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John Dewey (1859-1952)

John Dewey was born in Burlington, Vermont, to Archibald Sprague and Lucina Rich Dewey. He graduated from the University of Vermont in 1879 and then worked for three years as a high school teacher, focusing primarily in the areas of the classics, the sciences, and algebra. Dewey was also an assistant principal and principal before becoming a graduate student in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University in 1882. He earned his Ph.D. in 1884.

Dewey taught philosophy at the University of Michigan for ten years (1884-1894) before moving to the University of Chicago, where he was chairman of the Department of Philosophy. He also chaired the Department of Pedagogy and directed the Laboratory School. Dewey left Chicago in 1904 to teach at Columbia University in New York City from 1905 to 1930, serving in an emeritus capacity until 1939. He continued to write and lecture on a wide variety of topics until his death in 1952.

During his long teaching career, Dewey wrote many important works on a variety of subjects, including inquiry, social justice, ethics, education, and democracy. Indeed, Dewey sought to examine the bases of these themes as a means to provide individuals with the capacity to experience intellectual freedom—a prerequisite for a democratic society. Some of these works include My Pedagogic Creed (1897), How We Think (1910), Democracy and Education (1916), Experience and Nature (1925), The Public and Its Problems(1927), and Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938).

Dewey was genuinely concerned about social problems and believed that educational processes could be used to eliminate many of society's ills. Toward that end, Dewey sought to provide educators with strategies for reaching students that would honor each child's individual strengths and interests. Dewey believed, in particular, that schools and school systems should not be factorylike in nature, where all students were expected to master content in a predetermined and uniform way. On the contrary, Dewey recommended restructuring schools so that children could think and learn in their own ways and teachers would be guides to students' learning.

Dewey remains a significant influence in the fields of education and child development. By suggesting that authentic educational experiences were those that sprang from a child's natural inclinations and were reinforced through innovative teaching and supportive surroundings, Dewey's philosophy provides a basis for individualized instruction, multiculturalism, and special education, as well as general education.

See also: LEARNING


Campbell, James. Understanding John Dewey. Peru, IL: Open Court Publishing, 1995.

"Chronology of Dewey's Life and Work." The Center for Dewey Studies. In the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale [web site]. 2001. Available from http://www.siu.edu/ü;deweyctr/; INTERNET.

"A Short, Annotated Reading List." The Center for Dewey Studies.In the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale [web site]. 2001. Available from http://www.siu.edu/ü;deweyctr/; INTERNET.

Donna M. Davis

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 3