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Axtelle, George E. (George Edward), (1893-1974) | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center

Name: Axtelle, George E. (George Edward), (1893-1974)

Historical Note:

George E. Axtelle, born in Texas on November 28, 1893, was an educational philosopher and founder of the Center for Dewey Studies at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC).  He earned degrees from the University of Washington (B.S., 1923), the University of Hawaii (M.A., 1928), and the University of California (Ed. D., 1935).  From 1920 to 1924 he taught and was an administrator in a number of schools in Hawaii.  Axtelle then moved to Orlando, California, where he was principal of a junior high school for five years.  During World War II, Axtelle worked for the U.S. War Productions Board, and from 1945 to 1946 he was employed by the U.S. Office of Price Administration.

Because of Axtelle’s interest and experience in the field of education he became a professor at Northwestern University (1935-1942) and later at New York University (1946-1959) where he chaired the departments of History and Philosophy of Education.  He wrote numerous articles on educational philosophy for professional journals, and co-authored a book with Benne Raust, The Improvement of Practical Intelligence (1950).  He was also the founder and first editor of The Collected Works of John Dewey.  Axtelle served as president of the Mid-Atlantic States Philosophy of Education Society (1957-1959), was elected vice-chairman of the American Humanist Society (1959, 1961) and the New York Committee to Abolish Capital Punishment as well as chairman of the New York Liberal Party.

During his last years at NYU, Axtelle, along with Joseph Ratner and William Gruen, collaborated on an idea to develop an analytic concordance of the major philosophical terms in John Dewey’s writing.  It became clear, however, that without definitive editions of Dewey’s works, a concordance was not possible.  In 1959, Axtelle came to SIUC as a professor of education in the Department of Administration and Supervision, and as a part time professor in SIU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  A year later, he received a grant for a special research project, “The Complete Works of John Dewey,” for the purpose of editing and publishing Dewey’s complete writings, both published and unpublished.  In 1962, Axtelle became president of the executive committee of the John Dewey Society.  By 1971, the Dewey research project evolved into the Center for Dewey Studies, which is considered to be a major contributor to the history of American Philosophy.  The editions which resulted were unique in that they were the first collected editions of the writings of an American philosopher, and are still acclaimed for their scholarly textual edition.

From 1970 to 1971 Axtelle was affiliated with the United States International University, Elliot Campus, San Diego, California.  He died on August 1, 1974, in Orange, California.

Axtelle was both a humanist and a pragmatist.  He believed that education was a society’s most important social function, and worked toward a theory and practice of education, and of political and social democracy, which maintained shared humanistic ends with pragmatic problem solving.

Sources: Axtelle, George E. (1966). "The Humanizing of Knowledge and the Education of Values" Educational Theory 16 (2), 101-109.

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