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Progressive Education
More Pedagogic Creed

Dewey was very useful to political types with a more consistent agenda than he had.  Dewey doesn’t allow himself to deduce some of the consequences of his theories, or even acknowledge them when they occur in life.  (Progressive children who couldn’t read properly, do simple arithmetic, etc.)  Dewey’s ideas in practice would create a populace of compliant subjects easily ruled.

Here’s more of Dewey’s My Pedagogic Creed, from the beginning.  The first and most important paragraph demolishes the idea of the individual  a frequent theme of Dewey’s.

“I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race.

[Race here means mankind. Social consciousness is a way of talking about the thought, discoveries, inventions, and work of individuals without acknowledging these people exist.]

This process begins unconsciously almost at birth, and is continually shaping the individual’spowers, saturating his consciousness, forming his habits, training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions.

[Dewey believes the child does not think, he is but a passive receiver of impressions and his reactions are automatic.  Talk about lack of experience with children.]

Through this unconscious education [unconscious even beyond babyhood and into childhood and adulthood evidently] the individual gradually comes to share in the intellectual and moral resources which humanity has succeeded in getting together.

[Humanity got it together, not individual men and women.]

He becomes an inheritor of the funded capital of civilization. ...”

Thus  to put it in plain language  your mind is not your own but rather a product of “society,” a gift to you from an amorphous agglomeration of others  who (one supposes) got their minds likewise.  Leaving us to wonder just who did the thinking and made the discoveries bequeathed to you.  Dewey continues:

“I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself.  Through these demands he is stimulated to act as a member of a unity, to emerge from his original narrowness of action and feeling and to conceive of himself from the standpoint of the welfare of the group to which he belongs. ...

“... Education, therefore, must begin with a psychological insight into the child’s capacities, interests, and habits. ...  These ... must be continually interpreted ... .  They must be translated into terms of their social equivalents  into terms of what they are capable of in the way of social service.”

The child is in big trouble if either the group in which he gets put has bullies in it, or he just wants to do something by himself for himself  exercising what Dewey denounced as “selfishness,” quoted in this website’s previous article on Dewey’s Pedagogic Creed.

Dewey’s creed was the blueprint for what Dewey later came to call progressive education.  I won’t take space to quote more, but just note that one of his most famous points is that individual subjects like arithmetic, geography, and so forth are not to be taught, only social life experiences that just happen  later known as group projects.

To quote two pro-Dewey authors:  “... however tortuous the intellectual line from Democracy and Education to the pronouncements of the Commission on Life Adjustment, that line can be drawn.” (Lawrence Cremin in Transformation, page 239.)  “That it is in fact an unduly tortuous line one may be permitted to doubt.” (Richard Hofstadter in Anti-intellectualism in America, page 361.)

Dewey praised Kilpatrick in his introduction to the biography William Heard Kilpatrick:  Trailblazer in Education (1951) by Samuel Tenenbaum:  “In the best sense of the words, progressive education and the work of Dr. Kilpatrick are virtually synonymous.”

Everyone has heard Dewey’s famous saying: “Learn by doing.”  I wonder if you know that in the original edition of the book in which that saying occurs, the full text is:

... learn by doing, and that means to serve.

In a later edition of the book, edited by Sydney Hook, this is truncated to  “... learn by doing.”