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John Dewey

John Dewey (1867-1949)

John Dewey emphasized practical ideas in both his philosophical and educational theories, always striving to show how abstract concepts could work in everyday life. He emphasized hands-on learning, and opposed authoritarian methods in teaching. His ideas prompted a drastic change in United States education beginning in the 20th century.

Considered to be the leading progressive educator of this century, John Dewey wrote on the great issues in education. In Education and Experience, written late in his career, he tries to find a synthesis of the principles of traditional education and those of progressive education. Two essential components for him are the experience of the learner and critical inquiry. Dewey wrote, "any theory and set of practices is dogmatic which is not based upon critical examination of its own underlying principles."

John Dewey's significance for informal educators lies in a number of areas. First, his belief that education must engage with and enlarge experience has continued to be a significant component in informal education practice. Second, and linked to this, Dewey's exploration of thinking and reflection - and the associated role of educators - has continued to be an inspiration. He criticized educational methods that simply amused and entertained students or were overly vocational. Many educators consider Dewey the modern day originator of the concept of reflection, although he drew on the ideas of earlier educators, such as Aristotle, Plato, and Confucius. He thought of reflection as a form of problem solving that chained several ideas together by linking each idea with its predecessor in order to resolve an issue.

He also advocated education that would fulfill and enrich the current lives of students as well as prepare them for the future. Dewey's theory of education became known as functionalism in that it encouraged mental testing and stressed studies of adaptive behavior.

We respond to its connections and not simply to the immediate occurrence. Thus our attitude to it is much freer. We may approach it, so to speak, from any one of the angles provided by its connections. We can bring into play, as we deem wise, any one of the habits appropriate to any one of the connected objects. Thus we get at a new event indirectly instead of immediately — by invention, ingenuity, resourcefulness. An ideally perfect knowledge would represent such a network of interconnections that any past experience would offer a point of advantage from which to get at the problem presented in a new experience. - Democracy and Education by John Dewey

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