John Dewey

On this date in 1859, educator and philosopher John Dewey was born in Burlington, Vermont. He earned his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University in 1884. After teaching philosophy at the University of Michigan, he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago before moving to Columbia University in 1904. Dewey's special concern was education reform. He promoted learning by doing rather than learning by rote.

Of his more than 40 books, many of his most influential concerned education, including My Pedagogic Creed (1897), Democracy and Education (1902) and Experience and Education (1938). He was one of the founders of the philosophy of pragmatism. A humanitarian, he was a trustee of Jane Addams' Hull House, supported labor and racial equality and was at one time active in campaigning for a third political party. He chaired a commission convened in Mexico City in 1937 inquiring into charges made against Leon Trotsky during the Moscow show trials.

Raised by an evangelical mother, Dewey had rejected faith by his 30s. Although he disavowed being a "militant" atheist, when his mother complained that he should be sending his children to Sunday school, he replied that he had gone to Sunday school enough to make up for any truancy by his children. As a pragmatist, he judged ideas by the results they produced. As a philosopher, he eschewed an allegiance to fixed and changeless dogma and superstition.

He sat on the advisory board of the First Humanist Society of New York, was one of the original 34 signatories of the first Humanist Manifesto in 1933 and was elected an honorary member of the Humanist Press Association in 1936. He once said that since he was not a theist, he thought that made him an atheist but he preferred to be known as a humanist.

Dewey married Harriet Alice Chipman in 1886 shortly after she graduated with a bachelor of philosophy degree from the University of Michigan. They had six children and adopted another. After she died from cerebral thrombosis in 1927. Dewey married Estelle Roberta Lowitz Grant in 1946 and they, despite Dewey being 87, adopted two siblings. He died of pneumonia in 1952.

"[H]ave not some religions, including the most influential forms of Christianity, taught that the heart of man is totally corrupt? How could the course of religion in its entire sweep not be marked by practices that are shameful in their cruelty and lustfulness, and by beliefs that are degraded and intellectually incredible?"

—Dewey, quoted in "Intelligence in the Modern World: John Dewey's Philosophy," ed. Joseph Ratner (1939)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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