John Dewey's New Humanism and Liberal Education for the 21st Century

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Vol: 19, Issue: 2

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Stallman, Janean
article description
This paper contains excerpts from an unpublished commencement speech given by John Dewey at Illinois College in June of 1917. Buried within the reels of microfilm in the archives of the local public library, two moving paragraphs—all that may exist of the speech—have slept silently for 85 years. Like a time capsule waiting to be opened, Dewey's message to the graduates of 1917 seems to have anticipated the ethical problems and concerns of the modern age. In the spring of 1917, Dewey was speaking to a group of young adults facing a world torn by the horrors of WWI. Today, we can read his address as a prophetic warning to a world stricken by terrorism, where suicide bombers, bio-warfare, chemical pollution, and the possibility of human clones threaten to destroy life as we know it. It is the aim of this paper to bring Dewey's message into the light of the 21st century and to show its relevance and value for modern educational thought. Dewey admonishes the younger generation that the great aim in life is not only to improve the mind, but also to use knowledge for the welfare of others. He calls for a "New Humanism," where scientific knowledge is used for the 'uplift' of mankind, not for the destructive forces of war. He draws philosophically on Francis Bacon's New Atlantis, which pictures a Utopian world in which men of science deal not in jewels or gold, but in 'light,' and all research is done for the betterment of mankind. Dewey forecasts a time when self-knowledge will guide humanity to the moral use of nature, and progress will mean peace for the world.