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Education For the New Man

Dewey visited Soviet Russia in 1928, and wrote up the experience in five articles printed in the New Republic magazine that same year.

These articles, along with some others approved by Dewey, were reprinted in the book  Impressions of Soviet Russia  in 1929.

Please note:  the point of quoting this is not that Dewey praised the Soviet schools, but why he praised them, what he praised them for.

The that is peculiar to 1928, the why and what are timeless.

From Chapter IV “What Are The Russian Schools Doing?” Dewey begins with sympathetic description, and ends with all out praise:

Page 61

In Russia “the import of all institutions is educational in the broad sense  that of their effects upon disposition and attitude.  Their function is to create habits so that persons will act cooperatively and collectively as readily now in capitalistic countries they act ‘individualistically.’  The same consideration defines the importance and the purpose of the narrower educational agencies, the schools.  They represent a direct and concentrated effort to obtain the effect which other institutions develop in a different and roundabout manner.  The schools are, in current phrase, the ‘ideological arm of the Revolution.’  In consequence, the activities of the schools dovetail in the most extraordinary way, both in administrative organization and in aim and spirit, into all other social agencies and interests.”

Page 68

[Referring to a Soviet education administer:]  “He became convinced that the central force in undoing the work of socialized reform he was trying to achieve by means of school agencies was precisely the egoistic and private ideals and methods inculcated by the institution of private property, profit and acquisitive possession.

“... as far as the influence of this particular educator is concerned (and it extends very far), the subject-matter, the methods of teaching, and the spirit of school administration and discipline are all treated as ways of producing harmony of operation between concrete social conditions ... .  ... During the transitional regime, the school cannot count upon the larger education to create in any single and whole-hearted way the required collective and cooperative mentality.  The traditional customs and institutions of the peasant, his small tracts, his three-system farming, the influence of home and Church, all work automatically to create in him an individualistic ideology.  In spite of the greater inclination of the city worker towards collectivism, even his social environment works adversely in many respects.  Hence the great task of the school is to counteract and transform those domestic and neighborhood tendencies that are still so strong, even in a nominally collectivist regime.

“In order to accomplish this end, the teachers must in the first place know with great detail and accuracy just what the conditions are to which pupils are subject in the home, and thus be able to interpret the habits and acts of the pupil in the school in the light of his environing conditions  and this, not just in some general way, but as definitely as a skilled physician diagnoses in the light of their causes the diseased conditions with which he is dealing. ... the teacher strove to learn, whenever he was confronted with any mode of undesirable behavior on the part of a pupil, how to trace it back to its definite social causation.  Such an idea, however illuminating in the abstract, would, of course, remain barren without some technique to carry it into effect.  And one of the most interesting pedagogical innovations with which I am acquainted is the technique which has been worked out for enabling teachers to discover the actual conditions that influence pupils in their out-of-school life;  and I hope someone with more time than I had at command will before long set forth the method in detail.  Here I can only say that it involves, among other things, discussions in connection with history and geography, the themes of written work, the compositions of pupils, and also a detailed study throughout the year of home and family budgets.  Quite apart from any economic theory ... the results are already of great pedagogic value, and promise to provide a new and fruitful method of sociological research.

“The knowledge thus gained of home conditions and their effect upon behavior (and I may say in passing this social behaviorism seems to me much more promising intellectually that any exclusively physiological behaviorism can ever prove to be) is preliminary to the development of methods which will enable schools to react favorably upon the undesirable conditions discovered, and to reinforce such desirable agencies as exist.  Here, of course, is the point at which the socially constructive work of the school comes in.  A little something will be said about this later in detail, when I come to speak of the idea of ‘socially useful’ work as a criterion for deciding upon the value of ‘projects’  for Soviet education is committed to the ‘project method.’ ...

“... in relation to the entire Russian situation, it is these generic points of social aspiration and contact that are significant.  That which distinguishes the Soviet schools ... from the progressive schools of other countries (with which they have much in common) is precisely the conscious control of every educational procedure by reference to a single and comprehensive social purpose.  It is this reference that accounts for the social interlocking to which I referred at the outset.”