John Dewey Is a Fraud
It is generally agreed that John Dewey (1859-1952) is the Father of American Education and the Greatest American Educator Ever.
The problem with the labels is that John Dewey, albeit a genius, was not an educator in the sense that most people use this word. He was not interested in teaching as most people understand that term, as for example in the statement "I teach French."
Dewey was not primarily concerned with teaching new information. He was concerned with inculcating new attitudes.
John Dewey was a social engineer -- one might even say a community organizer. He believed that socialism is the future. His self-appointed mission was to implement the transition to this brave new world.
All of his grand theories, his scores of books, and his hundreds of articles can be summed up as a program for making America socialist.
There is one little problem at this point: almost nobody in America was asking for this transformation. So Dewey was in the awkward position of redecorating your house when you didn't ask for it to be redecorated, or more precisely seducing your kids when you don't want your kids to be seduced.
Dewey basically had to ignore law, precedent, tradition, legislatures, voters, elections, expectations of families, and the needs of society. He attempted an end-run, and thus a conspiracy. His project is best called Socialism-on-the-Sly.
John Dewey and cohorts were so smugly confident that their views were correct, they were not apologetic about hiding their plans, using false terminology, and working subversively and covertly at all times.
Dewey and his co-conspirators were professors of education. Schools were where they felt comfortable. When they thought about transforming the country, they certainly didn't think about campaigning for office or writing articles in the popular press (except occasionally). No, they had a much more direct scheme.
John D. Rockefeller was the billionaire that nobody liked. His PR experts said, "Mr. Rockefeller, give away one dollar so they let you keep the other nine." Rockefeller did this to an extraordinary degree, creating universities and many other famous institutions. In particular, he created Teachers College at Columbia University. Wannabe teachers came there to be indoctrinated into the new ways. These teachers -- this whole process started around 1910 -- then returned to their communities and began work on the raw material known as students.
So it's obvious at a glance that there was a common element throughout Dewey's life and work. He was doing something on the sly because the public didn't ask for his ideas and would have rejected them if they had had the chance.
There was another sin, if you think that sublime arrogance is a sin. Dewey and the hundreds of people in his immediate orbit serenely agreed that cooperation was the highest virtue, sociology was the future, psychology provided the essential truths of life, God was dead, religion was obsolete, family must be belittled, and patriotism, honor, and other old-fashioned virtues must be slowly ground down to nothing.
It's worth noting that the entire Dewey machine was operating full-speed by 1890, before the Russian Revolution. Far-left ideology was a force, and the United States had homegrown Marxists eager to join Dewey's crusade.
However, the success of the Russian Revolution after 1920 coupled with our own apparent failure during the Great Depression circa 1930 was a powerful impetus for Dewey and friends. Their worldviews seemed confirmed absolutely. There was nothing left to discuss but how to roll over the opposition and move ahead with Socialism-on-the-Sly.
Things became more problematic after World War II, when Stalin's many blemishes became obvious, when the American economy was on the robust rebound, and when, as always, most Americans thought socialism and communism were evil. Furthermore, Americans typically demanded better schools, not ideologically driven schools.
Speaking roughly of the modern period 1950-2000, education's top people had to practice a delicate ingenuity. They wanted curricula that created leveling, not excellence. So they had to come up with one cleverly designed-to-fail method after another, wrap each one in gaudy lingo, and sell them all to the poor benighted parents of America, two famous examples being Look-say and Reform Math.
Always, these top educators were trapped in their lie, in Dewey's lie. They had to pretend they were interested in education when the real goals were psychological indoctrination and sociological transformation. The Education Establishment, I would submit, exactly continues Dewey's dream today.
Ask teachers, and you will find that they must attend an endless array of Professional Development (PD) classes. They must constantly discard the wonderful new gimmicks from a few years ago and start all over with the latest new thing. But the old ideas and the new idea are all equally bad, because at bottom they are obsessed with indoctrination, not education.
Which brings us back to the main theme: John Dewey wasn't interested in education as you and I understand this term. Everything he did was in fact intended to subvert and diminish traditional education.
That is not too harsh. Excellence got in the way of cooperation. If Jackie knew the capital of France, but Albert did not, you have introduced a division into the classroom, and thus into society. John Dewey and the members of his cult did not give a damn about the capital of France if this bit of trivia got in the way of their social plans. See it from their point of view, and everything they did was logical.
John Dewey's secret scams are the reason why we have 50 million functional illiterates, why high school graduates can't multiply seven times eight, why most American kids can't find Japan on a map, why even simple knowledge like "what is a moon" is probably not part of the lives of most Americans.
The progressives who control education deified John Dewey and placed him on a pedestal, but that was a marketing tool. Then they could say, "We should do X because John Dewey says it's the best way, and he is our greatest educator." Parents and young teachers would wilt before the prestige of the great John Dewey.
The major problem in all of American education is dishonesty. Schools could be much better, at less cost. But few will tell the truth about any aspect of public education, ever since John Dewey launched his disingenuous crusade to transform America via the classroom.
The Education Establishment today will not tell the truth about Whole Word, Reform Math, Constructivism, Cooperative Learning, self-esteem, Learning Styles, Common Core, or just about anything else they do in the public schools. There are many lies, but the big lie is that John Dewey is a great educator. He was a great socialist. He was a titan at articulating how we might implement social engineering, but he was not an educator as traditionally understood. Alas.
If we could strip away the lies, work with the actual reality, progress would be assured. Or we can keep mudding along as Dewey's victims.
Bruce Deitrick Price is an author and education reformer. He founded Improve-Education.org in 2005; his site explains theories and methods.