The University Record, July 30, 1997

The Historical Record



John Dewey, the famous philosopher and educator, began his professional career at the University of Michigan under the mentorship of George S. Morris. Among his many achievements, Dewey was responsible for the beginnings of a new school of psychology, and he wrote more than 40 books and 700 articles. Photographs courtesy Bentley Historical Library

By Patricia Whitesell

Did you know that John Dewey, the famous philosopher and educator, began his professional career at the University of Michigan?

In all, Dewey spent nine years at Michigan beginning in 1884 as an instructor in philosophy, having been recruited by George S. Morris, his mentor from his graduate student days at Johns Hopkins University. Morris held professorships at both Michigan and Johns Hopkins, teaching at each for a part of every year.

While Morris contributed to the shaping of many young scholars, Dewey was one of Morris' most brilliant pupils. The team of Morris and Dewey at Michigan was powerful in building a strong department based on the social liberalism of Hegelian philosophy. Just as powerful was the bond between the two men, which kept Morris from accepting a chairmanship at Cornell in 1885, and prompted Dewey to name his son Morris as a tribute to the special mentoring relationship.

In 1886 , Dewey published two articles in the journal Mind that attracted the attention of the philosophical world. He quickly became regarded as one of the most original and independent thinkers in America. A year later, he published his famous Psychology. His interest in primary and secondary education began during this time as a result of a change in the University's academic entrance requirements, admitting only students from state-certified secondary schools. It is said that Dewey used his own children for experiments in educational learning theory.

Dewey left Michigan for a year in 1888-89 to assume the chair of mental and moral philosophy at the University of Minnesota. He was reluctant to leave Michigan and his mentor, Morris, but the need to establish scholarly independence successfully lured him away.

Upon Morris' untimely death in 1889, Dewey was called back to Michigan to assume Morris' duties as department chair. He held this position until 1895 when he was recruited to head the Philosophy Department at the then four-year-old University of Chicago. He remained there for 10 years, and finished his impressive career at Columbia University.

Dewey's fame surpassed that of his mentor. Yet, the relationship between Dewey and Morris was instrumental in laying the foundation for Dewey's outstanding achievements. The mentoring relationship is a precious commodity, the value of which we must recognize and encourage.