1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dewey IV

Progress and Democracy

In Chapter 3, Criteria of Experience, Dewey says that "one thing which has recommended the progressive movement is that it is more in accord with the democratic ideal to which our people is commited than do the procedures of the traditional school..."(33). It is interesting how Dewey links "the progressive movement" (in education, presumably) with "democratic ideals." He paints both the "new education" and "traditional schooling" with such broad strokes (perhaps even bordering on caricatures of the latter) that he has failed to demonstrate this thesis. How odd for a man who takes the methods of science for his model in educational philosophy.
#1 Because a school is more "democratic" (whatever that might mean), is it a better school?
#2 What evidence would validate Dewey's thesis?
#3 What evidence would validate it?
Dewey's Mythical Anthropology (or why growth will not suffice for man)

Again and again Dewey highlights how education is all about growth. But a nagging question for me is: Is it possible to have the goal of growth as "the" end in education ["the educative process can be identified with growth" (36)] without a fairly definite idea (or ideal) about what this growth ought to tend toward? I think one must have an ideal, lest growth simply be an end in itself (growth for growth's sake), which leads towards ambiguity, incoherence, and perhaps even nihilism.

All of this growth talk by Dewey makes me think of the various schools of Utilitarianism with their future-oriented calculi: whatever brings the most happiness/pleasure for the majority, well that's the right thing to do. By invoking growth and the way he defines it without a goal for the human subject, one seems to be always stuck in the future (perhaps this makes the term progress apropos indeed).

[At some point it would be interesting to look at Dewey's ideal of growth in light of the biological fact of death. If death is the end for Dewey, then why bother with all this growth? Growth would seem to lead only to nothingness. Maybe later we can look at this.]

Dewey's growth (unlike Aristotle's flourishing, which is linked to excellence), lacks any end beyond more growth. "Growth without end, amen." Such is the prayer of Dewey.

I'm not persuaded. Dewey has the ideal opportunity to address the concerns people have about his definition of growth (really, a lack of definition) and how he would distinguish "good" from "bad" growth: "[A] man who starts out on a career of burglary may grow in that direction, and by practice may grow into a highly expert burglar. Hence it's argued that 'growth' is not enough; we must also specify the direction in which growth takes place, the end towards which it tends" (36). Indeed, we must; however, Dewey never does.

The closest he seems to come to a specification of ends is to say that good growth is the growth that has "opportunities for continuing growth in new directions" (36). Coming back to our burglar, we would seem to have no way of judging whether or not the "school of theft" is educative or mis-educative: if he grows in skill and expertise, this might be enough. Who ultimately is the judge of growth untethered from tradition, ethics and anthropology?

#1 Is it reasonable to accept such a premise (growth and its inherently subjective nature) when it is on its face so incoherent? (If one were to say the goal of eating is more eating - would this persuade anyone?)
#2 How can a thinker who is all about democracy and community base his educative project on such a subjective premise?
#3 If it is possible to build democracy and community on such a principle, is it not necessary for the community (or the majority) to be in charge of creating conditions for appropriate growth or defining what is appropriate? (I'm tending toward thinking this is what Dewey is suggesting at some level.)

Next time: something about Dewey's use of biblical allusions or his definition of the aim(s) of education.

No comments: