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

Friday, November 25, 2011


Such was the term used by friends of old of the protestant/fundamentalist variety years ago to express the voice of their conscience. "The Lord convicted me" or "I'm convicted about 'x'." Very recently I was convicted (or made aware, which is more precise) that I've spent a lot of virtual ink defining what I don't believe with respect to schooling, pedagogy, education funding, etc.; however, what has been lacking are positive proposals.

This awareness was sparked by re-reading Henry Edmondson's John Dewey and the Decline of American education: how the patron saint of schools has corrupted teaching and learning. In it, Edmondson criticizes both John Dewey's strawman approach to his opponents and his inability to clearly articulate his own point of view.

The "opposition-as-idiots" (also known as the fallacy of the straw man) is found especially in "Traditional vs. Progressive Education" in Experience and Education. Dewey opens by noting that people tend to think in extremes and then goes on to speak of "traditional" education as extremely wrong without giving a hint that it may have positive values. No, what is traditional fosters only "docility, receptivity, and obedience" (p. 18).

Dewey speaks of the need to "compromise" and not deal in extremes, but then spends the entire chapter engaging in a series of "either/or's" concerning so-called progressive versus traditional education:

  • To imposition from above is opposed expression and cultivation of individuality; to external discipline is opposed free activity
  • to learning from texts and teachers, learning through experience
  • to acquisition of isolated skills and techniques by drill, is opposed acquisition of them as means of attaining ends which make direct vital appeal
  • to preparation for a more or less remote future is opposed making the most of the opportunities of present life
  • to static aims and materials is opposed acquaintance with a changing world (19).
Dewey's point of view

If Dewey can't seem to move beyond stereotypes (concrete examples are notoriously lacking in Experience and Education; being his defensive re-statement of his views, it would have made a great deal of sense for him to deal in concrete realities rather than abstract notions -- isn't that supposed to his main point, that education ought to experiential?!), neither does he clearly articulate what he means.

My pledge

Thus I shall endeavor to avoid the missteps of Professor Dewey and state clearly what I believe about education and be as clear as possible. In addition, I will do my best to not misrepresent the view points of others. These things I will attempt to do at least frequently, if not always. This is a blog, after all.

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