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Educator John Dewey originated the experimentalism philosophy. A proponent of social change and education reform, he founded The New School for Social Research.
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His wife, Harriet, had died three years earlier.
Dewey’s philosophical treatises were at first inspired by his reading of philosopher and psychologist William James’ writing. Dewey’s philosophy, known as experimentalism, or instrumentalism, largely centered on human experience. Rejecting the more rigid ideas of Transcendentalism to which Dewey had been exposed in academia, it viewed ideas as tools for experimenting, with the goal of improving the human experience.
Dewey’s philosophy also claimed than man behaved out of habit and that change often led to unexpected outcomes. As man struggled to understand the results of change, he was forced to think creatively in order to resume control of his shifting environment. For Dewey, thought was the means through which man came to understand and connect with the world around him. A universal education was the key to teaching people how to abandon their habits and think creatively.
John Dewey was a strong proponent for progressive educational reform. He believed that education should be based on the principle of learning through doing.
In 1894 Dewey and his wife Harriet started their own experimental primary school, the University Elementary School, at the University of Chicago. His goal was to test his educational theories, but Dewey resigned when the university president fired Harriet.
In 1919, John Dewey, along with his colleagues Charles Beard, Thorstein Veblen, James Harvey Robinson and Wesley Clair Mitchell, founded The New School for Social Research. The New School is a progressive, experimental school that emphasizes the free exchange of intellectual ideas in the arts and social sciences.
During the 1920s, Dewey lectured on educational reform at schools all over the world. He was particularly impressed by experiments in the Russian educational system and shared what he learned with his colleagues when he returned to the States: that education should focus mainly on students’ interactions with the present. Dewey did not, however, dismiss the value of also learning about the past.
In the 1930s, after he retired from teaching, Dewey became an active member of numerous educational organizations, including the New York Teachers Guild and the International League for Academic Freedom.
Dewey wrote his first two books, Psychology (1887) and Leibniz’s New Essays Concerning the Human Understanding (1888), when he was working at the University of Michigan. Over the course of his lifetime, Dewey published more than 1,000 works, including essays, articles and books. His writing covered a broad range of topics: psychology, philosophy, educational theory, culture, religion and politics. Through his articles in The New Republic, he established himself as one of the most highly regarded social commentators of his day. Dewey continued to write prolifically up until his death.
While Dewey thought that a democracy was the best type of government, he believed that America’s democracy was strained in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.
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