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As can be seen in his Democracy and Education (1916) Dewey sought to at once synthesize, criticize, and expand upon the democratic or proto-democratic educational philosophies of Rousseau and Plato. He saw Rousseau's philosophy as overemphasizing the individual and Plato's philosophy as overemphasizing the society in which the individual lived. For Dewey, this distinction was by and large a false one; like Vygotsky, he viewed the mind and its formation as a communal process. Thus the individual is only a meaningful concept when regarded as an inextricable part of his or her society, and the society has no meaning apart from its realization in the lives of its individual members. However, as evidenced in his later Experience and Nature (1925) Dewey recognizes the importance of the subjective experience of individual people in introducing revolutionary new ideas.
For Dewey, it was vitally important that education should not be the teaching of mere dead fact, but that the skills and knowledge which students learned be integrated fully into their lives as persons, citizens and human beings. This practical elementlearning by doingsprang from his subscription to the philosophical school of Pragmatism.
Dewey's ideas were never broadly and deeply integrated into the practices of American public schools, though some of his values and terms were widespread. Progressive education (both as espoused by Dewey, and in the more popular and inept forms of which Dewey was critical) was essentially scrapped during the Cold War, when the dominant concern in education was creating and sustaining a scientific and technological elite for military purposes. In the post-Cold War period, however, progressive education had reemerged in many school reform and education theory circles as a thriving field of inquiry learning and inquiry-based science. Dewey is often cited as creating the foundations for outcomes-based education and Standards-based education reform, and standards such as the NCTM mathematics standards, all of which emphasize critical thinking over memorization of facts.
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John Dewey's USA Stamp
The central concept of John Dewey's view of education was that greater emphasis should be placed on the broadening of intellect and development of problem solving and critical thinking skills, rather than simply on the memorization of lessons. This is because Dewey saw the public school's relation to society was much like a repair organ to the organism of society.Dewey, J (1897) "My Pedagogic Creed' in The School Journal, Vol 14, No 3, pp 77-80.
One of Dewey's main theories was the incorporation of the student's past experiences into the classroom (Experience and Education 1938). This was a job of both the educator and the caretaker. The quality of experiences is key in the development of Dewey's progressivism. Without beneficial experiences growing off prior ones, education would not be able to use these experiences to reflect on the past, work through the present and prepare for the future (Experience and Education 1938).
While Dewey's educational theories have enjoyed a broad popularity during his lifetime and after, they have a troubled history of implementation due to the fact that there were no teachers qualified to incorporate these ideas. (Experience and Education 1938). Dewey's writings can be difficult to read, and his tendency to reuse commonplace words and phrases to express extremely complex reinterpretations of them makes him susceptible to misunderstanding. So while he held the role of a leading public intellectual, he was often misinterpreted, even by fellow academics. Many enthusiastically embraced what they mistook for Dewey's philosophy, but which in fact bore little or a distorted resemblance to it.
Dewey tried, on occasion, to correct such misguided enthusiasm, but with little success. Simultaneously, other progressive educational theories, often influenced by Dewey but not directly derived from him, were also becoming popular, such as Educational perennialism which is teacher-centered as opposed to student-centered. The term 'progressive education' grew to encompass numerous contradictory theories and practices, as documented by historians like Herbert Kliebard.
It is often claimed that progressive education "failed", though whether this view is justified depends on one's definitions of "progressive" and "failure". Several versions of progressive education succeeded in transforming the educational landscape: the utter ubiquity of guidance counseling, to name but one example, springs from the progressive period. Radical variations of educational progressivism were troubled and short-lived, a fact that supports some understandings of the notion of failure. But they were perhaps too rare and ill-funded to constitute a thorough test.
Many of Dewey's ideas directly impacted the founding of Bennington College in Vermont, where Dewey served on the Board of Trustees. One of the Bennington houses bears Dewey's name. Dewey, J (1897)
Dewey also profoundly affected Ken and Susan Webb in founding Farm and Wilderness Camps in Plymouth, Vermont.