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John Dewey and the Beginnings of the Laboratory School

  • Anne Durst
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Abstract

In 1896, John Dewey started an experimental school at the University of Chicago to test ideas and teach children. He was aware from the beginning that this public act would call for abilities that he thought important, but had not yet mastered. During the Laboratory School’s early years, the philosopher wrote that “the kind of studies I have pursued, and my natural bent of mind have tended to give me a habit of isolation in work.” These interests and tendencies, he felt, had caused him “serious difficulty … in getting into cooperative relations with people—my theories to the contrary notwithstanding.”1 Yet in spite of his inclination to solitude, Dewey sought out such cooperative relations in deliberately created communities dedicated to change, experimentation, and social reform.2 His ground-breaking philosophical work on pragmatism was brought to life in the Laboratory School, where Dewey and others created a “community of inquiry” in which, as one teacher wrote, they “were all on a piece of research together.”3 Dewey figured centrally in other such collective ventures at the turn of the century, including his friend Jane Addams’s Chicago settlement house, Hull House, and philosopher Thomas Davidson’s Glenmore Summer School for the Culture Sciences in New York’s Adirondack Mountains.4

Keywords

Experimental School Summer School Chicago School Philosophical Idea Laboratory School 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    John Dewey to Frank A. Manny, January **, 1897 (01871), The Correspondence of John Dewey (electronic resource) (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999–2004). For a discussion of a related assessment in Dewey’s autobiographical essay, see Alan Ryan, John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism (NY: W. W. Norton, 1995), 81.Google Scholar
  2. For this essay, see John Dewey, “From Absolutism to Experimentalism” [1930], in Jo Ann Boydston, ed., The Later Works, Vol. 5: 1929–1930 (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois Press, 1984), 147–160.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Fellow pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce is often credited with the phrase, and certainly the concept of, a “community of inquiry.” See Matthew Lipman, Thinking in Education (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 20;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  5. On Peirce, see also R. Jackson Wilson, In Quest of Community (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1968), 46. The teacher quoted is Katharine Andrews Healy, writing to Katherine Camp Mayhew, undated, but approximately 1930, box 44, Edwards Family Collection (1484), Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    In the early part of the century, the Dewey family also visited Byrdcliffe, the Arts and Crafts colony in Woodstock, New York. See Tom Wolf, Eva Watson-Schutze: Photographer (New Paltz, NY: Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, State University of New York at New Paltz, 2009).Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Katherine Camp Mayhew and Anna Camp Edwards, The Dewey School: The Laboratory School of the University of Chicago, 1896–1903 [1936] (New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine Transactions, 2007), xiii–xiv.Google Scholar
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    Jane Dewey, “Biography of John Dewey,” in The Philosophy of John Dewey, P.A. Schilpp, ed. (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University, 1939), 3.Google Scholar
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    For full-length biographical studies of John Dewey, see Coughlan, Young John Dewey; George Dykuizen, The Life and Mind of John Dewey (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois Press, 1973);Google Scholar
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    See Irene Hall, “The Unsung Partner: The Educational Work and Philosophy of Alice Chipman Dewey,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 2005.Google Scholar
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    On coeducation at the University of Michigan and elsewhere during this period, see Rosalind Rosenberg, “The Limits of Access: The History Of Coeducation in America,” in John Mack Faragher and Florence Howe, eds., Women and Higher Education: Essays from the Mount Holyoke College Sesquicentennial Symposia (NY: W. W. Norton, 1988), 107–129.Google Scholar
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    Jane Dewey, “Biography,” 29–30. Charlene Haddock Seigfried argues that Jane Addams was a pioneer in exploring, through her settlement house work, how the relation between democracy and morality developed into a pragmatist ethics. See Charlene Haddock Seigfried, “Introduction” to Jane Addams, Democracy and Social Ethics (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002, first 1902), x.Google Scholar
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    William Knight, ed., Memorials of Thomas Davidson the Wandering Scholar (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1907), 55.Google Scholar
  35. 37.
    See Knight, Citizen, endnote 26, page 478, on the likelihood that John Dewey and Jane Addams met through Dewey’s University of Michigan colleague Henry Adams, who was also friends with Addams’s friend Henry Demarest Lloyd. On Henry Demarest Lloyd and his work with the Glenmore Summer School, see Chester Destler, Henry Demarest Lloyd and the Empire of Reform (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1963), 243. On the Farmington School of Ethics and Glenmore, see Knight, Memorials of Thomas Davidson.Google Scholar
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    Paul Schneider, The Adirondacks (New York: Henry Holt, 1997). George Prochnik has written an informative study of Putnam Camp: see his Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam, and the Purpose of American Psychology (New York: Other Press, 2006).Google Scholar
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  38. 42.
    See Menand, The Metaphysical Club, 304–305, on Dewey’s work on democratic theory during his Ann Arbor years. On Dewey’s place in the context of the development of the American curriculum, and the influence of figures such as Francis Parker, William Torrey Harris, G. Stanley Hall, and Johann Friedrich Herbart, see Herbert M. Kliebard, The Struggle for the American Curriculum, 1893–1958 (Boston, MA: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).Google Scholar
  39. 43.
    See Westbrook, Democratic Hope, 87–88, on Dewey’s idea of workplace democracy. For an early article on democracy, see John Dewey, “The Ethics of Democracy” [1888], in Jo Ann Boydston, ed. John Dewey: The Early Works, 1882–1898, Vol. 1 (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969), 227–249.Google Scholar
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    On the Laboratory School, in addition to Mayhew and Edwards (1936), see also Martin Bickman, Minding American Education: Reclaiming the Tradition of Active Learning (New York: Teachers College Press, 2003);Google Scholar
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    This will be discussed further in later chapters. On Chicago reform thought, see Mary Jo Deegan, Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School, 1892–1918, (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1988).Google Scholar
  55. 61.
    As Louis Menand argues, Jane Addams and the “sociology laboratory” she established in the settlement house were central to Dewey’s formulation of pragmatism. See Menand, The Metaphysical Club, 312–315. For a review of Menand’s text that focuses on his treatment of Dewey’s Chicago years, see James Kloppenberg, “Teaching The Metaphysical Club,” Intellectual History Newsletter, 24 (2002), 88–94.Google Scholar
  56. 62.
    George Herbert Mead, “The Psychology of Social Consciousness Implied in Instruction,” Science, 31 (May 6, 1910), 691. Mead wrote that he was using “Professor Dewey’s phrase.” For a discussion of Mead’s article, see Lipman, Thinking in Education, 84–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 63.
    John Dewey to Alice Dewey and children, October 19 and 21, 1894 (00211), The Correspondence of John Dewey (electronic resource) (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999–2004). For a recent discussion of pragmatism that includes an analysis of “interpretation,” see John Jacob Kaag, “Pragmatism and the Lessons of Experience,” Daedalus, 138, 2 (2009), 63–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    John Dewey, “Democracy in Education,” The Elementary School Teacher, IV, 4 (December, 1903), 194.Google Scholar
  60. 73.
    Westbrook, Democratic Hope, 4. Westbrook goes on to say that “pragmatism—by virtue of its methodological commitment to experimental inquiry … has a powerful elective affinity with democracy” (8). On the “Chicago School” and the importance of the Laboratory School for the “dissemination of ideas from the Philosophy Department,” see Darnell Rucker, The Chicago Pragmatists (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969), 12.Google Scholar
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© Anne Durst 2010

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