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John Dewey 1859-1952
John Dewey, who was to become one of the most powerful influences on educational thought in the 20th Century, was born in the town of Burlington, Vermont, in 1859. His father was proprietor of the local general store where, apparently, locals would foregather from time to time to discuss, with equal interest, affairs of both stateand locality. According to one apocryphal story the store window carried the legend: Hams and cigars: smoked and unsmoked. The intimate small-town ethos of 19th century Burlington played a large part in forming Dewey's educational outlook in two ways: one negative, one positive. On the negative side he was convinced at a very early stage that the traditional, formal, desk-bound approach toschooling which was typified by the small town and rural schools of his childhood was futile. This kind of schooling was inadequate for the growing USA: a new society being born out of a simple agricultural economy which was being transformed by unprecedented industrialisation, immigration, rapid population growth, and drastic social change. (The old education) was predominantly static in subjectmatter, authoritarian in methods, and mainly passive and receptive from the side of the young. ... the imagination of educators did not go beyond provision of a fixed and rigid environment of subject matter, one drawn moreover from sources altogether too remote from the experience of the pupil.
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On the positive sideDewey was convinced that the ordinary contacts of day to day community life, be they social, economic, cultural or political, provided real and significant learning situations. For Dewey politics was not just a matter of national importance removed from the concern of the ordinary citizen but a matter of vital and immediate interest to the community. He believed that the school should prepare thechild for active participation in the life of the community: he believed that education must break down, rather than reinforce, the gap between the experience of schooling and the needs of a truly participatory democracy: The school is primarily a social institution. Education being a social process, the school is simply that form of community life in which all those agencies are concentratedthat will be most effective in bringing the child to share in the inherited resources of the race, and to use his own powers for social ends.... education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living. Dewey graduated from the university of Vermont in 1879. After a period spent teaching high school he went to John's Hopkins University where he gained his Ph.D. degree in1884. By his middle thirties he was Head of the Department of Philosophy, Psychology and Pedagogy at the University of Chicago. It was here, in 1896, that Dewey established his famous 'laboratory school' . Dewey's laboratory school was not intended to implement a structured pedagogical plan. It was intended as a laboratory in two senses: firstly it was intended to facilitate research andexperimentation into new principles and methods and secondly, it was designed to allow the children to take an experimental approach to their own learning. The laboratory school was to be the testing ground for Dewey's philosophical ideas and their implementation: education is the laboratory in which philosophical distinctions become concrete and are tested. ... If we are willing to conceive of education asthe process of forming fundamental dispositions, intellectual and emotional, toward nature and fellow men, philosophy may even be defined as the general theory of education. The furniture of the traditional school tells the story of traditional education; it is a story of submission, immobility, passivity and dependency. Just as the biologist can take a bone or two and reconstruct the whole...