from Pinar on autobiography, study and freedom

Below is the passage from Pinar (2005) that I was grappling for in my last post where I started from Olson and Keats.  Indeed, Pinar references Rorty here, and as such seems to be attaching a similar value to the creative construction of our lives through and as texts.  I am drawn in particular to Rorty’s emphasis on the freedom implicit in such creative acts of self-building.  I suspect Olson had some hidden pragmatic affinities as well, on the basis of his association with Black Mountain College (a radically pragmatic institution through and through).  Indeed perhaps Olson’s pragmatism was TOO radical for his predecessors at BMC– more akin to Rorty or Nietzsche than Dewey or Sartre.  We shall see…

In this ancient, nearly forgotten, tradition, study is the site of educa- tion. Not instruction, not learning, but study constitutes the process of education, a view, McClintock (1971, 167) tells us, grounded in “indi- viduality,” “autonomy,” and “creativity.” (The three are, of course, in- ter-related.) Again sounding like the early Sartre, McClintock (1971, 167) emphasizes the significance of our “particularity,” that we become more than we have been influenced to be, that we (here he anticipates Rorty) refashion ourselves by engaging “freely” and “creatively” our circumstances.

Such a statement recalls certain strands of the progressive tradition, although not its confidence that we can teach freedom for creativity, let alone for individuality and autonomy. Rather, from the point of view of study, self-formation follows from our individual appropriation of what is around us; this capacity for selection, for focus, for judgement, McClintock suggests, is the great mystery to be solved (1971, 167). This is, I submit, the mystery that autobiography purports not to solve, but to portray and complicate (Pinar, 1994).

EDST 580—Entry 5: John Dewey: Public Intellectual

A micro review of two articlesBiesta, G. & Miedema S. (1996) and Waks, L.J. (2013).

For this week’s readings, I was beginning to think more and more about how the ideas behind progressivism (i.e. pragmatism, and philosophy of education in the early 20th century more generally) impacted the social and political world at that time.  I think the most obvious bridge between a conception of progressivism as a set of ideas or ideologies and progressivism as a social and political structure and force in the world is the lives of philosophers themselves, and the histories of their molding societal institutions on the basis of the ideas that they held so dear.  Thus, my focus this week on two articles which purport to more closely examine the effect of John Dewey’s ideas on the political realities of his time.  Incidentally, what I have just described could be glossed as the intellectual history of progressivism.  And I have written at some length about intellectual history as a specific sub-discipline of the study of the history of education elsewhere.

Leonard Waks approaches the intellectual history of progressivism from the point of view of a specific text—namely John Dewey’s The School and Society (1899), while Biesta and Miedema’s piece is a broader overview, through three case studies, of Dewey’s influence in Europe, where he travelled fairly extensively in the last half of his life.  I want to say right off the bat that I think overall, Biesta and Miedema’s piece was much more comprehensive and useful within the boundaries it set for itself than Waks’.  However, in a sense, this is comparing apples with oranges because these two articles set out to do two very different tasks.

Biesta and Miedema dissected the influence of Dewey’s philosophy of education in three specific contexts in Europe—Russia, Turkey and the Netherlands.  They found that Dewey’s philosophy of education had varying degrees of popularity and success in terms of its adoption.  But the reasons they gave and analysis of these relative successes and failures of Dewey’s philosophical influence abroad, make this piece a most interesting contribution to my understanding of the intellectual history of education.  Biesta and Miedema found that, despite Dewey’s latter day image as a beacon of western (transatlantic, western European and North American) liberalism, that his ideas actually had the most influence in Russia and Turkey where there were major reform efforts (and later a revolution in Russia) underway.  I was surprised to learn that Vladimir Lenin’s wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, who was deputy minister of education in the U.S.S.R. in the 1920s and 1930s, was very much a fan of Dewey’s work.  But it seems that the mainstream opinion of Dewey’s educational philosophy in Soviet Russia began to sour during Stalin’s regime.  This is partly, as Biesta and Miedema suggest, due to Dewey’s support of Trotsky.  Given Dewey’s status as a icon of American liberalism, his relatively close link with the burgeoning soviet education system immediately after the revolution is surprising to say the least.

As they do throughout this piece, Biesta and Miedema brilliantly analyze Dewey’s influence.  As in this case, Dewey’s philosophy could be integrated into the Soviet education system on a practical level internal to pedagogy, with less quibbling about his underlying liberalism, America-centrism or his discomfort with Marxism.  The authors found, perhaps ironically, as they say, that Dewey’s philosophy ended up having the weakest influence in the Netherlands—the jurisdiction they identify as being most similar ideologically to Dewey’s home turf in the United States.  Nevertheless, the possible explanation Biesta and Miedema offer for Dewey’s philosophy’s failure to take hold in that liberal Western European nation still operates along the same lines as their analysis of Dewey’s influence in Turkey and later in Russia.  In short, Biesta and Miedema want to treat Dewey’s philosophy as a multi-faceted thing, complex not only in its origins in Dewey’s biography as a scholar, teacher and activist, but also in its interpretations and indeed misinterpretations around the world.

I’m doing Waks a bit of a disservice by cutting my analysis short here.  But time is of the essence at the moment, so I will leave my criticism at this: where Biesta and Miedema capture a lot of the complexity of the system of ideas and political realites which was progressivism in education in the first quarter of the 20th century, Waks’ picture of this movement and of the philosophy behind it is very flat.  Part of this, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review has to do with how Waks structured his piece—first around a single text of Dewey’s, The School and Society, and then in a sort of diachronic sort of way of analyzing the “then” and the “now” of American education reform.  This diachronic approach, which theoretically emphasizes the changes that occur from one period to another is over-simple, and I think does a disservice to the complexity and importance of the ideas Dewey was struggling with during his lifetime.  That is not to say that the problems of the present day in education are unimportant in light of the past.  However, it makes it a little to easy for an author to use the figure of Dewey as a stand in or booster for some contemporary ideology, which truthfully there is no way of telling whether Dewey would support or not.

So, for example, in Waks’ discussion of “occupations” in education—those “focal points of school learning”—that were so critical to the popular expression of Dewey’s progressivism in American schools (think vocational education), he gets a little carried away by the resonance that these ideas have with current trends in educational practice.  Here Waks gushes that occupations are, “natural bridges linking children as given by Nature to children as enduring educational aims prescribe they should become” (p.75).  Setting aside that Dewey spoke out constantly against prescribing any “enduring educational aims” for children, this is an instance of the oversimplification I’m trying to get at.  It is not enough to simply cut and paste ideas like “occupation” across contexts.  Sure Dewey’s jargon is vague sometimes.  And perhaps because of this vagueness his philosophy invites these kind of cut and paste moves.  But Waks fails to show the complexity of the way terms like occupation would have functioned at the turn the 20th century differ from the way they function in the present.  Indeed, there is a failure on Waks part to note that even over the course of Dewey’s own lifetime his own ideas and the way he talked and wrote about them changed.  Waks is absolutely right to want to bring Dewey’s ideas into the present.  But I think he just needs to be more careful about how he accomplishes this goal.  As it stands, Waks piece betrays a certain ideological conservatism or at least nostalgia for some fixed and enduring educational aims (perhaps “Progressivism in Education,” writ large) that I don’t think Dewey would have suffered lightly.

EDST 580—Entry 2: The Metaphysics of Pragmatism

A reading of The Metaphysics of Pragmatism by Sidney Hook (1927).

File:Sidney Hook.jpg

Photo of Sidney Hook from Wikimedia Commons.

I completed this reading with a 1927 hard copy published by The Open Court Publishing Company (Chicago & London); although it should be in the public domain by now, so it would not surprise me to be able to find a reproduction of this relatively short (144pp.) book online. I shall post a link to the ebook here if I am able to find one. But I’ll also quote fairly liberally from the text in my analysis in case web access to the book is ultimately restricted.

I first became aware of Sidney Hook by way of Westbrook’s 1992 intellectual history of John Dewey’s career, John Dewey and American Democracy. Westbrook presents Hook as one of many intellectual foils for Dewey. Westbrook’s list of Dewey expanders and detractors includes figures as variously renowned and obscure as Randolph Bourne, Dewey’s student, who opposed the United State’s entry into WWI even as Dewey threw his support behind President Woodrow Wilson, and William James, who was among those Philosophers who wooed Dewey to pragmatism from his early Hegelian idealist days.

Sidney Hook was a student of John Dewey’s at Columbia. Dewey wrote an interesting forward to Hook’s Metaphysics, which anticipates Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). Dewey is deferential to the synthesis that the young Hook has wrought between the old guard of “classical philosophy” and the burgeoning pragmatism, which Hook calls “instrumentalism.” In fact, the first third of the book is dedicated to an explanation of the meaning of “the instrument,” and the specific implications of what Hook latches onto as the central metaphor of pragmatism

Pragmatism is, of course, derived from the Greek word for ‘action.’ But Hook, by re-naming it “instrumentalism” emphasizes a different (possibly reciprocal) aspect of human action—namely the “how” of it. Generally speaking, pragmatism proceeds by means of instruments. But going further still, Hook argues that the existence of instruments in the world offers clues to the structure of the world. In his chapter, “The Metaphysics of the Instrument,” Hook demonstrates convincingly that instruments always carry meaning, that they exist either a) in reference to some object, b) for some domain-specific application or c) in respect and because of its form, arrangement or structure.


These references generate a number of relations highly interesting for philosophical analysis. They show that nature instrumentalized is nature, so to speak, grown or brought to self-consciousness (p.19).

He clarifies further:

An instrument is a monument to a felt lack in existence. But it is more. It is a promise of its eventual check and elimination.

This preliminary definition or movement towards (i.e. zur, in German) a definition of the instrument as a category of phenomenon is a very interesting post-structural move for Hook to be making. In this case Hook is sticking close to the letter of Dewey’s conception of aims (for instance in Democracy and Education). Dewey admits as much in the final paragraphs of his introduction to Hook actually:

It is possible for a reader by means of rigid definition of the terms of “metaphysics” and “pragmatism,” laid down inflexibly in advance, to hide his mind from the enlightenment which this book can convey… (p.5)

This is Dewey at his best in my opinion. It is also Dewey at his most post-structural, especially as he pushes his readers towards a metaphysics of pragmatism sous rature (under erasure) or as Jacques Derrida might have it, Dewey’s and Hook’s is a metaphysics of pragmatism.

Hook is definitely most comfortable with the pragmatism of Dewey and Peirce, which he says is more concerned with the social and political world, as opposed to the “personal and consolatory” pragmatism of Schiller or the “nominalistic” pragmatism of James. I frankly have not read enough of these other philosophers to know what Hook means with these epithets. But the political kernel of Dewey’s pragmatism is clearly what Hook is most comfortable with and wants to build from with his metaphysics and the new category, instrumentalism.

Another interesting tangent that appears to link pragmatism (as instrumentalism) with other later-20th century developments in Marxist critical theory is the centrality of language and social construction of meaning (=language) and its study (=linguistics, or semiotics more specifically). This is an area of great interest for me. And an area that I devoted some measure of previous study to as an undergraduate linguistics major.

In particular, Husserl’s claims about how meaning is structured, comes to mind. But also, Chompsky’s theory of a universal grammar, and even Vygotsky’s understanding of the social development of language, come to mind reading Hook’s introduction to the metaphysics of the instrument. Hook writes:

Without instruments there can be no objectified meanings… it follows that the existence of certain structural lineaments which condition the possibility and presence of instruments, condition therefore a range of meanings. Where instruments are inapplicable or useless, there meanings can never be found (p.23).

It seems like Hook might be making a reductio ad absurdum argument here, because I can’t think of a counter-instance of a situation in which meaning is present without instrument.

And Hook’s definition of instrument, as I referenced earlier, is tied directly to its symbolic valence or meaning.

Simply put, “Every tool, appliance or artifice recites a lesson on the nature of the world” (p.24). This maxim of instrumentalism, also interestingly operates in parallel to what I’ve heard called in a documentary on WWII code decryption technology, “the first law of cryptology,” that is: every code has its cipher. It’s also another way of looking at the problem Hook glosses elsewhere as the tautological or necessarily circular nature of any system of knowledge.

This also harkens back to Dewey’s and others’ criticisms of logical positivism, which was in vogue in the first half of the 20th century. But in contrast to positivism’s impossible quest for certainty, Hook writes,

The instrument marks a point at which human interest intersects the natural continuity of the historical process, converting the even flow and existent brutality of natural ends into multiply-implicative foci of rational enterprise. Endings that are natural and causal become ends that are rational and informed (p.26).

Further, Hook explains: “Not only does the instrument pre-suppose continuity, it manifests in its own history a continuity. Having a growth, it has a genealogy too” (ibid.). And most critically:

Instrumentalities can never become transmuted into irrecoverable certainties, for their effective application depends upon definite objective environmental traits as well as upon the passing needs and purposes of those who live and react [interesting choice of words] in that environment (p.30).

For Hook as well as Dewey, all knowledge is contingent, dependent on the experience of the subject, the conditions of the object, and the dialectical (or at least reciprocal—Dewey stayed far away from this Hegelian designation, but Hook, seems less timid if still a little hesitant to provide this bridge between the worlds of Marx and Dewey) relationship between subject and object (or subject and environment). Thus:

Every instrumental operation, whether it be scientific or artistic, industrial or personal, implies an order to which it owes its existence and an order in virtue to which its ends are realized. The instrument enables us, by utilizing these natural processes, arrangements and termini which antecede and provoke its existence, to create new ends which they suggest and sometimes compel; and to regard in moments of exuberance, the mechanics of transformation as the magic of mind” (p.38).

This is how Hook ends his preliminary discussion of the metaphysics of the instrument. The next chapter comprises an extended discussion of an important particular case of instrumentality: mind. Hook’s consideration of mind—that specific instrumentality which pragmatist philosophers (especially Dewey among them, for whom psychology was of prime importance) have come to ascribe to the dialectic of human subjectivity, is important in its treatment of thought as a phenomenon “that goes on among [objective] things and events” (p.48).

But the most important segment of this chapter is a brief discussion of the ethics of the instrument that starts on page 57. Hook writes:

All social reform whether undertaken in the name of god, social engineering or revolution presupposes a belief in the instrumental character of social institutions. Reorganization is easiest and most effective when the direction of the change is in line with the natural unfolding and growth of institutional forces [~hegemony?]. An examination of the instrumentalities of economic production for example, suggests to collectivists [~socialists?] a revision and extension of the social ends of current distribution. These readings in terms of economic forces and resultants distinguish them from the Utopians [yet another name for a 1920s political faction I am unfamiliar with], who like the poor, are always with us and in the eyes of those who pride themselves on their social realism, attempt to transform things nearer their hearts’ desire by the incantation of democratic shibboleths and by philanthropic exhortation rather than by class organization and struggle (p.61).

So, Hook, here is getting on board with Dewey’s conception of pragmatism as political philosophy. But this section also sounds a certain note of criticism of Dewey, especially perhaps his hawkishness a decade earlier during WWI. Dewey’s magic word was always “democracy.” So, perhaps Hook’s barb (no pun intended) here may actually be aimed at least in part at the older generation of pragmatist philosophers.

He continues,

Another example from collectivist theory to show how the desire to widen the interest of a political or social instrument may lead to its abolition, is illustrated in the conception of the state. The state regarded as the executive committee of the ruling class, capitalist or proletarian, will in Engel’s phrase ‘wither away’ when economic classes are abolished and will be replaced by more voluntary forms of organization. So long, then, as ethics pays attention to ways and means, instruments and agencies, it is intimately linked with social philosophy. “Although instruments have often been the means of man’s enslavement, construed as they appear in their social setting they breathe a promise that they will make him free” (ibid.).

Hook, who was avowedly a socialist (or collectivist perhaps) himself, according to Westbrook could not have anticipated the deformed bureaucratic state that would emerge out of Stalinism.

So, it is best perhaps to excuse his faith in Engels’ words as an instrument of revolution, just as Dewey’s earlier exhortations about democracy should be considered as at least in some respects detached from the political realities and contemporaneous rhetoric of the United States as an instrument of “democracy” and its attendant ideologies. Hook’s beliefs about socialism were well informed to say the least, but I think he would argue in retrospect, that his beliefs as well as the realities they were connected to were all contingent.

In other words, whether instrumentalism as a philosophy or any other political philosophy as an instrument sets you free or enslaves you just depends. It depends on you, your beliefs, the environment where you’re doing your believing in, and all of the other things and people which you and your philosophy interact with in that environment. “What then,” Hook wonders in the ensuing chapter, “is certainty in inference?” Hook’s answer on page 87 is this:

The only response that can be made is that certainty is the knowledge that the guiding principles which we have followed in the past, implicitly or not, have given us conclusions about the way in which things hang or hold together that have been verified by experience.”

Hook points to James’ assertion in The Meaning of Truth that “Pragmatism or pluralism has to fall back on a certain ultimate hardihood, a certain willingness to live without assurances or guarantees… on possibilities that are not certainties” (James p.229, quoted in Hook p.87).

Hook concludes this third chapter on what he calls the “leading principles” of instrumentalism by paraphrasing Alfred North Whitehead, another pragmatist philosopher whose Aims of Education I read for this class in week one:

Our knowledge of the structure or order of nature has been born in a shock, strengthened by a guess, and fixed through a habit. The logic of demonstration is the logic of discovery grown cold” (quoted in Hook p.88).

In this way logic itself can become a kind of metaphysics (ibid. p.93). Clarifying, Hook continues:

The metaphysical implication of the pragmatic-realist logic of leading principles is an open universe in which there is an element of radical indetermination, in which physical constants are limits of variation and physical laws summations and prognostications of physical flux” (ibid.).

So, for Hook, Dewey and the other pragmatist-instrumentalists, even hard science demands capitulation to uncertainty. All knowledge is necessarily socially constructed. And so:

A social movement, therefore, must be based not only on a social ideal, although that is a sine qua non, but upon a body of social knowledge. Not only is it true that the world can not be remade in its entirety, it can not even be completely re-thought or re-imagined. If this be questioned, I challenge anyone to see in his mind’s eye a color never beheld in experience before” (pp.99-100).

Hook’s position is not completely skeptical of knowledge, but demands a more comprehensive understanding of its sources and structures.

A fourth chapter here goes into what Hook calls “categorical analysis,” which on first blush appears to be a kind of phenomenology by another name perhaps. This is probably the least important chapter for my understanding of Hook’s philosophy. It is also the most tentative and unresolved.

But in his concluding chapter, “Of Human Freedom,” Hook speaks to a phenomenon that I have previously identified elsewhere as being of central importance to Dewey’s pragmatism and the project of progressivism in education more broadly. Hook begins by paraphrasing Augustine who wrote of the concept of time that, “If no one asks me what it is I know: If I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not” (referencing Augustine’s Confessions XI, xiv). Hook goes on to note decisively that freedom is not a question of psychology, seemingly deflecting some potential criticism from a proto-behaviorist readership.

Rather, Hook makes an interesting move, referencing Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, where Aristotle parses the possible limitations to freedom as 1) the physical compulsion of some external force, or 2) ignorance of the circumstances in which an act is performed. If I’m not mistaken, Dewey makes reference to these limits to freedom in his 1938 lecture that became the book, Experience and Education, which I have analyzed elsewhere for a different course in the “Ignorance Log” portion of this blog.

Again, if I’m not mistaken, both Dewey and Hook want to emphasize this second possible limitation on freedom. Hook writes:

Knowledge, then, of ourselves and of the world without is the key to freedom for it tells us what we are and that we can be no other than what we are. Freedom is the consequence of this knowledge revealed and attested to by our everyday activities” (p.140).

Here Hook with Hegel makes a leap to Adam in Eden, who arguably was not completely free until he ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Finally, Hook concludes:

Although human freedom depends upon a natural order, the natural order does not determine or confer upon itself significance. That is to say, the values which arise in the possession and exercise of freedom can never be derived from the order of the domain in which that freedom is a fact.

So, in similar fashion to the way in which knowledge systems are necessarily tautological, Hook notes that freedom’s existence is its own kind of a self-completing circle.

Just as Thomas Jefferson and the other founders of the political entity that became the United States of America recognized when they wrote that “certain inalienable rights” had been conferred upon all people by God, Hook seems to be saying that freedom is never completely “man-made.” More to the point, it is a similar move to the Audre Lorde epigram that became Arendt’s book title: The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” I’m misquoting or misattributing that somehow I’m sure. But above, all, Hook’s conclusion with the possibility of freedom is true not only to his forebears’ pragmatism, but I think also pushes the envelope on their interpretations. His phenomenology of instruments—if it can be called that— is ingenious. I think I ultimately have to agree with Westbrook’s characterization of Hook’s oeuvre—at least in the case of his Metaphysics—holds true. instrumentalism is a welcome bridge between pragmatism and its underlying dialecticism.


Look for another (probably shorter) entry later on this week, on Dewey and Peirce /pers/ and the social and political directions they took pragmatism (or pragmaticism).



De-centering facts, de-centering the past de-centering epistemology: Carl L. Becker, pragmatism & the proto-postmodernism of historiography

Fisher Review 1 Becker

A micro-review I wrote for one of my History Classes this term, which I am particularly proud of.

I don’t think I do a very good job of explaining Pragmatism or the Pragmatist version of Experience here.  But, if you’re interested, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a good place to get more in depth.  The following is from section 4.3, “The pragmatist conception of experience.”

Dewey’s account of experience contributes an additional twist. Like Peirce, he thought that experience was ‘full of inference’. Experience is a process through which we interact with our surroundings, obtaining information that helps us to meet our needs. What we experience is shaped by our habits of expectation and there is no basis for extracting from this complex process the kind of ‘thin given’ beloved of sense datum theorists. We experience all sorts of objects, events and processes, and we should not follow philosophers who seek to impose a distinction between the thin uninterpreted data of experience and the inferential processes which lead us to interpret what we experience as books, people and so on. The dichotomy between the passive given of experience and the rich results of our active conceptualization is not supported by our experience. It is yet another of the philosophers’ distortions.


Here is a link to the original Becker publication.  This is an important document of a thinker ahead of his time.  He apparently wrote a history of the founding of Cornell, which took the form of a series of lectures and which might be an interesting context for my Black Mountain project.

Becker Western Pol. Quart. 1955.

Unapologetic about being outside, away from the computer, away from the blog


This gallery contains 4 photos.

Here’s some of what I’ve been doing in non-virtual worlds recently:   Paid for the materials used in the creation of the above by selling them at the American Educational Research Association’s (AERA) Conference in downtown Vancouver last week.  I’m … Continue reading

Ignorance Log Chapter 1: Traditional versus Progressive Education

Progressive Education in the 1940s (YouTube)

The above video does a pretty good job of presenting what most people in the first half of the 20th century must’ve had in mind when they thought of “Traditional” versus “Progressive” education.  But what exactly does Dewey mean when he uses these two terms?

As Dewey’s soundbite from the close of this video notes, Dewey’s idea of Progressive education consists in, above all, preparing students for an ever-developing future, not, as Hannah Arendt concludes, in somehow burdening children with responsibility for the present or, as proponents of Traditional education would have it, of giving children an opportunity to absorb some knowledge of the past.

But does Dewey see these distinctions as absolutes?  Are Progressive and Traditional modes of education always completely distinct and, if so, how do we tell the difference?

These are questions that Dewey sets up in his first chapter of Experience and Education.  To be answered later in chapters 2 and 3.

Dewey sees school as a uniquely organized institution, as distinct from Family or other social institutions.  Does school organized around Deweyan principles of Progressivism blur this distinction?  What is it that distinguishes the “traditional school” in this way?

Dewey refers again and again to a sort conception of the world as constantly changing.  What is the nature of this change?  How does Dewey conceive of change?  Is he referring to people changing as subjects or to the world changing as the object of experience?  Or both or something else?  How does the world change?  Again these questions are I think answered ultimately in the following chapters, but it will be good to come back to these, even though they’re not exactly central questions.

Dewey asks a lot of his own questions as a means of further unfolding his arguments.  Here are a few of those from Chapter 1:

The problem for progressive education is:  what is the place and meaning of subject-matter and of organization within experience?  How does subject-matter function?  Is there anything inherent in experience which tends towards progressive organization of its contents?  What results follow when the materials of experience are not progressively organized?

In Chapter 4 Dewey is going to dive headlong into questions of authority and control which are hinted at above in this discussion of “organization.”

I don’t want to apologize for Dewey– anyway it would take more than a scholar of my stature to prop him up.  But more than that I am really curious about his beliefs with regard to Empiricism.  Westbrook claimed that Dewey was not a Positivist, but does this mean that he was not a Realist?  Actually later on in Chapter 3, Dewey outlines what is basically a Constructionist view of knowledge production, so that definitely rules out Positivism, but he was keen to decenter epistemological questions anyway in favor of metaphysics (e.g. of experience) and ethics (i.e. Democracy).

Dewey poses the following question towards the end of Chapter 1, and I believe that it is perhaps THE central question in E&EWhat is the role of the teacher in progressive education?  That’s definitely one I’ll want to expand on later and in my final essay.

Final question for Chapter 1:  When Dewey writes,

We may reject knowledge of the past as the end of education, and thereby only emphasize its importance as a means… How shall the young become acquainted with the past in such a way that the acquaintance is a potent agent in appreciation of the living present?

Does he recognize the submersion of the past and present in hegemony?  Is the recognition of a “living present” the same as a historical view of the present?

More to the point:  Is it possible that Dewey recognizes the problems of traditional schooling without recognizing their root causes in systematic inequalities and injustices in society?  I don’t think Dewey would have used the word “hegemony” at any rate, but perhaps the phenomenon that he describes later as “educative experience” depends upon some recognition of systemic injustice at play.

Some Preliminary Questions for John Dewey & Pragmatism

My copy of the Dewey text I’ll ultimately be focusing on for this “Ignorance Blog” is still somewhere in the mail.  So, since that is not an option at the moment.  I’d like to take this opportunity to record some of the questions that have arisen in some reading I’ve been completing for other assignments.  These readings are somewhat more peripheral to the Dewey Oeuvre (say that 10 times fast!) than Experience & Education, and have been selected as pairs for readings in Arendt, and Vanderstraeten & Biesta.

The following are some of the questions that have arisen in the course of these readings so far:

1.  How much will the classification of a given reading in Dewey as either “Late” or “early” have a bearing on the philosophical and other arguments he is making in that particular paper?

2.  What did Dewey specifically take for granted in terms of the structures of the society he was so often criticizing in his writing?  What were his “blind spots?” (e.g. Plato’s non-treatment of the issue of slavery in The Republic)

3.  Dewey has a troublesomely macho view of American history which he gives a glimpse of at the beginning of his paper, “Creative Democracy– The Task Before Us.”  Was he taking this sort of tone for the sake of argument only?  What might a feminist critique of Dewey look like?  Surely this exists already…

4.  How is the notion of “crisis” at the heart of Dewey’s “Creative Democracy” the same or different from the “crisis” Arendt writes about in her essay, “The Crisis in Education?”

5.  What is a concrete example of how someone might “apply democracy individually or personally?” (Dewey “Creative” p. 226)

6.  How would Dewey describe Human Nature?

7. What would it mean for education to be a “correlate of intelligence?” (p. 227)

8.  How close is Dewey’s notion of individual “habit” to Bourdieu’s habitus?  How would I describe either one of those w/o an excess of jargon?  Shall I just throw this jargon out for now?

9.  When Dewey writes: “…the expression of difference is not only a right of the other persons but is a means of enriching one’s own life-experience,” does this approximate a Derrida’s “justice-as-difference?”

10.  What the heck is a “commonplace of living?” (p. 229)

11. How far will Dewey take his professed “democratic faith?”  Is this a faith in democracy (as a just system, for example) or a faith characterized by its democratic quality?  It is interesting that Dewey seems to find it necessary/ expedient to describe “the democratic faith in the formal terms of a philosophic position.”

12.  What would Dewey say are the chief alternatives to the democratic way of life? (p. 229)

13.  What are Dewey’s beliefs about “science” exactly?

OK, so, there is a baker’s dozen of questions, and that’s just to do with the first essay.  I’ll likely post some more questions tomorrow– focusing more on the second article.  Also, more thorough bibliographical citations are coming soon.