JOHN DEWEY'S CONTRIBUTION TO EDUCATION
John Dewey, the American philosopher, educational theorist, and liberal intellectual, was undoubtedly the most important American thinker of the early twentieth century and -- for good or ill -- its most influential educator. Evaluating his role in the changes wrought in American education from the late nineteenth century to the present remains one of the largest problems in writing American educational history.
In The School and Society, published at the turn of the century, Dewey referred to the school as a "legatee institution," one inheriting functions other institutions, such as the family, workshop, or local community, could no longer perform. Perhaps this central insight suggests better than anything else why modern schools have been the objects of such severe criticism. They were where the buck stopped: they inherited the problems that could not be passed on to any other institutions (except perhaps the police). Oscar Handlin in the selection below shows the basis of Dewey's indictment of the schools. School conditions at that time suggest the magnitude of the job that progressives were tackling. Perhaps Dewey's error was to arouse unrealistic expectations for achieving giant social purposes merely through reform of the schools.
The principal study of Dewey's influence is Lawrence A. Cremin , The Transformation of the School ( New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961), which can be read in conjunction