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Posted: January 23rd, 2022

Impact of John Dewey’s Pragmatic Approach on Education

Impact of John Dewey’s Pragmatic Approach on Education

John Dewey was a prominent American philosopher and educator who was a pioneer of pragmatism, functionalism, and progressive education. He believed that education should be based on experience, inquiry, and democracy, and that it should prepare students for active participation in a changing society. In this paper, I will examine the main features of Dewey’s pragmatic approach to education and its impact on the development of educational theory and practice.

Pragmatism is a philosophical movement that rejects the idea that there is a fixed and absolute truth or reality that can be known by reason or logic. Instead, pragmatists argue that truth and reality are relative to the practical consequences of actions and beliefs. Pragmatists also emphasize the importance of experience, experimentation, and problem-solving as sources of knowledge and understanding. As Dewey wrote, “The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable” (Dewey, 1907, p. 5).

Dewey applied his pragmatic method to the field of education, which he saw as a social and moral enterprise that should foster the growth and development of individuals and communities. He criticized the traditional model of education that was based on the transmission of fixed and authoritative knowledge from teachers to passive and obedient students. He argued that this model was not suitable for a democratic society that required critical thinking, creativity, and social responsibility. He proposed an alternative model of education that was based on the interaction of students with their natural and social environment, guided by the interests and needs of the learners. He called this model “progressive education” or “education as growth” (Dewey, 1916).

The main characteristics of Dewey’s progressive education are:

– Experience: Dewey believed that education should be rooted in the concrete and meaningful experiences of students, rather than in abstract and irrelevant subjects. He defined experience as “the result, the sign, and the reward of that interaction of organism and environment which, when it is carried to the full, is a transformation of interaction into participation and communication” (Dewey, 1938, p. 22). He advocated for experiential learning activities that would engage students in exploring, experimenting, and reflecting on their own experiences.
– Inquiry: Dewey believed that education should stimulate the natural curiosity and intelligence of students, rather than impose predetermined facts and rules. He defined inquiry as “the controlled or directed transformation of an indeterminate situation into one that is so determinate in its constituent distinctions and relations as to convert the elements of the original situation into a unified whole” (Dewey, 1938, p. 108). He advocated for inquiry-based learning activities that would involve students in posing questions, seeking answers, testing hypotheses, and drawing conclusions.
– Democracy: Dewey believed that education should prepare students for active citizenship in a democratic society, rather than for passive conformity to authority. He defined democracy as “a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience” (Dewey, 1916, p. 87). He advocated for democratic learning activities that would involve students in collaborating, communicating, and participating in decision-making processes.

The impact of Dewey’s pragmatic approach to education has been significant and lasting. His ideas have influenced many educational theorists and practitioners who have developed various models of progressive education, such as experiential education, project-based learning, cooperative learning, problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, service-learning, etc. His ideas have also inspired many educational reforms and movements that have aimed to make education more relevant, engaging, and democratic for diverse learners in different contexts.

In conclusion, John Dewey was a visionary philosopher and educator who applied his pragmatic method to the field of education. He proposed a progressive model of education that was based on experience,
inquiry, and democracy. His pragmatic approach to education has had a profound impact on the development of educational theory and practice.

Works Cited

Dewey, J. (1907). The influence of Darwin on philosophy: And other essays in contemporary thought. Henry Holt.

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. Macmillan.

Dewey, J. (1938). Logic: The theory of inquiry. Henry Holt.

Hildebrand D.L., (2018). John Dewey | Biography & Philosophy | [online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 Jan 2024].

Nickerson C., (2023). John Dewey on Education: Impact & Theory – Simply Psychology [online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 Jan 2024].


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