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A Companion to John Dewey’s "Democracy and Education"

This year marks the centenary publication of John Dewey’s magnum opus, Democracy and Education. Despite its profound importance as a foundational text in education, it is notoriously difficult and—dare we say it—a little dry. In this charming and often funny companion, noted philosopher of education D. C. Phillips goes chapter by chapter to bring Dewey to a twenty-first-century audience. Drawing on over fifty years of thinking about this book—and on his own experiences as an educator—he lends it renewed clarity and a personal touch that proves its lasting importance.
Phillips bridges several critical pitfalls of Democracy and Education that often prevent contemporary readers from fully understanding it. Where Dewey sorely needs a detailed example to illustrate a point—and the times are many—Phillips steps in, presenting cases from his own classroom experiences. Where Dewey casually refers to the works of people like Hegel, Herbart, and Locke—common knowledge, apparently, in 1916—Phillips fills in the necessary background. And where Dewey gets convoluted or is even flat-out wrong, Phillips does what few other scholars would do: he takes Dewey to task. The result is a lively accompaniment that helps us celebrate and be enriched by some of the most important ideas ever offered in education.


"A Companion to John Dewey’s Democracy and Education was published in 2016, over one hundred years after the publication of Dewey’s Democracy and Education, a highly regarded text in the field of educational foundations. The companion book to this text was not written to replace or summarize Dewey’s text, but rather to serve as a companion in supporting present day readers. The authorD.C. Phillipsthrough his own experiences as an educator and philosopher of education, provides discussions on the content of each chapter of Dewey’s text. He gives examples from his own teaching experience as part of these discussions for the purpose of better understanding the discourse of Dewey’s Democracy and Education, which was primarily tied to the context and common knowledge of that era. These examples help to translate and clarify how Dewey’s principles of equity and justice can apply to schools and society today. Highly recommended."


"Phillips constantly situates [Democracy and Education] within the whole corpus of Dewey's writings, focusing on the development and unfolding of concepts, ideas and lines of reasoning, as well as their interconnections, all of which rendering this Companion a useful support to introduce novice scholars to the richness of Deweyan philosophy as well as to maintain confirmed admirers of Dewey through an acknowledgment of the insights that he offers to an understanding of contemporary challenges."

Educational Review

"Eminently readable and engaging (unlike Dewey, at least for many first-time readers). It is comprehensive, covering all twenty-six chapters of Democracy and Education. It is critical when it senses Dewey’s theses and arguments need more work or are obscure or just plain incomprehensible. And it provides suggestions for further thought. . . . I imagine the book to be the most helpful guide I have yet seen to introduce new readers to Dewey’s text. It is a text that I will refer to in my undergraduate classes on Dewey as supplementary reading for Democracy and Education."

Educational Theory

“By turns deftly supportive, harshly critical, and laugh-out-loud funny, Phillips’s companion to Dewey’s classic text is deeply insightful and instructive. Phillips is the best kind of critic, one who is broadly and sympathetically appreciative of Dewey’s insights but quick to point out unclarities, non sequiturs, and mistakes both large and small. Written in an elegant but conversational style and infused with charming and revealing accounts of his personal experiences as a student, high school science teacher, and professor and Dewey scholar, Phillips has written a book that will guide both newcomers to and veteran readers of Democracy and Education. The companion is also much more fun to read than Dewey’s foundational but too often turgid tome!”

Harvey Siegel, University of Miami

“Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote of one of John Dewey’s books: ‘But although Dewey’s book is incredibly ill written, it seemed to me after several re-readings to have a feeling of intimacy with the inside of the cosmos that I found unequalled. So methought God would have spoken had He been inarticulate but keenly desirous to tell you how it was.’ Methinks that Phillips has managed to make the inarticulate articulate and to tell us ‘how it was’ according to Dewey. A fine companion on the anniversary of the publication of a most important book.”—

Walter Feinberg, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“Phillips has addressed the issues in Dewey’s magnum opus with clarity, humor, and insight—such as I have not witnessed in any other publication. Phillips has relied on Dewey throughout his professional life, and this experience allows him to give, chapter by chapter, crystal clear commentaries that get right to the heart of Dewey’s key messages.”

Richard Pring, University of Oxford

Table of Contents

Introduction: John Dewey and Me
The Companion
Preface, 1915

1          Education as a Necessity of Life
2          Education as a Social Function
3          Education as Direction
4          Education as Growth
5          Preparation, Unfolding, and Formal Discipline
6          Education as Conservative and Progressive
7          The Democratic Conception in Education
8          Aims in Education
9          Natural Development and Social Efficiency as Aims
10        Interest and Discipline
11        Experience and Thinking
12        Thinking in Education
13        The Nature of Method
14        The Nature of Subject Matter
15        Play and Work in the Curriculum
16        The Significance of Geography and History
17        Science in the Course of Study
18        Educational Values
19        Labor and Leisure
20        Intellectual and Practical Studies
21        Physical and Social Studies: Naturalism and Humanism
22        The Individual and the World
23        Vocational Aspects of Education
24        Philosophy of Education
25        Theories of Knowledge
26        Theories of Morals

Bibliographical Essay

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