Deweys original philosophy, called Instrumentalism, bears a relationship to the utilitarian and pragmatic schools of thought. Instrumentalism holds that the various modes and forms of human activity are instruments developed by human beings to solve multiple individual and social problems. Since the problems are constantly changing, the instruments for dealing with them must also change. Dewey also helped lead a philosophical movement called Pragmatism This theory was strongly influenced by the then-new science of psychology and by the theory of evolution proposed by the English scientist Charles R.
Darwin. With Pragmatism, Dewey came to regard intelligence as a power that people use when they face a conflict or challenge. He believed that people live by custom and habit. Eventually Dewey conceived of democracy as a primary ethical value, and he did much to formulate working principles for a democratic and industrial society, particularly in the field of education, which later became known as the Progressive movement. The sources of Dewey progressive movement are attributed to the pedagogy of Jean Jacques Rousseau, Johann Pestalozzi, and Friedrich Froebel.
In education, his philosophy became a primary factor in the abandonment of authoritarian methods and in the growing emphasis upon learning through experimentation and practice. In rejection against abstract learning, Dewey considered education as a tool that would enable the citizen to integrate culture and vocation effectively and usefully. Dewey actively participated in movements to forward social welfare and womans suffrage, protect academic freedom, and effect political reform.
John Dewey maintained that schools should reflect the life of our society. He suggested that the schools also take on such responsibilities as the acculturation of immigrants in addition to merely teaching academic skills. Dewey also proposed a number of specific curricular changes that had strong impact on his subsequent reformers. At his Laboratory School in Chicago, for example, Dewey developed a method at the turn of the century which younger student groups worked on a central project related to their own interests. (Early cooperative learning).
The division of more advanced work into units organized around some central theme was an attempt to adapt the method to the academic needs of older children. Several other significant progressive movements were spurred by Deweys early Chicago School experiments. They included the Gary plan, developed (1908) in Gary, Ind. Devised to utilize the school plant more efficiently, to provide opportunity for more practical work, and to coordinate various levels of schooling, the plan divided the school building into classrooms and space for auditorium, playground, shops, and laboratories.
Two schools ran simultaneously in this space so that every facility was in constant use. The school day was eight hours long, and schools were open six days a week. The Gary plan was widely adopted. The Dalton plan (1919), at Dalton, Mass. , subdivided the work of the traditional curriculum into contract units, which the student undertook to accomplish in a specified amount of time. The Winnetka plan, established (1919) in Winnetka, Ill. , separated the curriculum into the subjects handled by the Dalton technique and used the cooperative method of creative social activities developed by Dewey.
Dewey is known as the father of the Progressive movement in American education. During most of the twentieth century, the term “progressive education” has been used to describe ideas and educational programs that aim to make schools more effective agencies of a democratic society. Although there are numerous differences of style and emphasis among progressive educators, they all basically share the belief that democracy means active participation by all citizens in social, political and economic decisions that will affect their lives.