Educational Philosophy Comparison: John Dewey vs. William Bagley
There have always been philosophical battles between progressive thinkers and conservative thinkers when it comes to the education of America's children. Those wars were waged in the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries, and educators from both sides, and some in the middle or the far left or far right, are still involved in the same philosophical scrimmages today. It's healthy though, to look back at two of the brightest minds in the development of the American educational structure, the classic progressive John Dewey, and the quintessential conservative William Chandler Bagley, and examine what they had to say. Many of their debating points are as poignant and pertinent today as back then.
Introduction to educators John Dewey and William Bagley
John Dewey was born in Burlington Vermont, graduated from the University of Vermont and received his Ph.D. At Johns Hopkins in 1884. He taught at the universities of Minnesota, Michigan, and Chicago, and at Columbia, until he retired in 1930. Along the way, he developed a theory of "instrumentalism" which holds that the various forms of activity by humans are instruments developed by man to help find solutions for his various problems; and in fact, since the problems are always changing, Dewey felt that the instruments for dealing with those problems also need to change. In education, where he made the biggest impact, he advocated "progressive" education, which calls for turning away from authoritarian styles of teaching and rather, children learning through experimentation, and through helping young people learn to think. He also believed education to be a tool for empowering citizens to integrate culture and careers into the classroom experience. Some of Dewey's books touched on psychology, ethics, philosophy, and social change (Ethics; Human Nature and Conduct; Experience and Nature; Liberalism and Social Action; Problems of Men). Among his better known books on education are: Democracy and Education, and Experience and Education; the latter is primary source for this paper.
William Chandler Bagley was born in Detroit, received a Bachelor of Arts degree at Michigan State College, a Master's at the University of Wisconsin, and a Ph.D. At Cornell University, in 1900. After teaching in elementary schools, he became professor of education at a teachers college in Columbia, until 1940. He became a vigorous opponent of "pragmatism and progressive education, asserting that the value of knowledge is very great on its own merits, not just as an instrument to accomplish something with. He was critical of other teachers and educators for failing to emphasize what he believed to be important - a systematic study of academic subject matter. He wrote books (Education and Emergent Man; The Educative Process; Educational Values; and Determinism in Education, among others), and served as editor in chief of the Journal of the National Education Association and School and Society.
Introduction to John Dewey's Progressive Educational Theories
John Dewey is known in many circles as the "Father of public education," but more specifically, Dewey was a progressive thinker who, many believe, was way ahead of his time. He saw a need to teach students to think, rather than merely memorizing material and reciting it appropriately during examination. In his book, Experience and Education, Dewey refers to the "traditional education" as simply bodies of information and skills that "have been worked out in the past" - that just need to be "transmitted to the next generation." One prepares "the young for future responsibilities and for success in life..." By acquiring the organized bodies of information" which "comprehend the material of instruction." More simply put, Dewey says teachers, under traditional education, "are the agents through which knowledge and skills are communicated and rules of conduct enforced." He describes "progressive education," however, as a "criticism" of traditional schooling. It embraces "expression and cultivation of individuality" rather than "imposition from above"; and "free activity" as opposed to "external discipline"; and "learning through experience" rather than just from books and teachers. Progressive education - according to Dewey - also includes the "acquisition of skills as a means of attaining ends which make direct vital appeal" rather than the drumming into students' heads of skills by drill; and it means not preparing students for "a more or less remote future" - but rather, helping them make the most of the "opportunities of present life." Finally, Dewey's progressive education approach, he said, prepares a student for "a changing world" as opposed to "static aims and materials." Dewey says a progressive education is better…