John Dewey’s Pedagogic Creed

A portrait of John Dewey

When I saw that the journal article we’d been assigned to read, My Pedagogic Creed by John Dewey, was published in 1897, I knew it would be interesting. Would it be very different than the journal articles of today? Would it be hopelessly out of date, or is it still relevant? It turns out, that aside from the language, it’s still fairly relevant.

His Creed is an essay in which he sets out his beliefs about education and schools, and their roles in the community. The topic of schools as part of a community still hits home over a century after it was written. Late last week, I read an article about how a school district in Texas was dealing with a viral video that showed some high school students laughing while using racist language at a party. The timing of reading these two articles was hard to ignore, since they both say a lot about the state of education and schools.

Way back in 1897, Dewey wrote, “I believe that […] 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.” A few paragraphs later, he wrote, “It is the business of the school to deepen and extend his sense of the values bound up in his home life.” Reading about the situation in Southlake, Texas, this seems either hopelessly idealistic or incredibly naive.

That’s not to say I disagree with everything he wrote. Towards the end of his essay, he wrote, “I believe it is the business of every one interested in education to insist upon the school as the primary and most effective instrument of social progress and reform…” With that, I very much agree. In Southlake, Texas, some students and parent told the school board that students using racist terms was a problem. The school board agreed, then developed and tried to implement a plan for diversity and inclusion training. Other parents had a problem with this plan and went to court to stop it from being implemented. The case is still pending in Texas courts.

This points to a flaw in Dewey’s Creed since he assumes that everyone will have the same idea about the role of the school as an “instrument of social progress and reform.” If people can’t agree on whether social progress and reform are necessary, where does that leave the schools?

John Dewey’s My Pedagogic Creed is a product of it’s time. While it’s not completely irrelevant, we’ve had over a century of social and educational progress since then, so the article should be read with this in mind.


  1. Hi Michael,
    I like that you connect Dewey’s writing back in 1897 with a specific and current educational issue. To Dewey, the ideal school curriculum should be relevant to students’ lives and schools should have the responsibility to train children into good members of a community. Indeed as you mentioned, people have different ideas of the role of schools, and that’s an issue that has been debated for a long time. Dewey’s idea has made significant impacts on modern education but it definitely has raised many concerns as well.

  2. Hi Michael,

    I really enjoyed reading your perspective on the article. I actually found the article to be quite contemporary in terms of promoting active learning and starting from students’ experience first as a jumping-off point for learning. However, you’re absolutely right that the “values of the home life” are not going to be the same for each student. In fact, they might be at odds with the greater mission of the school at times, as in your example (obviously these students are hearing this language at home). I think this article resonated with me because of its progressive bent. As progressive as it is, however, it does seem to advocate for a single , universally agreed-upon notion of the “greater good” that simply doesn’t seem possible in our fractured society.

  3. I really liked the connection you made between Dewey’s points and the issue with the school in Texas, I agree with Katie there can be such a difference in experiences students have at home that they bring to school with them. We can’t expect all learning to happen in one place, whether it’s in school or at home or elsewhere, but the learning in these places work together to frame how students see the world. These different lenses will impact their learning as they move through education, so it can be challenging to have one set of expectations for what students already know and how they will use that information.

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