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As the title suggests, this is a companion to John Dewey’s great Democracy and Education, which was first published in 1916, written by esteemed philosopher of education D.C. Phillips. Phillips opens this charming and sometimes funny book with his teacher training in 1958 and how baffled he was at the time by Dewey’s notoriously opaque though foundational work. As he returned to Dewey over the years, however, some of the originally murky passages began to move into focus. I realized they were expressing important and extremely interesting, though often debatable, philosophical insights about matters such as how humans gain reliable knowledge, about mind in its relation to the body, about the relation between the individual and his or her community, about how moral progress can occur.” Nearly fifty years later, Phillips’s copies of Democracy and Education were filled with marginal notes, and he realized they constituted the skeleton for a companion to Democracy and Education like the one he had desired so many years earlier. This companion contains discussions of every chapter of D and E. It is not meant as a summary or replacement of the book, but designed to make the journey of discovery into D and E even more exciting and a thousand times clearer than it would be if undertaken alone.
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.