Professor Rex Li
G.T. College, Hong Kong
Rediscovering John Dewey:
How His Education Transforms Our Education
Dewey (1859 – 1952) started with a Christian faith and was trained under Hegelian philosophy. However, he ended up as an atheist (by cosigning the Humanist Manifesto in 1933) and founded a new philosophy——pragmatism. His writings are as diverse as philosophy, psychology, education, logic and science as well as democracy and local and international politics. His collected works exceeded 8 million words. He is considered “the philosopher of American culture”, who defines “the spirit of America” (Shook and Kurtz 2011: 9). His view on education is such paradigm-setting that most modern education theories start from him. However, his obscure writing style, partly due to his Hegelian-dialectic tradition, deters readers from understanding what he means and says.
Dewey viewed philosophy as “a criticism of criticisms” (LW1: 298). In the way he criticized Cartesian and Hegelian philosophy, Dewey had been criticized and dismissed in contemporary analytic philosophy, while his ideas are being simultaneously reconstructed (Tiles 1988; Fairfield 2009; Fesmire 2015) and rediscovered (Tanner 1997; Boisvert 1998; Tan and Whalen-Bridge 2008). Whoever studies education and philosophy has something to learn from Dewey, but to evaluate him in light of the new millennium with a global perspective is a most daunting task.
During his life time, Dewey had served as President of American Psychological Association (1899), President of American Philosophical Association (1905), Honorary President of American Progressive Association (1928) and Honorary President of National Education Association, USA (1932). A society to the study of his ideas, John Dewey Society, was founded in 1935, and he was honored with numerous honorary degrees. After his death, his face appeared in the Prominent Americans Series on the American postage stamp in 1968. Today, there are centers devoted to studying him, in the USA (Center for Dewey Studies, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale), in China (Dewey Center, Fudan University) and in Germany (Dewey Center, University of Cologne). No doubt Dewey is an intellectual giant that deserves serious study, especially for philosophers, educators and psychologists.
In the course of my study of John Dewey, I discover that while much has been written about his philosophy and education, his psychology has been largely neglected. Although he had made significant contribution to psychology, Dewey was only briefly mentioned in psychology texts. When I dig deeper in his early life, his ideas in psychology and nineteenth-century milieu, I discover that his theory of psychology grows to become his core concepts in education, which transforms our present-day education practice.
This book aims to unveil a true Dewey, what his psychological and educational ideas are as well as his impact. It starts from his early years, his involvement in psychology and philosophy and then his move to education. In summarizing his early works to later works in social and intellectual context, I hope to rediscover a true evolving John Dewey, what he says and what he means. Readers will then be able to examine the implications of his ideas in the new millennium and global culture.
Boisvert, R. D. (1998). John Dewey: Rethinking Our Time. New York: State University of New York Press.
Dewey, J. (1882–1953). The Collected Works of John Dewey. The Early Works, Volume 1–5; The Middle Works, Volume 1–15; The Later Works, Volume 1–17. Illinois: Southern University Press.
Fairfield, P. (2009). Education After Dewey. London: Continuum.
Fesmire, S. (2015). Dewey. London: Routledge.
Shook, J. R., & Kurtz, P. (Eds.). (2011). Dewey’s Enduring Impact: Essays on America’s Philosopher. New York: Prometheus Books.
Tan, S. H., & Whalen-Bridge, J. (2008). Democracy as Culture: Deweyan Pragmatism in a Globalizing World. New York: State University of New York Press.
Tanner, L. N. (1997). Dewey’s Laboratory School: Lessons for Today. New York: Teachers College Press.
Tiles, J. E. (1988). Dewey. New York: Routledge.