Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Dewey criticizes the practices of progressive educators


As part of the progressive education movement, particularly due to the pedagogical ideas of John Dewey, a five-year program was initiated to replace 7,000 stationary desks. A sample of three cities (Denver, Washington and New York) showed that most school desks were bolted to the floor, discouraging student movement.

Although progressive education was in full swing, Dewey was concerned that the actual practices of progressive teachers were distorting the original philosophy behind it.
On July 9, 1930, Dewey published in the New Republic an essay entitled 'How much freedom in new schools?'.

In this article, Dewey expressed the concern that the daily practices of progressive educators were violating the basic principles of progressive education, and warned that a backlash against progressive education would soon take place if such trend continued. In this essay, which was his contribution to a symposium organized to evaluate progressive schools during the 1920s, Dewey criticized the interpretation and implementation of progressive education principles by principals and teachers in many progressive schools.

He noted that many educators were too eager to avoid the formalism and regimentation of traditional schools. As a result, he argued, the imposition of adult interests to the child and teacher's authoritarianism fell into the opposite extreme. Dewey warned that under this model teachers were becoming mere chaperones or custodians, confusing freedom with anarchy, and allowing children to decide their curriculum content based on their immature and passing interests. Dewey contended that in many schools avoidance of adult imposition had become 'a veritable phobia', and maintained that those educators did not understand the laws of growth and learning, and their application to the school work.


Bullert, Gary (1983). The Politics of John Dewey. New York: Prometheus Books.

Dykhuizen, George (1973). The Life and Mind of John Dewey. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Geiger, George, R. (1958). John Dewey in Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press.

Daniel Schugurensky, 1999

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