Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Se. M. Ed, Ph.D

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India


You see by his what I meant when I called pragmatism a mediator and reconciler……. She has in fact no prejudices whatever, no obstructive dogmas, no rigid canons of what shall count as proof. She is completely genial. She will entertain any hypothesis, she will consider any evidence. It follows that in the religious field she is at a great advantage over both positivistic empiricism, with its anti-theological bias, and over religious rationalism, with its exclusive interest in the remote, the noble, the simple, and the abstract in the way of conception.— William James

Pragmatism in education came into prominence to fulfill an obvious need in the educational thought of America. With education becoming available to all men rather than to a select few, the country was searching for a way of viewing the educational process other than through the framework provided by the older “elitist” philosophies of education.

As an outgrowth of the changes brought about by the Civil War, Pragmatism sees thought as intrinsically connected with action. The value of an idea is measured by the consequences produced when it is translated into action. Pragmatism is based on traditional ways of thinking and finding ways to incorporate new ideas to achieve a desired result. This philosophy keeps people looking for effective methods for completing specific tasks. Because the world is constantly changing, people continue to change things of the past.. This is an American philosophy with roots from the British, Europeans, and ancient Greeks

Meaning of Pragmatism

According to Robert R. Rusk, the Oxford Dictionary first referred to the term ‘pragmatic’ in 1643 and the term ‘pragmatism’ in 1663. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary the term ‘pragmatic’ means dealing with matters according to their practical significance or immediate importance. The term ‘pragmatism’, according to the same source, means “Doctrine that evaluates any assertion solely by its practical consequences and its bearing on human interests. The term pragmatism has been derived from the Greek term pragma which means use.  Thus, pragmatism is an ism according to which uses the criteria of reality.

Historical Retrospect of Pragmatism

One of the most important schools of philosophy of education is pragmatism. It is also as old as idealism, naturalism and realism since it is more an attitude, than a philosophy. In the fifth century B.C. Heraclitus said, “One can not step twice into the same river.” Thus, Reality is a flux, things are ever changing. Modern pragmatists agree with the Greek sophists. According to Protagoras, “Man is the measure of all things.” This maxim is the basis of modern humanism. Another famous sophist Gorgias used to say, “Nothing exists and if thing exists we can never know it.” This agnosticism has led to relativism in pragmatic epistemology.

The Nineteenth Century: Chauncey Wright, Charles Sanders Peirce, and William James.

Chauncey Wright is perhaps the least know of the nineteenth century contributors to the pragmatic movement. William James wrote of him that, ……he was not merely the great mind of a village – if Cambridge will pardon the expression – but either in London or Berlin he would, with equal ease, have taken the place of master which he held with us.

Charles Sanders Peirce, Although considered the founder of the American school of pragmatism, Peirce’s major contribution to the intellectual stream of pragmatism was his criterion of truth or meaning. simply says that a sentence’s meaning is the sum total of all of the sensory experience which might be conceptualized.

William James arrived on the scene at a critical time in America thought. As Americans reacted to the increasing technological and scientific changes in this country they turned philosophically to “science”. As Morton White has pointed out, “He came upon the scene when philosophy was being bullied by a tough and militant scientism, but he only organized alternative seemed to be the absolute idealism of the neo-Hegelians [sic] which he could not stomach. “

2. The Twentieth Century: John Dewey’s Instrumentalism

There are several philosophers that were advocates of pragmatism.;

Francis Bacon had a significant influence on pragmatism. He suggested an inductive approach, which became the basis for the scientific method.

John Locke was a philosopher that believed that the mind at birth is blank. He disagreed with Plato in that a person learns from experiences.

Auguste Comte, who was not a pragmatist, influenced pragmatism to use science when problem solving. His dream was to use science to help reform society.

Charles Darwin, was considered the most important and influential with regards to pragmatism. He was attacked because of his religious theories. He believed that nature operates without an intended end or result. Organisms will live and then die out when changes in nature occur.

Charles Sanders Peirce was an American pragmatist that never received the recognition he deserved. He believed that ideas were nothing until they have been tested in actual experiences.

William James, made pragmatism a wider public view. He believed that an idea must be tried before it can be considered good.

John Dewey. The final philosopher, which is considered to be the greatest asset to pragmatism,  has been described as the greatest as American philosophy, Dewey move from the idealist’s camp to the beginnings of a pragmatic philosophy which he was to characterize with the name of instrumentalism .In later years there were many “disciples” of John Dewey who in trying to elaborate some of his ideas went to extremes that appalled their mentor Dewey was a frequent critic of what came to be known in American educational circles as “progressivism” or the “progressive movement”.


Philosophy was not, for Pragmatism, a game played with intellectual abstractions and theoretical constructs; rather it was part of the ongoing life of individuals and the society. Philosophy was, as far as he was concerned, a part of culture and the way we philosophized, as well as the things abut which we philosophized, was determined in large part by this culture.

Metaphysical position of pragmatism

Naturalism reduces everything to life or matter, Idealism to mind or self.

Pragmatics sees no necessity of limiting herself to one or two fundamental principles of explanation, she is  quite content to admit several principles of explanation and accordingly pluralistic. In brief Pragmatism is a mid way in between the extreme form of naturalism and absolute idealism. That is why many philosophers even do not consider it as a philosophy , they treat it as a process or method or attitude.

There are two major points which must be made about the ontological bases of pragmatism. First, the traditional distinction between mind and matter as two separate and independent substances is rejected by the pragmatists, and second, the pragmatists use, as their ontological base line, the concept of experience.

This is really a sophisticated from of naturalism. The concept of natural law, for example, for the pragmatist is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It is the outgrowth or a long series of observations and is rooted in experience. In short, she widens the field of search for God. Rationalism sticks to logic and the empyrean. Empiricism sticks to the external senses. Pragmatism is willing to take anything, to follow either logic or the senses and to count the humblest and most personal experiences if they have practical consequences. She will take a God who lives in the very dirt of private fact – if that should seem a likely place to find him.

For the pragmatist, most questioning about the nature of the metaphysical universe is simply idle speculation since we have no basis for any doctrine of absolute reality beyond our own observations. If, as pragmatists, we wish to know the nature of reality we should, rather than building ontological sandcastles, immerse ourselves in the thick of life, experiencing as much of it as we can. For the pragmatist, any absolute reality is simply our experiential world.

The pragmatic ontology differ in two major respect form that of the realist. The realist says is a world which we can know because of our experience while the pragmatist says that all we can know is our experience. Second, the pragmatic ontology differs from that of the realist in its insistence that “law” is descriptive rather than prescriptive, that “law” do not place demands upon nature and are not intrinsic to nature but are, rather, devices to explain continuities that man has experienced.

Finally, and most important, the pragmatist does not view reality as an abstract “thing”. Rather, it is a process of transaction which involves both doing and undergoing, the two characteristics of experience. For experience is a two way street: first is the doing and second is the process of deriving meaning from the act and its results. Experience demands both dimensions, for the second cannot exist without the first. And the first has no meaning without the second. Without exploration of the meaning and consequences of activity, man would indeed be on what the late radio comedian Fred Allen referred to as a “treadmill to oblivion.”

Epistemological position of pragmatism

Knowledge and Truth

Pragmatism is basically an epistemological undertaking keynoted by its theory of truth and meaning. This theory state that truth can be known only through its practical consequences and is thus and individual or a social matter rather than an absolute..

Knowledge is rooted in experience, but experience may be immediate or mediated. Immediate experience is simply “undergoing.” Mediated experience is the interaction of man and his mind with his environment. It requires the use of intelligence. It is intelligence which determines direction. As John Dewey pointed out:

It seemed almost axiomatic that for true knowledge we must have recourse to concepts coming from a reason above experience. But the introduction of the experimental method signified precisely that such operations, carried on under conditions of control, are just the ways in which fruitful ideas about nature are obtained and tested.

Truth in the pragmatic epistemology can be viewed as the production of desired consequences through the five-step process described above. But this does not give truth any special existential status, it simply means that in a particular case something is true. Truth may, therefore, exist in varying degrees. Truth is contingent on, or relative to, set or circumstances. Knowing is an open-ended, on going, human activity. As such it is constantly subject to error.

There are three major points of significance to the pragmatic epistemology. First, it is an open-ended, activity, open, to the public and in fact, dependent upon the public test rather than some private metaphysical test. Second, it is subject to error and is continuously being revised in terms of new conditions and new consequences. And, third, it places the ultimate responsibility for truth and knowledge directly upon the shoulders of man. This is a tremendous responsibility and there are many who would rather shirk this responsibility and retreat to the security of a more authoritarian system.

Pragmatism only test of probable truth is what works best in the way of leading us, what fits every part of life best and combine with the collectivity of experience’s demands, nothing being omitted

Axiological position of pragmatism

Pragmatism is essentially a humanistic philosophy, maintaining that man creates his own values in the course of activity that reality is still in the making and awaits its part of completion from the future, that to an unascertainable extent our truths are manmade products.;  Ross, James, S.,

Concept of Good (Ethics)

[Pragmatism's] only test of probable truth is what works best in the way of leading us, what fits every part of life best and combines with the collectivity of experience’s demands, nothing being omitted. : William James

Ethical values are a product of the transactional functioning of man and society. The good is that which resolves indeterminate situations in the best way possible. Thus, the use of the intellect in the solving of problems is considered good by the pragmatists while total avoidance of human problems or unthinking reliance on some “higher” authority would be considered bad. Values emerge from the process of reflective deliberation and the accepted only after reflective deliberation. In each generation must create new values and new solutions to deal with new problems. The values of the crossbow, the pragmatists would say, are no longer necessarily applicable or relevant to the day of the hydrogen bomb.

The question still remains, though, how are we to know what is the best solution to a problem? Dewey finds growth the basis of all ethics. That which contributes to growth is good. That which would stunt, deflect, or retard it is bad. But, since man is not completely independent unto himself, what may appear good in the private sense must also be explored in the public sense. We must ask two questions then about an act or decision. First, what are the individual consequences? And second, what are the public consequences? We must also consider whether these consequences will contribute to or retard, growth.

The major concern, then, of pragmatic ethical theory is the public test, the test that is open to the public and which can be reiterated or verified by others. This is not to suggest that our morality need be determined by others, but as Dewey and Tufts pointed out, there is a distinct relationship.

Morals are personal because they spring from personal insight, judgment, and choice. Such facts as these, however, are wholly consistent with the fact that what men think and believe is affected by common factors, and that the thought and choice of one individual spread to others. They do not militate against the fact that men have to at together, and that their conjoint action is embodied institutions and laws……The material of personal reflection and of choice comes to each of us from the customs, traditions, institutions, policies, and plans of these large collective wholes.

Ultimately, for the pragmatists, morality demands the use of the experimental method. If we do not, the pragmatists argue, have a morality which emerges out of the observance of and reflection on a variety of situations we accept the alternative course which is commitment to a dogmatic morality.

Concept of Beauty (Aesthetics)

The pragmatist’s standards of art and beauty differ from those of the other philosophies we have discussed in that they do not exist in some separate realm. What is beautiful is simply what we find beautiful in our own experience, what has the power to move us and to make us feel deeply. Art is a form in which an artist describes his own personal experience to the viewer. But the description need not be detailed or an exact reproduction of what the artist has seen.

In every work of art, however, these meanings are actually embodied in a material which thereby becomes the medium for their expression. This fact constitutes the peculiarity of all experience that is definitely esthetic. Its imaginative quality dominates, because meanings and values that are wider and deeper than the particular here and now in which they are anchored are realized by way of an object that is physically efficacious in relation to other objects. A more current way of saying this would be, “the medium is the message.”

The test of a work of art is whether or not it can stir the viewer and communicate to him the experience with all (or at least many) of the complex feelings and ramifications the artist is attempting to convey. Thus, the public test of a work of art is whether or not the artist has communicated his experience to us and whether others share the sense of pleasure and esthetic satisfaction we receive from a work of art.

Concept of social structure

For the pragmatist, society is a process in which individuals participate. Society is the source from which people derive all that makes them individual while at the same time society is a product of the complex series of interactions among the individuals whose lives and activities impinge upon each other.

Man derives his values from the society and since these values help determine much of what his life will be, society and its relationship to the individual may be one of the most important concerns for contemporary pragmatists. Society is a basic concept in contemporary pragmatism since all actions must be considered in the light of their social designed to pass along the cultural heritage from one generation to the next, must be concerned with society and with its students as members of society.

Pragmatism sees the school as vitally concerned with and interested in social change since it needs to prepare the adults of the future to deal with the planning necessarily involved in the process called society.

With the move from the rural agrarian social structure which existed before the turn of the century, and with the increase in urbanization, transportation, communication and industrialization, over the last 50 years, the need for social planning has increased at an unbelievable rate. With the growth of new problems such the uses of atomic energy, pollution, conservation of natural resources, other space, drugs, increasing crime rates, education of disadvantaged children, others too numerous to list , the school has become the seed-bed for society. Never before argue the pragmatists, has there been such a need for social concern and social planning. Simply let society run rampant down an unplanned path. To do this is court destruction not just for society. But for the world.

Since the pragmatic position strongly advocates wholehearted involvement in society by all citizens, and because it views group decision in the light of consequence as important, and because it places responsibility on the individual as a member of society, it has been called the philosophy of Democracy.

Concept of Religion

To possess all the world of knowledge and lose one’s own self is as awful a fate in education as in religion.

-John Dewey, The Child and the Curriculum

James entered the arena in which a battle between religion and science was being waged. Or, in more philosophical terms, he entered the conflict between what he aptly characterized as the “tender-minded” and the “tough-minded”. On the side of the “tender-minded” were found the religious, idealistic, optimistic, and rationalistic; while on the side of the “tough-minded” were found the irreligious, materialistic, pessimistic, and empirical.

The sword with which James hoped to slay the dragons of “tough-mindedness” and “tender-mindedness” was the system of pragmatism. For James, pragmatism became more than a method It became his central philosophical principle. As White has so aptly said of James, “He wanted facts but he also wanted a religion.” And it was through pragmatism that he hoped to achieve both. James was brilliant, concise, and perhaps most important, an independent thinking is highly original. He has been described as “original, exciting, and cosmopolitan.

Perhaps the most controversial aspects of James’ philosophy relate to his application of the pragmatic principle to religion. James, said, “The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable.” His potion, simply state, was that ideas were of value to the degree that they were useful and functional and were not in conflict will other truths that could be empirically substantiated. Using this as his intellectual touchstone, James was able to support much of religion, including the hypothesis of God. The last several paragraphs of James’ essay, “What Pragmatism Means,” are the best available statement of the view of pragmatism as the great mediator between empiricism and rationalism; the “tough-minded” and the “tender-minded.”

Pragmatism in Education

What we want and need is education pure and simple, and we shall make surer and faster progress when we devote ourselves to finding out just what education is and what conditions have to be satisfied in order that education may be a reality and not a name or a slogan. Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world...

-John Dewey, Experience and Education

Pragmatism philosophy and its educational implications are inextricably interwoven. As Dewey pointed out, he regarded philosophy as a general theory of education and or this reason placed a great deal of emphasis on epistemological and axiological considerations. . Pragmatism philosophy emphasizes the social function of intelligence- that ideas are instruments of living rather than ends in themselves. Education is seen as basically a social process rooted in problem-solving and the exploration of the meaning of experience. focus of research is to make an impact on the child’s life with regards to their individuality. Throughout the history of this philosophy, Pragmatism conducted experiments that fostered thoughts and ideas. Each experiment reflected individual growth.

Educational Aims of pragmatism

The aim of education The aim of education according to pragmatism is dynamic in nature . According to pragmatists the main focus of education is not social heritage of the past, but the good life in the present and in the future. The standard of social good is constantly changing, so it should be tested and verified through changing experience. Life does not stand still and there is a constant need for improvement.

To have an aim is to act with meaning.-John Dewey, Democracy and Education

Pragmatists believe that the aims are always determined by individual not by any organization or any structure.  Perhaps the best statement of what might be called the pragmatist’s educational aims can be found in the writing of John Dewey. The aim for education is to teach children to be comfortable in their learning environment to an extent that children are living their life. Dewey believed in this type of environment that is not considered a preparation for life, but life. He believed that educators should know the things that motivate and interest children and plan accordingly. Dewey believed that aims should grow out of existing conditions, be tentative, and have an end view.

In Democracy and education, he wrote that education is “that reconstruction or reorganization of experience which adds to the meaning of experience, and which increases ability to direct the course of subsequent experience.” The aim that might be derived from the foregoing definition of education would include the helping of the child to develop in such a way as to contribute to his continued growth.

While Dewey disliked the use of the term aims in its usual sense because it implied an end and Dewey saw on final and permanent end to education, he did set down three characteristics of good educational aims. These were:

1. An educational aim must be founded upon the intrinsic activates and needs (including original instinct and acquired habits) of the given individual to be educated …… it is one thing to use adult accomplishments as a context in which to place and survey the doings of childhood and youth; it is quite another to set them up as a fixed aim without regard to the concrete activates of those educated.

2. An aim must be capable of translation into a method of cooperation with the activities of those undergoing instruction. It must suggest the kind of environment needed to liberated and to organize their capacities…. Until the democratic criterion of the intrinsic significance of every growing experience is recognized, we shall be intellectually confused by the demands for adaptation to external aims.

3. Educators have to be on their guard against ends that are alleged to be general and ultimate. Every activity, however specific is , of course, general in its ramified connection of possible future achievements, the less his present activity is tied down to a small number of alternatives. If one knew enough, one could star almost anywhere and sustain his activities continuously and fruitfully.

Thus, it would seem safe to say that for Dewey and the pragmatists the one “aim” in education is to provide the conditions that make growth possible.

The concept of Student

Children are to be treated as rational creatures.-John Locke

The student is an experiencing organism capable of using intelligence to resolve its problems. He learns as he experiences; as he dose and as he undergoes. As a thinking organism his experiences, and his reflections upon those experiences become a part of him determining his likes, dislikes, and the future direction of his learning. The pragmatist views the student as a whole organism constantly interacting with the environment. The school is both a part of this environment and a special manmade environment designed to provide the best possible educative experience to the learner. For this reason the student is especially involved in interaction with the school.

The whole organism which is the child consists of the biological child, the psychological child, and the social child. The experiencing organism that is the learner brings to school with him all the meanings, values, and experiences that constitute his personality : his self.

The concept of Teacher

Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.

-Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach

The role of the teacher is important in successfully educating children. The

teacher must capture the child’s interest and build on the natural motivation that exists. Teachers need to remember to vary their teaching methods to accommodate each individual learning style. Not all children learn at the same pace or are at the  same point; therefore, the teacher must vary his/her style. Dewey believed that knowledge should be organized and relate to current experiences.

The teacher, for the pragmatist, is a member of the learning group who serves in the capacity of helper, guide, and arranger of experiences. He is as involved in the educative process as are this students.

Thus, the pragmatic teacher does not abdicate responsibility. If anything’s just the opposite is true. The teacher is responsible for wiring with the students and helping them develop their own projects. He advises and directs projects and activates that arise out of the felt needs of the students rather than those of the teacher. He must arrange the conditions by, as Dewey indicates, simplifying, purifying, ordering and balancing the environment is such a way as to provide the experiences that will contribute the most to the growth of this students.

Curriculum Framework

Can anything deserve the name of a good education which does not include literature and science too?  If there were no more to be said than that scientific education teaches us to think, and literary education to express our thoughts, do we not require both?

-John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address at Saint Andrews

It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that the universe is the subject matter for the pragmatist. Any educative experience is the subject matter of the pragmatist’s curriculum’ any experience contributing to growth. The subject mater exists ready to be explored, but the real concern must always be for the interaction of the pupil with the subject matter of his current needs, capacities, and concerns.

Emphasis is on practical  and utilitarian subjects.  Based on the principle of  utility, integration and  child’s natural interests and experience

Pragmatists believe in a broad and diversified curriculum. They endorse a more general education as opposed to narrow specialization. Pragmatic curriculum is composed of both process and content. When we consider what a child learns as fixed and ready made, attention is directed too much upon outcome and too

little upon process. Pragmatists focus some attention on process, because ends should not be divorced from means. So they assert that the means. used to accomplish something dictate what the actual ends and outcomes really are.

Teachers and students have a tendency to view subject matter in different ways. For the teacher it is organized into bodies of knowledge which generally show a progression from the simple to the more complex, but for the student this is not the case. As a child stands before a complex structure, he sees only what is, at the moment, important to him.

The child cannot, in his earlier years in school, distinguish subject matter as teacher so often understand it from his own interests and needs. Thus, the closer the two can be aligned, the more successful will the teaching and learning situation become. In the early yeas, according to many pragmatists, the curriculum should not be hindered by subject matter lines but rather should be divided into units which grow out of the questions and the experiences of the learners. The curriculum is learner- centered. In changes and shifts as the needs of the learners vary.

The traditional arrangement of subject matter are seen as an arbitrary and wasteful system to which all learners have been forced to conform. The pragmatist rejects this system in order to center the subject matter around the problems and needs of the learner.

Pragmatists are of the opinion that the curriculum at the school should reflect the society. They have rejected the traditional approach to subject matter curriculum which is associated with formal schooling, where knowledge is separated from child’s own interests, needs and experiences and fragmented or compartmentalized. They emphasize the needs and interests of the children.

Dewey opines that all learning should be particular and contextual to a given time, place and circumstances. For example, history is traditionally taught to the student without considering its relevance to the everyday experience. So what is the use of studying history? Whatever may be the subject matter it should liberate and enrich personal life by furnishing context, background and outlook

Dewey in his book “Democracy and Education” recommended three levels of curricular organization: (1) making and doing; (2) history and geography; and (3) organized sciences.

At the first curricular level, making and doing, should engage students in activities and projects based on their experiences. In the second level curriculum ,History and Geography, which Dewey regards as two great educational resources, help in enlarging the scope and significance of the child’s temporal and spatial experience from the immediate home and school environments to that of the larger community and the world. Dewey’s third stage of curriculum is that of the organized subjects, the various sciences, consisting of bodies of tested knowledge

Instructional Methodology

To discuss the methods of teaching employed by the pragmatist is to open up a veritable Pandora’s box. The widest variety of techniques have been justified in the mane of pragmatic philosophy, ranging from the almost complete laissez-faire to the relatively structured. Probably the most common method employed by those most in line with the Thinking of the pragmatists is the project method. Classroom discussion in a free and open atmosphere is encouraged, as well as individual problem solving research. All of this may well involve a tremendous amount of reading, studying, and traditional subject matter mastery.

The methods of educating are unique to each individual. This philosophy believes that not all children learn the same way, so it is important to vary educational methods. This philosophy supports large print text, small desk, and things that move easily. The classroom would be a functional atmosphere with the interest of the children at hand. Problem solving, themes, experiments are all parts of the pragmatic philosophy. The curriculum for the pragmatic philosophy supports a connection between knowledge and experience. It is important for children to connect the two so learning can become meaningful. According to Dewey, children must be interested in the subject matter to gain meaning. Subjects that are difficult and cause children to struggle should be organized and designed to build motivation about the topics. Children should enjoy learning and leave with a sense of accomplishment.

The problems around which education is centered must be the real problems of the students, not problems from txst books, or even problems thought up by the teachers which have a neat solution that can be revealed at the end of the exercise. True learning in no way resembles the magician’s trick of pulling rabbits or pigeons out of top hats. Pragmatic method is rooted in the psychological needs of the students rather than in the logical order of the subject matter. Thus, method is nothing more than the helping of the students to use intelligence and the scientific method in the solution of problems that are meaningful to the child.

The process involved in the mediation of experience and which is required to first transform the experience to knowledge an second to aid in the determination of new direction has been variously called the experimental method, the five-step though process, and the scientific method. What it amounts to are the following five steps. First is the vague uneasiness that lets us know we have a problem that has upset our equilibrium.

Second is the refinement of the problem. This is the detailing of the problem, the bringing it into the light to take a look at it and the focusing out of irrelevant and extraneous matters.

Third is the forming of hypotheses or tentative solutions to the problem.

Fourth is the considering of the consequence of various activities, and the mental testing of alternative solutions. This is one of the most important steps since it is here that the fifth step  in the process will be decided upon.

The fifth step is the actual testing our solution under so – called field conditions. This is where the result of our intelligence are applied. In many cases it will not matter if we have made a mistake. It will simply mean “back to the drawing board,” and it is for this reason that many people underrate the importance of the fourth step in this process. But not all applications of a solution leave the alternatives of the fourth step open. It is quite possible that by taking a particular course of action we make it impossible to later return to an alternatives of action. Consider, in an age where nuclear war with all its fearful concomitants is in the hands of a very few, the consequences of raining down hydrogen bombs on a country. Could we ever return to take another alternative route to peace? The though, were it not so frightening, would be ludicrous. It is for this reason that the fourth step in the process places as great a moral burden on man’s shoulders as does the fifth.

In the actual process of teaching there are a number of things that need to be kept in mind. First, we must start where the learner is. As William Heard Kilpatrick has pointed out,

Kilpatrick goes on to suggest that the teacher discuss with the students the interests of the class and the types of things they would like to study. Interest is not enough. It is necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for selecting an area of concern. It should also offer a challenge and significant educational value. It is important that the subject selected by the students be one to which they are committed as wholeheartedly as possible. For if the topic has their commitment, then the value of self direction may be implemented. the teacher will from start to finish encourage in the pupils as high a degree of self-directed responsible acting on thinking as it is possible to get. To feel one’s self acting responsibly and so helping to create what is being done, and to do this in a way to deserve respect from others, is one of the very keenest of satisfactions. Thus, the method is primarily one of guidance

Finally, Kilpatrick gives some practical suggestions which deal with methodology. As the man whose entire academic career at Teachers College, Columbia University, was dedicated to putting into educational practice the theories arrived at by John Dewey, they may be said to represent the best thinking on the subject of education method done by a pragmatist.

The teacher will as well as possible help the learners at each stage of the effort: (i) to initiate the activity (to form or choose the purpose); (ii) to plan how to carry the activity forward, (iii) to execute to plan: (iv) to evaluate progress during the activity and the result at the end. While all this is going forward the teacher will also (v) encourage the learners to think up and note suggestions or new leads for other and further work; (vi) help them to formulate these suggestions both for clarification of thinking and for later recall and possible use (perhaps writing them in a book or on the board for future reference); (vii) help pupils criticize their thinking en route or at the close, as may seen wise; and finally (viii) look back over the whole process to pick up and fix important kinds of learning as well as draw lessons for the future from both successes and failures.

Pragmatism and Discipline

Pragmatism does not believe in external discipline enforced by the superior authority of the teacher. It supplements discipline with greater freedom of activity. They feel that discipline which is based on the principles of child’s activities and need is beneficial. They want that the interest of the child should be aroused, sustained and satisfied

Pragmatism does not believe in the traditional maxim “work while you work and play while you play”. Rather it advocates a discipline that can be maintained through play as work. According to the pragmatists, it is the mental attitude which converts a work into play and play into work

The pragmatists believe that the learner’s freedom is not anarchy or allowing the child to do anything without considering the consequences. Rather they believe in the purposeful co-operative activities carried on in a free and happy environment. c control comes from the cooperative context of shared activity In pragmatism there is no place for rewards and punishments as every activity is to be pursued in a social setting .

Critical appraisal of Pragmatism

The pragmatic philosophy of education has probably been subjected to more criticism, both valid and invalid, than any other education philosophy. This is, in part, because of its liberal orientation. Social, economic, political and educational conservatives have found it a useful target for the pointed finger and the cry of “anathema.” To some extent the criticisms have been justified, but for the most part the pragmatists have simply stood as a convenient scapegoat for the demagogues. Even today, in many parts of the nation, conservative candidates for political office are expected to swear their eternal opposition to “progressive education” and the prime devil of the movement, John Dewey. In None Dare Call It Treason by John Stormer, a book which  became a major campaign document for conservatives during the political wars of 1964, John Dewey is characterized as “Denying God, he held to the Marxist concept that man is without a soul or free will.” His educational experiments in Chicago are dismissed in the following tow sentences. “They were dismal failures.” “Children learned nothing.” As for Dewey’s philosophy orientation toward education, Stormer describes is as follows.

Taken to a logical conclusion. Dewey’s theory would have the child who finds himself in the company of thieves become a thief also. The tendency to justify immoral or unethical conduct by rationalizing that “everybody dose it” is rooted in Dewey’s teaching.

The author goes on to say, Strict acceptance of Dewey’s theories would eliminate teaching world geography unless the child can take a trip around the world. History would be eliminated from the curriculum, because it is past and will not be relived by the student.

While it would be impossible to refute all of the fallacious criticisms to which John Dewey and his philosophical statements have been subjected, it is perhaps worth noting that John Stormer’s book, between February and July of 1964, went through eleven printings with a total of 1,400,000 copies coming off the presses. The author was, as that time, chairman of the Missouri Federation of Yong Republicans and as member of the Republican State Committee of Missouri. Thus, because of the author’s political position, the strategic time of publication, and the subject matter, the book received widespread publicity and was widely read. Unfortunately many Americans received their basic introduction to John Dewey and his philosophy in its pages. How accurate it may be can perhaps be determined through use of the following quote form John Dewey’s most popular book on education, democracy and Education, which sets forth his view on the subject of history and geography.

……..geography and history supply subject matter which gives background and outlook, intellectual perspective, to what might other wise be narrow personal actins or mere forms of technical skill. With every increase of ability to place our own doings in their time and space connections, our doings gain is significant content. We realize that we citizens of no mean city in discovering the scene in space of which we are denizens, and the continuous manifestation of endeavor in time of which hw ear heir and continues. Thus our ordinary daily experiences cease to be things of the moment and gain enduring substance.

Aside from the criticisms of those who seek to make political or social capital from Dewey and his educational theories, there are a number of critics and a variety of criticisms which need to be heard with regard to the pragmatic position in both philosophy and education.

1. Weak Ontology

It has been argued that the whole structure of the pragmatic position is relatively unstable due to its lack of a sound ontological base. The contention that eh pragmatist do not concern themselves with the clarification of their ontological assumptions is valid. Because of their general orientation, the pragmatic movement has emphasized concerns of an epistemological nature.

2. Anti-Intellectualism

Another criticism often leveled at he pragmatic movement is that it is essentially anti-intellectual. While this is perhaps an perhaps an overstatement, it is true that the main area of concern for pragmatists is the marketplace of daily life. Thus, those philosophies oriented toward a rather rationalistic a priori type of though will find the pragmatists empirical and anti-intellectual.

3. Theory of Truth

On of the seemingly weakest points in the pragmatist’s chain of though, and the one that has probably subjected the pragmatists to more valid and invalid criticism than any other theory of truth. If truth is seen as constantly being changed and tested, rather than as a stable body of knowledge, the whole stability of the universe is previous experience, which has been oriented toward finding and cataloging such truths, will go for naught. All other major philosophical systems are concerned with the nature of truth, and historically the vast majority have found a core of stable, unchanging, absolute values on which they could rely. The very fact that pragmatism challenges the existence of this core makes it, for many, a dangerous and radical philosophy.

4. School as Instrument of Social Change

For schoolmen the idea that there are no absolute and unchanging truths offers another dangerous challenge that many feel unable or unwilling to accept. Traditionally the school has been viewed as society’s instrument for the preservation and continuation of our cultural heritage. While the pragmatists would not argue with this, they would carry it a step further. The school and the whole process of education should be an instrument of social change and social improvement. Not only should students be taught  (and even here the pragmatists would probably prefer to say “not only should students be helped to learn….”) factual materials, they should deal with social problems. More conservative schoolmen will argue that this is not the function of the school and that if the school and the classroom become instrument of inquiry and of social change, we are moving away from stability and toward anarchy.

5. Theoretical Rather the Practical

Perhaps the greatest criticism that can be leveled at the pragmatic philosophers in the field of education is that while they have madder great inroads in educational theory, and some inroads in educational practice in the elementary schools, they are, from most educators, a group of thinkers largely ignored beyond the payment of ritual lip-service. This should be especially painful to those who would support a philosophy that measures much in terms of the practical consequences of a course of action. In fact, pragmatism in education is for the most part nothing but a straw man set up by the critics so they may knock it down. While preached loudly in the classroom of institutions of teacher education, it is not practiced in these very same classrooms or very many others around the country.

6. Cult of Personality

Pragmatism has had a wide appeal to the mind of educators despite its general failure to emerge into practice. Because of this, and because of the many years of teaching by such pragmatists as John Dewey, Boyd Bode, William Heard Kilpatrick, and others, a whole cult grew up calling themselves progressive educators. For inspiration they largely turned toward Teachers College, Columbia University; but while turning in the direction of this fount of educational wisdom, they too often took as the gospel of progressive education third, fourth and fifth-hand accounts of what the intellectual leaders of the movement said and meant. This cult of personality and hero worship, coupled wit the failure or inability of many progressive educators to either read or understand the thinking of the educational theorist, too often led to a warmed over form of laissez-fair freedom in the classroom. The progressive education movement was, in fact, guilty of what must have been for the leaders of the pragmatic movement the greatest of all sins, reliance on authority as absolute. Because of this, and because of the burden of clichés the progressive movement has had to bear, it has had little opportunity to try its wings in the arena of public education.

Pragmatism as a philosophy of education has not totally been used correctly.

Many schools have used certain parts of the philosophy, but not many use it consciously. Most people were interested in using the practical parts than focusing on the philosophy. Pragmatism as an educational belief does not have everyone agreeing. Some believe that it is too vague and others believe it is too watered down.

After analyzing pragmatism, we feel that this philosophy best describes our teaching style. This philosophy was easier to understand and make connections. Pragmatism reminds teachers to individualize their instruction to meet the needs of each learner. One must remember to keep old traditions, but incorporate new idea.


  1. 1. Adams, “The Educational Theory” Macmillan &Co.
  2. Broudy, Harry S., Building a Philosophy of Education. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1961.
  3. Butler, J.Donald, Four Philosophies and Their Practice in Education and Religion. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957.
  4. Cunningham, J.K., “Problems of Philosophy, p-05.
  5. Frank Thilly, “A History of philosophy”, Central Publishing House, Allahabad.
  6. John Dewey, “Reconstruction in Philosophy,” p-38. London, University of London Press Ltd. 1921.
  7. John Locke, “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding 1960, Introduction.
  8. Piece, “Chance, love and Logic (M.R. Cohen, Editor). Harcourt, Brace and Co.
  9. Rusk, R.R., “Philosophical Basis of Education” p-68, footnote, London, University of London Press, 1956..
  10. The Concise Oxford Dictionary, Sixth Edition, III. Impression, 1976, p-868.



Dr. Suraksha Bansal  Ph.D  and Dr.Saroj Agarwal   Ph.D for being scribe in this article.

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