Skip to comments.Simplified Idea of an Historical Person, John Dewey
Posted on 12/18/2019 10:15:11 AM PST by CharlesOConnell
Both left and right use a kind of meme or cartoon of the idea of John Dewey. But when you drill down into who he actually was and what he did and did not do, it gets much stranger and messier than a simple stereotype.
John Dewey was primarily a philosopher, proponent of a personal school he termed "instrumentalism", heir to mainstream American philosopher William James, whose school was "pragmatism". Dewey's philosophy had much more effect on common people than most philosophies, in that he did (initially) demote commonsense instruction in reading and math, and he did try, and succeed, in getting rid of common people's once-extensive, middlebrow regard for great classics of literature.
(A gifted translator of Dante, Anthony Esolen, notes the true life history of a Manitoba wheat farmer who would recite the whole of Milton's Paradise Lost from memory as he performed his manual farm labor, a living example of "The Book People" in Ray Bradburys Fahrenheit 451.)
The issue is complicated by the fact that Dewey's writing, extending over half a century, is vague and self-contradictory. (Late in life, Dewey came to regret promoting whole-word reading to the detriment of phonics.) It's difficult to fathom the totality of Dewey's actual thinking, so both left and right have strong traditional legacies assigning too much meaning to Dewey's image.
In actuality, Dewey's image only helped leftist education planners do what they were already intent on doing. Dewey really served as a touchstone for leftist eggheads to focus on, to dissolve traditional culture and spin hairbrained pipe-dreams about how to conduct institutionalized education policy--"child-centered education"--without taking stock of the actual damage they were doing to millions of people's lives.
And the right used Dewey as a simplified symbol in their admittedly noble effort to preserve Western civilization, but sometimes making extreme, unsupportable claims about Dewey and assigning him direct, primary, personal blame for the broad scope of the damage legions of leftist foot-soldiers in the trenches were only too happy to wreak.
If there had been no actual person named John Dewey, the left would have recruited him or invented some figure to take his place. And without Dewey, the left already had centuries of head-start destroying Western civilization, in the figure of the J.J. Rousseau, whose "Emile, or On Education" (1762) had already given them all the rope they needed to hang us all.
Some on the right will assert that "Dewey was a secular-humanist who deliberately dumbed-down the fine primary (1st through 6th grade) education legacy from before the turn of the 20th century, to render the mass populace more easily governable".
De Tocqueville had indeed noted how highly literate revolutionary-period Americans were. Ninety-percent of the populace could read, studying the Bible and Shakespeare, and the common people actively read the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers.
Mostly having gone only through lower schooling, often only 4 grades, 19th century Americans were still too highly, politically informed ever to accept socialism as it began to spin out in the mid-19th century, until Dewey worked in the early 20th century, his plan to destroy the average man's actually, comparatively high culture in contrast with today.
Within reasonable limits, all that is quite true.
Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld gave innumerable, quite congenial speeches, easily viewed on YouTube, easy to listen to, advancing a rather simplified view of John Dewey. But as good as Blumenfeld's "Alpha-Phonics" book is for putting the monkey wrench in whole-word reading instruction, ("Look," said Dick. "See it go. See it go up." Jane said, "Oh, look! See it go up."); it takes a lot more work to understand the true historical impact of the person, John Dewey.
The inference that Dewey was primarily engaged in an active conspiracy to dumb us down and enslave us to dependence on the government, requires a lot of concentration and fill-in.
The truth is actually stranger. John Dewey couldn't have single-handedly accomplished all that destruction. The wide dispersion of kooks and fanatics who populate G.K. Chesterton's original "Father Brown" stories from the turn of the 20th century, shows that Western civilization was already in an advanced condition of dissolution, getting ready to rot well before the cultural-Marxist, Frankfurt School of the 1930s planned "to make it stink".
Dewey's true influence actually did serve to destroy primary 1-6 education between 1920 and 1940. Working in the early 20th century with his collaborator William Kilpatrick at the Columbia Teacher's College for "trainers of trainers", to mis-educate generations of teachers at Normal School colleges across America, Dewey and Kilpatrick effectively caused jettisoning of the Western civilization legacy of Good and Great Books from America's schools across the board.
In life as in law, "Nemo dat quod non habet", Latin for, "one doesn't give what one doesn't have".
As close as this view goes into the subject, it's accurate history that to claim that teachers by the time of "Why Johnny Can't Read" (1955) had themselves been denied exposure to good and great literature, and they hadn't been trained in phonics, only in whole-word pedagogy with its 236 word list for teaching words as pictographs without giving children any ability to decode new words.
Teachers couldn't teach what they hadn't been exposed to, innocently training for an actual job rather than having the luxury of homeschooling their own children.
There has to be a much closer look taken of Samuel Blumenfeld's claim that the disaster Western civilization has suffered was because the vacuum in meaning generated by The Death of God (Friedrich Nietzsche), prompted secular humanists to take an exclusively human-centered view of the past and future development of human society.
That is true, but mainly, only as a summary. The devil is in the details. After looking at a zoomed-in view of the topic, Blumenfeld's summary is inadequate.
The truth is actually much stranger, of how we got to this condition, with colleges full of young people who have been denied the great culture of only a century past. It's stranger and more tragic, the closer it is studied, how students were denied any ability to engage in the science of "how to think", which must be inculcated and does not come naturally for children freely following their uneducated inclinations.
Teachers couldn’t teach what they hadn’t been exposed to, innocently training for an actual job rather than having the luxury of homeschooling their own children.
This is why people like Bill Ayers went into indoctrinating teachers.
The Left called him a respected educator, by which those not sipping the koolaid will mean indoctrinator.
But as the OP sets out it was hardly new. Consider Dodds School of Darkness, available in PDF form online, which is an autobiographical account of a woman who departed from the communists.
Early on in the book we see how, in the form of a teacher she unwisely respected, how easy it is for a teacher to manipulate a student. If you read it consider that if the young girl had had a better grounding in the Faith she might have responded that there is a time and a place to everything under heaven to the teachers asking, IIRC, if Mideveal monasticism was something a girl of her age and era should be interested in. She could have escaped, maybe not entirely, but somewhat, that teachers baleful influences.
A number of people read School of Darkness looking in vain for evidence of more than 1,000 communists who were sent into the Catholic priesthood.
But more alarming, Bella Dodd showed how idealistic, secularly-”religious” young people were working for Communism, before frequent 180 degree changes in policy and ruthless purging of loyal people who were in the way, caused many to question that anti-God religion.
We told them to turn their brains off and be good little sponges.
And then we wonder why they can not think for themselves or believe things that are manifestly not true.
paging savagesusie ...
As an autobiography I would be surprised if it did reveal them. But youre correct that the book shows how what Limbaugh calls young skulls full of mush can be drawn into evil.
But as for the frequency of the 180s, looking at our culture it seems at least a lot of thos 180s ended up being 359s, as many went on to believe that the movement had just been in the wrong hands, not that it was wrong itself.
In Europe pragmatism was merely one element of the post-Kantian trend. In America it took the form of a detailed, comprehensive philosophy. Man cannot know facts that exist "antecedent to the mind". Reality is a Heraclitean flux, unfinished and ready to be constructed and created. The job of the mind is to shape, mold, construct, create, and change reality. That means that there are no absolutes, there is no universal truth, the operative standard is feelings, and so anythng goes.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.