|In a feature article published in Education Digest in 1950, we
read: "It is conceded on all hands that John Dewey is our
outstanding educational philosopher; his influence on American education
has been immense." This, in one sentence, is a summary of the
Dewey legend. For, although it is true that Dewey's influence on
American education has been immense, it is only in a very qualified
sense that we can call him an outstanding philosopher. Certainly a
philosopher's real greatness is not to be estimated by the mere extent
of his influence, but also and especially by the effects, good or bad,
which his philosophy has had on contemporary civilization and will have
on subsequent civilization. Measured by this standard, Dewey's tide to
fame must be balanced by the extent of the evil which his principles of
social naturalism and pragmatic experimentalism have produced in the
THE PLAY-COMPLEX IN EDUCATION
Under modern progressivism, school discipline and work, which have
been of the essence of education since the dawn of history, are to be
substituted with freedom and play. According to Dewey, ". . .
children should be allowed as much freedom as possible.... No individual
child is [to be] forced to a task that does not appeal.... A discipline
based on moral ground [is] a mere excuse for forcing [pupils] to do
something simply because some grown-up person wants it done."
Written in 1915, these ideas have been adopted in thousands of
American schools. Writing on the subject in 1951, a Catholic educator
made this observation:
One of the principles that are doing as much as anything else to
undermine American schools is the fixed notion that education has to
be fun. We won't have our children subjected to anything hard or
bothersome. We have practically adopted as a national education motto:
"If it isn't easy, it isn't educational."
He rightly traces this kind of pedagogy to the theories of John
Dewey, and specifically to Dewey's penchant for Hegelianism:
Among the more formal influences encouraging educators in their
soft pedagogy is the educational theory of John Dewey.
Dewey, influenced by his early Hegelianism, declared war on all
dualisms.... One of the dichotomies Dewey attacked was that between
work and play. Unhappy about this opposition, he argued that given the
proper setting (note the environmentalism), work would become play.
Naturally he applied this notion to schooling and concluded that in a
healthy educational environment, where children are engaged in matters
of vital interest to them personally, the spirit of play will prevail.
No doubt Dewey did not mean this to be taken as sentimentally as it
has been by so many of his followers, but certainly his doctrine is a
main prop, though not the only prop, supporting, the "play
way" in American education.
What are some of the consequences of this "fun-complex" in
The consequences . . . are many and obvious.... Homework is
considered an old-fashioned institution, a carry-over from the days
when schooling was unpleasant, an interference with the child's and
the family's recreation.... Drill, repetition, recitation, and
memory-work are dismissed as drudgery.
The writer is acquainted with an elementary-school teacher with years
of experience who was forced to give up her position because, as she
said, "I could not comply with orders to allow the children to talk
as much as they wished during school hours, having been told: `Silence
in the classroom is not to be tolerated; it is repressive.'"
EDUCATION WITHOUT TEACHER DOMINATION
Along the same lines is the change from "teacher
domination" to "pupil initiative" promoted by progressive
education. According to Deweyan psychology, "The present approach
to our young children excludes the authoritarian approach to child
guidance, counsel, and teaching." Writing in October, 1951, a
former high school teacher tells of her experience with this liberal
type of schooling. Her article, entitled "My Adventures as a
Teacher," is a series of almost incredible incidents that are the
daily lot of suffering teachers in progressive schools. One day the
students brought a portable radio to school and insisted on listening to
a ball game during her history class; she had to submit. On another
occasion, she relates, "I corrected a noisy girl who talked
incessantly. Her reply was: `You are wasting your time telling me not to
talk, because I intend to continue talking.' Progressive
education!" She continues: "After three weeks of
inattention, rudeness, and the growing knowledge that none of my
students were reading their textbooks, I decided I had taken enough of
this progressive school and decided to ask for a transfer. With a
long term of experience on which to draw, she sums up her verdict on
this new pedagogy minus teacher domination:
Progressive education is based on some false assumptions. It
assumes that all boys and girls can be entertained to a point where
they will be interested in all subjects. This is untrue.... The
old-fashioned theory that a student should study what he needs to know
rather than what interests him is sounder than the new theory.
Progressive education which overemphasizes "learn by
doing" and underemphasizes "learn by thinking, reading, and
writing" is turning out men and women who are not leader
material. Its products are not thinking men.
She concludes with pungent humor, "At one time the
qualifications for teaching were personality, intelligence and a social
conscience. Under the progressive system the main qualification is iron
nerves . . . which drives so many teachers from the
Another critic, prominent educator and author of several books on
pedagogy, believes that "those in charge of what is called
`education' have little perception of what schooling is supposed to be
or do." Concretely, he says:
A great failing of American schools is a basic irresponsibility
which they develop in the students. For society there is grave danger
when its youth are unchallenged in the impression that there can be
reward without quest, wages without work, a master's prestige without
a master's skill, marriage without fidelity, national security without
Whence arises this sense of irresponsibility? From the lack of
authoritative discipline which has been removed, on Deweyan principles,
from a large segment of the public schools.
We find public school systems which promote all children at the end
of each academic year regardless of whether their work has been good,
bad or indifferent. Twenty years ago a high school teacher was
expected to fail those who had not mastered 60 per cent of the subject
matter of the course. So stern a teacher is no longer tolerated. He is
subjected first to persuasion, then to pressure, to abandon such
SCIENTIFIC METHOD AND MORALITY
It is axiomatic with Dewey that "educational theory . . . must
contest the notion that morals are something wholly separate from and
above science and scientific method." According to traditional
philosophy, morality is finally based on established principles which
stem from the nature of man. They are as fixed and immutable as human
nature itself. "There is nothing novel in this view," says
Dewey. "Nevertheless it is an expression of a provincial and
conventional view, of a culture that is pre-scientific in the sense that
science bears today." The correct, modern appraisal of morality
is that the scientific "method of inquiry and test that has wrought
marvels in one field is to be applied so as to extend and advance our
knowledge in moral and social matters." This means that the
"truths in morals [are] of the same kind as in science namely, working hypotheses that on the
one hand condense the results of continued prior experience and inquiry,
and on the other hand direct further fruitful inquiry."
Consequently, the only thing necessary to promote good morals among
people is to furnish them, as in science, with an adequate body of
facts, and to encourage them to put these facts into experimental
practice with a view to arriving at some working hypothesis which may
serve as a temporary standard of moral conduct.
Perhaps the most notorious application of this principle has been in
the matter of sex education. Arguing that what young people need to
control their libido is the knowledge of its functions and the evils of
abuse, progressive educators led by Dewey have made sex instruction a
commonplace in American public schools. Occasional complaints in the
press indicate to what limits this instruction has gone. In a syndicated
article in Look, August 30, 1949, one mother said that "far
too many of our school children are being taught far too much about
sex." She goes on to explain that her sixteen-year-old daughter
in high school was given assigned reading in a medical textbook on
sexology, illustrated and so detailed that a few years ago a similar
book could not even be purchased from the bookseller without a doctor's
certificate. It is not clear to her, she confesses, how, for example,
young people in their teens "are benefited by learning the most
satisfactory positions for conjugal relations."
The extent of sex instruction in progressive schools may be gauged
from the following facts. A nineteen-minute sex film, called "Human
Growth," which pictures sexual details on "how life begins and
continues," has been reprinted over 215 times and is being used in
hundreds of junior high schools in most of the forty-eight States.
"Human Growth" made national headlines in 1949 when the
citizens of Middletown, New York led by a Catholic minority, succeeded
in having the film banned from the local public schools. The McGraw-Hill
Book Company has also issued 450 prints of a twenty-one-minute sex film,
entitled "Human Reproduction." Originally intended for
colleges, this picture has been requested by seventy-one public school
systems. It is medically graphic in illustrating the functions of the
female, human body in the various stages of pregnancy.
What are the results of this mass sex education? It is commonly
agreed that "sexual delinquency has increased tremendously in our
public schools." And the reason? The judgment of some social
workers and criminologists is that a major factor has been promiscuous
sex instruction based on Deweyan scientism. For years back they have
denounced this practice as a threat to American morality. Fourteen years
ago in a composite statement to the press, a noted gynecologist and a
social service director warned the nation of the evils of public courses
in sexology. Doctor Cary, New York gynecologist, attributed the
lowering standards of educated women in America to the fact that
"universities were providing women with knowledge of
contraceptives, without emphasizing emotional entanglements."
And the social service director blamed sex education m high school for
much of the promiscuity "among American youth. The boys and girls
become curious and want to put their knowledge in practice. I think the
less said the better to people of that impressionable age."
At the University of California, the school authorities were
constrained to introduce sex instruction in answer to a demand from the
student body, 2,700 voting in favor of co-educational classes of
instruction on the intimacies of marital and pre-marital relations.
According to an official report, "No aspect of sex life and
marriage is ignored. Motion pictures, including a two-reel film on
child-birth . . . help strip the mystery from matters once discussed
ignorantly and guiltily in private conversation." Consistent
with Deweyan, scientific morality, the students periodically voted on
the morality of certain questions, the majority opinion being publicized
as the accepted moral standard. Following are the percentage figures for
one such student referendum:
Per Cent of Total Vote
Pre-marital sex experience for
Pre-marital sex experience for women
The University of California has been a Dewey stronghold since 1899,
when he spoke to the philosophers of that institution on the general
subject of "The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy." His
last public appearance at the University of California was in 1930, to
give the dedication address on the opening of the new campus in Los
EDUCATIONAL LIBERALISM AND AMERICAN SOCIAL PROBLEMS
In 1931, American public school teachers were warned by one of their
leaders that Deweyan pedagogy was producing a generation of moral
weaklings. The breakdown of authority and the demand for freedom
preached by Dewey, he said, are responsible for the changed attitude on
the part of grown-ups toward marriage and divorce. "It is an
interesting and sad commentary, that the identical theory
which glorifies freedom as the inalienable right of children in their
education can also serve to rationalize a social standard which will
inevitably deny to children in ever increasing numbers the right to a
Another authority was still more explicit. Criticizing Deweyan
individualism in the schools, he maintained that "the cult of
individualism which finds authority only in its own wants and
satisfactions is responsible for the excessive amount of crime,
for the number of divorces, for the slackened control of the
That was twenty years ago. Divorce statistics before and since fully
confirm these conclusions that family disintegration keeps pace with
educational liberalism. From 1890 to 1948, the number of divorces
granted in the United States had increased from 33,000 to 408,000 per
year; and the ratio of divorces to marriage increased by 800 per cent.
The national ratio of divorces to marriages in 1890 was 5.5 to 100; by
1948, it had arisen to 22.0 to 100, or about one divorce to every four
In a book called Ethics, first published by Dewey and Tufts in
1912 and later translated into Chinese and Japanese, prospective
teachers were told that while "the increase in divorce seems to
indicate a radical change in the attitude toward marriage," this is
only another example of the revolutionary changes which are taking place
in every phase of modern life. "Divorce . . . does not
necessarily imply that the institution of marriage is a failure, for
divorced persons not infrequently marry again in the hope of a more
successful union," which practice the authors sanctify with their
approval. After American school teachers have been indoctrinated in
these principles for forty years, the wonder is not why the nation's
social problems should exist but why they are not infinitely worse.
GROWING OPPOSITION TO DEWEY'S PRINCIPLES OF EDUCATION
Within recent years, a reaction has set in against John Dewey which
promises to neutralize, if not dissolve, his present hold on the
educational policies of American public schools. A graphic instance of
this is the dismissal in 1950 of Willard E. Goslin, superintendent of
schools in Pasadena, California. Goslin, a fervent disciple of Dewey,
was a former president of the American Association of School
Administrators and superintendent of schools in Minneapolis, Minnesota,
for five years before he came to Pasadena in 1948. In one year, he
introduced a score of changes in school discipline and curriculum that
brought on his head the protests of thousands of irate parents. There
was to be no subject matter prescribed for class; there was to be no set
program of studies; there was to be no specific period in the school day
for any particular subject; there was to be no system of marks or report
cards, and there were to be no examinations. It was suggested that
children remain with a given teacher for a few years, working on
projects which grew from their own interests. This would give rise to
spontaneous learning, rather than impose upon children any systematic
learning of basic skills and fundamental information.
On July 2, 1950, Willard Goslin's resignation was demanded by the
Pasadena Board of Education, under pressure from parents. Two years'
experience with progressive education was all they needed to have none
of it. In the words of one of their spokesmen, "The parents did not
approve of this kind of education. They sent their children to school to
learn something, and when they remonstrated that nothing was being
learned, they were rebuffed for being behind times. The verdict in
Pasadena was that 'education for democracy' is not education at all; it
is training for the collectivized society." The Pasadena
incident made national headlines when Goslin and his fellow-Deweyites
defended their dismissal by accusing the California authorities of
However, more significant than dissatisfaction with Dewey's
pedagogical methods has been the growing opposition to the principles on
which his pedagogy is founded. And among these, the most fundamental is
undoubtedly his doctrine of socialistic naturalism, whose first
postulate is the denial of a personal God. Accordingly, the only
religion which progressive education recognizes is the
"religion" of social improvement and the progress of civil
society. Divisive ecclesiastical elements, since they are inimical to
civil unity, are to be eliminated. And since the basis of
ecclesiasticism is religious instruction, this must be gradually but
firmly eradicated from American education. "Schools," says
Dewey, "serve best the cause of religion in serving the cause of
social unification." They are "more religious in substance
and in promise without any of the conventional badges and machinery of
religious instruction than they could be in cultivating these forms at
the expense of a state-consciousness."
Now it is precisely here in the matter of religious education that
Dewey's philosophical principles have been most strongly and effectively
opposed. It is safe to say that during the past several years, more than
ever before in the Nation's history, non-Catholic educators and civil
authorities have restated the absolute necessity of some kind of
religious training in the schools if America is to save herself from
Nicholas Murray Butler, while president of Columbia University,
declared in a public address: "This generation is beginning to
forget the place which religious instruction must occupy in education if
that education is to be truly sound and liberal. . . . the United States
is not pagan but religious, and must have freedom of religious teaching
and of religious faith." This statement is deeply significant,
coming from Dewey's former superior at Columbia for many years.
Canon Bernard I. Bell, Episcopal scholar and educator, in an article
and later in a national radio program in 1950, reduced the defects of
American education to four points: (1) lack of discipline, (2)
developing irresponsibility, (3) failure to train leaders, and (4)
absence of religious instruction. The last is "the most
deep-rooted ailment of our school system." His criticism is
About all that most Americans possess nowadays in the way of
religion is a number of prejudices, chiefly against faiths other than
those with which they have traditional affiliations.... Perhaps half
of them not more go once in a while to some church
which they joined with only a foggy idea of its tenets or
Historically, he points out: "Our schools were founded by those
who considered religion of primary importance.... Yet out of our public
schools come successive generations of young people born of Christian
families, of the Christian tradition and ignorant of the faith of
However, non-Catholics have not limited expressing their
dissatisfaction to mere words. Delegates of the Lutheran Church, in
their national convention in 1950, passed a series of resolutions on the
question of religious education of the young. They castigate the gross
injustice which prevails today in the public school system. On the one
hand, they state, "The children of religious parents may not
receive religious education in connection with the daily public school
program." On the other hand, they maintain, "The children of
godless parents are receiving at public expense the kind of education
their parents want them to have." Their solution is the one
which American Catholics had long recognized as indispensable. They urge
"the building and maintenance of parochial schools for the children
of their sect."
Moreover, in the public schools themselves, in spite of the low
figure of 26.8 per cent of American cities and towns which allow
released time from public schools for religious instruction, statistics
for the past twenty years are very promising. Official surveys indicate
an increase of 150 per cent in religious instruction programs from 1932
to 1949. In 1932, only 10.7 per cent of our cities and towns permitted
released-time programs; in 1949, such programs were allowed in 26.8 per
cent of the cities and town.
Still more encouraging is the fact that 45.9 per cent of the cities
with a population over 100,000 had released-time religious instruction
programs for pupils in the public schools. In other words, the 26.8
figure is deceptively low, because it is based on the mere number of
cities reporting and does not take into account the size of the cities
John Dewey, in one of his most frequently quoted statements, said:
"Education as such has no aims." By this he meant that
education, like man, is self-sufficient and an end in itself. Unlike
Dewey, American Catholics and other Americans believe, with Pope Pius
XI, that "education consists essentially in preparing man for what
he must be and for what he must do here below, in order to attain to the
sublime end for which he was created." Catholics have,
therefore, developed an educational system of their own which at present
numbers 4,027,511 students in nearly 12,000 institutions from elementary
school to university. The annual cost of operating this gigantic
educational program, exclusive of the capital costs for buildings and
debt service, runs over a half billion dollars this in spite of the very low
subsistence salaries paid for the services of religious teachers, who
make up 90 per cent of the teaching staff. Without government
assistance, this educational enterprise is made possible only through
the generosity of the Catholic laity and the devotion of teachers
consecrated to the work of training the young. Only God knows what
sacrifices this involves, but no sacrifice is too great to protect our
Catholic youth from the naturalism that has invaded secular education in
the United States.
1. Boyd H. Bode, "Pragmatism in Education, Dewey's
Contribution," Education Digest, XV (February, 1950), 5.
2. John Dewey, Schools of Tomorrow, p. 211 New York: E. P.
Dutton and Co., 1915.
3. Charles F. Donovan, S.J., "Dilution in American
Education," America, LXXXVI (November 3, 1951), 121.
6. John Dewey, "The Philosopher-in-the-Making," Saturday
Review Literature, XXXII (October 22, 1949), 43.
7 Virginia R. Rowland, "My Adventures as a Teacher," The
Sign, XXXI (October, 1951), 34-37.
8. Ibid., 35.
10. Ibid., 37.
12. Bernard Iddings Bell, "Our Schools Their Four Grievous Faults," Reader's
Digest, LVIII (January, 1951), 124.
15. John Dewey, "Challenge to Liberal Thought," Fortune,
XXX (August, 1944) 190.
16. Ibid. 188.
l8. "Sex Education," Look (August 30, 1949), 29.
20. Ibid., 30.
21. Detroit Times, February 6, 1938.
24. D. Jennings, "Sex in the Classroom," Reader's Digest,
XLVIII (February, 1948), 16.
25. Ibid., 17.
26. John Dewey, The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy, pp.
242-270. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1910.
27. John Dewey, Higher Education Faces the Future, pp.
273-282. New York: Horace Liveright and Co., 1980.
28. William C. Bagley, Education, Crime and Social Progress,
p. 36. New York: Macmillan Co., 1931.
29. Isaac L. Kandel, "The New School," Teachers College
Record, XXXIII (March, 1932), 508.
30. John Dewey and James H. Tufts, Ethics, p. 499. New York:
Henry Holt and Co., 1949.
32. Harold J. O'Loughlin, "Progressive Education in
Pasadena," Catholic Digest, XVI (October, 1951), 93.
33. John Dewey, "Religion in Our Schools," The Hibbert
Journal, VI (July, 1908), 807.
35. Nicholas Murray Butler, "Religion in Education," Catholic
Digest, VI (March, 1942), 9 and 10.
36. Bell, op. cit., 124.
40. The Catholic Transcript (Hartford, Conn.), July 6, 1950.
42. Edward B. Rooney, S.J., "The Relation of Religion to Public
Education in the United States," Lumen Vitae, V, 1
(January-March, 1950), 91.
43. Ibid., 92.
44. John Dewey, Democracy and Education, p. 125. New York:
Macmillan Co., 1916.
45. Pope Pius XI, "Christian Education of Youth," Five
Great Encyclicals, p. 39. Edited by Gerald C. Treacy, S.J. New York:
Paulist Press, 1939.
46. N.C.W.C. News Service (Washington, D.C.), September 8,