The Education of John Dewey: A Biography

The Education of John Dewey: A Biography

by Jay Martin
     
 

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During John Dewey's lifetime (1859-1952), one public opinion poll after another revealed that he was esteemed to be one of the ten most important thinkers in American history. His body of thought, conventionally identified by the shorthand word "Pragmatism," has been the distinctive American philosophy of the last fifty years. His work on education is famous worldwide… See more details below

Overview

During John Dewey's lifetime (1859-1952), one public opinion poll after another revealed that he was esteemed to be one of the ten most important thinkers in American history. His body of thought, conventionally identified by the shorthand word "Pragmatism," has been the distinctive American philosophy of the last fifty years. His work on education is famous worldwide and is still influential today, anticipating as it did the ascendance in contemporary American pedagogy of multiculturalism and independent thinking. His University of Chicago Laboratory School (founded in 1896) thrives still and is a model for schools worldwide, especially in emerging democracies. But how was this lifetime of thought enmeshed in Dewey's emotional experience, in his joys and sorrows as son and brother, husband and father, and in his political activism and spirituality? Acclaimed biographer Jay Martin recaptures the unity of Dewey's life and work, tracing important themes through the philosopher's childhood years, family history, religious experience, and influential friendships.

Based on original sources, notably the vast collection of unpublished papers in the Center for Dewey Studies, this book tells the full story, for the first time, of the life and times of the eminent American philosopher, pragmatist, education reformer, and man of letters. In particular, The Education of John Dewey highlights the importance of the women in Dewey's life, especially his mother, wife, and daughters, but also others, including the reformer Jane Addams and the novelist Anzia Yezierska. A fitting tribute to a master thinker, Martin has rendered a tour de force portrait of a philosopher and social activist in full, seamlessly reintegrating Dewey's thought into both his personal life and the broader historical themes of his time.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Appearing on the 50th anniversary of Dewey's death, this biography bears an appropriate title, nicely playing on Dewey's being known as the premier education reformer in American history. Of course, Dewey was much more than that; he wrote influential works not only in pedagogy but also psychology, sociology, and philosophy. But Dewey was a very private person, so the effort to sketch him whole, as Martin (government, Claremont McKenna Coll.) intends here, is not without its problems. Nevertheless, the major and minor facts of Dewey's long life-from his birth and childhood in Burlington, VT, to his education, career choice, university affiliations, influence, ultimate national recognition, and death-are engagingly presented. In addition, Martin has done a good job of researching some pertinent information about Dewey's family life not found in the only other detailed biography, George Dykhuizen's highly acclaimed The Life and Mind of John Dewey, which appeared 30 years ago. Martin relates, for example, how Dewey's children were hurt both emotionally and financially by his second marriage at age 86 to a very willful and demanding woman half his age. For libraries that own the Dykhuizen book, this will be a valuable supplement, and it is recommended for all biography, American intellectual history, and philosophy collections.-Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Management Lib., Washington, DC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A life of the philosophical pragmatist and education reformer that, like its subject, is sturdy, thoughtful, and rather drab. "Retiring, mild manner, gentlemanly." So an FBI operative assigned to tail him described John Dewey (1859–1949). Though the brass soon decided that he was no threat to the country’s internal security, the FBI had reason to be interested in Dewey; after all, he was a socialist, atheist, and all-around idealist, not to mention a bookworm. How the practical-minded son of a Vermont grocer came to harbor these views occupies much of this account by Martin (Humanities/Claremont McKenna Coll.). Though given to psychobiographical speculations that don’t bring much to the table ("influenced by his mother, he yearned to be affected by his father"), Martin does a good job of locating Dewey’s work in the intellectual traditions of the time and of explaining his contributions to the development of an authentically American school of philosophy: pragmatism, built on the cold ashes of neo-Hegelianism and other imported notions. Martin also gives an adequate account of Dewey’s ideas on education, which similarly scrapped European ideas of great books and the seven arts for an approach befitting what Dewey called "industrial citizenship." (Martin gamely notes that the two universities most closely associated with Dewey, Johns Hopkins and Chicago, repudiated this approach.). A large part of the biography is given over to Dewey’s late-life political activism, including the famous mock trial that exonerated Leon Trotsky of the charges Josef Stalin had leveled against him. Nowhere does Martin convey much passion for Dewey’s work, though he does make the interesting if metaphoricallymixed claim that today various strains of neo-pragmatist thought "are beginning to form and consolidate a body of method that must and will leave a permanent pragmatist deposit in the American mind for decades to come." Solid overall, but less readable than the selective and sometimes unflattering portrait of Dewey given in the pages of Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club (2001).
New York Times Book Review - Richard Rorty

Martin's biography is a good, well-paced read.

Booklist - Gilbert Taylor

This will be the new standard biography of the great reformer's life.

Knight Ridder Newspapers - Carlin Romano

Martin's readable style and instinct for apt quotation--many new even to Dewey scholars--keeps his information flowing... The Education of John Dewey most pleases as an epic tale of an immortal multitasker, told with just the right mix of philosophical explanation, personal drama and historical context.

New York Times Book Review
Martin's biography is a good, well-paced read.

— Richard Rorty

Booklist
This will be the new standard biography of the great reformer's life.

— Gilbert Taylor

Jo Ann Boydston

Truly terrific...clearly comprehensive; it is the definitive biography of John Dewey.

Knight Ridder Newspapers
Martin's readable style and instinct for apt quotation — many new even to Dewey scholars — keeps his information flowing... The Education of John Dewey most pleases as an epic tale of an immortal multitasker, told with just the right mix of philosophical explanation, personal drama and historical context.

— Carlin Romano

Choice

Martin [has] written [an] excellent new biography... [that] aims to represent Dewey as an individual who was a thinker and reformer of international public influence... Martin's book will interest anyone seeking a personal biography of Dewey... Highly recommended.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231507455
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
03/08/2003
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
592
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author

Jay Martin has written and edited twenty-one books, including authoritative biographies of Nathanael West, Henry Miller and Conrad Aiken; the standard history of American literature 1865-1914; a key psychoanalytic work on "fictive personality"; and autobiographical novels about the U.S.S.R. and the time he spent as a Buddhist monk in China. Formerly Leo S. Bing Professor of English at the University of Southern California, he is currently Edward S. Gould Professor of Humanities, former director of the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies of the Modern World, professor of government, and founder of the Questions of Civilization Program at Claremont McKenna College. He lives in Claremont, CA.


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