Academic journal article Education

John Dewey & Earl Kelley: Giants in Democratic Education

Academic journal article Education

John Dewey & Earl Kelley: Giants in Democratic Education

Article excerpt

This paper examines selected work of Dewey and Kelley. An overview of schools from colonial times through the 1960s proceeds an analysis of their vision for democratic schools. The essay presents Dewey's analysis of subject matter and teacher role and Kelley's work in perception. Implications of their philosophy for current educational reform efforts suggest that:

1.subject matter comes from learners' needs,

2.grades and promotion should be eliminated, and

3.learners should be involved in planning, executing, and evaluating activities.

The author was a student and colleague of Kelley. The paper grew from his desire to capture the relationship between Dewey and Kelley and to bring definition to their vision for schools. Kelley agreed to a series of interviews and endorsed the completed manuscript as representing their shared vision.

   It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of
   instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry,
   for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mostly in
   need of freedom: without this it goes to rack and ruin without fail.

   Albert Einstein

It is not enough to accept that we have problems in our current educational system. This is almost universally acknowledged. What is needed are concrete ideas about what needs to be done. The following examination of the work of John Dewey and Earl Kelley can provide us with the kind of direction for our public schools which is much needed and long overdue.

Education differs from many other human endeavors in that it is a common experience. It was this "common experience" which Jefferson sought to exploit for the good of democracy by using it to foster democratic ideals. This is the foundation of the track upon which the "education train" runs. The purpose and the intent of the common school was clear. It was, however, never given a proper framework to carry out its mission. A blueprint, if you will, for what such schools should look like was never put in place. This blueprint is even more important in light of the changes in family structure and community organization which have occurred in our society since World War II.

The Constitution of the United States, along with its amendments, provided a plan by which our citizens were able to elect a representative government, enact laws and institute policies to promote those values and ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence: ... all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Since almost everyone in our nation has been to school, almost everyone believes that they know what is wrong with our schools. The result has been that every special interest group in our society has presented its platform for school reform. Virtually without exception, their agenda focuses on improving academic achievement. This is, of course, fair game. Schools must address academic achievement. It is absolutely imperative that children be equipped with the necessary tools to function in an increasingly complex society. The problem arises in that this only addresses one-half of the issue. How we develop a citizenry dedicated to and capable of utilizing and promoting democratic ideals and practices is the other half.

It was clearly intended by the founding fathers that the common school would serve a key role in providing the enlightened citizenry necessary for the success of democracy. The course was set early in our history by such governmental actions as the Land Ordinance Act of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. These acts required that each township reserve a section of land for the purpose of supporting education. The central role which the new nation believed was served by education is underfed by the following statement from the ordinances: Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. …

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