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John Dewey's Influence on Education around the World

by A. Harry Passow - 1982

John Dewey's influence on educational thought and practice was felt on six continents and brought about in three ways: (1) Dewey's visits to foreign countries; (2) translations of Dewey's books into languages; and (3) the thousands of foreign students who studied Dewey's philosophy and returned to their countries to become leaders in education. (Source: ERIC)

This article was originally prepared for presentation at the Study Conference in Honor of John Dewey at the University of Urbino, Italy, October 10-13, 1980.

In his Introduction to a collection of the essential writings of John Dewey, Sidorsky observed:

John Dewey was the most influential figure in American philosophical thought in the first half of the twentieth century. His influence was both broad in scope and deep in impact. . . .

The impact of Dewey’s ideas upon American philosophical and social thought was so great that it must be considered a major phenomenon of American cultural history of the twentieth century.1

Clearly, John Dewey’s influence on philosophical thought and educational reform was not limited to America. In 1946, the then director of the International Bureau of Education in Geneva, Robert Drottens, hailed Dewey as the person who had had the greatest influence on contemporary education worldwide.2 Writing in 1961, the president of Hong Kong’s New Asia College, Ou Tsuin-Chen, commented: “John Dewey was one of the most important philosophers of education of this century; few educational theorists have equaled his widespread influence, which was not limited to his own society, but was felt throughout the world.“3

On the occasion of Dewey’s ninetieth birthday (October 20, 1949), Brickman discussed Dewey’s reputation as an educator in foreign countries and pointed to some examples of Dewey’s influence on educational thought and practice abroad. Brickman observed that it was difficult to “prove the existence” of that influence but believed that

a more accessible measure of Dewey’s relationship to his contemporaries in foreign countries is his reputation as an educator. This may be determined by such factors as translations of books and articles, professional reviews, discussions of ideas in professional and other publications, and references to theory and practice in miscellaneous sources.4

Dewey’s influence on educational thought and practice was felt on six continents and was brought about in three ways: (1) Dewey’s visits to foreign countries, most notably his visits to Japan, China, Turkey, and the U.S.S.R.; (2) translations of Dewey’s books and other writings into at least thirty-five languages; and (3) the thousands of students from other lands who studied with Dewey and his colleagues at Teachers College, Columbia University, and other American universities and colleges where Dewey’s philosophy was taught, and then returned home to become leaders in their countries’ ministeries and universities.


John Dewey came to Columbia University’s Department of Philosophy and Psychology in 1905. In order to earn additional income, Dewey taught two additional hours per week at Teachers College, Columbia University. It was after he came to Columbia that Dewey “became the recognized leader of the pragmatic movement in philosophy, at a time when pragmatism began to dominate American philosophy.“5

While on sabbatical leave from Columbia, Dewey taught at the University of California at Berkeley during the fall 1918 semester. In January, just as Dewey and his wife were about to sail for a vacation to “the Orient,” he received an invitation to deliver some lectures in Japan. During his two-and-a-half month visit, Dewey delivered a series of eight lectures at the National Imperial University of Tokyo. These lectures were organized around a general theme dealing “with the problem of reconstructing moral and social thinking and the benefits to be derived from a democratic way of life,“6 and published in the United States in 1921 under the title Reconstruction in Philosophy. In Geiger’s view, Dewey had hoped that his lectures “would serve as a vehicle for communicating his ideas for world peace,“7

Dewey’s influence on Japanese educational thought seems to have been continuous since his visit in 1919 and reached its peak, in all probability, during the “Americanization” of Japanese education following World War II. Kobayashi has examined in detail John Dewey’s philosophy in Japanese educational thought.8

Dewey’s Japanese lectures apparently marked a dramatic change in his attitudes toward the issues of war and peace and his acceptance of pacifist values after having supported World War I. As Geiger put it:

The justification of the use of military force was no longer acceptable to [Dewey]. In its place the instrument of democracy would serve as the vehicle for achieving international peace and cooperation. Not only would democracy serve as a social, economic, and political force but it would also serve as an ideal helping mankind to reorganize its thinking. It was around this theme that Dewey later developed the lectures which he so forcefully delivered to the Chinese nation.9

A small delegation of Dewey’s former Chinese students came to Tokyo during his lectures there to invite him to become a visiting professor during the next academic year. Dewey apparently took an immediate interest in China and the problems that nation faced and “was fascinated with the efforts of younger intellectuals to establish the first republican government in China’s history.“10 Dewey accepted the invitation, had arrived in Shangai and had already lectured in three cities when he received word that Columbia University had granted him his request for a year’s leave. In the end, Dewey stayed in China for two years—his longest stay in any foreign country.

In his foreword to Keenan’s book titled The Dewey Experiment in China, Schwartz observed:

The encounter between John Dewey and modern China is one of the most fascinating episodes in the intellectual history of twentieth-century China. The effort made by Dewey’s Chinese disciples to apply his ideas to the complex tangle of China’s political, social, and cultural situation provides us with a unique perspective on the awesome dilemmas that confronted China’s intellectuals during this period.11

Dewey lectured throughout China during his two-year stay there. Each of his lectures was translated into Chinese as he delivered it and his different lecture series were soon published in five book editions, one of which had gone through ten printings before he had left China.12 His opening lecture, delivered three days after he arrived in China, was heard by over a thousand of central China’s leading educators. Almost at the same time that Dewey arrived in China, a nationwide student movement erupted protesting both Chinese corruption and Japanese imperialism, the corruption focusing on the secret promises of the Chinese government regarding territorial concessions that were formalized in the Treaty of Versailles. As Keenan reported: “Mass demonstrations, strikes, and boycotts spread throughout the country, politicizing the intellectual atmosphere during the entire two years Dewey and his wife were these. “13 In Sizer’s view, however,

it was the nature of the May Fourth Movement, its despair, its rejection of past models, its hope, its belief in the power of Chinese intellectuals to analyze and reform China correctly, and the importance it attached to education, which explains the considerable interest in John Dewey’s philosophy in China during the years just after the First World War.14

It was the so-called returned students who had invited Dewey to lecture in China. Many of them had studied in the United States in the decade ‘before 1919 and a number had been at Teachers College, Columbia University. Sizer points out that the returned students organized themselves along the same nationalistic lines as the nations in which they had studied: “The returned students from the United States came to propose a capitalistic democracy for China; those from Japan a more militaristic government; those who had studied in France were more receptive to socialism. The lines of communication between these groups and between the adherents of different ideologies in time grew fainter.“15

The students who returned from America increasingly became convinced of the significance of education as a means for progress and reform. Thus, Sizer asserts:

The returned students from the United States were on the whole endowed with a messianic feeling that the reform of education and the success of democracy were interwoven and were crucial to China, and that they themselves, as experienced in American democratic patterns and as knowledgeable in American educational practices, were also indispensable to China’s progress. John Dewey was undoubtedly invited to China in 1919, not only to lecture on his philosophy and to lend it the authority of his powerful personality, but also to reinforce these returned students in their convictions and in their aspirations as leaders.16

The Dewey lectures were reprinted in hundreds of new periodicals, which were part of the new nationalist movement, and pragmatism (or “experimentalism” as it was usually translated into Chinese) “became a significant current of thought in the political and philosophic debates that accompanied the new political consciousness.“17 Among the major competitors with Dewey’s ideas for reform were the Marxist proposals-the Chinese Communist party was founded during the two years that Dewey was in China.18

While Dewey’s lectures dealt with the experimental method and philosophy, a significant portion focused on educational reform. He dealt with “defining the revolution in knowledge that led to the erosion of the authority of tradition”; he emphasized the child-centered curriculum, “a turning away from classroom emphasis on subject matter to emphasis on growth of the child”; and he emphasized the role of socialization in the school as basic to social reform—“socialization of the child should not only give him or her a critical attitude toward tradition, but also develop his or her critical judgment about contemporary social and political conditions.“19 Dewey believed current issues should be incorporated into the curriculum.

In the end, as Dewey wrote in 1922, the “difficulties in the way of a practical extension and regeneration of Chinese education are all but insuperable.” He saw no political reform without education but no development of schools as long as corrupt officials opposed schools and diverted funds. He saw “the materials of a tragedy of the first magnitude.“20 Keenan observed that “the reformers hoped education could begin social and political change, but, under undemocratic political conditions, insistence upon reform by cultural subversion had created an insoluble dilemma.“21

Sizer concluded that there were some changes, including major language reforms—sometimes called “the literary revolution.” Other “Deweyan techniques” adopted included “the kindergarten movement, the extension of women’s education, adult education, ‘professionalism’ in education, American-style testing and supervision practices, and the movement for local control.“22 However, in Sizer’s view, the students did not develop a creative or forceful interpretation and implementation of Dewey’s philosophy, probably because Dewey’s presence and the perception of him as the “master” “prevented the flexible, innovative treatment of the philosophy which would have made possible its adaptation to Chinese culture.23

Dewey’s intellectual followers were officially denounced by Mao Tse-tung, identifying Dewey’s students with American imperialism. During the 1950s, the People’s Republic of China undertook an intellectual campaign denouncing Dewey’s influence educationally and politically. Although two of Dewey’s books were reprinted in Chinese translations, there was literally a flood of articles and even book-length critiques of Dewey’s ideas. As Keenan observed:

The fundamental incompatibilities of Dewey’s pragmatism and the socialist needs of Mao’s China, which were developed in these critiques, centered upon Dewey’s piecemeal definition of the nature of science and, as importantly, upon his assumption that class distinctions could be subsumed within the operation of “democracy” in society. This latter “error” was considered by his critics to be the greatest oversight of the bourgeois educator and his Chinese followers.24

In 1924, the ministry of education of Turkey invited John Dewey to observe its school system. Dewey spent two months in Turkey, but at a time when the schools were closed. He submitted a preliminary memorandum while still in Turkey and a more analytic report after he had returned home.25 Dewey’s report to the Turkish ministry stressed the need to relate the means of education to its aims and purposes. He urged that schools be developed as “centers of community life, especially in the rural districts.“26 Dewey suggested that the ministry appoint commissions of Turkish educators to visit the educational systems in several countries, specifying the countries and what educators were to look at programmatically in those systems. He recommended the translation of foreign books, and particularly that “those dealing with practical methods and equipment in ‘progressive schools’ should be ‘widely circulated’ and ‘carefully studied by teachers.‘“27 Drawing on his own concepts of American democracy, he suggested that, although Turkey needed a unified educational system, it should provide for diversity rather than uniformity. Dewey’s recommendations also suggested some form of pupil government in schools—if Turkey were to become a democracy, it would have to avoid “methods of dictation, arbitrary control, and mechanical obedience.“28

Since the schools were not in operation during Dewey’s visit, he relied on impressions and information given him about the structure and climate of Turkish schools. In his report to the government, as Brickman observed, “it seems clear that Dewey sought to adapt the educational practice in America in urging improvements in education in Turkey.“29 A study twenty years later by the Maxwell-Hyslops asserted: “The aims and nature of the organization of education in Turkey today offer proof of the extent to which [Dewey’s] recommendations were followed.“30 Dewey’s own impressions of Turkey were reported in articles in the New Republic.

Two years later, in 1926, Dewey was invited to advise the Mexican government and to lecture in Mexico. His educational views were already well known in Mexico through a number of Spanish translations of his books and articles as well as through his former Mexican students who were now back home. Brickman reports that one specialist, writing about Mexico’s School-Made Society in 1941, observed: “During the 1920’s the Mexican curriculum almost gave full sway to the Master of Morningside Heights.31 In Brickman’s view, “the interest in Dewey’s educational ideas was doubtless derived from the post-World War I reforms in Mexican government, society, and life.“32

John Dewey visited Russia along with a delegation of twenty-five American educators in the summer of 1928. His visit was brief, no more than two weeks in all probability. On his return, Dewey wrote a series of articles in the New Republic on his impressions of the U.S.S.R. that was sufficiently sympathetic for some American newspapers to label him a “Bolshevik.“33

By the time Dewey visited the U.S.S.R. in 1928, his reputation was well established. In fact, his work was known and translations were made of his books and articles as early as 1907 with the publication of The School and Society. During the early decades of the 1900s, Dewey’s ideas seemed to have influenced important Russian educators such as Stanislas Shatsky and Alexander Zelenko. Shatsky wrote: “In 1904 new educational principles coming from American settlements [e.g., Jane Addams’s Hull House], penetrated into Moscow. These principles were based upon the idea of social reform through education. “34 In an interview given around 1928, Shatsky recalled:

Wrestling with methods in relation to children’s interests and the possible development of their capacities, I drew greatest assistance from the careful analysis of John Dewey, being deeply impressed by his “philosophy of pragmatism” which persistently demanded careful examination of theoretical ideas in their practical application.35

With the advent of the Revolution in 1917, the U.S.S.R. began to search for ideas with which to remodel the educational system in its entirety. Rosen points out that in the early years following the Revolution, pedagogical ideas from the West were eagerly sought and welcomed,

partially to break with the authoritarian methods in the former Tsarist schools, but also because they were suited to the special purposes of the new Communist state. That is, the purpose was not to liberalize the classroom, but to break down the authority of teachers inherited from the old regime until they could be displaced by trusted and ideologically “sound” Communist teachers.36

The ideas of John Dewey, the Dalton Plan and the project method, for example, were accepted because they seemed to meet the political aims of the new Communist regime. Rosen noted that during this so-called Experimental Period, “compulsory attendance in classes, traditional academic courses, tests and examinations, and grading of pupils were reduced or eliminated, and general education was of a very low quality. Pupils reported ‘suspicious’ statements made by teachers.”37

According to King, the practices that were adapted were thought to reflect contemporary American methods and John Dewey was greatly favored by Soviet educators:

There were no formal examinations, and the standards and curricula were those that seemed justified locally by “life adjustment.” Pupils could expect to advance from grade to grade each year in accordance with their own personal standard, and those who wished to proceed to higher institutions could do so without having to satisfy predetermined criteria.38

Writing in Progressive Education in 1924 after a visit to the U.S.S.R., Strong observed that the early Soviet educational reform “is modeled more on the Dewey ideas of education than on anything else we know in America. Every new book by Dewey is seized and eagerly translated into Russian for consultation. Then they make their own additions.“39

Brickman, in looking at the early Soviet revolutionary period, found that by 1924 educators like Shatsky had become members of the Communist party and were loyal Communists but Shatsky “continued to make use of Deweyan and other Progressive educational practices toward the realization of a dogmatic aim which would be contrary to Dewey’s thought.“40 Brickman notes that important educators, such as the first people’s commissar of education, Lunacharskii, and the rector of the Second State University of Moscow, Pinkevich, “admired John Dewey and his ideas . . . and wrote approvingly.“41 The 1931 edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia described Dewey as “an outstanding American philosopher, psychologist, sociologist, and pedagogue” and discussed his ideas in a lengthy article.42 However, the article did state that “in Dewey’s treatment of social problems, the petty bourgeois frame of mind can be clearly seen” and that “Dewey does not conceal his dislike of the theory of revolutionary Marxism.”43


In 1929, the beginning of the State Economic Five-Year Plan indicated “gross inadequacies of the school system in providing the three R’S and the fundamentals of a general education necessary for rapid industrial development of a country. The excesses and patent defects of the educational system evoked a major reaction, bringing to a close the Experimental Period.“44 Major changes were initiated, progressive educational practices were eliminated, and Dewey’s star started its descent. As Brickman pointed out, a Central Committee resolution passed on September 1, 1931, titled, “On the Primary and Secondary School,” decreed that schools must do much more serious work “since the Project Method and other Progressive procedures had failed to give students the fundamentals and to prepare them properly for the teknikums and for higher education.“45 By the fall of 1932, the new educational reforms had begun: “The ‘brigade system’ and the Project Method were scrapped, the teacher resumed his traditional role of disciplinarian, the Three R’s were once more emphasized, non-essential subjects were relegated to the background and written examinations were once again given at the end of the school year.“46 What Brickman calls “the death blow for progressive education” came on July 4, 1936, with the Party’s Central Committee resolution, which, among other things, put an end to all intelligence tests and other kinds of psychological measurement.47

During the years that followed, many of the leading educators who had been identified with the activity movement and progressive education were purged, including the people’s commissar of education. As Brickman put it: “No longer was Dewey’s name to play an important role in Soviet pedagogy. Sometimes he was ignored, but he was also mentioned in a tone of respect if not in one of agreement.“48 But even that was to change rapidly and drastically when John Dewey became the honorary chairman of the commission of inquiry to investigate the charges against Leon Trotsky, then in exile in Mexico. In April 1937, Dewey and five committee members went to Mexico to take testimony, and in May 1937, it was Dewey who delivered a preliminary report.49 Dewey’s chairmanship of the inquiry and the eventual exoneration of Trotsky, Stalin’s mortal enemy, resulted in a campaign of personal vilification against Dewey not only by the Soviet Union but by Communists around the world. Soviet educators described Dewey “as a reactionary, a tool of Wall Street, an enemy of the working people, a warmonger, etc.“50 In 1952, the year Dewey died, “perhaps the most detailed and the most scathing denunciation of Dewey” appeared in a study by Shevkin titled The Pedagogy of J. Dewey in the Service of Contemporary American Reaction. The book bore the imprint of the Ministry of Education of the R.S.F.S.R. Brickman reports that Shevkin’s book asserted that Dewey had falsified “the scientific conception of the role of education in the life of a society” and summed up Dewey’s role as “not only the wicked enemy of the American people but also of all the freedom-loving peoples of our earth. The entire system of his views on the world, society, and the younger generation is, knowing no bounds, an apologetic for American imperialism."51 The November 1957 issue of Soviet Pedagogy, which commemorated forty years of Soviet education, made no mention whatsoever of the impact of John Dewey. Dewey’s colleague George S. Counts was lambasted “but Dewey simply did not exist.“52


In the cases of China and the U.S.S.R. in particular, the influence of John Dewey’s idea on educational programs and practices can be fairly clearly demonstrated. In other countries, this influence is less obvious. Brickman has stated:

Enthusiasts have claimed that Dewey has been at the bottom of all significant reforms in education during the recent century, while detractors have minimized his role. . . . Dewey’s reputation as an educator, based on the translations of his works and the discussions of his ideas, was considerable in most of the three dozen countries mentioned in these pages; whereas his influence, as determined by changes resulting from his philosophy and practice, made itself felt in a much smaller number of nations.53

There can be no question, however, that no other educator, philosopher, or scholar has ever had as many of his works translated and had them translated into as many different languages. Translation usually means that the work is significant enough that the translator believes the ideas and contents deserve a wider audience, which will, in turn, be influenced by them.

Although the translations of Dewey’s work continue, the most significant bibliography of translations of John Dewey’s writings includes those done between 1900 and 1967 and was compiled by Jo Ann Boydston and Robert L. Andresen of the Center for Dewey Studiesat Southern Illinois University.54 In the chronological listing of translations, two were published in 1900: Outlines of a Critical Theory of Ethics in Japanese and The School and Society in Spanish. In 1966, six translations are listed: Ethics in Punjabi, Intelligence in the Modern World in Chinese, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry in French, Moral Principles of Education in Arabic, The Quest for Certainty in Italian, and The Sources of a Science of Education in Japanese.

The 154 items are grouped under four headings: (1) books, articles, pamphlets, monographs, and collections—67 items; (2) writings translated into English, first published in another language—four items; (3) published writings not translated into English—four items; and published lectures not translated into English—79 items. The translations are into thirty-five different languages. In the following table, some of the more important works of Dewey are listed, together with the languages into which they have been translated.

Every major work of John Dewey has been translated into Italian and many of the translations have gone through several printings. Dewey’s 1897 School journal article, “My Pedagogic Creed,” was translated into Italian by Luigi Oliva and published as a two-page pamphlet in 1913. Since World War II, Dewey’s major writings and many of his articles have been translated and published in Italy, with a number of these publications reprinted many times and several reissued in second editions. School and Society (Scuola e Societa), for example, was first published in Italian in 1949 and, by 1967, had gone through twenty-one printings.



There are no studies in English that deal with the influence of John Dewey on Italian educational reform. The fact that so many of Dewey’s works have been translated into Italian and that so many of these translations have been reprinted suggests that there has been considerable interest in the philosophical ideas of John Dewey as well as his suggestions for educational reform. As recently as October 1980, a conference was held at the University of Urbino honoring John Dewey with seven major papers prepared by Italian scholars, three by Americans, and one by a West German. The attendance at the conference indicates continued attention to Dewey and his ideas.

In Israel, even under the British Mandate over Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Dewey’s pedagogical ideas seem to have had considerable influence. Bentwich has described the schools in the Labour settlements-that is, the kibbutzim or communes and the moshavim or cooperative villages—as follows:

The curriculum of these schools was “progressive”, being based on the Project Method; a prominent place was given to manual work and activity methods generally; there was a large measure of children’s self government; and school and youth movements were closely linked. The theory was “free” education as the basis for a future free society.55

One of Israel’s pioneer educators, Alexander M. Dushkin, had studied with Dewey while earning a doctorate at Teachers College, Columbia University. The John Dewey School of Education, the school of education of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is probably the only such school in the world that carries Dewey’s name.

John Dewey’s influence on Japanese educational thought has been the focus of a thorough study by Kobayashi, who reported that “at least 254 articles and fifty-eight books with Dewey’s name in the title, and twenty-one translations of his works have been published since the end of World War II.“56 Kobayashi was writing in 1964 and noted that two years earlier, a Japanese journalist had stated that “no one can deny Dewey’s great influence on educational thought in Japan in the last eighteen years. It exceeds that of any other educational thinker. “57 The Japanese Bibliography of Education for 1945-1957 contained 176 entries under the heading “Studies of Educational Thinkers.” Almost half—eighty-one—dealt with John Dewey; the U.S.S.R. educator Makarenko was second in frequency with only eighteen entries. Nagano’s General Introduction to Dewey’s Philosophy, published in 1946, was in its sixteenth printing by 1948.58 Kobayashi cites other evidence of the popularity of Dewey in post-World War II Japan: brisk book sales, papers presented on Dewey at meetings of educational research associations, dissertations, and even festivals.

In Kobayashi’s view, Dewey’s brief lecture tour (two and one-half months) in 1919 did not have a significant impact but his ideas as transmitted through his writings in the years following did influence Japanese thought. The popularity of Dewey particularly in the postwar period is, as Kobayashi puts it, amazing:

The great interest in the ideas of Dewey seems especially remarkable for an Asiatic country long known for its authoritarian tradition in education. Dewey was not only the leading spokesman for greater freedom of the child in the learning process and for a philosophy compatible with the rise of science and the accelerated changes brought on by the industrial revolution. He was also the main exponent of liberal and democratic philosophy in America. He related democracy to educational theory in his philosophy of pragmatism, or experimentalism.59

Kobayashi argues that many Japanese educators perceived the “New Education” of the Occupation years following World War II as continuing the “New Education Movement” that had existed in Japan between 1912 and 1926 (which had led to Dewey’s influence at the time) and that had been curtailed by the rising militarism and the war.60 Kobayashi makes a strong case for John Dewey’s influencing Japanese educational thought but indicates that it would be difficult to determine Dewey’s impact on school practices without a lengthy investigation. Even those Japanese educators who viewed the educational reforms promulgated by the U.S. Occupation as “based on Deweyan principles, differ among themselves on the extent to which Deweyan ideas have penetrated classroom activities. Furthermore, the ‘Deweyan approach,’ being more an attitude rather than a set procedure of teaching, is difficult to observe directly and to judge objectively.“61

The years between the two world wars seemed to have been important ones with respect to studies of Dewey in Japan for several reasons. Dedicated Dewey scholars who had studied in the United States attracted students and there was an apparent increased interest in democracy at the end of World War I. Kobayashi points out that Dewey’s world reputation as a philosopher of democracy stimulated interest in his educational ideas—“in the period after World War I, Japan’s progressive education movement was at its height, and for a time, Dewey’s ideas almost eclipsed German pedagogical thought.“62 Japan’s reform in those years was part of the worldwide educational reform movement that seemed to reach its peak in the 1920s as the “New Education” or the “Progressive Education Movement.” A number of schools had been founded following the pattern of the progressive schools that had been started in the United States and Europe. The Dalton Plan and the project method became popular with Japanese educators. According to Kobayashi, a historian of that period wrote: “Almost everyone incorporated current social ideas into his educational theories, and even those educationists who were considered most stubborn, could neither resist advocating ‘democracy’ nor discussing Comte’s sociology or Dewey’s ideas.“63 In 1927, William Heard Kilpatrick, Dewey’s colleague at Teachers College, visited Japan and lectured on his version of the project method, which had been inspired by Dewey’s ideas. Kilpatrick’s lectures reached a very wide audience through various media, including radio. He returned to the states in the fall of 1929. Kilpatrick’s former students in Japan were quite numerous—he estimated that there were about two hundred, including Americans, in 1927.64

By the 1930s, however, the Progressive Education Movement in Japan was nearing its demise. By the beginning of World War II, progressive schools, which had been operating in “a hostile and precarious environment” with heir existence “constantly threatened by the dominant system of education,” were forced to adapt their basic principles simply to survive.65 For example, schools had to adjust to the Japanese examination system, which progressive educators considered “a major obstacle to genuine education.“66 However, the ultranationalists became increasingly oppressive and dominant. The progressive schools had always been faced with obstacles. Kobayashi points out that

they had the almost impossible task both of countering the effects of the entrance examination system on the curriculum and of helping their students enter higher schools. Furthermore, they suffered from the strong control of the central government, which, with time, tended to narrow the area of freedom of teachers, both in public and private schools, in determining, how and what they taught.67

Following World War II, the American Occupation forces staff concerned with the program of educational reform in Japan discovered that “Japanese teachers and educationists were acquainted with Dewey’s ideas as well as with the various theories and methods popular in the American progressive education movement of the twenties and thirties.“68 Moreover, the Progressive movement seemed to be clearly identified as the “Dewey movement.” Under the Occupation, students of Dewey’s philosophy who had been active prior to the rise of the ultranationalists once again began publishing, with the result that there was what has been called “the Dewey Boom.” In the eight-year period between the end of the war and the peace treaty, at least 119 books and articles were published on Dewey and eleven translations of Dewey’s books—including new editions of Democracy and Education and School and Society—were issued.69 Experience and Education, the 1938 volume in which Dewey had criticized the excesses of the Progressive Education Movement, was translated and published for the first time in Japan in 1950.

According to Kobayashi, many Japanese educators “regarded the Occupation’s educational policies not only as based on progressive education, but also derived from Dewey. “70 Dewey was identified as the philosopher of Progressive Education in Japan as well as elsewhere in the world. Kobayashi argues that

the Occupation’s reform policy in education was itself not consciously or deliberately based on Dewey, but much of its program seemed in accordance with Dewey’s theories. More important, the Japanese considered them to be so. The Japanese were particularly justified in their belief in the Occupation’s approach to curriculum and teaching methods. The introduction of the “experience” and “problem” approaches in the new subject of social studies, which had been considered by Americans themselves as closely related to Dewey’s philosophy, stimulated many to examine Dewey.71

In the 1950s, controversy similar to the essentialist versus pragmatist debate in the United States arose. However, even when the ministry of education returned to an “essentialistic” curriculum, Dewey apparently continued to dominate the study of philosophy. Kobayashi reports that one observer noted that “the superficial, fad-like aspects of the interest in Dewey have disappeared because Dewey ceased to be a novelty; what has remained is a deeper and more serious interest in his philosophy. Much of the research in philosophy of education continues to be either on Dewey or written in reaction to his thought.“72 In assessing Dewey’s influence on Japanese educational thought, Kobayashi concluded:

The Japanese today seem to find much of Dewey’s philosophy meaningful in understanding Japanese existence. They are beginning to appreciate his criticisms of traditional philosophy of education, and society. Since the end of the disastrous war, Japanese intellectuals have shown a greater commitment to democracy and this commitment has been a positive factor in their finding meaning in Dewey, who had been involved in the problems of providing democracy with a sound philosophical base.73


During the period immediately following World War I, a number of countries that were undergoing rapid social or cultural change sought and seemed to find in Dewey’s educational ideas and proposals for school reform guidance in planning their schools and educational systems. Dewey spent two years in China during a critical period of modernization and “also observed the postrevolutionary educational institutions of Turkey, Mexico, and the Soviet Union and analyzed their efforts at reconstruction of their traditional educational systems.“74

Sidorsky has pointed out that

despite the great disappointment that the rise of totalitarianism and World War II brought to Dewey’s liberal optimism, he continued in his writings from the end of the war until his death in 1952 to insist on the possibilities inherent in human intelligence. This intelligence, if applied scientifically to social and political problems, would result in the achievement of freer, more democratic societies throughout the world.75

Assessing John Dewey’s foreign reputation as an educator in 1949, Brickman observed that

both the Right and the Left—that is, some Catholics and some Communists—have been able to agree that, apart from their strictures on the philosophical foundations of Dewey’s system of pedagogy, there is a great deal of value in the great educator’s ideas. Interest in his work continues throughout the world, even in authoritarian countries.76

Pragmatism, Sidorsky pointed out, “has generally been recognized as the first indigenous movement of philosophical thought to develop in the United States,” and it was “to a marked degree, pragmatism [which] provided Dewey with a philosophical rationale for the consistent adoption of scientific inquiry as the single methodology to be used in resolving all problematic situations.“77 It was Dewey’s philosophical ideas of pragmatism and experimentalism that seemed to appeal to intellectuals and educationists all over the world. Dewey advocated the application of the scientific method to critical social, political, economic, and moral problems.

Dewey’s criticisms of American education were his major area of social activity and, as Sidorsky observed, a point of departure for “Dewey’s efforts to reconstruct or to reassert values like equality of opportunity, freedom of association and expression, or democracy in education that he believed could flourish in American society.“78

Featherstone has observed that Dewey was one who asked the central questions even though he did not always provide the answers. In Featherstone’s view,

We struggle with figures like Dewey, too, because in many ways our educational and intellectual agenda for the whole culture was laid out in the Progressive Era. . . . The Progressive educational agenda is ours: education as work or preparation for work vs. education for play and intrinsic value; universalism vs. pluralism; equality vs. meritocracy. These remain the great issues. . . . To ask what Dewey thought about democracy, art, education, romanticism, is to ask what we think about them today. To think about his response to American possibilities is to ask what ours is. This is what makes him such a central figure.79

Brickman’s summing up three decades ago seems appropriate today. To educators and intellectuals all over the world, Dewey

stands as the chief representative of the contemporary drive toward a better education for all. They may not accept everything suggested by him and may even disagree profoundly in important respects, but they will agree that whatever he has said is of interest and significance. This is the status of Dewey’s relationship to his colleagues in foreign countries. This is the measure of his reputation as an educator all over the world, a reputation that few other pedagogues are able to approach.80

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 83 Number 3, 1982, p. 401-418
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 730, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 12:01:23 PM

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About the Author
  • A. Passow
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    A. Harry Passow is Jacob H. Schiff professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He recently edited The Gifted and the Talented: Their Education and Development, 78th Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 1979; another recent work is Education for Gifted Children and Youth: An Old Issue-A New Challenge (1980). He has also served as visiting professor at Tel Aviv and Bar-Han Universities.
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