Commentary Magazine


Dewey vs. Science

To the Editor:

In his reference to “Dewey’s division of educational efforts as either ‘logical’ or ‘psychological,’” Martin Mayer [“Scientists in the Classroom,” April] implies that Dewey supported such a division. . . . There is no doubt that Dewey did separate the logical and psychological aspects of experience in The Child and the Curriculum. However, in the typical Hegelian style in which he was trained, he then proceeded to reunite the two. . . . Dewey shows the necessity of uniting the logical order of knowledge possessed by the scientist with the psychological process of the child in order to form a meaningful theory of education. This “progressive organization of subject matter” is a crucial element in his educational philosophy, and can be found specifically in Experience and Education. Dewey’s synthesis of 1902 or 1938 anticipates the current efforts of Jerome Bruner and Mr. Mayer’s scientists in the classroom. Mr. Mayer . . . presents Dewey unfairly to your readers.

Ronald Hyman
Teachers College
Columbia University
New York City

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Mr. Mayer writes:

Mr. Hyman is right in his belief that the educators who cite Dewey against scientists do not understand Dewey very well. But I think he is himself reading into Dewey a great deal that is not there (always easy with someone who writes as poorly as Dewey did). Dewey was a prisoner of the inadequate biological science of the turn of the century, and believed that the individual recapitulated the growth of his species in the womb and the growth of his tribe in childhood. When Dewey spoke of “psychological,” he believed he was expressing an iron law of child development which dictated what children were interested in at various ages. This attitude is directly contrary to that of Bruner and the scientists, whose position is that any subject worth teaching can be honestly taught in a manner interesting to children at any age, if you know what you are doing. Oddly enough, this question of how far Dewey anticipated Bruner and company came up last spring at a meeting at Mr. Hyman’s own institution, and the Dewey experts on his faculty, after some discussion, agreed that there was indeed a great difference between Dewey’s theory of what he had done at the Laboratory School in Chicago and Bruner’s theory of what has been done by the reformers in math and physics instruction.

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