John Dewey, born on October 20, 1859, was a renowned American philosopher, social reformer, educationist and psychologist. He was the founding father of the Pragmatist school of philosophy. His ideas also laid the foundation of functional psychology and education movement in America.
He received his graduate degree from University of Vermont and did doctorate in philosophy from John Hopkins University. Later, he joined the University of Michigan as a professor of philosophy and psychology. He also published his books Psychology in 1887, and Leibniz’s New Essays Concerning Human Understanding in 1888. Through these books, he tried to bridge the gap between experimental sciences and idealism and expressed his theories on neo-Hegelism.
Dewey’s interests shifted from Hegel’s ideas to a new kind of experimental psychology which was being developed by G. Stanley Hall and William James at the time. He delved into the new field, extensively studied child psychology and came up with original theories concerning the philosophy of education that would help children in surviving the ever-changing modern democratic world.
He then left for Chicago in 1904, where he penned down his most recognized work, Experience and Nature, which contained his philosophy underlying the importance of leading a democratic life. This theme is also evident in all of his later writings concerning the fields of politics, religion and aesthetics.
In the realm of psychology, Dewey also took great interest in psychology of visual perception. He himself was a troubled listener and was tone deaf.
His philosophy was mainly related to pragmatism, although he liked to be called an instrumentalist rather than a pragmatist. He believed that all objects change and that nothing is static. He deemed experience not as an entirely subjective thing, but regarded it as a collection of human perceptions and worldly events coming together.
For the determination of truth, Dewey said that all kinds of experimentation can be utilized as an approximate arbiter. For the distinction between good and bad, Dewey stated that no static belief and concept of a personal God can determine virtue from evil. Scientific methods alone can be depended upon for achieving greater good.
Dewey championed democracy in all spheres of life, from philosophy to education to journalism and communication. For him, democracy is the ‘ultimate ethical ideal’. He discussed social reforms and democracy in his educational writings and stated that education isn’t merely a tool for gaining knowledge, but also how to live to apply that knowledge.
Dewey’s books on education include The Child and Curriculum, Democracy and Education, The School and Society, and Experience and Education among various others. He deemed school as a social institution through which social reforms can take place effectively. He also strongly believed that all children should be given ample opportunities to contribute in the learning process. Students should be made aware of their capabilities and how to make use of their potential for the collective good of the society, as per Dewey.
To practically apply his ideals of education, John Dewey along with his wife started an experimental school of primary education at the University of Chicago in 1894. Later in 1919, he founded the New School for Social Research which focused on a free flow of intellectual and artistic ideas among its students.
John Dewey died on June 1, 1952 at the age of 92 in New York City. Over the course of his lifetime, Dewey produced more than a thousand pieces on education, democracy, functional psychology and aesthetics.