John Dewey Essay

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John Dewey


John Dewey was born October 20, 1859, in Burlington, Vermont. He taught at universities from 1884 to 1930. An academic philosopher and proponent of educational reform, in 1894 Dewey started an experimental elementary school. In 1919 he cofounded The New School for Social Research. Dewey published over 1,000 pieces of writings during his lifetime. He died June 1, 1952, in New York, New York Early Life

John Dewey was born on October 20, 1859, to Archibald Dewey and Lucina Artemisia Rich in Burlington, Vermont. He was the third of the couple’s four sons, one of whom died as an infant. Dewey’s mother, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, was a devout Calvinist. His father, a merchant, left his grocery business to become a Union Army soldier in the Civil War. John Dewey’s father was known to share his passion for British literature with his offspring. After the war, Archibald became the proprietor of a successful tobacco shop, affording the family a comfortable life and financial stability.

Teaching Career

The autumn after Dewey graduated, his cousin landed him a teaching job at a seminary in Oil City, Pennsylvania. Two years later, Dewey lost the position when his cousin resigned as principal of the seminary.

After being laid off, Dewey went back to Vermont and started teaching at a private school in Vermont. During his free time, he read philosophical treatises and discussed them with his former teacher, Torrey. As his fascination with the topic grew, Dewey decided to take a break from teaching in order to study philosophy and psychology at Johns Hopkins. George Sylvester Morris and G. Stanley Hall were among the teachers there who influenced Dewey most.

Upon receiving his doctorate from Johns Hopkins in 1884, Dewey was hired as an assistant professor at the University of Michigan. At Michigan he met Harriet Alice Chipman, and the two married in 1886. Over the course of their marriage, they would give birth to six children and adopt one child. Philosophy

Dewey’s philosophical treatises were at first inspired by his reading of philosopher and psychologist William James’ writing. Dewey’s philosophy, known as experimentalism, or instrumentalism, largely centered on human experience. Rejecting the more rigid ideas of Transcendentalism to which Dewey had been exposed in academia, it viewed ideas as tools for experimenting, with the goal of improving the human experience.

Dewey’s philosophy also claimed than man behaved out of habit and that change often led to unexpected outcomes. As man struggled to understand the results of change, he was forced to think creatively in order to resume control of his shifting environment. For Dewey, thought was the means through which man came to understand and connect with the world around him. A universal education was the key to teaching people how to abandon their habits and think creatively.

Education Reform

John Dewey was a strong proponent for progressive educational reform. He believed that education should be based on the principle of learning through doing.

In 1894 Dewey and his wife Harriet started their own experimental primary school, the University Elementary School, at the University of Chicago. His goal was to test his educational theories, but Dewey resigned when the university president fired Harriet.


Dewey wrote his first two books, Psychology (1887) and Leibniz’s New Essays Concerning the Human Understanding (1888), when he was working at the University of Michigan. Over the course of his lifetime, Dewey published more than 1,000 works, including essays, articles and books. His writing covered a broad range of topics: psychology, philosophy, educational theory, culture, religion and politics. Through his articles in The New Republic, he established himself as one of the most highly regarded social commentators of his day. Dewey continued to write prolifically up until his death.

Later Life and Death

In 1946, Dewey, then 87, remarried to a widow named Roberta Grant. Following their marriage, the Deweys lived off of Roberta’s inheritance and John’s book royalties. On June 1, 1952, John Dewey, a lifelong supporter of educational reform and defender of rights for everyman, died of pneumonia at the age of 92 in the couple’s New York City apartment.

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