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The Plural Worlds of Educational Research

  • Ellen Condliffe Lagemann (a1)

I have often argued to students, only in part to be perverse, that one cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes that Edward L. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost. The statement is too simple, of course, but nevertheless more true than untrue and useful for several reasons. First, it suggests that, even if Thorndike and Dewey both spoke and wrote in the “progressive” idiom, the differences of view that separated them were large and significant. Beyond that, it calls attention to differences in the way each man's ideas were received. If Dewey has been revered among some educators and his thought has had influence across a greater range of scholarly domains—philosophy, sociology, politics, and social psychology, among them—Thorndike's thought has been more influential within education. It helped to shape public school practice as well as scholarship about education. Finally, the observation that Thorndike won and Dewey lost has value because it can open new questions about the Deweyan legacy, which, despite the many extant studies (some of which are excellent), remains richly suggestive and worthy of further exploration.

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1 Dewey John, Leibniz's New Essays Concerning the Human Understanding. A Critical Exposition (1888), in John Dewey: The Early Works, 1882–1898, 5 vols. (Carbondale, Ill., 1969), 1: 255.

2 Dewey John, “From Absolutism to Experimentalism,“ in Contemporary American Philosophy: Personal Statements, ed. Adams George P. and Pepperell Montague William (New York, 1930), 2: 22. See also Wirth Arthur G., John Dewey as Educator: His Design for Work in Education, 1894–1904 (New York, 1966), preface.

3 Quoted in Max Eastman, “The Hero as Teacher: The Life Story of Dewey John,” in Heroes I Have Known: Twelve Who Lived Great Lives (New York, 1942), 288.

4 Quoted in Coughlan Neil, Young John Dewey: An Essay in American Intellectual History (Chicago, 1972), 92.

5 Quoted in ibid, 93.

6 Dewey Jane M., “Biography of John Dewey,“ in The Philosophy of John Dewey, ed. Arthur Schilpp Paul (La Salle, Ill., 1939), 21.

7 Quoted in Eastman, Heroes I Have Known, 300.

8 Coughlan , Young John Dewey 96.

9 Quoted in Willinda Hortense Savage, “The Evolution of John Dewey's Philosophy of Experimentalism as Developed at the University of Michigan” (Ed.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1950), 6465.

10 Royce Josiah, “Present Ideals of American University Life,Scribner's Magazine 10 (Sept. 1891): 383.

11 Quoted in Savage, “John Dewey's Philosophy of Experimentalism as Developed at the University of Michigan,” 153.

12 Dykhuizen George, “John Dewey and the University of Michigan,Journal of the History of Ideas 23 (Oct.–Dec. 1962): 522.

13 Herbert Mead George, “The Philosophy of John Dewey,International Journal of Ethics 46 (Oct. 1935): 72.

14 Shorey Paul, “The Spirit of the University of Chicago,“ as quoted in Darnell Rucker, The Chicago Pragmatists (Minneapolis, 1969), 27.

15 Diner Steven J., A City and Its Universities: Public Policy in Chicago, 1892–1919 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1980), 1718.

16 Herbert Palmer George, Gould Schurman Jacob, and Benjamin Andrews E. had all refused offers from Harper, and Harper had been cautioned against making an offer to Charles S. Peirce, before, in search of new names, he accepted Dewey's name from Tufts. See George Dykhuizen, The Life and Mind of John Dewey (Carbondale, Ill., 1973), 77.

17 Memorandum , Tufts James H. to Rainey Harper William, [late 1893 or early 1894], Presidents’ Papers, 1889–1925, Department of Special Collections, Joseph Regenstein Library, University of Chicago (hereafter cited as Presidents’ Papers).

18 Dewey to Harper , 19 Mar. 1894, Presidents’ Papers.

19 Tufts James H., “Autobiographical Notes,“ ch. 3, p. 2, James H. Tufts Papers, Department of Special Collections, Joseph Regenstein Library (hereafter cited as Tufts Papers).

20 Dykhuizen , The Life and Mind of John Dewey ch. 6.

21 Tufts , “Autobiographical Notes,“ ch. 3, p. 2, Tufts Papers.

22 Ibid., pp. 1 and 4.

23 Herbert Mead George, “The Philosophies of Royce, James, and Dewey in Their American Setting,International Journal of Ethics 40 (Jan. 1930): 231; and Dewey John, “George Herbert Mead,” Journal of Philosophy 28 (4 June 1931): 310.

24 Herbert Mead George to Castle Mead Helen, 12 June 1901, George Herbert Mead Papers, Department of Special Collections, Joseph Regenstein Library.

25 Author's Note,” The School and Society (1899) 2d ed. (1900) in John Dewey: The Middle Works, 1899–1924, ed. Ann Boydston Jo, 15 vols. (Carbondale, Ill., 1976), 1: 3.

26 Dewey Jane, “Biography of John Dewey,26.

27 Bulmer Martin, The Chicago School of Sociology: Institutionalization, Diversity, and the Rise of Sociological Research (Chicago, 1984), 35.

28 Small Albion. W., “Some Demands of Sociology upon Pedagogy,American Journal of Sociology 1 (May 1897): 839–51, the quotes are oh pp. 842–43. Compatible views were expressed in Small Albion W. and Vincent George E., An Introduction to the Study of Society (New York, 1894), especially 262–64.

29 A Note on the Texts,” in John Dewey: The Early Works, 5: cxxxiv; and “Pedagogy I B 19. Philosophy of Education. 1898–1899— Winter Quarter,” in ibid., 329.

30 Dewey cited George E. Vincent's The Social Mind and Education (New York, 1897) in his 1898–99 syllabus for Pedagogy I B 19; and one could argue that Vincent's book presented a view of education that was as close to the “Chicago view” at the time as Small's “Some Demands of Sociology upon Pedagogy” or Dewey's “My Pedagogic Creed.” The book is also a testimonial to the close collaboration that existed among scholars at Chicago. There were references to James H. Tufts and Dewey as well as to Francis Parker and his assistant, Jackman W. S., who were not yet members of the Chicago faculty, although they were in touch with people who were.

31 Pauly Philip J., Controlling Life: Jacques Loeb and the Engineering Ideal in Biology (New York, 1987), 68.

32 Dewey Jane, “Biography of John Dewey,30.

33 Charters Letter W.W., 10 Apr. 1965, as quoted in Lectures in the Philosophy of Education: 1899 by John Dewey, ed. Archambault Reginald D. (New York, 1966), xxxiv.

34 This is detailed in Jo Deegan Mary, Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School, 1892–1918 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1988).

35 Merriam's comment was quoted by another admirer of Addams's, Graham Taylor, in his autobiography, Pioneering on Social Frontiers (Chicago, 1930), 303.

36 The similarities between Addams and Dewey are noted and illustrated in Condliffe Lagemann Ellen, ed., Jane Addams on Education Classics in Education, no. 51 (New York, 1985).

37 John Dewey to Mrs. [James H.] Tufts, 8 Dec. n.y., Tufts Papers.

38 Eastman , Heroes I Have Known 299.

39 Ibid.

40 The University Elementary School. History and Character,” University Record 2 (21 May 1897): 75.

41 Not coincidentally, Dewey noted in the Preface to How We Think that “Our schools are troubled with multiplication of studies…. Our teachers find their tasks made heavier in that they have come to deal with pupils individually and not merely in mass…. Some clue of unity, some principle that makes for simplification must be found. This book represents the conviction that the needed steadying and centralizing factor is found in adopting as the end of endeavor that attitude of mind, that habit of thought, which we call scientific,” in John Dewey: The Middle Works, 6: 179.

42 Dewey John, “The University School,“ 31 Oct. 1896, in John Dewey: The Early Works, 5: 436–37.

43 Dewey John, “The Need for a Laboratory School. Statement to President William Rainey Harper, n.d. [1896?]“ in John Dewey: The Early Works, 5: 434.

44 Dewey John, “Pedagogy as a University Discipline [Sept. 1896]“ in John Dewey: The Early Works, 5: 289.

45 Dewey John, “Introduction,Camp Mayhew Katherine and Camp Edwards Ann, The Dewey School: The Laboratory School of the University of Chicago, 1896–1903 (New York, 1936), xv.

46 Dewey John, “Results of Child-Study Applied to Education,“ in John Dewey: The Early Works, 5: 204.

47 The Child and the Curriculum (1902), in John Dewey: The Early Works, 2: 277–78, is also relevant to Dewey's concern for finding through research a balance between child-centeredness and a total lack of adult guidance.

48 Dewey John, “The Primary-Education Fetich [May 1898]“ in John Dewey: The Early Works, 5: 255.

49 Dewey John, “My Pedagogic Creed,School Journal 54 (Jan. 1897), in John Dewey: The Early Works, 5: 93; and The School and Society (1899), in John Dewey: The Middle Works, 1: 18.

50 The School and Society, in John Dewey: The Middle Works, 1: 19–20.

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid., 44.

53 Mayhew and Edwards , The Dewey School 10.

54 Dewey Jane, “Biography of John Dewey,29; and Ann Boydston Jo, “John Dewey and the New Feminism,Teachers College Record 76 (Feb. 1975): 441–48. See also Flagg Young Ella, Some Types of Modern Educational Theory, Chicago Contributions to Education, no. 6 (Chicago, 1909), ch. 5 for Young's interpretation of Dewey's conception of educational inquiry.

55 Dewey to Harper, 6 Dec. 1897, Presidents’ Papers.

56 Dewey John, “The Theory of the Chicago Experiment,“ in Mayhew and Edwards, The Dewey School, 476; and How We Think, in John Dewey: The Middle Works, 6: 179.

57 Eastman , Heroes I Have Known 306307.

58 Rugg Harold, Foundations for American Education (Yonkers-on-Hudson, 1947), 555–56.

59 Dewey John, “The Primary-Education Fetich [May 1898] “ in John Dewey: The Early Works, 5: 269.

60 Judd Charles H., “Studies in Principles of Education,Elementary School Teacher 13 (Nov. 1912): 152.

61 Judd C. H. to Counts George S., 23 June 1930, Charles Hubbard Judd Papers, Department of Special Collections, Joseph Regenstein Library. Hereafter Judd Papers.

62 Counts George S., “A Humble Autobiography,“ in Leaders in American Education. The Seventieth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, part 2 (1971), ed. Havinghurst Robert J., 158–59.

63 Hubbard Judd Charles, Introduction to the Scientific Study of Education (Boston, 1918), iii.

64 Franklin Bobbitt John, “The Supervision of City Schools: Some General Principles of Management Applied to the Problems of City School Systems,“ in Twelfth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, part 1 (1913), 78.

65 For a detailed discussion see Thomas White Woodie, “The Study of Education at the University of Chicago, 1892–1958“ (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1977); also Wechsier Harold, “The Primary Journal of Secondary Education, 1893–1938: Part I of a History of School ReviewAmerican Journal of Education 88 (Nov. 1979): 83106, and “From Practice to Theory: A History of School Review, Part II,” American Journal of Education 88 (Feb. 1980): 216–44.

66 White, “The Study of Education at the University of Chicago,” 160–65.

67 Rugg Harold, That Men May Understand: An American in the Long Armistice (New York, 1941), 306. It is interesting to note in this regard that by 1942 Dewey's legacy had virtually been erased from the University of Chicago's “institutional memory.” According to a symposium held in that year, “the impact of scientific method on educational research began to be felt seriously during the decade from 1905 and 1915.” McConnell T. R., Scates Douglas E., and Freeman Frank N., The Conceptual Structure of Educational Research: A Symposium Held in Connection with the Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration of the University of Chicago (Chicago, 1942), preface.

68 Parker Samuel, General Methods of Teaching in Elementary School (Boston, 1919), 265.

69 White, “The Study of Education at the University of Chicago,” 139.

70 Haskell Thomas L., “Professionalism versus Capitalism: R. H. Tawney, Emile Durkheim, and C. S. Peirce on the Disinterestedness of Professional Communities “ in The Authority of Experts: Studies in History and Theory, ed. Haskell Thomas L. (Bloomington, Ind., 1984), 180225.

71 Willey Malcolm M. to Will[iam F. Ogburn], n.d. [June 1931], Judd Papers.

72 Lynd Robert to Judd C. H., 4 Mar. 1931, and Judd C. H. to Lynd Robert, 6 Mar. 1931, Judd Papers. The basis for Lynd's criticism is explained in Smith Mark C., “Robert Lynd and Consumerism in the 1930's,Journal of the History of Sociology 2 (Fall–Winter 1979–80): 99–119.

73 Coffman L. D. to Judd Charles H., 26 July 1930, Judd Papers.

74 Judd Charles H., Problems of Education in the United States (New York, 1933).

75 Buckingham R. R., “Our First Twenty-Five Years,NEA Proceedings (1941), 347 and 348.

76 The continued dominance of “a positivistic approach” to educational research as well as recent calls “to transcend the limits of positivism” are noted in Evelyn Jacob, “Clarifying Qualitative Research: A Focus on Traditions,” Educational Researcher 17 (Jan.–Feb. 1988): 16.

77 Although neither article deals with Judd, see Church Robert L., “Educational Psychology and Social Reform in the Progressive Era,History of Education Quarterly 11 (Winter 1971): 390405, and Karier Clarence J., “Elite Views on American Education,” in Education and Social Structure in the Twentieth Century, ed. Laqueur Walter and Mosse George L. (New York, 1967), 149–63, for other arguments concerning Thorndike's influence and Dewey's relative lack of influence.

78 Jonçich Geraldine, The Sane Positivist: A Biography of Edward L. Thorndike (Middletown, Conn., 1968), 449–50.

79 Cremin Lawrence A., American Education: The Metropolitan Experience, 1876–1980 (New York, 1988), 189–91.

80 Rucker , The Chicago Pragmatists 132–42; cf. David Lewis J. and Smith Richard L., American Sociology and Pragmatism: Mead, Chicago Sociology, and Symbolic Interactionism (Chicago, 1980).

81 Dollard John, “Yale's Institute of Human Relations: What Was It?Ventures 3 (Winter 1964): 3240.

This essay was delivered as the presidential address at the History of Education Society annual meeting in Toronto, Canada, 4-6 November 1988. It is part of a larger research project on the social history of educational research in the United States between the 1860s and the 1960s that has been generously supported by the Spencer Foundation. The author is grateful to Andrea Walton for assistance with the research on Charles Hubbard Judd and Edward L. Thorndike.

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