivism, being quite original, insightful and highly influential in the United States. Furthermore, he is one of the greatest educators of the contemporary age.

She dedicated herself to defending women’s equality and promoting teacher unionism. She also encouraged help for intellectuals who had been exiled from their countries as a result of the totalitarian regimes that stalked them.

Dewey was cataloged as a man of action, who advocated the unification of thought and action, of theory and practice. Proof of this is that he was an important piece in the educational reforms and a promoter of different pedagogical methods in the different universities in which he worked.



Birth and first studies

Dewey was born in the city of Burlington, located in the United States, on October 20, 1859, where he grew up in a family of humble origin settlers.

In 1879 he graduated in Arts from the University of Vermont. After graduating he served as a school teacher in Pennsylvania.

In 1881, Dewey decided to continue his university studies. So he moved to Baltimore, Michigan, where he enrolled at John Hopkins University. There he began his studies in the philosophy department.

Dewey was influenced by the Hegelian environment on the university campus. So much so, that Hegel’s imprint in his life is reflected in three of his features. The first was his taste for logical schematization.

The second was his interest in social and psychological issues. And the third was the attribution of a common root to the objective and the subjective, as well as to man and nature. By the year 1884, Dewey earned his doctorate thanks to a thesis on the philosopher Immanuel Kant.

Work experience

After obtaining his doctorate, Dewey began his career as a professor at the University of Michigan, where he taught between the years 1884 and 1888, in addition he was also the director of the philosophy department.

Dewey met his first wife while he was still living in Michigan. Her name was Alice Chipman and she had been one of his students, who had come to college after spending years as a teacher in various Michigan schools. Alice was one of the great influences in Dewey’s orientation towards the formation of pedagogical ideas.

After marrying Alice, Dewey became interested in public teaching. In fact, he was one of the founding members of the Michigan Doctors Club, also serving as its administrator. From this position, he was in charge of fostering cooperation between high school teachers and higher education teachers in the State.

Subsequently, Dewey served as a professor at the University of Minnesota and the University of Chicago. This opportunity came when William Rainey Harper, the president of said university, invited him to join the new institution. Dewey accepted, but insisted that he be given the head of a new department of pedagogy.

In this way Dewey managed to create an «experimental school», where he could test his ideas. The pedagogue spent 10 years at the University of Chicago, from 1894 to 1904, and it was there that he elaborated the principles that underpinned his philosophy on educational models.

When Dewey left the University of Chicago, he went to Columbia University, where he taught from 1904 until 1931, when he retired as professor emeritus in 1931.

Between 1900 and 1904, Dewey also took over teaching the Pedagogy course at New York University. The university was opening its School of Pedagogy, so Dewey was one of the first professors of the school.

He died in New York on June 1, 1952.

Dewey’s pedagogical approach

Dewey became interested in educational theory and practice from the time he was in Chicago. It was in the experimental school that he created at that same university that he began to contrast educational principles.

The pedagogue conceived the school as a space for the production and reflection of the relevant experiences of social life. It was this, according to him, which allowed the development of full citizenship.

John Dewey believed that what was offered in the educational system of his time was not sufficient to provide adequate preparation for life in a democratic society.

That is why the so-called «experimental method» of his pedagogy was based on an education that marked the relevance of factors such as individual skill, initiative and entrepreneurship.

All this to the detriment of the acquisition of scientific knowledge. In fact, his vision of his education had a great influence on the changes that American pedagogy underwent in the early 20th century.

Approach between curriculum and student

Many scholars place Dewey’s pedagogical approach somewhere between conservative pedagogy that focused on the curriculum and pedagogy that focused on the learner. And it is that, although Dewey focused pedagogy on the child and his interests, he also highlighted the need to relate these interests to the social contents defined in the school curriculum.

This means that although individual skill must be valued, these characteristics are not an end in themselves, but must serve as enablers of actions and experiences. And in this case the role of the teacher would be to exploit such abilities.

To understand Dewey’s pedagogical ideas it is essential to take into account the instrumentalist position on which his philosophical thought was based. According to his approach, thought is basically a tool that allows people to act on reality, while being nourished by it.

This means that knowledge is nothing more than the result of people’s experiences with the world. In short, knowledge is simply a thought that first goes through action.

Ideas about learning and teaching

Dewey argued that learning, both for children and adults, was achieved through confrontation with problematic situations. And that these situations appeared as a consequence of the person’s own interests. He then concludes that in order to learn it is mandatory to have experiences in the world.

Regarding the role of the teacher, Dewey affirmed that this was the one who should be in charge of generating stimulating environments for the student. In doing so, the teacher could develop and guide the students’ ability to act. This should be so because for Dewey students are active subjects.

Although he defended student-centered pedagogy, he understood that it was the teacher who had to do the work of connecting the contents present in the curriculum with the interests of each one of the students.

For Dewey, knowledge could not be transmitted in a repetitive way, nor could it be imposed from outside. He said that this blind imposition of the contents made the student lose the possibility of understanding the processes that were carried out to achieve the construction of that knowledge.

Role of the student and impulses

One of Dewey’s most relevant postulates about education was precisely the role that students had in learning. The pedagogue claimed that children could not be seen as clean, passive slates on which teachers could write lessons. It couldn’t be this way because when he got to the classroom, the child was already socially active. In this case the objective of education should be to guide.

Dewey pointed out that at the beginning of school, the child carries four innate drives:

– The first is to communicate

– The second is to build

– The third is to investigate

– The fourth is to express yourself.

On the other hand, he also spoke of the fact that children carry with them interests and activities from home, as well as from the environment in which they live. The teacher’s task is then to use these resources to guide the child’s activities toward positive results.

Democracy and educationDewey’s most elaborate treatise

The book Democracy and education, published by Dewey in 1976, has been one of the most relevant educational works of the 20th century. The author revealed in this book the political and moral issues that were implicit in the educational discourses of the time.

Dewey suggests that the educational system of a democracy should be characterized by the existing commitment between educational centers and the promotion of cultural content, as well as organizational modalities.

The educational system contributes to the formation of people committed to both the values ​​and the democratic models of society. For this reason, Dewey states in this work that education is also a modality of political action, since it forces people to reflect and value the different social, economic, political, cultural and moral dimensions of the society in which they live.

The importance of this book in the world of pedagogy lies in all the topics that the author addresses in it. Dewey not only reflects on issues related to the purpose of education or the social function, but also issues related to teaching methods, the importance of cultural content, educational values, social aspects, among many others.

In this work, the North American author also highlights an important issue about the dimension of the child’s learning at school. Dewey firmly believed that people achieve fulfillment by putting their talents to use, all for the purpose of doing good in the community.

Based on this idea, he considered that in any society, the main function of education should be to help children develop a «character», that is, a set of skills or virtues that allow them to achieve their goals in the near future. .

schools in the united states

Dewey thought that schools in the United States did not meet this task. The problem was that the educational system used very «individualistic» methods for teaching. This type of method is clearly seen when all students are asked to read the same books simultaneously.

With this individualistic system there is no room for each child to express his own social impulses and rather they are all forced to recite practically the same lessons in chorus.

Dewey believed that this method stunted these drives in the child, leaving the teacher with no opportunity to tap into the student’s true abilities. Rather…

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