Teacher of Teachers

Lectures in the Philosophy of Education, 1899

by John Dewey, edited and with an Introduction by Reginald D. Archambault
Random House, 366 pp., $7.95

Democracy and Education

by John Dewey
Free Press, 378 pp., $2.45 (paper)

The Dewey School

by Katherine Camp Mayhew and Anna Camp Edwards
Atherton, 477 pp., $3.95 (paper)

John Dewey as Educator: His Work in Education 1894-1904

by Arthur G. Wirth
John G. Wiley, 322 pp., $6.95

John Dewey

by Richard J. Bernstein
Washington Square Press, 213 pp., $3.95

About the long-run importance of John Dewey’s philosophy there is not yet any consensus, though it is not too soon for advocacy. The appearance of these five books—two of them reprints—suggests at least that Dewey will be read again, and not be just a rumor.

The focus of renewed interest is clear enough: it is the philosophy of education. This is true of all the books under review, with the exception of Richard Bernstein’s book, a general review of Dewey’s philosophy. Arthur Wirth’s new work bridges the gap between that general philosophy and the older account (1936), by Mayhew and Edwards, of the Dewey school. Dewey’s own well-known Democracy and Education (1915) is now put in perspective by the publication of his Lectures (1899), which have been recently discovered and edited by Reginald Archambault.

It has always been clear to those who read him that Dewey was no mere inventor of systems or methods or panaceas in education. These works alone will reestablish Dewey’s transcendance of the movement that called itself Progressive Education. Dewey was a powerful figure, and the leaders of that movement were powerfully moved by him. It is not easy to sort, in that movement, the chaff from the good grain, nor to measure his philosophy by the one or the other. Nor is it any longer very relevant. In reviewing these works I would like to suggest a different and more current point of view from which to examine Dewey’s thought and his practical work. It is our own recent re-acknowledgement, thin and sporadic still, that our educational system is grossly deficient and that “educational theory” has dwindled to being a term with no significant meaning. If Dewey can help us, in theory or practice, then these books ought to be widely re-read.

LET ME BEGIN by supporting the presumption of Dewey’s enduring importance. Considered as a philosopher, if you wish as a philosopher’s philosopher, Dewey ranks among those two or three dozen who, since Plato, have seriously and systematically tested their basic insights against all the major areas of human experience. To those readers who are unfamiliar with Dewey’s aesthetics (Art as Experience), his Logic, or his philosophy of nature (Experience and Nature), Bernstein’s book will serve as a sympathetic introduction, if no more.

I do not place Dewey among the greatest of the systematists, but he belongs somewhere near, and the company is a select one. Since education is also—ought also to be—concerned with all the major areas of experience, Dewey counts here as he might not for other and more specialized interests. Indeed there is no major systematic philosopher who has looked so long and so carefully at education itself. Plato comes closest, and he is a more acute philosopher. But Plato suffers from the innocence of adulthood, ignoring the nature of the child when considering the nature of man. Dewey, with some success, sought to lose that innocence. If one is to take ideas seriously, as more than passing conveniences, the…

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