Demonizing Dewey

deweyIf you work in education or the philosophy of education, no single philosopher is more debated than John Dewey. For years I’ve heard people rail against Dewey blaming him for all the evils of Progressive Education. Through all those tirades, I’ve nodded my head approvingly. Yet, aside from a smattering of short essays, I’ve never read much of him. Thus far I’ve been happy to hate him.  Then I came an essay in the introductory volume to Mortimer Adler’s Great Books of the Western World which states that Dewey is the “most misunderstood of all philosophers of education.”

Adler (or whoever wrote this particular essay, there’s no way to tell) continues,

It is one of the ironies of fate that his followers who have misunderstood him have carried all before them in American education; whereas the plans he proposed have never been tried. The notion that is perhaps most popular in the United States, that the object of education is to adjust the young to their environment, and in particular to teach them to make a living, John Dewey roundly condemned; yet it is usually advanced in his name.

I guess I need to read Democracy and Education now before I jump on any more bandwagons.