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Pragmatism as a philosophy of education has only come into its own in the
very late nineteenth and the twentieth century¶s. This is largely due to the work of
a number of educational philosophies such as William Heard Kilpatrick, Boyd
Bode, and George Counts. These men built an education structure on a
philosophical foundation wrought by such philosophers as Chauncey Wright,
William James, Charles S.Peirce, and the man who best combined the roles of
educator and philosopher, John Dewey.

Pragmatism in education came into prominence to fulfill an obvious need in

the educational thought of America. With education becoming available to all men
rather than to a select few, the country was searching for a way of viewing the
educational process other than through the framework provided by the older
³elitist´ philosophies of education. This was not a new concern since it had
influenced to some degree the thought of Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, and
other; but in light of the economic, political, social, and scientific change occurring
in the United State it was becoming increasingly urgent that such a rationale be
developed. Just what were the changes that needed to be dealt wit by educational
As an outgrowth of the changes brought about by the Civil War, the fabric of
rural Americanism had been rent. America was rapidly becoming an urban, multi-
group society in which the ongoing dialogue of democracy was bogging down
because of the inability of people to talk with each other. Whole new languages
were emerging as the nation became more industrialized and special interest group

Just as science and technology have been a blessing to us, they have also
been something of a burden. Americans are not, as Max Lerner has so cogently
pointed out, theorist; we are concerned with the end products of our genius. We
want to know, ³will it work and what good is it to us?´ whether we profess to
being humanists, idealists, realists, or what ever other term one might identify
Americans by, we are, as a people, deeply pragmatic.


According to Robert R. Rusk, the Oxford Dictionary first referred to the
term µpragmatic¶ in 1643 and the term µpragmatism¶ in 1663. According to the
Concise Oxford Dictionary the term µpragmatic¶ means dealing with matters
according to their practical significance or immediate importance. The term
µpragmatism¶, according to the same source, means ³Doctrine that evaluates any
assertion solely by its practical consequences and its bearing on human interests.
The term pragmatism has been derived from the Greek term#%which means
use. Thus, pragmatism is an ism according to which uses the criteria of reality.

Pragmatism is basically an epistemological undertaking keynoted by its
theory of truth and meaning. This theory state that truth can be known only through
its practical consequences and is thus and individual or a social matter rather than
an absolute. This is implicit in the following statement by Peirce: Consider what
effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceived the object of
our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our
conception of the object.

Pragmatism sees thought as intrinsically connected with action. The value of

an idea is measured by the consequences produced when it is translated into action.
Pragmatism is based on traditional ways of thinking and finding ways
toincorporate new ideas to achieve a desired result. This philosophy keeps people
lookingfor effective methods for completing specific tasks. Because the world is
constantlychanging, people continue to change things of the past. The nature of
pragmatism reflectsa naturalistic humanism approach. It also developed a
worldview through the scientific revolution. This is an American philosophy with
roots from the British, Europeans, and ancient Greeks.

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One of the most important schools of philosophy of education is
pragmatism. It is also as old as idealism, naturalism and realism since it is more an
attitude, than a philosophy. In the fifth century B.C. Heraclitus said, ³One can not
step twice into the same river.´ Thus, Reality is a flux, things are ever changing.
Modern pragmatists agree with the Greek sophists. According to Protagores, ³Man
is the measure of all things.´ This maxim is the basis of modern humanism.
Another famous sophist Gorgias used to say, ³Nothing exists and if thing exists we
can never know it.´ This agnosticism has led to relativism in pragmatic

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A. Chauncey Wright is perhaps the least know of the nineteenth century

contributors to the pragmatic movement. At Harvard he performed brilliantly in
science and mathematics but only poorly in languages. Wright was constantly
plagued with ill-health and had a propensity to drink and smoke to excess. He
made friends easily, was well liked, and was considered a leader among the
intellectuals. Wright became a member of the Metaphysical Club and during those
years William James wrote of him that, ««he was not merely the great mind of a
village ± if Cambridge will pardon the expression ± but either in London or Berlin
he would, with equal ease, have taken the place of master which he held with us.

If his forties, Wright was the acknowledge intellectual leader of Cambridge.

Peirce, James and other flocked to him for intellectual leadership.

B. Although considered the founder of the American school of pragmatism,

Peirce¶s major contribution to the intellectual stream of pragmatism was his
criterion of truth or meaning. This was, for him, a methodological approach to his
philosophy of idealism.

Peirce influence on William James, along with the influence of the brilliant
utilitarian thinker, Chauncey Wright, did much to clarify James¶ thinking. Peirce¶s
influence on Dewey was less direct although Peirce was lecturing in logic at the
Johns Hopkins University while Dewey was there working toward his Ph.D. Most
of the influence of Peirce came to Dewey through James.
The concept of meaning which Peirce contributed to philosophy and which
is a definition of meaning simply says that a sentence¶s meaning is the sum total of
all of the sensory experience which might be conceptualized. In explaining this
concept of meaning in his essay, ³What Pragmatism Is,´ Peirce wrote,

If one can define accurately all the conceivable experimental phenomena

which the affirmation or denial of a concept imply, one will have therein a
complete definition of the concept, and there is absolutely nothing more in it.

C. It has been said, with some degree of justification, that Henry James wrote like
a philosopher, while his brother. William James, wrote like a novelist. Perhaps this
explains the enduring popularity of both men. As s philosopher, William James
arrived on the scene at a critical time in America thought. As Americans reacted to
the increasing technological and scientific changes in this country they turned
philosophically to ³science´. As Morton White has pointed out about William

He came upon the scene when philosophy was being bullied by a tough and
militant scientism, but he only organized alternative seemed to be the absolute
idealism of the neo-Hegelians [sic] which he could not stomach.

Thus, James entered the arena in which a battle between religion and science
was being waged. Or, in more philosophical terms, he entered the conflict between
what he aptly characterized as the ³tender-minded´ and the ³tough-minded´. On
the side of the ³tender-minded´ were found the religious, idealistic, optimistic, and
rationalistic; while on the side of the ³tough-minded´ were found the irreligious,
materialistic, pessimistic, and empirical.

The sword with which James hoped to slay the dragons of ³tough-
mindedness´ and ³tender-mindedness´ was the system of pragmatism. For James,
pragmatism became more than a method It became his central philosophical
principle. As White has so aptly said of James, ³He wanted facts but he also
wanted a religion.´ And it was through pragmatism that he hoped to achieve both.
James was brilliant, concise, and perhaps most important, an independent thinking
is highly original. He has been described as ³original, exciting, and cosmopolitan.

Perhaps the most controversial aspects of James¶ philosophy relate to his

application of the pragmatic principle to religion. James, in his Essays in
Pragmatism, said, ³The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling
metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable.´ His potion, simply
state, was that ideas were of value to the degree that they were useful and
functional and were not in conflict will other truths that could be empirically
substantiated. Using this as his intellectual touchstone, James was able to support
much of religion, including the hypothesis of God. The last several paragraphs of
James¶ essay, ³What Pragmatism Means,´ are the best available statement of the
view of pragmatism as the great mediator between empiricism and rationalism; the
³tough-minded´ and the ³tender-minded.´

You see by his what I meant when I called pragmatism a mediator and
reconciler««. She has in fact no prejudices what ever, no obstructive dogmas, no
rigid canons of what shall count as proof. She is completely genial. She will
entertain any hypothesis, she will consider any evidence. It follows that in the
religious field she is at a great advantage over both positivistic empiricism, with its
anti-theological bias, and over religious rationalism, with its exclusive interest in
the remote, the noble, the simple, and the abstract in the way of conception.

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In his earliest philosophical phase, John Dewey, who has been described as
the greatest as American philosophy, was an Hegelian idealist. While at the Johns
Hopkins University he had fallen under the influence of George Sylvester Morris.
He was also influenced by the work or William Torrey Harris, probably America¶s
most important and popular spokesman for the Hegelian idealists.

During the first ten year of his college teaching (1884-1894), Dewey move
from the idealist¶s camp to the beginnings of a pragmatic philosophy which he was
to characterize with the name of instrumentalism.
During the twenty years immediately prior to the First World War, Dewey
worked at refining his philosophy it into play in the arena of human discourse.
Philosophy was not, for Dewey, a game played with intellectual abstractions and
theoretical constructs; rather it was par of the ongoing life of individuals and the
society. Philosophy was, as far as he was concerned, a part of culture and the way
we philosophized, as well as the things abut which we philosophized, was
determined in large part by this culture.

While Dewey was certain not the first educational philosopher, he saw the
relationship between philosophy and education in a new and wholly different
manner that did his predecessors. In Democracy and Education, first published in
1916, he tried to clarify the relationship.

John Dewey¶s philosophy and its educational implications are inextricably

interwoven. As Dewey pointed out, he regarded philosophy as a general theory of
education and or this reason placed a great deal of emphasis on epistemological
and axiological considerations. His philosophy emphasizes the social function of
intelligence- that ideas are instruments of living rather than ends in themselves.
Education is seen as basically a social process rooted in problem-solving and the
exploration of he meaning of experience.

focus of research is to make an impact on the child¶s life with regards to

their individuality. Throughout the history of this philosophy, Dewey conducted
experiments that fostered his thoughts and ideas. Each experiment reflected
individual growth. There are several philosophers that were advocates of
pragmatism. Francis Bacon had a significant influence on pragmatism. He
suggested an inductive approach, which became the basis for the scientific method.
John Locke was a philosopher that believed that the mind at birth is blank. He
disagreed with Plato in that a person learns from experiences. Another philosopher
was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He was interested in the relationship between politics
and education. He believed that people are affected by the outside world, but are
basically good at heart. Auguste Comte, who was not a pragmatist, influenced
pragmatism to use science when problem solving. His dream was to use science to
help reform society. Another philosopher was Charles Darwin, who was
considered the most important and influential with regards to pragmatism. He was
attacked because of his religious theories. He believed that nature operates without
an intended end or result. Organisms will live and then die out when changes in
nature occur. Charles Sanders Peirce was an American pragmatist that never
received the recognition he deserved. He believed that ideas were nothing until
they have been tested in actual experiences. Another important philosopher was
William James, who made pragmatism a wider public view. He believed that an
idea must be tried before it can be considered good. The final philosopher, which is
considered to be the greatest asset to pragmatism, was John Dewey. According to
Dewey, no changeable absolutes or universals exist.

In later years there were many ³disciples´ of John Dewey who in trying to
elaborate some of his ideas went to extremes that appalled their mentor. While the
impact of the child-centered schools in the 1930¶s cannot be discounted, it must be
pointed out that from the mid-1920¶s on, Dewey was a frequent critic of what came
to be known in American educational circles as ³progressivism´ or the
³progressive movement´.

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Naturalism reduces everything to life or matter, Idealism to mind or self.
Pragmatics sees no necessity of limiting herself to one or two fundamental
principles of explanation, she is quite content to admit several principles of
explanation and accordingly pluralistic. In brief Pragmatism is a mid way in
between the extreme form of naturalism and absolute idealism. That is why many
philosophers even do not consider it as a philosophy , they treat it as a process or
method or attitude.

There are two major points which must be made about the ontological bases
of pragmatism. First, the traditional distinction between mind and matter as two
separate and independent substances is rejected by the pragmatists, and second, the
pragmatists use, as their ontological base line the concept of experience.

This is really a sophisticated from of naturalism. The concept of natural law,

for example, for the pragmatist is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It is the
outgrowth or a long series of observations and is rooted in experience. In short, she
widens the field of search for God. Rationalism sticks to logic and the empyrean.
Empiricism sticks to the external senses. Pragmatism is willing to take anything, to
follow either logic or the senses and to count the humblest and most personal
experiences if they have practical consequences. She will take a God who lives in
the very dirt of private fact ± if that should seem a likely place to find him.

Her only test of probable truth is what works best in the way of leading us,
what fits every part of life best and combine with the collectivity of experience¶s
demands, nothing being omitted

We are, in effect, playing a game of probability. We are predicating, for

example, that the sun will rise in the eastern sky tomorrow morning and set in the
western sky tomorrow evening on the basis of our observations of the
phenomenon; observations which have been made for generations stretching back
to before the time of written history to when man first became aware of the
appearance of regularities in nature. There is no divine or immutable law, say the
pragmatists, that the un must come up in the East and wet in the West, but the
probability of this occurring tomorrow just as it has for all of our yesterday is so
fantastically high that we could describe it as a ³law´.

For the pragmatist, most questioning about the nature of the metaphysical
universe is simply idle speculation since we have no basis for any doctrine of
absolute reality beyond our own observations. If, as pragmatists, we wish to know
the nature of reality we should, rather than building ontological sandcastles,
immerse ourselves in the thick of life, experiencing as much of it as we can. For
the pragmatist, any absolute reality is simply our experiential world.

The pragmatic ontology differ in two major respect form that of the realist.
The realist says is a world which we can know because of our experience while the
pragmatist says that all we can know is our experience. Second, the pragmatic
ontology differs from that of the realist in its insistence that ³law´ is descriptive
rather than prescriptive, that ³law´ do not place demands upon nature and are not
intrinsic to nature but are, rather, devices to explain continuities that man has

Finally, and most important, the pragmatist does not view reality as an
abstract ³thing´. Rather, it is a process of transaction which involves both doing
and undergoing, the two characteristics of experience. For experience is a two way
street: first is the doing and second is the process of deriving meaning from the act
and its results. Experience demands both dimensions, for the second cannot exist
without the first. And the first has no meaning without the second. Without
exploration of the meaning and consequences of activity, man would indeed be on
what the late radio comedian Fred Allen referred to as a ³treadmill to oblivion.´



Knowledge is rooted in experience, but experience may be immediate or

mediated. Immediate experience is simply ³undergoing.´ Mediated experience is
the interaction of man and his mind with his environment. It requires the use of
intelligence. It is intelligence which determines direction. As John Dewey pointed

It seemed almost axiomatic that for true knowledge we must have recourse
to concepts coming from a reason above experience. But the introduction of the
experimental method signified precisely that such operations, carried on under
conditions of control, are just the ways in which fruitful ideas about nature are
obtained and tested.

The process involved in the mediation of experience and which is required

to first transform the experience to knowledge an second to aid in the
determination of new direction has been variously called the experimental method,
the five-step though process, and the scientific method. What it amounts to are the
following five steps. First is the vague uneasiness that lets us know we have a
problem that has upset our equilibrium.

Second is the refinement of the problem. This is the detailing of the problem,
the bringing it into the light to take a look at it and the focusing out of irrelevant
and extraneous matters.

Third is the forming of hypotheses or tentative solutions to the problem.

Fourth is the considering of the consequence of various activities, and the

mental testing of alternative solutions. This is one of the most important steps since
it is here that the fifth step in the process will be decided upon.

The fifth step is the actual testing our solution under so ± called field
conditions. This is where the result of our intelligence are applied. In many cases it
will not matter if we have made a mistake. It will simply mean ³back to the
drawing board,´ and it is for this reason that many people underrate the importance
of the fourth step in this process. But not all applications of a solution leave
thealternatives of the fourth step open. It is quite possible that by taking a
particular course of action we make it impossible to later return to an alternatives
of action. Consider, in an age where nuclear war with all its fearful concomitants is
in the hands of a very few, the consequences of raining down hydrogen bombs on a
country. Could we ever return to take another alternative route to peace? The
though, were it not so frightening, would be ludicrous. It is for this reason that the
fourth step in the process places as great a moral burden on man¶s shoulders as
does the fifth.

Truth in the pragmatic epistemology can be viewed as the production of

desired consequences through the five-step process described above. But this does
not give truth any special existential status, it simply means that in a particular case
something is true. Truth may, therefore, exist in varying degrees. Truth is
contingent on, or relative to, set or circumstances. Knowing is an open-ended, on
going, human activity. As such it is constantly subject to error.
There are three major points of significance to the pragmatic epistemology.
First, it is an open-ended, activity, open, to the public and in fact, dependent upon
the public test rather than some private metaphysical test. Second, it is subject to
error and is continuously being revised in terms of new conditions and new
consequences. And, third, it places the ultimate responsibility for truth and
knowledge directly upon the shoulders of man. This is a tremendous responsibility
and there are many who would rather shirk this responsibility and retreat to the
security of a more authoritarian system.


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Ethical values are a product of the transactional functioning of man and

society. The good is that which resolves indeterminate situations in the best way
possible. Thus, the use of the intellect in the solving of problems is considered
good by the pragmatists while total avoidance of human problems or unthinking
reliance on some ³higher´ authority would be considered bad. Values emerge from
the process of reflective deliberation and the accepted only after reflective
deliberation. In each generation must create new values and new solutions to deal
with new problems. The values of the crossbow, the pragmatists would say, are no
longer necessarily applicable or relevant to the day of the hydrogen bomb.

The question still remains, though, how are we to know what is the best
solution to a problem? Dewey finds growth the basis of all ethics. That which
contributes to growth is good. That which would stunt, deflect, or retard it is bad.
But, since man is not completely independent unto himself, what may appear good
in the private sense must also be explored in the public sense. We must ask two
questions then about an act or decision. First, what are the individual
consequences? And second, what are the public consequences? We must also
consider whether these consequences will contribute to or retard, growth.

The major concern, then, of pragmatic ethical theory is the public test, the
test that is open to the public and which can be reiterated or verified by others. This
is not to suggest that our morality need be determined by others, but as Dewey and
Tufts pointed out, there is a distinct relationship.

Morals are personal because they spring from personal insight, judgment,
and choice. Such facts as these, however, are wholly consistent with the fact that
what men think and believe is affected by common factors, and that the thought
and choice of one individual spread to others. They do not militate against the fact
that men have to at together, and that their conjoint action is embodied institutions
and laws««The material of personal reflection and of choice comes to each of us
from the customs, traditions, institutions, policies, and plans of these large
collective wholes.

Ultimately, for the pragmatists, morality demands the use of the

experimental method. If we do not, the pragmatists argue, have a morality which
emerges out of the observance of and reflection on a variety of situations we accept
the alternative course which is commitment to a dogmatic morality.

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The pragmatist¶s standards of art and beauty differ from those of the other
philosophies we have discussed in that they do not exist in some separate realm.
What is beautiful is simply what we find beautiful in our own experience, what has
the power to move us and to make us feel deeply. Art is a form in which an artist
describes his own personal experience to the viewer. But the description need not
be detailed or an exact reproduction of what the artist has seen.

In every work of art, however, these meanings are actually embodied in a

material which thereby becomes the medium for their expression. This fact
constitutes the peculiarity of all experience that is definitely esthetic. Its
imaginative quality dominates, because meanings and values that are wider and
deeper than the particular here and now in which they are anchored are realized by
way of an object that is physically efficacious in relation to other objects.

A more current way of saying this would be, ³the medium is the message.´

The test of a work of art is whether or not it can stir the viewer and
communicate to him the experience with all (or at least many) of the complex
feelings and ramifications the artist is attempting to convey. Thus, the public test of
a work of art is whether or not the artist has communicated his experience to us
and whether others share the sense of pleasure and esthetic satisfaction we receive
from a work of art.


For the pragmatist, society is a process in which individuals participate.
Society is the source from which people derive all that makes them individual
while at the same time society is a product of the complex series of interactions
among the individuals whose lives and activities impinge upon each other.

Man derives his values from the society and since these values help
determine much of what his life will be, society and its relationship to the
individual may be one of the most important concerns for contemporary
pragmatists. Society is a basic concept in contemporary pragmatism since all
actions must be considered in the light of their social designed to pass along the
cultural heritage from one generation to the next, must be concerned with society
and with its students as members of society.

Pragmatism sees the school as vitally concerned with and interested in social
change since it needs to prepare the adults of the future to deal with the planning
necessarily involved in the process called society.

With the move from the rural agrarian social structure which existed before
the turn of the century, and with the increase in urbanization, transportation,
communication and industrialization, over the last 50 years, the need for social
planning has increased at an unbelievable rate. With the growth of new problems
such the uses of atomic energy, pollution, conservation of natural resources, other
space, drugs, increasing crime rates, education of disadvantaged children, first
class citizenship for Negro ±Americans and others too numerous to list , the school
has become the seed-bed for society. Never before argue the pragmatists, has there
been such a need for social concern and social planning. We simply cannot let
society run rampant down an unplanned path. To do this is court destruction not
just for American society. But for the world.

Since the pragmatic position strongly advocates wholehearted involvement

in society by all citizens, and because it views group decision in the light of
consequence as important, and because it places responsibility on the individual as
a member of society, it has been called the philosophy of Democracy.


Pragmatists believe that the aims are always determined by individual not by
any organization or any structure. Perhaps the best statement of what might be
called the pragmatist¶s educational aims can be found in the writing of John
Dewey The aim for education is to teach children to be comfortable in their
learning environment to an extent that children are living their life. Dewey
believed in this type of environment that is not considered a preparation for life,
but life. He believed that educators should know the things that motivate and
interest children and planaccordingly. Dewey believed that aims should grow out
of existing conditions, betentative, and have an end view.

In Democracy and education, he wrote that education is ³that reconstruction

or reorganization of experience which adds to the meaning of experience, and
which increases ability to direct the course of subsequent experience.´ The aim that
might be derived from the foregoing definition of education would include the
helping of the child to develop in such a way as to contribute to his continued

While Dewey disliked the use of the term aims in its usual sense because it
implied an end and Dewey saw on final and permanent end to education, he did set
down three characteristics of good educational aims. These were:

1. An educational aim must be founded upon the intrinsic activates and needs
(including original instinct and acquired habits) of the given individual to be
educated «« it is one thing to use adult accomplishments as a context in which to
place and survey the doings of childhood and youth; it is quite another to set them
up as a fixed aim without regard to the concrete activates of those educated.

2. An aim must be capable of translation into a method of cooperation with the

activities of those undergoing instruction. It must suggest the kind of environment
needed to liberated and to organize their capacities«. Until the democratic
criterion of the intrinsic significance of every growing experience is recognized,
we shall be intellectually confused by the demands for adaptation to external aims.

3. Educators have to be on their guard against ends that are alleged to be general
and ultimate. Every activity, however specific is , of course, general in its ramified
connection of possible future achievements, the less his present activity is tied
down to a small number of alternatives. If one knew enough, one could star almost
anywhere and sustain his activities continuously and fruitfully.

Thus, it would seem safe to ay that for Dewey and the pragmatists the one
³aim´ in education is to provide the conditions that make growth possible.

The student is an experiencing organism capable of using intelligence to
resolve its problems. He learns as he experiences; as he dose and as he undergoes.
As a thinking organism his experiences, and his reflections upon those experiences
become a part of him determining his likes, dislikes, and the future direction of his
learning. The pragmatist views the student as a whole organism constantly
interacting with the environment. The school is both a part of this environment and
a special manmade environment designed to provide the best possible educative
experience to the learner. For this reason the student is especially involved in
interaction with the school.

The whole organism which is the child consists of the biological child, the
psychological child, and the social child. The experiencing organism that is the
learner brings to school with him all the meanings, values, and experiences that
constitute his personality : his self.

 The role of the teacher is important in successfully educating children. The
teacher must capture the child¶s interest and build on the natural motivation that
exists. Teachers need to remember to vary their teaching methods to accommodate
each individual learning style. Not all children learn at the same pace or are at the
same point; therefore, the teacher must vary his/her style. Dewey believed that
knowledge should be organized and relate to current experiences.

The teacher, for the pragmatist, is a member of the learning group who
serves in the capacity of helper, guide, and arranger of experiences. He is as
involved in the educative process as are this students. An error common among
many who chose to call themselves progressive educators and who swear they are
simply following in the footsteps of such men as Dewey, Kilpatrick, Bode, and
Counts is the confusion of the concept of freedom and laissez-faire. As Childs has
pointed out, ««. If by a ³child- centered´ school is meant a school in which the
immature are left ³free´ to do whatever their own momentary impulses and whims
suggest, the pragmatists want to part in it.

Thus, the pragmatic teacher does not abdicate responsibility. If anything¶s

just the opposite is true. The teacher is responsible for wiring with the students and
helping them develop their own projects. He advises and directs projects and
activates that arise out of the felt needs of the students rather than those of the
teacher. He must arrange the conditions by, as Dewey indicates, simplifying,
purifying, ordering and balancing the environment is such a way as to provide the
experiences that will contribute the most to the growth of this students.


It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that the universe is the subject
matter for the pragmatist. Any educative experience is the subject matter of the
pragmatist¶s curriculum¶ any experience contributing to growth. The subject mater
exists ready to be explored, but the real concern must always be for the interaction
of the pupil with the subject matter of his current needs, capacities, and concerns.

Teachers and students have a tendency to view subject matter in different

ways. For the teacher it is organized into bodies of knowledge which generally
show a progression from the simple to the more complex, but for the student this is
not the case. As a child stands before a complex structure, he sees only what is, at
the moment, important to him. As homely example may suffice. A child in a
building being viewed as an architectural masterpiece by a class is concerned with
only those architectural aspects of the building that meet his particular needs. If he
is hungry, he is more than likely going to be most interested in the snack bar. If he
is thirsty, he will be interested in the water fountain. And, if he has a full bladder,
the only architectural concern he will fine of interest will be the location of the

The child cannot, in his earlier years in school, distinguish subject matter as
teacher so often understand it from his own interests and needs. Thus, the closer
the two can be aligned, the more successful will the teaching and learning situation
become. In the early yeas, according to many pragmatists, the curriculum should
not be hindered by subject matter lines but rather should be divided into units
which grow out of the questions and the experiences of the learners. The
curriculum is learner- centered. In changes and shifts as the needs of the learners

Subject matter, per se, and the traditional arrangement of subject matter are
seen as an arbitrary and wasteful system to which all learners have been forced to
conform. The pragmatist rejects this system in order to center the subject matter
around the problems and needs of the learner.


To discuss the methods of teaching employed by the pragmatist is to open up

a veritable Pandora¶s box. The widest variety of techniques have been justified in
the mane of pragmatic philosophy, ranging from the almost complete laissez-faire
to the relatively structured. Probably the most common method employed by those
most in line with the Thinking of the pragmatists is the project method. Classroom
discussion in a free and open atmosphere is encouraged, as well as individual
problem solving research. All of this may well involve a tremendous amount of
reading, studying, and traditional subject matter mastery.

The methods of educating are unique to each individual. This philosophy

believes that not all children learn the same way, so it is important to vary
educational methods. This philosophy supports large print text, small desk, and
things that move easily. The classroom would be a functional atmosphere with the
interest of the children at hand. Problem solving, themes, experiments are all parts
of the pragmatic philosophy. The curriculum for the pragmatic philosophy supports
a connection between knowledge and experience. It is important for children to
connect the two so learning can become meaningful. According to Dewey, children
must be interested in the subject matter to gain meaning. Subjects that are difficult
and cause children to struggle should be organized and designed to build
motivation about the topics. Children should enjoy learning and leave with a sense
of accomplishment.

The problems around which education is centered must be the real problems
of the students, not problems from txst books, or even problems thought up by the
teachers which have a neat solution that can be revealed at the end of the exercise.
True learning in no way resembles the magician¶s trick of pulling rabbits or
pigeons out of top hats. Pragmatic method is rooted in the psychological needs of
the students rather than in the logical order of the subject matter. Thus, method is
nothing more than the helping of the students to use intelligence and the scientific
method in the solution of problems that are meaningful to the child.

In the actual process of teaching there are a number of things that need to be
kept in mind. First, we must start where the learner is. As William Heard
Kilpatrick has pointed out,

Kilpatrick goes on to suggest that the teacher discuss with the students the
interests of the class and the types of things they would like to study. Interest is not
enough. It is necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for selecting an area of
concern. It should also offer a challenge and significant educational value. It is
important that the subject selected by the students be one to which they are
committed as wholeheartedly as possible. For if the topic has their commitment,
then the value of self direction may be implemented.

«the teacher will from start to finish encourage in the pupils as high a
degree of self-directed responsible acting on thinking as it is possible to get. To
feel one¶s self acting responsibly and so helping to create what is being done, and
to do this in a way to deserve respect from others, is one of the very keenest of
satisfactions. Thus, the method is primarily one of guidance.
Finally, Kilpatrick gives some practical suggestions which deal with
methodology. As the man whose entire academic career at Teachers College,
Columbia University, was dedicated to putting into educational practice the
theories arrived at by John Dewey, they may be said to represent the best thinking
on the subject of education method done by a pragmatist.

The teacher will as well as possible help the learners at each stage of the
effort: (i) to initiate the activity (to form or choose the purpose); (ii) to plan how to
carry the activity forward, (iii) to execute to plan: (iv) to evaluate progress during
the activity and the result at the end. While all this is going forward the teacher will
also (v) encourage the learners to think up and note suggestions or new leads for
other and further work; (vi) help them to formulate these suggestions both for
clarification of thinking and for later recall and possible use (perhaps writing them
in a book or on the board for future reference); (vii) help pupils criticize their
thinking en route or at the close, as may seen wise; and finally (viii) look back over
the whole process to pick up and fix important kinds of learning as well as draw
lessons for the future from both successes and failures.


The pragmatic philosophy of education has probably been subjected to more

criticism, both valid and invalid, than any other education philosophy. This is, in
part, because of its liberal orientation. Social, economic, political and educational
conservatives have found it a useful target for the pointed finger and the cry of
³anathema.´ To some extent the criticisms have been justified, but for the most
part the pragmatists have simply stood as a convenient scapegoat for the
demagogues. Even today, in many parts of the nation, conservative candidates for
political office are expected to swear their eternal opposition to ³progressive
education´ and the prime devil of the movement, John Dewey. In None Dare Call
It Treason by John Stormer, a book which became a major campaign document for
conservatives during the political wars of 1964, John Dewey is characterized as
³Denying God, he held to the Marxist concept that man is without a soul or free
will.´ His educational experiments in Chicago are dismissed in the following tow
sentences. ³They were dismal failures.´ ³Children learned nothing.´ As for
Dewey¶s philosophy orientation toward education, Stormer describes is as follows.

Taken to a logical conclusion. Dewey¶s theory would have the child who
finds himself in the company of thieves become a thief also. The tendency to
justify immoral or unethical conduct by rationalizing that ³everybody dose it´ is
rooted in Dewey¶s teaching.

 "   " &$  Strict acceptance of Dewey¶s theories would
eliminate teaching world geography unless the child can take a trip around the
world. History would be eliminated from the curriculum, because it is past and will
not be relived by the student. 

While it would be impossible to refute all of the fallacious criticisms to

which John Dewey and his philosophical statements have been subjected, it is
perhaps worth noting that John Stormer¶s book, between February and July of
1964, went through eleven printings with a total of 1,400,000 copies coming off
the presses. The author was, as that time, chairman of the Missouri Federation of
Yong Republicans and as member of the Republican State Committee of Missouri.
Thus, because of the author¶s political position, the strategic time of publication,
and the subject matter, the book received widespread publicity and was widely
read. Unfortunately many Americans received their basic introduction to John
Dewey and his philosophy in its pages. How accurate it may be can perhaps be
determined through use of the following quote form John Dewey¶s most popular
book on education, democracy and Education, which sets forth his view on the
subject of history and geography.

««..geography and history supply subject matter which gives background and
outlook, intellectual perspective, to what might other wise be narrow personal
actins or mere forms of technical skill. With every increase of ability to place our
own doings in their time and space connections, our doings gain is significant
content. We realize that we citizens of no mean city in discovering the scene in
space of which we are denizens, and the continuous manifestation of endeavor in
time of which hw ear heir and continues. Thus our ordinary daily experiences
cease to be things of the moment and gain enduring substance.

Aside from the criticisms of those who seek to make political or social
capital from Dewey and his educational theories, there are a number of critics and
a variety of criticisms which need to be heard with regard to the pragmatic position
in both philosophy and education.

1. "&

It has been argued that the whole structure of the pragmatic position is
relatively unstable due to its lack of a sound ontological base. The contention that
eh pragmatist do not concern themselves with the clarification of their ontological
assumptions is valid. Because of their general orientation, the pragmatic movement
has emphasized concerns of an epistemological nature.


Another criticism often leveled at he pragmatic movement is that it is

essentially anti-intellectual. While this is perhaps an perhaps an overstatement, it is
true that the main area of concern for pragmatists is the marketplace of daily life.
Thus, those philosophies oriented toward a rather rationalistic a priori type of
though will find the pragmatists empirical and anti-intellectual.


On of the seemingly weakest points in the pragmatist¶s chain of though, and
the one that has probably subjected the pragmatists to more valid and invalid
criticism than any other theory of truth. If truth is seen as constantly being changed
and tested, rather than as a stable body of knowledge, the whole stability of the
universe is previous experience, which has been oriented toward finding and
cataloging such truths, will go for naught. All other major philosophical systems
are concerned with the nature of truth, and historically the vast majority have
found a core of stable, unchanging, absolute values on which they could rely. The
very fact that pragmatism challenges the existence of this core makes it, for many,
a dangerous and radical philosophy.


For schoolmen the idea that there are no absolute and unchanging truths
offers another dangerous challenge that many feel unable or unwilling to accept.
Traditionally the school has been viewed as society¶s instrument for the
preservation and continuation of our cultural heritage. While the pragmatists would
not argue with this, they would carry it a step further. The school and the whole
process of education should be an instrument of social change and social
improvement. Not only should students be taught (and even here the pragmatists
would probably prefer to say ³not only should students be helped to learn«.´)
factual materials, they should deal with social problems. More conservative
schoolmen will argue that this is not the function of the school and that if the
school and the classroom become instrument of inquiry and of social change, we
are moving away from stability and toward anarchy.

3"! ""c!"!
Perhaps the greatest criticism that can be leveled at the pragmatic
philosophers in the field of education is that while they have madder great inroads
in educational theory, and some inroads in educational practice in the elementary
schools, they are, from most educators, a group of thinkers largely ignored beyond
the payment of ritual lip-service. This should be especially painful to those who
would support a philosophy that measures much in terms of the practical
consequences of a course of action. In fact, pragmatism in education is for the most
part nothing but a straw man set up by the critics so they may knock it down.
While preached loudly in the classroom of institutions of teacher education, it is
not practiced in these very same classrooms or very many others around the

7 "(c"&

Pragmatism has had a wide appeal to the mind of educators despite its
general failure to emerge into practice. Because of this, and because of the many
years of teaching by such pragmatists as John Dewey, Boyd Bode, William Heard
Kilpatrick, and others, a whole cult grew up calling themselves progressive
educators. For inspiration they largely turned toward Teachers College, Columbia
University; but while turning in the direction of this fount of educational wisdom,
they too often took as the gospel of progressive education third, fourth and fifth-
hand accounts of what the intellectual leaders of the movement said and meant.
This cult of personality and hero worship, coupled wit the failure or inability of
many progressive educators to either read or understand the thinking of the
educational theorist, too often led to a warmed over form of laissez-fair freedom in
the classroom. The progressive education movement was, in fact, guilty of what
must have been for the leaders of the pragmatic movement the greatest of all sins,
reliance on authority as absolute. Because of this, and because of the burden of
clichés the progressive movement has had to bear, it has had little opportunity to
try its wings in the arena of public education.

Pragmatism as a philosophy of education has not totally been used correctly.

Many schools have used certain parts of the philosophy, but not many use it
consciously. Most people were interested in using the practical parts than focusing
on the philosophy. Pragmatism as an educational belief does not have everyone
agreeing. Some believe that it is too vague and others believe it is too watered

%"")(! %"%%*"#)")"$



1.? Adams, ͞The Educational Theory͟ Macmillan &Co.

2.? Broudy, Harry S., Building a Philosophy of Education. Englewood Cliffs,
N.J. Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1961.
3.? Butler, J.Donald, Four Philosophies and Their Practice in Education and
Religion. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957.
4.? Cunningham, J.K., ³Problems of Philosophy, p-05.
5.? Frank Thilly, ³A History of philosophy´, Central Publishing House,
6.? Äohn Dewey, ͞Reconstruction in Philosophy,͟ p-38. London, University of
London Press Ltd. 1921.
7.? Äohn Locke, ͞An Essay Concerning Human Understanding 1960,
8.? Piece, ͞Chance, love and Logic (M.R. Cohen, Editor). Harcourt, Brace and
9.? Rusk, R.R., ³Philosophical Basis of Education´ p-68, footnote, London,
University of London Press, 1956..
10.?The Concise Oxford Dictionary, Sixth Edition, III. Impression, 1976, p-868.