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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Doing what Dewey discoursed about but decidely did not do

Experience and Education

Years ago (Francis J. Stafford was still the archbishop), Lorenzo Albacete gave a talk to Catholic catechists and school teachers. He spoke about how so many people are running around these days talking about experience but because they are so solipsistic or materialistic, they really aren't talking about experience, per se, but something much smaller and limited.

While re-reading portions of John Dewey's Experience and Education I thought of what Albacete said. Dewey was of course a thorough anti-religionist and materialist, so one wonders if he ought to entitled his book "Interactions and Education" or "Stimulus, Response and Education." This might have cheated him of the opportunity to further devalue the English language, but it might have made for a book with greater clarity.

Etymologically, ex-perience indicates the perception of something that does not originate in me; it has its origin in something other or Other. Thus ontologically one realizes that the self is not the center of reality but that all has been given. Experience in depth opens one to the transcendent; experience with the preconception of positivism leads a flattening of everything -- the center does not hold.

One will search in vain to find a coherent discussion of either education or experience in Experience and Education. But perhaps the title of Dewey's work is useful inasmuch as it points to what should be obvious to everyone: education ought to an experience that means something.

Bring out the Juice...

What Dewey cannot do, Luigi Giussani (aka, "The Juice") does do: dissolve the false opposition between so-called traditional and so-called progressive pedagogies.

Giussani recognized in The Risk of Education that a partial education will tend to be ideological (be it political or religious in nature) and that the goal of human (hence, authentic and complete) education is an education in freedom:
What we want -- and this is our purpose here -- is to free the young generation from mental slavery and from the tendency to conform, which mentally enslaves them to the forces in society (11)
In order to do this he proposes three simple (but by no means easy) premises for a pedagogical approach:
  1. Present the past in a suitable form (tradition)
  2. The content of tradition is discovered in one's own life right here, right now (experience)
  3. Tradition and experience must be reflected upon and judged (criticism) [pages 8-9]
The dominant approaches to education may possess one or sometimes two of these elements, but one does not find a major "pedagogical school" that takes all three into consideration. Thus
  • Progressives may link criticism and experience but neglect to take tradition seriously (e.g., "critical pedagogy" as espoused by the likes of Joan Wink)
  • Traditionalists too may value personal experience via interpretation of a text and surely value traditional/canonical texts but often are superficially critical (e.g., Mortimer Adler's Paideia Proposal)

Giussani has thus discovered (rediscovered?) an approach that prevents teachers from either being "gurus" who know it all or passive-aggressive "facilitators" who push an agenda. Students too benefit by this approach because they are taught something of substance (tradition) and encouraged to relate this to their own life experience and then take the crucial next step:

The young student will now explore the contents of his knapsack, critically comparing what's inside of it -- his received tradition -- with the longings of his heart. The final standard of judgment must be found inside of us, for otherwise we are alienated (9).

What can he possibly mean by the "standard of judgment must be found inside of us"? If you are expecting a shallow relativism, you'll be surprised.

Stay tuned for details for answers to these and other exciting pedagogical topics.

No comments: