How We Think (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

How We Think (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

by John Dewey, Gerald L. Gutek

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At a time when we are incessantly bombarded with factoids and infomercials, John Dewey's How We Think advises us to step back from the noisy clutter of the information age. The acquisition of information, no matter how voluminous, by itself, is neither knowledge nor critical thinking. In How We Think, Dewey provides a clear but profound philosophical analysis of how we transform ideas into instruments to solve our personal, social, and political problems.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781411428485
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 09/01/2009
Series: Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 208
File size: 417 KB
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

John Dewey (l859-l952) remains one of America's most influential philosophers and educators. The ninety-three years of Dewey's life spanned a series of momentous events that shaped modern thought. Consistently a liberal, he was an active participant and commentator on the major events that took place during his lifetime, including the progressive movement, the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the war against Fascism and Nazism.


John Dewey's small but powerful book, How We Think, not only examines how we think but compels us to reflect deeply on the meaning of our own thought processes. In its pages, Dewey analyzes the psychology and logic of the intellectual processes by which we construct our knowledge, beliefs, and values. Today, the book continues to serve Dewey's purpose of providing teachers with a method of instruction that emphasizes the use of critical and scientific thinking in our daily lives. Much more than a pedagogical treatise, it advises us to question those who tell us what to think. At a time when we are incessantly bombarded with bits and pieces of information, with factoids and infomercials conveyed to us electronically, Dewey advises us to step back from the noisy clutter of the information age and to reflect on the true conditions of our lives and problems. The acquisition of information, no matter how voluminous, by itself, is neither knowledge nor critical thinking. In How We Think, Dewey provides a clear but profound philosophical analysis of how we transform ideas into instruments to solve our personal, social, and political problems.

\ John Dewey (l859-l952) is one of America's leading and most originative philosophers and educators. The publication of How We Think in 1910 marked an important stage in Dewey's intellectual quest to create a philosophy that integrated human experience and the scientific method into a socially intelligent way to solve problems. Dewey's intellectual odyssey saw him reconstructing his own experiences into Instrumentalism, his rendition of Pragmatism. He would reconstruct his experiences of a New England childhood into a larger vision of a renascent democratic community whose members solved their mutual problems by using shared, experimental, reflective intelligence.

\ Dewey attended Burlington, Vermont's public schools and earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Vermont. In 1882 he began doctoral study in philosophy at America's new premier graduate institution, Johns Hopkins University. Directed by his major professor, George Sylvester Morris, Dewey concentrated on analyzing the philosophy of the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Hegel, whose Idealism dominated late nineteenth-century thought. As his ideas matured, Dewey would abandon Hegel's abstract metaphysics to become a pioneering contributor to the emerging American philosophy of Pragmatism. How We Think resonates with such Pragmatic themes as: (1) philosophy's genuine concern is solving the real problems people face in their experience; (2) "truth" is not discovered by metaphysical speculation but is constructed from the tentative "warranted assertions" we work out to guide us in our constantly changing environment; (3) we verify our ideas by testing them to determine whether their consequences resolve our problems. As he moved to Pragmatism, Dewey was influenced by two of Johns Hopkins' leading professors, G. Stanley Hall and Charles S. Peirce. Hall, a pioneer psychologist, developed the new field of child and adolescent psychology. Peirce's unique philosophical method, "Pragmaticism," emphasized the role of probability in framing hypotheses of action. How We Think, as well as many of Dewey's other books, integrated philosophy and psychology, disciplines he studied at Johns Hopkins.

\ After receiving his doctorate, Dewey began his career as a university professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, where he met and, in 1886, married Harriet Alice Chipman, a student who shared his interests in education. In l894, Dewey accepted an appointment as chairman of the Department of Philosophy, Psychology, and Pedagogy at the University of Chicago. His Chicago decade, from 1894 to 1904, was an exciting and highly formative period in his professional and intellectual life. The three disciplines-philosophy, psychology, and pedagogy-lodged in Dewey's academic department shaped How We Think.

\ The University of Chicago Laboratory School, an experimental school that Dewey established, had a highly formative influence on his evolving philosophy of education. Enrolling children from ages six to sixteen, the Laboratory School was, according to Dewey, a "miniature society" and an "embryonic community." Here, children learned collaboratively by solving problems in their direct experience. Dewey conceived of the Laboratory School as an experimental school in which to test his educational ideas. If validated in actual teaching and learning, he could then disseminate his theories to a larger audience. The design of the Laboratory School's curriculum integrated Dewey's concepts of critical reflective thinking, the scientific method, and the educative role of the social group into a whole. Unlike the conventional school curriculum organized around skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, in addition to academic subjects such as history, mathematics, and chemistry, Dewey structured the School's program around three broad focusing sets of activities: making and doing, history and geography, and science. Making and doing referred to children's activities in their early years of schooling, the primary grades. To maintain continuity in their experience between home and school, children engaged in activities that grew out of their familiar experiences and interests and led them to the larger society's relationships and occupations. Making and doing was followed by history and geography, not taught as conventional school subjects, but designed to expand children's perspectives into time and space. The curriculum's third stage, "science," broadly meant the investigation of the various subject matter disciplines, not in isolation from each other, but for their instrumental use in solving problems. Dewey proceeded to build the philosophical scaffolding of Instrumentalism, his version of Pragmatism. The Laboratory School provided an experimental setting to test his ideas and Instrumentalism provided a larger philosophical framework in which to locate these ideas.

\ How We Think bears the influence of the Laboratory School and Dewey's associates in Chicago. He collaborated with Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House, and with Colonel Francis Parker, a leading progressive educator who was principal of the Cook County Normal School and the Chicago Institute of Education. He also worked closely with Ella Flagg Young, the first woman to be a superintendent of a school district. It was Young who encouraged him to put his ideas into practice at the Laboratory School.

\ The Chicago years marked Dewey's rise to prominence as an educational philosopher. Prior to publishing How We Think, Dewey had written such influential books as The School and Society (1899) and The Child and the Curriculum (1902). In these books, Dewey rejected the dualisms that separated the human being into categories such as mind and body and bifurcated education into theory and practice. He tore down the barriers that separated school from society, curriculum from community, and content from method. He discarded the doctrine of preparation that defines education as preparing for something in the future-the next stage in schooling, a job, or even a specific definition of nationality or citizenship. For Dewey, childhood is a phase of human life in which a child is to live as child and not as a predetermined premature adult. Integrating social life and education in the unifying concept of experience, Dewey redefined the school as a setting in which students, actively engaged in solving problems, added to their ongoing experience. Dewey reformulated the concept of the school from a strictly academic institution into a socially charged miniature community. Children, constructing their own society, begin to build the relationships that connect them to larger community. In How We Think, Dewey continued to develop his educational philosophy as he related his concept of social intelligence to the process of scientific, or reflective, thinking. Dewey used every previous book and article as a foundation for his next book or article. His working and writing style corresponded to his assumption that a conclusion was not final but tentative and subject to further reflection and revision. His books were not finished products but rather means to further ends which he was always ready to reconstruct.

\ Dewey's Laboratory School attracted international attention during its years of operation and continues to intrigue historians, philosophers, and educators. Despite its fame, conflicts over the school's administration developed. Dewey was much more suited to educational experimentation and philosophical writing than to administrative details. His decision to employ his wife as the school's principal rankled the university administration. When William Rainey Harper, the president of the University of Chicago, challenged Dewey's administrative decisions, Dewey decided to leave Chicago. In 1905, he accepted a position in philosophy at Columbia University in New York. Dewey was in his sixth year at Columbia University when How We Think was published.

\ How We Think needs to be read from at least three perspectives: (1) as a work dealing with epistemology, the philosophical area that analyzes knowledge and knowing; (2) as a book dealing with educational processes and methods; (3) as a method of intelligence applied to personal and social issues. Although it can be viewed from these three perspectives, note that Dewey himself saw thinking as an ongoing, unified, and cumulative process.

\ As an analysis in epistemology, Dewey, in How We Think, makes reflective thinking synonymous with the scientific method. He defined reflective thought as the "active, persistent, and careful" examination of beliefs in terms of the evidence that supports them and of the conclusions to which they lead. As a continuum, each element in reflective thought grows out of, is related to, and is connected with the proceeding one. Not passive contemplation, reflection means to be actively engaged in experimentation. As a key element in the process of thinking, reflection means to be willing to defer making a judgment and avoid jumping to a conclusion without sufficient evidence and testing. Suspending judgment means the person is in a state of intellectual unrest until further inquiry takes place and enough evidence is in to construct possible hypotheses upon which to act. Although Dewey recognizes the importance of the sciences as bodies of warranted knowledge, scientific subject matter is not the same as scientific thinking. Scientific thinking is the method that led to the construction of the sciences as bodies of knowledge. The scientific method, broadly conceived, applies to all reflective thought. The scientific attitude does not take beliefs for granted because of custom, tradition, or opinion-but puts them to the test of critical inquiry.

\ For Dewey, generating a complete reflective thought replicated the scientific method in that it proceeded through five related steps: (1) experiencing the uncertainty, the hesitation, caused by encountering a problem that blocked ongoing activity; (2) locating and defining the problem in order to direct inquiry toward its solution; (3) conducting investigation and research into the problem to gather the evidence needed to solve it; (4) mentally constructing hypotheses that suggest actions that might resolve the problem and considering the consequences of taking such actions; and (5) selecting and testing the hypothesis most likely to bring about the desired consequences and solve the problem.

\ As a book on educational processes and methods, How We Think was designed to guide teachers in developing reflective, or scientific, thinking habits and skills in students. Dewey believed that children's intrinsic curiosity, imagination, and activities-their own experimental inquiries-bring them close to having unrefined and underdeveloped scientific attitudes. He warns teachers, however, that children's open-minded and flexible potentialities can be lost by routine and dogmatic instruction.

\ For Dewey, genuine thinking is problem-centered and begins with the child's own experience. Teachers who follow Dewey's method are to encourage children to transform their impulses into reflective thought by standing back from taking immediate action and taking time to reflect on where their actions will take them. Thinking about the consequences of their action, they are to ask themselves, "If I do this, what is likely to happen? What will follow? Is this what I want to happen?"

\ More than a pedagogical treatise, Dewey's How We Think challenged teachers to use education as a process of intelligent problem solving rather than to transmit what claimed to be conventional wisdom. It challenged the view that to be educated meant to study the traditional subjects by way of textbooks, lectures, and recitations. It challenged the dictum that to teach means to tell students what to think by having them memorize from books and then recite what has been memorized. It was a challenge to the then dominant theories of formal discipline and faculty psychology that construed the mind as being composed of faculties, specific powers that could be trained by studying certain "difficult" subjects such as Latin and geometry.

\ Not only a critique of traditional education, How We Think voiced Dewey reservations about some of the excesses and weaknesses in progressive education. He would reiterate and further develop these concerns in Experience and Education in 1938. A genuinely progressive education did not mean that children should simply rely on their instincts and impulses; it did not mean jumping to conclusions. It meant staying with the process and using the method of reflective and critical thinking. Children were educating themselves when they learned to pause, step back, and reflect on the consequences of their actions. It was truly progressive when children learned to formulate plans, to gather evidence pertinent to the problem, and to avoid being diverted into incidental and irrelevant matters.

\ How We Think was relevant to Dewey's fellow Americans, who in the progressive era at the turn of the twentieth century were questioning the Victorian status quo and searching for the strategies needed to free themselves from conventions and dogmatism. For example, factory workers were questioning the oppressive conditions in which they labored and seeking ways to improve their situation. Women, such as Dewey's friend Jane Addams, were questioning the inherited gender-defined rules and roles that circumscribed their lives and searching for the freedom to define themselves. Educators, like Dewey's associate at the Laboratory School, Ella Flagg Young, were questioning such standardized methods as recitation and memorization. Furthermore, they were searching for ways to transform schools into laboratories for critical thinking and personal development. Dewey's How We Think addressed the needs of a society that wanted to know not what to think but how to think. Standing behind How We Think was Dewey's belief that individuals, freed from conformity and dogmatism, could hypothetically conjecture the consequences of projected action and create plans for future life-enhancing activities. The themes raised in How We Think would be reiterated and expanded in Dewey's most systematic work on philosophy of education, Democracy and Education, in 1916.

\ Dewey served as a professor of philosophy at Columbia University for twenty-five years, retiring in l930. How We Think was followed by a steady outpouring of his books: Democracy and Education, Reconstruction in Philosophy, Human Nature and Conduct, Experience and Nature, The Public and its Problems, The Quest for Certainty, Individualism Old and New, Liberalism and Social Action, Freedom and Culture, A Common Faith, and Art as Experience. At Columbia, Dewey was closely associated with such leading progressive professors of education as William Heard Kilpatrick, George S. Counts, and Harold Rugg. He enjoyed an international reputation as a distinguished philosopher and educator. For twenty-two years after his retirement from Columbia University until his death in l952, Dewey continued to be a voice for social and educational reform and renewal.

\ John Dewey's Experimentalism has had a pervasive influence on American society and education. His philosophy contributed to a sense of inquiry that examined institutions and values in terms of their response to the changing circumstances of American life. In education and in schools, Dewey's impact was broad and significant. How We Think, a popular and very readable book, was widely used in teacher education programs, where Dewey's followers continued to emphasize the social significance of collaborative group projects and inquiry-based experimental methods. Dewey had successfully argued that education was so powerful a force that it could not be limited to the school's four walls. As a great cultural instrument, it had the possibility of creating a revitalized American democracy.

\ \ Gerald L. Gutek is a professor emeritus of education at Loyola University, Chicago. The author of twenty books in the history and philosophy of education, his most recent publications are Philosophical and Ideological Voices in Education (2003) and Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Education: A Biographical Introduction (2005).

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How We Think (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I located this book during my search for a better way of educating my grandchildren. I asked my self, 'What does learning mean?' and 'What does teaching mean?' The public school system tries to turn learning into work 'tasks'. Mr. Dewey sets the record straight. Children learn at play. Once the emphasis shifts to products 'grades' learning is pushed aside. Mr. Dewey challenges you to stop thinking. It can't be done. He says you didn't start it and you can not stop it. You can only try to do it better. The first chapters of this book are slow reading. Here Mr. Dewey defines the thinking process. The book is small because every sentence contributes to the whole. The last half of the book reads more easily as he explains judgement and meaning. He clearly defines concrete and abstract thinking. This book contains so much information that reading it once will not be enough. You will understand your spiritual side more clearly. I can't tell you how many biblical references his dialog caused me to recall (e.g. Meaning: Let your, 'Yes' MEAN 'Yes'.) Thinking requires meaning. Mr. Dewey gives new meaning to thinking and vice-versa. I just can't say enough good things about this book. This is what education really means.
Jewsbury on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This worthy book is a reminder of how much times change but some things still stubbornly stay the same. Written over a hundred years ago, the book opens by describing the basic problems facing Western education today: the mushrooming of subjects, the chaos of curricula and the clamour of intransience, prejudice and flippancy. Dewy explains why it is important to think clearly ¿ sadly a rarely exercised skill. Then he argues that effective thinking should be education¿s primary goal. Furthermore he goes on to explain what effective thinking amounts to and how it can be accomplished. This is indeed a classic work from a noble and sensible era. In contrast much of modern philosophy seems to have surrendered its soul to celebrity, dogma and pride. Consequently it is refreshing to read an author who takes the time to explain his terms and to argue his points rationally. For modern audiences, some definitions might benefit from further finessing. Nonetheless his language is clear and moderate, and it is accompanied by many apt analogies. Thus this book was well worth resurrecting as a paperback.
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rachel44 More than 1 year ago
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