John Dewey has been described as the philosopher of American Democracy. Inspired in no small measure by his upbringing in a small town in Vermont, which put democratic principles into practice, Dewey was a lifelong advocate for the value of democratic ideals. Nonetheless, he understood that democratic ideals, in and of themselves do not solve problems; rather, they establish the ground rules or general framework within which the solution to problems may be sought. It is for this reason that Dewey devoted so much of his professional career toward addressing educational questions
After all, if the young did not acquire in school an understanding and appreciation of the procedures involved in applying democratic principles to social life, when would they acquire this understanding and appreciation? In many ways, Dewey simply sought to apply the implications of one of Aristotle’s most important political and educational observations: namely, that citizens need to be educated in accordance with the type of government under which they will live. Without an education that prepared young people with the skills needed for life in a democracy, it is difficult to imagine that a democratic society can endure.
What, we may ask, are the skills needed to sustain democratic principles? Herein lies a major conundrum: it may not be possible to identify those skills, or to discuss them extensively without betraying social, political and philosophical biases. Indeed, even Dewey is widely regarded as a “left-leaning” or “liberal” philosopher by those of a right-leaning, conservative disposition.