John Dewey Criticism

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Irving King (essay date 1917)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Democracy and Education, in The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. XXII, No. 5, March, 1917, pp. 674-76.

[In the following review of Dewey's Democracy and Education, King attempts to elucidate Dewey's theories in order to support his thesis that the work is a worthwhile study of sociology, education, and philosophy.]

All students of philosophy and sociology, as well as of education, welcome this comprehensive and fundamental statement of Professor Dewey's educational philosophy. [Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education]. It will undoubtedly take its place among the world's enduring classics in these three fields of thought. The educator, to whom it is primarily written, will find here a clarifying account of the principles and the practice which must of necessity characterize all sound educational development that is really an expression of democratic ideals. Such a conception of education cannot be stated in any narrow, isolated fashion, and not the least valuable aspect of its exposition, therefore, lies in the accompanying searching and critical examination of the evolution of philosophical thought and the correlated evolution of the ideals of social democracy.

The method of the work is to be found in a series of statements and expositions of various dualisms of thought and practice which have been at various times more or less dominant in both philosophy and education since the time of the Greeks. The historical analysis which accompanies each discussion presents a viewpoint that is absolutely essential to the adequate understanding of the problems of current educational theory and practice, and on the basis of which alone we can arrive at solutions consistent with our democratic ideals.

The first dualism is the general one between education and life. While a social necessity, education has tended in all times to become more or less isolated from the social order which evolved it, through an inadequate conception of the social function of instruction. This imperfect view of the nature of education has found expression at various times in the conceptions of education as external direction, as mere inner growth, as preparation for a remote future, as unfolding, or as discipline. These conceptions are criticized as being, in varying degrees, external, retrospective, conservative, and hence inadequate to interpret the educational process that should belong to a progressive democratic society. The worth of such a society depends upon the extent to which "the interests of the group are shared by all its members and the fulness and freedom with which it interacts with other groups." "Such a society must have a type of education which gives individuals a personal interest in social relationships and control, and the habits of mind which secure social changes without introducing social disorder." Professor Dewey's conception of the end of education is developed directly from this viewpoint. It is a statement of the process of education at its best rather than external goal which, just because it is external, cannot be put into definite and helpful relation to the process of education with its various resources and difficulties. A real end of education must, if it is to have any practical value, interpret and guide its various expressions rather than be a remote and final goal. One of the most brilliant and stimulating discussions in this book is that in which the ideal as a working hypothesis is developed. Other conceptions of end are discussed and shown to have reality in so far as they admit of statement as interpretative principles rather than as goals.

It is impossible in a review to give even a synopsis of the discussions which follow. The dualisms, which have appeared in the thinking of the Western world and expressed in such contrasts as interest and discipline, play and work, labor and leisure, intellectual and practical studies, naturalism and humanism, individual and world, aesthetic and...

(The entire section is 161,055 words.)