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Boyd H. Bode (1873–1953)

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A leading spokesperson of Progressive education and a founder of American pragmatism, Boyd H. Bode was born Boyo Hendrik Bode in Ridott, Illinois. Bode was the eldest son in a family of eight children of Dutch parents, Hendrik and Gertrude Weinenga Bode. His father, both a farmer and minister in the Christian Reformed Church, fully expected Bode to follow him into the ministry. To this end, Boyd was allowed to pursue an education. He received an bachelor's degree in 1896 from William Penn College (affiliated with the Quakers) and from the University of Michigan in 1897. He completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at Cornell University in 1900. While away at school Bode decided not to enter the ministry, and wrote to his father: "Your letter gave me the impression that you still have the fear that I–after all–will still lapse into unbelief. Let me again put your mind at ease that here is little danger for that …. It appears to me that morals without religion does not mean much."

During the 1890s American higher education developed in directions that made a career in academics, separate from the ministry, possible. Upon graduating from Cornell, Bode assumed a position at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as an instructor and later assistant professor of philosophy and psychology. In 1909 he took a position at the University of Illinois, where he served as professor of philosophy until 1921. Although he left Wisconsin a firm idealist, among his supporters in Madison were the pragmatists John Dewey and William James, whose positions Bode had challenged in publication. At the time Bode found the pragmatist position inadequate to account for the nature of the mind or of knowing, and a weak foundation for morality.

Despite his professional success at the University of Illinois, Bode became increasingly dissatisfied with the role of idealism in solving pressing human problems. By 1909 he wrote of his work in philosophy to friend and fellow philosopher Max Otto: "A good deal of the work is mere drill and I don't find that I am getting anything out of it any more." Gradually he began to reevaluate idealism; and his views about both Dewey and James' positions changed. The pragmatist challenge to idealism demanded attention, and as Bode struggled to respond he gradually thought himself out of idealism and into pragmatism. He sought a philosophy that made a difference, as he put it, a philosophy "brought to earth." He concluded that Dewey was correct: Human experience was sufficient to explain questions of truth and morality.

At Illinois, partly because of the influence of his Cornell classmate William Chandler Bagley, Bode became increasingly interested in educational issues. In particular, he recognized the profound educational differences that follow differing conceptions of mind, a concern fully explored a few years later in his classic Conflicting Psychologies of Learning (1929). In 1917 he joined Dewey and other pragmatists in coauthoring Creative Intelligence, in which Bode developed a pragmatic conception of consciousness as action. At Illinois he began to teach a graduate seminar on educational theory, and soon he was teaching regularly in the department of education. In 1916 Dewey published Democracy and Education, which offered a definition for philosophy that was consistent with Bode's developing thinking. Bode began to publish on educational issues, including entering the debate over the question of transfer of training. In 1921 Fundamentals of Education was published, and he assumed the position as head of the department of principles and practice of education at The Ohio State University. His departure from the University of Illinois caused quite a stir. Bagley asserted that he was "a remarkable teacher–by far the most effective, I am sure, at the University of Illinois." Students protested that he was being pushed out from the university because he was seen as "Socrates [who] corrupted the young men of Athens" and held a "too liberal attitude in intellectual matters" for the time.

At Ohio State Bode came to be perhaps the most articulate spokesmen for pragmatism in education. Acknowledging his influence, Time magazine declared Bode to be "Progressive education's No. 1 present-day philosopher." Bode was at the center of what came to be known as the "Ohio School of Democracy" in education. In numerous publications he sought to clarify the educational meaning of democracy as a way of life. In articulating his position, which centered on the ideals of faith in the common person's ability to make wise decisions and in the "method of intelligence" as a means of establishing truth (with a small "t"), he took issue with those, including John L. Childs and George Counts, who would impose a social vision on the public schools. His hope was grounded in a profound faith in the process of democratic decision making, the "free play of intelligence" in pursuit of social goods, and in the goodness of people, the "common man," rather than in the foresight of a few to anticipate the future. In Democracy as a Way of Life (1937) he presented his social and educational vision. On another front he challenged the extreme wings of educational progressivism, pointing out that it is not possible to build a school program on needs and interests without a clear social philosophy. He chastised progressive educators who ignored the importance of social philosophy in Progressive Education at the Crossroads (1938). He asserted that needs and interests are assigned, they do not inhere in individuals. Moreover, he forcefully argued that the disciplines of knowledge have a central role in education, and that to ignore their power and place in human progress as some progressives did was to invite educational disaster. Thus, he stood in a middle position between child-centered progressives on one side and those who were committed to reconstructing the society through a predetermined social program on the other. Both sides took issue with him.

In addition, Bode wrote about the dangers inherent in what he called the "cleavage" in American culture, that fundamental tension between the demands of democracy and the tendency to look outside of experience for ideals. America could not have it both ways: Democracy was an evolving experiment that drew its aims and means from human experience–the struggle to learn how to live together in order to maximize human development in its various forms. This issue increasingly demanded his attention in his later years particularly in response to the growing attack on progressivism and public education from the right.

Bode argued his position from the pulpit and through publication. As a speaker he was forceful and funny. One attendee at his session during the 1937 Progressive Education Association conference wrote that "To have heard Dr. Boyd Bode of Ohio poke linguistic rapiers, sheathed in salving humor, into every sacred tradition of society, democracy, and theology, was to have experienced an awakening. Shocking it was at times–challenging every minute–and disturbingly logical."

Bode is not well remembered. When recalled, usually he is dismissed as a disciple of his colleague and friend John Dewey. But Bode was not a disciple. He differed with Dewey on a number of fronts, not the least being his dissatisfaction with Dewey's concept of "growth" as an educational ideal. More properly, he ought to be considered one of the founders of educational American pragmatism. Even today the clarity of his prose and quality of his thinking distinguish him from other philosophers of education; his works remain one of the surest and most pleasant roads to understanding of pragmatism and education.


BODE, BOYD H. 1921. Fundamentals of Education. New York: Macmillan.

BODE, BOYD H. 1927. Modern Educational Theories. New York: Macmillan.

BODE, BOYD H. 1929. Conflicting Psychologies of Learning. Boston: Heath.

BODE, BOYD H. 1937. Democracy as a Way of Life. New York: Macmillan.

BULLOUGH, ROBERT V., JR. 1981. Democracy in Education: Boyd H. Bode. Bayside, NY: General Hall.

CHAMBLISS, JOSEPH J. 1964. Boyd H. Bode's Philosophy of Education. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

CHILDS, JOHN L. 1956. American Pragmatism and Education. New York: Holt.

DEWEY, JOHN. 1916. Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan.


Horace Mann Bond (1904–1972) - Career, Publications and Scholarly Pursuits, Family Life [next] [back] Franklin Bobbitt (1876–1956) - Social Efficiency Movement, Bobbitt's Contribution

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