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John Dewey & the Decline of American Education: How the patron saint of schools has corrupted teaching and learning, Henry T. Edmondson III, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006, 129 pp., $15.

John Dewey, who lived from 1859 to 1952, was the most influential advocate of progressive education. His ideas were very unorthodox for his time, but he concealed their really radical nature by overwhelming people with the sheer volume of his writings. His disciple William H. Kilpatrick, who taught at Columbia Teacher College for 28 years, used Dewey's writings as the textbook for education methodology.

In John Dewey & the Decline of American Education, Henry T. Edmondson gives us the essence of the radical ideas that Dewey inflicted on education and even on what is taught in public schools today.

Dewey was a prominent signer of the Humanist Manifesto in 1933, which was a secularist call to arms that emphatically rejected religious faith. He had an unrelenting passion for discrediting and demolishing all that is traditional. He wanted the concept of the public to replace that of the individual. He argued for greater government involvement in society at large.

Dewey espoused the notion that the real goal of education and the primary task of the teacher is to socialize students, not educate them to reach their individual potential. Dewey wasn't really interested in the good of individual students, but rather in promoting a political and social agenda. Dewey put down the importance of reading books, arguing that education must be predominantly a social experience. His disciples could cite him for the outright exclusion of textbooks from the classroom in favor of unpredictable and unaccountable classroom wandering.

Dewey argued that belief in objective truth and authoritative notions of good and evil are harmful to students. He wrote that if a child clings to religion, tradition or any other inherited values, he is not thinking intelligently. He denied that, as an institution, the family has any inherent sanctity. Dewey opposed discipline or correction of schoolchildren, arguing that a teacher's duty is to understand and follow the student's interests in setting the curriculum.

Dewey's legacy can easily be seen in the fad called Values Clarification that swept the public schools in the 1970s and 1980s, and in Outcome-Based Education that was the big fad of the 1990s, and in the many courses in Critical Thinking, which some people call "How to criticize your parents and what they believe in."

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