John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, 1897
ARTICLE I--What Education Is
I believe that all education proceeds by the
participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race.
This process begins unconsciously almost at birth, and is continually
shaping the individual's powers, saturating his consciousness, forming his
habits, training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions.
Through this unconscious education the individual gradually comes to share
in the intellectual and moral resources which humanity has succeeded in
getting together. He becomes an inheritor of the funded capital of
civilization. The most formal and technical education in the world cannot
safely depart from this general process. It can only organize it or
differentiate it in some particular direction.
I believe that the only true education comes through
the stimulation of the child's powers by the demands of the social
situations in which he finds himself. Through these demands he is
stimulated to act as a member of a unity, to emerge from his original
narrowness of action and feeling, and to conceive of himself from the
standpoint of the welfare of the group to which he belongs. Through the
responses which others make to his own activities he comes to know what
these mean in social terms. The value which they have is reflected back
into them. For instance, through the response which is made to the child's
instinctive babblings the child comes to know what those babblings mean;
they are transformed into articulate language and thus the child is
introduced into the consolidated wealth of ideas and emotions which are
now summed up in language.
I believe that this educational process has two
sides-one psychological and one sociological; and that neither can be
subordinated to the other or neglected without evil results following. Of
these two sides, the psychological is the basis. The child's own instincts
and powers furnish the material and give the starting point for all
education. Save as the efforts of the educator connect with some activity
which the child is carrying on of his own initiative independent of the
educator, education becomes reduced to a pressure from without. It may,
indeed, give certain external results, but cannot truly be called
educative. Without insight into the psychological structure and activities
of the individual, the educative process will, therefore, be haphazard and
arbitrary. If it chances to coincide with the child's activity it will get
a leverage; if it does not, it will result in friction, or disintegration,
or arrest of the child nature.
I believe that knowledge of social conditions, of the
present state of civilization, is necessary in order properly to interpret
the child's powers. The child has his own instincts and tendencies, but we
do not know what these mean until we can translate them into their social
equivalents. We must be able to carry them back into a social past and see
them as the inheritance of previous race activities. We must also be able
to project them into the future to see what their outcome and end will be.
In the illustration just used, it is the ability to see in the child's
babblings the promise and potency of a future social intercourse and
conversation which enables one to deal in the proper way with that
I believe that the psychological and social sides are
organically related and that education cannot be regarded as a compromise
between the two, or a superimposition of one upon the other. We are told
that the psychological definition of education is barren and formal--that
it gives us only the idea of a development of all the mental powers
without giving us any idea of the use to which these powers are put. On
the other hand, it is urged that the social definition of education, as
getting adjusted to civilization, makes of it a forced and external
process, and results in subordinating the freedom of the individual to a
preconceived social and political status.
I believe that each of these objections is true when
urged against one side isolated from the other. In order to know what a
power really is we must know what its end, use, or function is; and this
we cannot know save as we conceive of the individual as active in social
relationships. But, on the other hand, the only possible adjustment which
we can give to the child under existing conditions, is that which arises
through putting him in complete possession of all his powers. With the
advent of democracy and modern industrial conditions, it is impossible to
foretell definitely just what civilization will be twenty years from now.
Hence it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of
conditions. To prepare him for the future life means to give him command
of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready
use of all his capacities; that his eye and ear and hand may be tools
ready to command, that his judgment may be capable of grasping the
conditions under which it has to work, and the executive forces be trained
to act economically and efficiently. It is impossible to reach this sort
of adjustment save as constant regard is had to the individual's own
powers, tastes, and interests-say, that is, as education is continually
converted into psychological terms.
In sum, I believe that the individual who is to be
educated is a social individual and that society is an organic union of
individuals. If we eliminate the social factor from the child we are left
only with an abstraction; if we eliminate the individual factor from
society, we are left only with an inert and lifeless mass. Education,
therefore, must begin with a psychological insight into the child's
capacities, interests, and habits. It must be controlled at every point by
reference to these same considerations. These powers, interests, and
habits must be continually interpreted--we must know what they mean. They
must be translated into terms of their social equivalents--into terms of
what they are capable of in the way of social service.
ARTICLE II - What the School Is
I believe that the school is primarily a social
institution. Education being a social process, the school is simply that
form of community life in which all those agencies are concentrated that
will be most effective in bringing the child to share in the inherited
resources of the race, and to use his own powers for social ends.
I believe that education, therefore, is a process of
living and not a preparation for future living.
I believe that the school must represent present
life-life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in
the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground.
I believe that education which does not occur through
forms of life, or that are worth living for their own sake, is always a
poor substitute for the genuine reality and tends to cramp and to deaden.
I believe that the school, as an institution, should
simplify existing social life; should reduce it, as it were, to an
embryonic form. Existing life is so complex that the child cannot be
brought into contact with it without either confusion or distraction; he
is either overwhelmed by the multiplicity of activities which are going
on, so that he loses his own power of orderly reaction, or he is so
stimulated by these various activities that his powers are prematurely
called into play and he becomes either unduly specialized or else
I believe that as such simplified social life, the
school life should grow gradually out of the home life; that it should
take up and continue the activities with which the child is already
familiar in the home.
I believe that it should exhibit these activities to
the child, and reproduce them in such ways that the child will gradually
learn the meaning of them, and be capable of playing his own part in
relation to them.
I believe that this is a psychological necessity,
because it is the only way of securing continuity in the child's growth,
the only way of giving a back-ground of past experience to the new ideas
given in school.
I believe that it is also a social necessity because
the home is the form of social life in which the child has been nurtured
and in connection with which he has had his moral training. It is the
business of the school to deepen and extend his sense of the values bound
up in his home life.
I believe that much of present education fails
because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of
community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain
information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be ]earned, or
where certain habits are to be formed. The value of these is conceived as
lying largely in the remote future; the child must do these things for the
sake of something else he is to do; they are mere preparation. As a result
they do not become a part of the life experience of the child and so are
not truly educative.
I believe that the moral education centers upon this
conception of the school as a mode of social life, that the best and
deepest moral training is precisely that which one gets through having to
enter into proper relations with others in a unity of work and thought.
The present educational systems, so far as they destroy or neglect this
unity, render it difficult or impossible to get any genuine, regular moral
I believe that the child should be stimulated and
controlled in his work through the life of the community.
I believe that under existing conditions far too much
of the stimulus and control proceeds from the teacher, because of neglect
of the idea of the school as a form of social life.
I believe that the teacher's place and work in the
school is to be interpreted from this same basis. The teacher is not in
the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child,
but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which
shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these
I believe that the discipline of the school should
proceed from the life of the school as a whole and not directly from the
I believe that the teacher's business is simply to
determine on the basis of larger experience and riper wisdom, how the
discipline of life shall come to the child.
I believe that all questions of the grading of the
child and his promotion should be determined by reference to the same
standard. Examinations are of use only so far as they test the child's
fitness for social life and reveal the place in which he can be of the
most service and where he can receive the most help.
ARTICLE III -- The Subject-Matter of Education
I believe that the social life of the child is the
basis of concentration, or correlation, in all his training or growth. The
social life gives the unconscious unity and the background of all his
efforts and of all his attainments.
I believe that the subject-matter of the school
curriculum should mark a gradual differentiation out of the primitive
unconscious unity of social life.
I believe that we violate the child's nature and
render difficult the best ethical results, by introducing the child too
abruptly to a number of special studies, of reading, writing, geography,
etc., out of relation to this social life.
I believe, therefore, that the true center of
correlation on the school subjects is not science, nor literature, nor
history, nor geography, but the child's own social activities.
I believe that education cannot be unified in the
study of science, or so called nature study, because apart from human
activity, nature itself is not a unity; nature in itself is a number of
diverse objects in space and time, and to attempt to make it the center of
work by itself, is to introduce a principle of radiation rather than one
I believe that literature is the reflex expression
and interpretation of social experience; that hence it must follow upon
and not precede such experience. It, therefore, cannot be made the basis,
although it may be made the summary of unification.
I believe once more that history is of educative
value in so far as it presents phases of social life and growth. It must
be controlled by reference to social life. When taken simply as history it
is thrown into the distant past and becomes dead and inert. Taken as the
record of man's social life and progress it becomes full of meaning. I
believe, however, that it cannot be so taken excepting as the child is
also introduced directly into social life.
I believe accordingly that the primary basis of
education is in the child's powers at work along the same general
constructive lines as those which have brought civilization into being.
I believe that the only way to make the child
conscious of his social heritage is to enable him to perform those
fundamental types of activity which make civilization what it is.
I believe, therefore, in the so-called expressive or
constructive activities as the center of correlation.
I believe that this gives the standard for the place
of cooking, sewing, manual training, etc., in the school.
I believe that they are not special studies which are
to be introduced over and above a lot of others in the way of relaxation
or relief, or as additional accomplishments. I believe rather that they
represent, as types, fundamental forms of social activity; and that it is
possible and desirable that the child's introduction into the more formal
subjects of the curriculum be through the medium of these activities.
I believe that the study of science is educational in
so far as it brings out the materials and processes which make social life
what it is.
I believe that one of the greatest difficulties in
the present teaching of science is that the material is presented in
purely objective form, or is treated as a new peculiar kind of experience
which the child can add to that which he has already had. In reality,
science is of value because it gives the ability to interpret and control
the experience already had. It should be introduced, not as so much new
subject-matter, but as showing the factors already involved in previous
experience and as furnishing tools by which that experience can be more
easily and effectively regulated.
I believe that at present we lose much of the value
of literature and language studies because of our elimination of the
social element. Language is almost always treated in the books of pedagogy
simply as the expression of thought. It is true that language is a logical
instrument, but it is fundamentally and primarily a social instrument.
Language is the device for communication; it is the tool through which one
individual comes to share the ideas and feelings of others. When treated
simply as a way of getting individual information, or as a means of
showing off what one has learned, it loses its social motive and end.
I believe that there is, therefore, no succession of
studies in the ideal school curriculum. If education is life, all life
has, from the outset, a scientific aspect, an aspect of art and culture,
and an aspect of communication. It cannot, therefore, be true that the
proper studies for one grade are mere reading and writing, and that at a
later grade, reading, or literature, or science, may be introduced. The
progress is not in the succession of studies but in the development of new
attitudes towards, and new interests in, experience.
I believe finally, that education must be conceived
as a continuing reconstruction of experience; that the process and the
goal of education are one and the same thing.
I believe that to set up any end outside of
education, as furnishing its goal and standard, is to deprive the
educational process of much of its meaning and tends to make us rely upon
false and external stimuli in dealing with the child.
ARTICLE IV - The Nature of Method
I believe that the question of method is ultimately
reducible to the question of the order of development of the child's
powers and interests. The law for presenting and treating material is the
law implicit within the child's own nature. Because this is so I believe
the following statements are of supreme importance as determining the
spirit in which education is carried on:
1. I believe that the active side precedes the
passive in the development of the child nature; that expression comes
before conscious impression; that the muscular development precedes the
sensory; that movements come before conscious sensations; I believe that
consciousness is essentially motor or impulsive; that conscious states
tend to project themselves in action.
I believe that the neglect of this principle is the
cause of a large part of the waste of time and strength in school work.
The child is thrown into a passive, receptive, or absorbing attitude. The
conditions are such that he is not permitted to follow the law of his
nature; the result is friction and waste.
I believe that ideas (intellectual and rational
processes) also result from action and devolve for the sake of the better
control of action. What we term reason is primarily the law of orderly or
effective action. To attempt to develop the reasoning powers, the powers
of judgment, without reference to the selection and arrangement of means
in action, is the fundamental fallacy in our present methods of dealing
with this matter. As a result we present the child with arbitrary symbols.
Symbols are a necessity in mental development, but they have their place
as tools for economizing effort; presented by themselves they are a mass
of meaningless and arbitrary ideas imposed from without.
2. I believe that the image is the great instrument
of instruction. What a child gets out of any subject presented to him is
simply the images which he himself forms with regard to it.
I believe that if nine tenths of the energy at
present directed towards making the child learn certain things, were spent
in seeing to it that the child was forming proper images, the work of
instruction would be indefinitely facilitated.
I believe that much of the time and attention now
given to the preparation and presentation of lessons might be more wisely
and profitably expended in training the child's power of imagery and in
seeing to it that he was continually forming definite, vivid, and growing
images of the various subjects with which he comes in contact in his
3. I believe that interests are the signs and
symptoms of growing power. I believe that they represent dawning
capacities. Accordingly the constant and careful observation of interests
is of the utmost importance for the educator.
I believe that these interests are to be observed as
showing the state of development which the child has reached.
I believe that they prophesy the stage upon which he
is about to enter.
I believe that only through the continual and
sympathetic observation of childhood's interests can the adult enter into
the child's life and see what it is ready for, and upon what material it
could work most readily and fruitfully.
I believe that these interests are neither to be
humored nor repressed. To repress interest is to substitute the adult for
the child, and so to weaken intellectual curiosity and alertness, to
suppress initiative, and to deaden interest. To humor the interests is to
substitute the transient for the permanent. The interest is always the
sign of some power below; the important thing is to discover this power.
To humor the interest is to fail to penetrate below the surface and its
sure result is to substitute caprice and whim for genuine interest.
4. I believe that the emotions are the reflex of
I believe that to endeavor to stimulate or arouse the
emotions apart from their corresponding activities, is to introduce an
unhealthy and morbid state of mind.
I believe that if we can only secure right habits of
action and thought, with reference to the good, the true, and the
beautiful, the emotions will for the most part take care of themselves.
I believe that next to deadness and dullness,
formalism and routine, our education is threatened with no greater evil
I believe that this sentimentalism is the necessary
result of the attempt to divorce feeling from action.
ARTICLE V - The School and Social
I believe that education is the fundamental method of
social progress and reform.
I believe that all reforms which rest simply upon the
enactment of law, or the threatening of certain penalties, or upon changes
in mechanical or outward arrangements, are transitory and futile.
I believe that education is a regulation of the
process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the
adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social
consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction.
I believe that this conception has due regard for
both the individualistic and socialistic ideals. It is duly individual
because it recognizes the formation of a certain character as the only
genuine basis of right living. It is socialistic because it recognizes
that this right character is not to be formed by merely individual
precept, example, or exhortation, but rather by the influence of a certain
form of institutional or community life upon the individual, and that the
social organism through the school, as its organ, may determine ethical
I believe that in the ideal school we have the
reconciliation of the individualistic and the institutional ideals.
I believe that the community's duty to education is,
therefore, its paramount moral duty. By law and punishment, by social
agitation and discussion, society can regulate and form itself in a more
or less haphazard and chance way. But through education society can
formulate its own purposes, can organize its own means and resources, and
thus shape itself with definiteness and economy in the direction in which
it wishes to move.
I believe that when society once recognizes the
possibilities in this direction, and the obligations which these
possibilities impose, it is impossible to conceive of the resources of
time, attention, and money which will be put at the disposal of the
I believe that it is the business of every one
interested in education to insist upon the school as the primary and most
effective interest of social progress and reform in order that society may
be awakened to realize what the school stands for, and aroused to the
necessity of endowing the educator with sufficient equipment properly to
perform his task.
I believe that education thus conceived marks the
most perfect and intimate union of science and art conceivable in human
I believe that the art of thus giving shape to human
powers and adapting them to social service, is the supreme art; one
calling into its service the best of artists; that no insight, sympathy,
tact, executive power, is too great for such service.
I believe that with the growth of psychological
service, giving added insight into individual structure and laws of
growth; and with growth of social science, adding to our knowledge of the
right organization of individuals, all scientific resources can be
utilized for the purposes of education.
I believe that when science and art thus join hands
the most commanding motive for human action will be reached; the most
genuine springs of human conduct aroused and the best service that human
nature is capable of guaranteed.
I believe, finally, that the teacher is engaged, not
simply in the training of individuals, but in the formation of the proper
I believe that every teacher should realize the
dignity of his calling; that he is a social servant set apart for the
maintenance of proper social order and the securing of the right social
I believe that in this way the teacher always is the
prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of God.