By Jack Wilkie
John Dewey’s influence on modern education was (and continues to be) simply enormous. What Horace Mann meant to the 1800s, Dewey meant every bit as much to the 1900s. His contributions to government schooling are still recognized as being monumental even though he died over sixty years ago.  Life magazine recognized him as one of the 100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century.i He was even featured on a United States postage stamp as a part of the “Prominent Americans” series. His influence wasn’t limited to education, either, as he is noted for his prominence in political and philosophical fields, as well. “He became a primary influence in the world of thought. That the ‘new thinking’ at the turn of the twentieth century became ‘the way the world thinks’ can be laid at the feet of this man who more than all others made education in America what it is today.”ii One man (through his interest in philosophy and ability to implement it through the minds of children) is credited with influencing the thought patterns and worldview of an entire culture. This presents us with two biographical questions about the man’s life: How did he achieve this level of influence, and how did he make use of it? 
After receiving his Ph.D. in 1884, Dewey went into teaching at the university level at Michigan and Minnesota. From there he advanced to the position of head professor of Chicago University’s philosophy department. While there, he founded the Laboratory School basically for the purpose of experimenting with new ideas in education. During this time he wrote multiple works on the topic of education, including “My Pedagogic Creed,” “The School and Society,” “The Child and the Curriculum,” “Democracy and Education,” “Moral Principles in Education,” and more. In addition to his writings and the Laboratory School, Dewey later shaped the world of education through his time at Columbia University, where he put the framework in place for the training of thousands of teachers. Through these works and his experimentation he shaped much of the 20th century thinking on education not only in the United States, but also around the world. Educators and leaders from other countries based their programs on Dewey’s ideas and philosophy on education. And, since the 20th century saw the most growth and innovation in early childhood education, it’s fair to say that Dewey was the most influential framer of the modern education system. 
By the time he took an interest in education, the groundwork for compulsory schooling had already been put into place thanks to the lasting work of Horace Mann. Additionally, Dewey’s birth year coincided with the release of Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species. So, Dewey grew up in a world where the spread of Darwin’s theories really had begun to take hold. From the things he said, it’s easy to see that Dewey’s thought processes on education and children were based heavily in Darwin’s theories.  
Dewey’s thought was also strongly influenced by the naturalism of Charles Darwin (1809-1882). It was from Darwin’s The Origin of Species, published in 1859, that Dewey got his concept of the human being as a highly complex natural organism that continually accommodates itself to some environing conditions and alters others to meet its needs. Dewey conceived of education as virtually synonymous with this evolutionary process.iii Dewey interpreted education from Darwin’s theories much the same way Marx, Lenin, and their followers interpreted politics and economics through Darwin. The individual has no value other than the role he plays in society. His duty is not to himself, God, or his family, but to his culture. Dewey once wrote, “Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming where everyone is interdependent.” Yes, the man who influenced American education more than any other listed stopping children from thinking at the top of his list of goals. 
This is consistent with Dewey’s character, as he had no respect for or belief in a deity of any type and therefore placed no value on individual souls. To better understand his philosophies of man, God, and government, read the Humanist Manifesto I. Listed as a co-author and widely credited as one of the leaders of the project, Dewey showed exactly what he thought about such crucial matters. In it we see that humanists believe that the universe is self-existing, that man evolved, that the time has passed for theism, that prayer and worship have been replaced by efforts to promote social well being, etc. 
These thoughts formed Dewey’s religion, and we can see today that he was highly successful in putting his beliefs into action through the schools. His worldview was comprehensive and his life was spent in chasing the goals necessitated by that worldview. His work provided a foundation and a foot in the door for the secular humanist movement, and that work has made it the dominant religion in America today. As with Mann, Dewey’s work needed time to take hold, but before his life ended in 1952, the process had already begun in the courts. We’ll take a look at that aspect of our history in next month’s article.