During John Dewey's lifetime (1859-1952), one public opinion poll after another revealed that he was esteemed to be one of the ten most important thinkers in American history. His body of thought, conventionally identified by the shorthand word "Pragmatism," has been the distinctive American philosophy of the last fifty years. His work on education is famous worldwide and is still influential today, anticipating as it did the ascendance in contemporary American pedagogy of multiculturalism and independent thinking. His University of Chicago Laboratory School (founded in 1896) thrives still and is a model for schools worldwide, especially in emerging democracies. But how was this lifetime of thought enmeshed in Dewey's emotional experience, in his joys and sorrows as son and brother, husband and father, and in his political activism and spirituality? Acclaimed biographer Jay Martin recaptures the unity of Dewey's life and work, tracing important themes through the philosopher's childhood years, family history, religious experience, and influential friendships.
Based on original sources, notably the vast collection of unpublished papers in the Center for Dewey Studies, this book tells the full story, for the first time, of the life and times of the eminent American philosopher, pragmatist, education reformer, and man of letters. In particular, The Education of John Dewey highlights the importance of the women in Dewey's life, especially his mother, wife, and daughters, but also others, including the reformer Jane Addams and the novelist Anzia Yezierska. A fitting tribute to a master thinker, Martin has rendered a tour de force portrait of a philosopher and social activist in full, seamlessly reintegrating Dewey's thought into both his personal life and the broader historical themes of his time.
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Columbia University Press
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US Kirkus Review »
A life of the philosophical pragmatist and education reformer that, like its subject, is sturdy, thoughtful, and rather drab. "Retiring, mild manner, gentlemanly." So an FBI operative assigned to tail him described John Dewey (1859-1949). Though the brass soon decided that he was no threat to the country's internal security, the FBI had reason to be interested in Dewey; after all, he was a socialist, atheist, and all-around idealist, not to mention a bookworm. How the practical-minded son of a Vermont grocer came to harbor these views occupies much of this account by Martin (Humanities/Claremont McKenna Coll.). Though given to psychobiographical speculations that don't bring much to the table ("influenced by his mother, he yearned to be affected by his father"), Martin does a good job of locating Dewey's work in the intellectual traditions of the time and of explaining his contributions to the development of an authentically American school of philosophy: pragmatism, built on the cold ashes of neo-Hegelianism and other imported notions. Martin also gives an adequate account of Dewey's ideas on education, which similarly scrapped European ideas of great books and the seven arts for an approach befitting what Dewey called "industrial citizenship." (Martin gamely notes that the two universities most closely associated with Dewey, Johns Hopkins and Chicago, repudiated this approach.). A large part of the biography is given over to Dewey's late-life political activism, including the famous mock trial that exonerated Leon Trotsky of the charges Josef Stalin had leveled against him. Nowhere does Martin convey much passion for Dewey's work, though he does make the interesting if metaphorically mixed claim that today various strains of neo-pragmatist thought "are beginning to form and consolidate a body of method that must and will leave a permanent pragmatist deposit in the American mind for decades to come." Solid overall, but less readable than the selective and sometimes unflattering portrait of Dewey given in the pages of Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club (2001). (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Jay Martin
Jay Martin has written and edited twenty-one books, including authoritative biographies of Nathanael West, Henry Miller and Conrad Aiken; the standard history of American literature 1865-1914; a key psychoanalytic work on "fictive personality"; and autobiographical novels about the U.S.S.R. and the time he spent as a Buddhist monk in China. Formerly Leo S. Bing Professor of English at the University of Southern California, he is currently Edward S. Gould Professor of Humanities, former director of the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies of the Modern World, professor of government, and founder of the Questions of Civilization Program at Claremont McKenna College. He lives in Claremont, CA.