John Dewey

-Satish Kumar

-Sonia Gulati



John Dewey, greatest of the pragmatists and generally recognized as the most outstanding philosopher his country has yet produced, made significant contributions to virtually every field of philosophy as well as to such other areas of inquiry as education and psychology. Active for 70 years as a scholar, he was a prolific writer publishing approximately fifty books and more than eight hundred articles. Many of these have been translated into various foreign languages.

Aims of Education

According to Dewey the aim of education is the development of child’s powers and abilities. Impossible to lay down any definite principle for a particular kind of development, because this development will differ from one child to the next, in conformity with the unique abilities of the individual. The educator should guide the child according to the abilities and powers he observes in it. It is better, in Dewey’s opinion, to leave the question of educational objectives unanswered. In general, the aim of education is to create an atmosphere in which the child gets an opportunity to be active in and contribute to the social awakening of the human race. From the pragmatic standpoint, education aims at creating social efficiency in the child. Man is a social being who must develop at all. For this reason, education must aim at creating social efficiency and skill.

            Pragmatic education aims at instilling democratic values and ideals in the individual. Every individual must be given the freedom to develop his own desires and achieve his ambitions. Every individual must be equal to every other member of society. Such a society can be created only when there is no fundamental difference between the individual and collective interest. Education should create co-operation and harmony among individuals, instilling democratic values in school going children. In fact, the school itself is a miniature form of democratic society in which the child undergoes various forms of development, of which moral education and development is the most important. Morality can be developed through active participation, because such participation in the activities of the school trains the child in shouldering responsibility.

Pragmatic education is basically practical inasmuch as it aims at preparing the individual for future life in such a manner that he can fulfill his requirements and achieve contentment. Dewey was critical of the contemporary modes of education because they tend to drive the child away from democratic life by giving advantages to a small section of society. It also lays more stress on book or formal teaching than is really desirable. Hence Dewey laid the foundations of a progressive education in the form of a Progressive School, which aimed at establishing democratic values and developing the child’s personality. 


Dewey believed that the educational process has two aspects- psychological and social.

1.      Psychological : The curriculum and the method of education should be determined by the child’s instincts and abilities. The child should be educated according to his interest and inclination. Education should be attempted only after discovering the interests of the child, and these should be used as the basis for determining the curricula for the various stages of education .

2.      Social : All education has its beginnings in the individual’s participation in the social consciousness of the race. Hence it is necessary to create an atmosphere in the school, which will allow the child to take an active part in the social awakening of his group. This improves his conduct and develops his personality and abilities.

Principles of Curriculum Formation

1.      In general, the child shows four major interests i.e. the desire to talk and exchange ideas, discovery, creation and artistic expression.

2.      Curriculum to be flexible and not predetermined and rigid.

3.      The curriculum should include only those subjects, which can be related to the child’s pattern of life at that particular stage. This proximity to life can help in creating a distinctive unity in the knowledge imparted to him and thereby some harmony can be created in the teaching of history, geography, mathematics and language, etc. Dewey was very critical of the contemporary method of dividing knowledge into separate compartments, because he felt that such fragmentation of knowledge was unnatural. As far as possible the various subjects in the curriculum should be harmonized. 

Educational Method

1.      Learning by doing. The most well known principle enunciated  relates the theory of learning by doing, in which the child learns best when he himself performs actions, to particular subjects. The educator is not to stuff the child’s mind with information he himself has gathered throughout his life, but to guide the child to those activities by which the child can develop his own natural abilities and qualities.

2.       Integration of life and subjects. Dewey is of the opinion that there should be integration between the child’s life, his activities and the subjects he studied. All subjects to be taught to the child should be arranged around his activities in such a manner that he acquires knowledge in the process of doing activities to which he is accustomed. Mahatma Gandhi later on adopted Dewey’s principle in his plan of basic education.

3.      Catering to child interest. The next question that arises is that of designing the method of teaching according to the child’s interests. Dewey considers interest and effort to be of supreme importance in the process of education. The educator must understand the child’s interest before organizing the activities, which are useful for the child. It is better if this effort is free of any fear or compulsion, only then can Dewey’s ideas on educational methods later on led to the evolution of the project method in which the child was made to indulge in those activities which helped in the development of enthusiasm, self-confidence, self-reliance and originality.

4.      Participation in collective activities. In a democratic educational pattern, the child should be made to participate in collective activity, which can help in evolving a co-operative and social spirit.

            This method of education is apparently very suitable inasmuch as it meets the requirement of educational psychology. But in fact it has one inherent shortcoming that if the   education of the child is fashioned exclusively according to the child’s natural inclination he will remain ignorant of many subjects. Besides, even his knowledge of other subjects will remain disorganized, objections, which are accepted by Dewey himself.

School Organization

            Dewey has commented in detail upon the organization of schools as follows:

Role of the Educator

            Pragmatic education grants considerable importance to the educator, who is conceived as a servant of society. His task is to create in the school an environment, which will help in the development of the child’s social personality and enable the child to become a responsible democratic citizen. Dewey considers the educator to be so important that he goes so far as to call him God’s representative on earth. In determining the educator’s own behaviour in the school, Dewey accepts democratic principles and educational  psychology as suitable  guides for shaping the educator’s conduct.


            If the educator conducts himself on the lines suggested above, discipline in the school becomes easy. Difficulties arise only when discipline takes the form of an external force employed to restrain the child from expressing his natural desires. This is the traditional concept of discipline, which was severely criticized by Dewey. He argued that discipline depends not only upon the child’s own personality but also upon the social environment in which he is placed. True discipline takes the form of social control and this is evolved when the child engages in collective activity in the school. It is therefore desirable to create an atmosphere in the school which encourages the children to live in mutual harmony and co-operation. Social environment and a mode, which inspire him to self-discipline rather than to subject him to long lectures.  A peaceful atmosphere is undoubtedly conducive to good and rapid work, but peace is only a means, not an end in itself.  The educator’s real task is to engage the children in work, which suits their natural inclination. Self-discipline is a better weapon, and this can be taught through responsibility. Thus he will also learn to lead a disciplined life as an adult.

Impact on Modern Education

            Many of Dewey’s ideas have had great impact on modern education. Some important facts in this connection are:

1.      Impact on the aims of education : Now a days, one of the important aims of education is the teaching of democratic values. Dewey insisted on developing social qualities in the child. In modern schools these aims of education have been accepted as valid.    

2.      Impact on educational methods : The greatest impact of Dewey’s ideas is seen in the methods of education in more recent times. Dewey suggested that education should be based on the child’s own experience, and also that the method of teaching should vary according to the interests and inclinations of each individual child. These ideas influenced modern teaching techniques and led to active teaching in schools. One such school is the Activity School. The project method is also a result of Dewey’s ideas. Even in the other schools, attention is paid to the principles of child psychology, which guide the educator in creating an atmosphere suitable for developing social consciousness in the educated.

3.      Impact on curriculum : The impact of Dewey’s ideas on the subject of curriculum led to the introduction of manual skill subjects into modern curricula. Special importance is now being attached to various kinds of games, objects, the use of certain tools and implements, etc. In selecting the subject to be taught, attention is now paid to the individual interests and abilities of the child.

4.      Impact on discipline : As a result of Dewey’s theorizing on the subject of discipline, now the students is entrusted with much of the work done in the school. In this manner the students are trained are self-control and democratic   citizenship. Apart this, once the student have to face responsibility, he is compelled to think scientifically and reason out things for himself.

5.      Universal education : Dewey’s thinking and ideal also lead to faith in universal and compulsory education. Education aims at the development of personality. Hence every individual must be given the opportunity to develop his personality through education. The current stress on the scientific and social tendency owes much to Dewey’s influence. He pointed but that education was a social necessity, in that it was not merely a preparation for life, itself. It aimed at the development of both the individual as well as society. This leads to the comprehensive development of the individual.  




·         John Dewey – Pragmatist Philosopher.

·         Aims of education – Development of child’s power and abilities; different principles for different types of development; educators guidance according to child’s abilities and power; social efficiency; democratic values; freedom of development; individual and collective interests; co-operation and harmony; practical education; development of personality;

·         Curriculum – Psychological and Social.

·         Principle of curriculum formation.

·         Educational methods : Learning by doing; Integration of life and subjects; catering to child’s interests; participation in collective activities.

·         School Organization.

·         Role of educator.

·         Discipline.