After two years as a high-school teacher in Oil City, Pennsylvania and one teaching elementary school in the small town of Charlotte, Vermont, Dewey decided that he was unsuited for employment in primary or secondary education. In many respects his work cannot be easily slotted into any one of the curriculum traditions that have dominated north American and UK schooling traditions over the last century. Known for his advocacy of democracy, Dewey considered two fundamental elements—schools and civil society—to be major topics needing attention and reconstruction to encourage experimental intelligence and plurality. Confused meanings, inadequate evidence, or self-contradictory beliefs often lurked beneath smooth but largely empty rhetoric.
The successive portions of the reflective thought grow out of one another and support one another; they do not come and go in a medley. His attention to experience and reflection, democracy and community, and to environments for learning have been seminal. Dewey asserted that complete democracy was to be obtained not just by extending voting rights but also by ensuring that there exists a fully formed public opinion, accomplished by communication among citizens, experts, and politicians, with the latter being accountable for the policies they adopt. Third, his concern with interaction and environments for learning provide a continuing framework for practice. A well-known public intellectual, he was also a major voice of progressive education and liberalism. First, his belief that education must engage with and enlarge experience has continued to be a significant strand in informal education practice.
He established the importance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into thinking before we accept ideas as worthy of belief. His method of questioning is now known as “Socratic Questioning” and is the best known critical thinking teaching strategy. On this view, inquiry should not be understood as consisting of a mind passively observing the world and drawing from this ideas that if true correspond to reality, but rather as a process which initiates with a check or obstacle to successful human action, proceeds to active manipulation of the environment to test hypotheses, and issues in a re-adaptation of organism to environment that allows once again for human action to proceed. Torrey, a learned scholar with broader philosophical interests and sympathies, was later accounted by Dewey himself as “decisive” to his philosophical development. The formal teaching in philosophy at the University of Vermont was confined for the most part to the school of Scottish realism, a school of thought that Dewey soon rejected, but his close contact both before and after graduation with his teacher of philosophy, H. Socrates established the fact that one cannot depend upon those in “authority” to have sound knowledge and insight. In his 1910 masterwork How We Think (free download | public library), Dewey examines what separates thinking, a basic human faculty we take for granted, from thinking well, what it takes to train ourselves into mastering the art of thinking, and how we can channel our natural curiosity in a productive way when confronted with an overflow of information. His time at the University of Chicago resulted in four essays collectively entitled Thought and its Subject-Matter, which was published with collected works from his colleagues at Chicago under the collective title Studies in Logical Theory (1903). Although Dewey is known best for his publications about education, he also wrote about many other topics, including epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, art, logic, social theory, and ethics. John Dewey was a leading proponent of the American school of thought known as pragmatism, a view that rejected the dualistic epistemology and metaphysics of modern philosophy in favor of a naturalistic approach that viewed knowledge as arising from an active adaptation of the human organism to its environment.
Dewey is one of the primary figures associated with the philosophy of pragmatism and is considered one of the fathers of functional psychology. A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking The intellectual roots of critical thinking are as ancient as its etymology, traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practice and vision of Socrates 2, 500 years ago who discovered by a method of probing questioning that people could not rationally justify their confident claims to knowledge. Dewey’s philosophical pragmatism, concern with interaction, reflection and experience, and interest in community and democracy, were brought together to form a highly suggestive educative form. He also wrote extensively on social issues in such popular publications as the New Republic, thereby gaining a reputation as a leading social commentator of his time. He established the importance of seeking evidence, closely examining reasoning and assumptions, analyzing basic concepts, and tracing out implications not only of what is said but of what is done as well.
He demonstrated that persons may have power and high position and yet be deeply confused and irrational. Arguably the most influential thinker on education in the twentieth century, Dewey’s contribution lies along several fronts. Dewey begins with the foundation of reflective thought, the defining quality of the fruitful, creative mind: . With this view as his starting point, Dewey developed a broad body of work encompassing virtually all of the main areas of philosophical concern in his day. Last, his passion for democracy, for educating so that all may share in a common life, provides a strong rationale for practice in the associational settings in which informal educators work. Such thoughts are prejudices, that is, prejudgments, not judgments proper that rest upon a survey of evidence. From obscure sources and by unnoticed channels they insinuate themselves into acceptance and become unconsciously a part of our mental furniture. Such thoughts grow up unconsciously and without reference to the attainment of correct belief.
The eldest sibling died in infancy, but the three surviving brothers attended the public school and the University of Vermont in Burlington with John. Brain Pickings remains free (and ad-free) and takes me hundreds of hours a month to research and write, and thousands of dollars to sustain.