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We welcome the Lesley community to this Forum. More details will be added soon.
George Hein Paul Naso
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Welcome to our public reading of John Dewey’s
Democracy and Education. We look forward to making this a joint effort and hope you will participate in the face-to-face discussions, if you’re able to do so. And please add your comments and critiques to this blog.
For those of you who have no previous experience reading Dewey, I want to start with two general points about his writing style which is often criticized as difficult or dense. Although Dewey’s ideas and view of the nature of the world and society are remarkably current, we need to remember that he was born before the US civil war when literary style in both fiction and philosophy differed significantly from what we are used to in the 21
st century. Dewey’s reading included the 19 th century novelists (he quotes George Eliot in Art as Experience) and his prose embraces the slow pace we expect in such works. Also, don’t expect current sensitivity to language concerning gender or cultural issues; like all men and most women who wrote in his time, he uses male pronouns throughout his work and he describes traditional native societies as “savage.” Dewey’s writing is repetitive, but it doesn’t use a complex vocabulary and, although there are frequently long sentences that may require re-reading, they do parse out for anyone willing to take the time to read slowly.
Dewey’s goal was to develop an American philosophy that would be useful for ordinary people. He wanted philosophy to be relevant to the practical world of experience, connecting the lofty concepts of philosophy to what we do and how we interact with our environment. For him, every human thought and action is related to our experiences in the world, to our interactions with nature and with other people; there are no supernatural, mystical forces that can provide answers to life’s questions.
Democracy and Education a decade after the eight years (1896-1904) when he was personally engaged in young children’s education. By 1916 he had already written major works on several philosophical subjects, but in a letter to a colleague shortly after its publication he wrote, “ Democracy and Education, in spite of its title, is the closest attempt I have made to sum up my entire philosophical position.” In 1930, in a rare autobiographical essay he wrote, “Although a book called Democracy and Education was for many years that in which my philosophy, such as it is, was most fully expounded, I do not know that philosophic critics, as distinct from teachers, have ever had recourse to it. I have wondered whether such facts signified that philosophers in general, although they are themselves usually teachers, have not taken education with sufficient seriousness for it to occur to them that any rational person could actually think it possible that philosophizing should focus about education as the supreme human interest in which, moreover, other problems, cosmological, moral, logical, come to a head.” That quotation gives you both a sense of Dewey’s writing style and his ability to drive home a point with wit and irony. (A hint: Chapter 24 makes specific the connection between philosophy and education) Democracy and Education begins with an analysis of why education is a necessary activity for any society. Only after a few chapters does Dewey begin to discuss the reasons why democratic societies require a particular form of education, that which we have come to call “progressive.”
We look forward to your comments!
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Very much looking forward to the discussion today.
Regarding the links to Western philosophy, there seemed to be a moments in the first two chapters where one can hear the influence of ancient and modern philosophies. For example: "Unless pains are taken to see that genuine and thorough transmission takes place, the most civilized group will relapse into barbarism and then into savagery." This seems to me to sound like Aristotle's insight that although the rational life is the most natural and appropriate human life, it still comes about only through training, and the habit must be cultivated and maintained. Actually, regarding Aristotle, even the beginning of the text/chapter, where Dewey distinguishes among inanimate, animate and human entities reminds me a bit of Aristotle's '3 types of souls', although Aristotle doesn't count inanimate as having souls. Last one for Aristotle: "Making the individual a sharer or partner in the associated activity so that he feels its success as his success, its failure as his failure, is the completing step." This seems to be connected to Aristotle's distinction between moral virtue (habitually doing right) and intellectual virtue (habitually doing right, and knowing why) One of Kant's formulations of the categorical imperative seems to be present in the following: "Individuals use one another so as to get desired results, without reference to the emotional and intellectual disposition and consent of those used...So far as the relations of parent and child, teacher and pupil, employer and employee, governor and governed, remain upon this level, they form no true social group, no matter how closely their respective activities touch one another." There were also moments of in these first two chapters where there seems to be very contemporary philosophies, like Freud/Jung and the "sociologists" when he writes about the unconscious and the influence of the environment. One of the most compelling for me was how closely some of his ideas were to the phenomenologists, who were definitely his contemporaries, like in this: "Just as the senses require sensible objects to stimulate them, so our powers of observation, recollection, and imagination do not work spontaneously, but are set in motion by the demands set up by current social occupations." This sounds like intentionality - intentional consciousness of Husserl and others. I don't know how much his pragmatism was directly influenced by phenomenology, but I used to think, "not much!" I look forward to finding out! Thanks again.
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The Preface to Democracy and Education
Dewey is usually clear about what he intends to do. His titles are carefully chosen.
Democracy and Education is (not surprisingly) about the relationship between democracy and education.
The preface to D& E is short, essentially only three sentences, but Dewey says explicitly what he intends to write about. Each sentence is rich with meaning.
Below I’ve included these three sentences, with some comments:
#1. "The following pages embody an endeavor to detect and state the ideas implied in a democratic society and to apply these ideas to the problems of the enterprise of education."
Education is problematic, and he will tell us what he thinks is implied by “democratic society.” You can be sure that involves more than the right to vote.
#2 "The discussion includes an indication of the constructive aims and methods of public education as seen from this point of view, and a critical estimate of the theories of knowing and moral development which were formulated in earlier social conditions, but which still operate, in societies nominally democratic, to hamper the adequate realization of the democratic idea."
This book is about public education approached from the concept that it should be the education needed to support democratic society. And he intends to describe what he means by “democratic society,” since the term has not been fully realized (perhaps taken for granted?). Also, he intends to discuss his theory of knowledge (epistemology). In addition, he believes that education is a moral enterprise and he will demonstrate how these concepts relate to “the democratic idea.”
#3 "The philosophy stated in this book connects the growth of democracy with the development of the experimental method in the sciences, evolutionary ideas in the biological sciences, and the industrial reorganization, and is concerned to point out the changes in subject matter and method of education indicated by these developments."
That’s a big agenda—the growth of democracy is associated with four different social developments,
viz. modern science methods, evolutionary theory, industrial reorganization and [recent] changes in subject matter and methods of education. Dewey has written about all of these previously (and would continue to discuss them for another 36 years): -Science methods in How We Think (1911) --Evolutionary theory in The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy (1909) --Industrial reorganization in Ethics (1908) see Part III. “The World of Action.” --Changes in education The Child and the Curriculum/School and Society (~1900)
A historical tidbit: In a second paragraph of the Preface, Dewey thanks three people who provided comments and criticisms on his manuscript. Two are colleagues at Columbia (William Kilpatrick and Willystine Goodsell), the other is Elsie Ripley Clapp, Dewey’s former student and his teaching assistant for several years before he published D & E. Dewey continued life-long friendships with many professional women; this was one of them. Elsie Clapp went on to a distinguished career as a progressive educator and social activist. She was appointed the director of the school in Arthurdale, West Virginia in the 1930s. Arthurdale was the first New Deal planned subsistence homestead community founded by Eleanor Roosevelt during the Great Depression. Clapp wrote
The Uses of Resources in Education (1952) about her experiences for which Dewey wrote a short introduction. It was his last published work.)
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In chapter 3 of Democracy and Education Dewey continues his introductory grounding to establish the connection between Democracy and Education. This includes letting the reader know some of his basic beliefs.
In the first paragraph of the chapter, he rejects the idea that children are born with a tendency to be “
naturally purely individualistic or egotistic, and thus antisocial.” He makes it clear that education (or political systems of society) must provide “direction,” but not “control” in the sense of coercion, to force members to become socially engaged. Such coercion isn’t necessary (and isn’t desirable) because children are not born with a tendency towards anti-social behavior that needs to be suppressed. To put it bluntly, he does not accept the Christian concept of original sin or as the Old Testament says, “The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth,“ (Genesis 8:21).
In the second paragraph he summarizes (not very obviously) his critique of behaviorism. For Dewey, stimulus and response are not separate acts with one always (only) cause and the other always (and only) effect to be considered individually, but are two components of an integrated activity. He writes, “
There is an adaptation of the stimulus and the response to each other.” Dewey addressed this issue in detail in a famous paper, The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology, Psychological Review, III, (July, 1896), 457-370.  The argument in that paper has the same character as much of the rest of chapter 3 in Democracy and Education; namely, that we always need to consider the interactions between separate components of experiences. In this chapter he argues that we need to look beyond the simple physical experience of any activity in order to decide whether it is “educative.” For example, “ To have the idea of a thing is thus not just to get certain sensations from it. It is to be able to respond to the thing in view of its place in an inclusive scheme of action.” (6 th paragraph under 2. Modes of Social Direction, subsection 2.) Or, ” The purport of our discussion is that [simple contact with physical objects] makes an absurd and impossible separation between persons and things. Interaction with things . . . leads to activity having a meaning and conscious intent only when things are used to produce a result.” (1 st paragraph under 3. Imitation and Social Psychology.)
The argument that stimulus and response are not separate entities but need to be considered as components of a united action or that the sensations from an experience and its intention are necessarily associated are examples of a more comprehensive and basic component of Dewey’s philosophy: his consistent effort to eliminate “dualisms.” He objects to all such distinctions, such mind
vs. body , fine art vs. applied art, nature vs. nurture, or theory vs. practice. 
His objection to dualisms is fundamental. In addition, as he points out in other discussions about dualisms, if we accept dualisms we are inclined to consider each of the components as “real,” having meaning without the need to consider its relationship to and interaction with the other partner of the dualism. Also, this form of classification easily leads to making moral distinctions between the two supposedly independent entities, so that one component of the duality is considered “better” or of a “higher order” than the other. For example, the idea that “mind” is more important than “body” has a long history dating back to Greek philosophy and appears throughout many traditional Western and Eastern cultures. Similarly, “fine art” is frequently considered to be of a higher value than “applied art.”
Towards the end of Chapter 3, we get a sentence that demonstrates Dewey’s contemporary relevance. Who could argue with the truth of the following as applying to most current educational practice? “
That education is not an affair of ‘telling’ and being told, but an active and constructive process is a principle almost as generally violated in practice as conceded in theory.” (two paragraphs before the Summary)
Chapter 4 begins with an analysis of immaturity
vs. maturity that, again, echoes Dewey’s critique of dualisms. These two properties of humans, Dewey says, are not fixed, separate stages, but represent descriptions of a constant development leading from infancy to adulthood in a coordinated process.
As the chapter continues, Dewey’s emphasizes another of his major philosophical themes: that we are always in progress, but never reach an end goal. For Dewey, there is no “ideal” state for humans, neither a “golden age” of the past nor a possible future of perfection. Thus, “
immaturity designates a positive force or ability, the power to grow.” (Chapter 4, 5 th paragraph.) Dewey’s philosophy is a process philosophy, not a formula for life or for education. He sums this up neatly in the first sentence of Chapter 5, “
We have laid it down that the education process is a continuous process of growth, having as its aim at every stage an added capacity of growth.”
Later in Chapter 4, he discusses “habits” in both their positive and negative aspects. A similar discussion can be found in more detail in Dewey’s
Human Nature and Conduct, (1922.)
At the end of Chapter 4, Dewey quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson, a man he greatly admired. Dewey wrote a lovely and loving essay about Emerson. It’s available free on the web.
Emerson—The Philosopher of Democracy was presented at an Emerson Memorial Meeting at the University of Chicago in 1903.  Besides being frequently reprinted—Google the title and you find the full text on the web—and countless references to it in Dewey literature, this paper was also voted in 1942 by a committee of seventy eminent psychologists as the most important contribution to the journal during its first 49 years of publication.  In The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology he says “the older dualism of body and soul finds a distinct echo in the current dualism of stimulus and response.”  (In Experience and Education he criticizes the application of the latter two dualisms in educational philosophies that emphasize the latter two as “Either/Or philosophy.)
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Chapter 5, and the beginning of Chapter 6 are the last of the chapters devoted to preliminary distinctions and basic positions. In Chapter 5, Dewey discusses and criticizes the three concepts in the chapter title: Education as Preparation, Unfolding, or Formal Discipline
Preparation. Dewey objects to the idea that education is “preparation” for life, arguing that this diminishes its value, does not recognize the importance of the process of education because of its emphasis on the later outcome, and leads to establishing standards and norms that may not match the actual needs of individual students and instead “makes necessary recourse on a large scale to the use of adventitious motives of pleasure and pain;” that is, it requires adding external rewards and punishments to education. (Third paragraph.)
In the first paragraph he slips in another critique of formal Christian belief, stating, “The conception is carried only a little bit farther” when the idea of education being preparation for later life can be compared to the belief that life on earth “not having meaning on its own account, but as a preparatory probation for ‘another life’”.
Unfolding. Dewey rejects the theory that plant growth—the natural development of an organism as long as it has nourishment and sunshine—can be used as a metaphor for the education of humans. He presents a number of arguments against this view: the botanical comparison requires that a final goal be predetermined; it leads to pedagogy where the teacher consistently guides the student to the correct answer, hence limiting the need for students to deeply understand and learn how to make meaning; and it leads to undervaluing the necessity for experience itself as a basis for learning.
Dewey’s books frequently include references to previous works on their subjects by philosophers and others. Here, Dewey discusses the limitations of Froebel’s pedagogic practice and Hegelian philosophy, when applied to education. The former, remembered now primarily for his introduction of kindergarten into education, focused on the individual child, while the latter invoked the power of society in shaping the human condition. Froebel’s deeply felt concern for young children, which Dewey acknowledges, was expressed within a framework of similarly deeply felt Lutheran dogma.
 Thus, the “unfolding” brought about by education was intended to lead to a predetermined end. Hegel was the leading influence on philosophy in the United States during Dewey’s student days and Dewey called himself a Hegelian for many years. But, while Dewey continued to appreciate Hegelian methodology in his later years, he moved away from Hegelianism and its emphasis on historical movement towards predetermined social ends.
Training of Faculties. Again, Dewey presents a series of 4 objections to the concept that there are “faculties” independent of specific human experiences that only require “training.” The fourth argument, numbered (4), is the most basic: “Going to the root of the matter, the fundamental fallacy of the theory is its dualism.” Here is one more example of a basic Dewey criticism, his concern that separation of an entire act into independent components and then attributing unique, separate qualities to the components is an error. Dewey objects to the separation of a skill, such as “observation” from the things observed.  We learn to be better observers not by practicing observation in the abstract, but by observing particular events or objects. His example of learning to spell emphasizes this point. The section begins with a critique of Locke and what is usually called a “spectator view of perception,” namely that our senses bring directly to our minds the reality of the outside world. Dewey recognized what is now more generally accepted, that perception involves a selection among the myriad of sensations that we experience through our senses to make meaning of our interaction with the world. 
Chapter six introduces a major shift in the book. Although it begins with another critique, this one of Herbart’s view of “Education as Formation,” it ends with a definition of what Dewey means by education and a distinction between progressive and static societies.
Education as Formation. Johann Friederich Herbart (1776-1841) is often cited as the founder of pedagogy as an academic discipline. He was systematic and, more important for reading Dewey, Herbartian ideas were popular in the United States at the end of the 19 th century. Herbart’s approach to education emphasized the need for a systematic development of a subject taught in a particular order with an emphasis on the traditional cultural heritage of society to form the core of the curriculum. He did not conjecture “faculties” innate in learners’ minds, but placed all the activity of education in the domain of the teacher’s production of a strong curriculum based on the cultural heritage available. This leaves only a passive role for the student. Education as Recapitulation and Retrospection. I think Dewey uses Herbart’s writings as a way of criticizing a more general theory, that “education is essentially retrospective: that it looks primarily to the past and especially to the literary products of the past.” (2 nd paragraph of section 2.) He attacks this by a criticizing the biological idea that heredity is all important for individual human development, arguing that if this were the absolute determinant of each student’s capability, then there could be no evolution. Dewey points out, in the section labeled (1), that the educator should consider heredity as minor in relation to environment since the “original capacities [of students] are much more varied and potential, even in the case of the more stupid [ sic], than we as yet know properly how to utilize.” In the section labeled (2), Dewey objects to the idea that the curriculum should focus on the “culture-products of the past” both because the “The study of the past products will not help us understand the present,” and because such study does not involve actual experience. 3. Education as Reconstruction. The previous sections lead to the definition of education as “a constant reorganization or reconstruction of experience.” and the introduction of the idea of “educative experiences” (in section (2)) “A genuinely educative experience, then, one in which instruction is conveyed and ability increases, is contradistinguished from a routine activity on one hand, and a capricious activity on the other.” This leads to the final two paragraphs of the chapter (just before the summary) where Dewey asserts that “experience” is a temporal activity with a past and a future. The idea that “experience has both “breadth and depth” and includes not only the actual “doing” but what precedes it and its consequences is a major theme for Dewey in all his writing. 
The last paragraph focuses on the social implications of his educational ideas, pointing out the difference between “static” and “progressive” societies and the different educational goals for the two. Here we learn the significance of naming the educational reform Dewey advocates as
progressive education: it is the education needed for politically and socially “progressive communities” in which we “endeavor to shape the experiences of the young so that . . . the future society be an improvement on their own.”  “By education, then, the divine essence of man should be unfolded, brought out, lifted into consciousness, and man himself raised into free conscious obedience to the divine principle that lives in him . . . Education should lead and guide man to clearness concerning himself in himself, in peace with nature, and to unity with God.” (Froebel, F. 1887/1974 Augustus Kelley, p. 4-5. Italics in original.)  Attributing existence, or concreteness, to a concept is called “reification” in philosophical language.
 This spectator view of perception and its consequences for epistemology (leading to a “spectator view of knowledge”) are elaborated in Dewey’s
The Quest for Certainty (1929), his critique of all Western philosophy for assuming there is an absolute reality.  “Experience” is a major term for Dewey that he continually struggles to define fully. Experience and Nature (1925) was the first major effort and was so difficult for readers to understand that Dewey revised it within a few years with a longer first chapter that he hoped would make his meaning of “experience” clearer. Late in his life he considered revising that book again and possibly substituting “culture” for ”experience” because he thought it might better describe what he intended.
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In chapter 7 Dewey provides the argument for why a democratic society needs a particular kind of education. He also makes it clear that “democracy” does not simply mean the opportunity to vote and freely express one’s opinion, but means a “society which . . .has the ideal of such change as will improve it” (1
st paragraph). He goes on to define what this improvement might be, after pointing out that the term “society” is sometimes used normatively to refer to an ideal of society and sometimes simply descriptively. He states that there are two traits that describe societies: common interest among members of a group and inclusion (or exclusion) of members of other groups. Referring to various kinds of societies—despotic states, societies that divide into classes such as privileged and subject, gangs—he concludes that the best society is one in which there are “not only more numerous and more varied points of shared common interest, but [also] greater reliance upon the recognition of mutual interest as a factor in social control” and “continuous readjustment through meeting the new situations produced by varied intercourse. (1 st paragraph under 2. The Democratic Ideal.)
In the last paragraph of section 1 (before 2.) he give a modern definition of slavery: “It is found whenever men are engaged in activity which is socially serviceable, but whose service they do not understand and have no personal interest in.” In the next sentence he’s probably referring to “Taylorism” the early 20
th Century “scientific management” system designed to improve productivity (and profit) by reducing manual work to mechanical routine” without workers’ involvement in understanding the meaning of their actions nor having any opportunity to use their own judgment. It can be applied to many modern jobs.
Section 2 concludes with a plea for a particular kind of education that sounds very much like the rhetoric that is used currently to promote so-called “21 Century skills”: “A society which is mobile, which is full of channels for the distribution of a change occurring anywhere, must see to it that its members are educated to personal initiative and adaptability.”
The next three sections, 3, 4 and 5, provide analysis of major educational theories of the past.
Section 3. Dewey was an avid reader of Plato. In his 1930 autobiographical statement, he says, “Plato still provides my favorite philosophical reading.” But in this section, as so often in his historical analyses, he emphasizes the consequences of the class structure of Greek society and their belief in eternal ideal states as a limiting influence on Plato’s educational theories.
Section 4 is a critique of Rousseau and his followers, who emphasized individual development over the relationship of individuals to each other and to the state. This “Individualist” Ideal falls into the category discussed in earlier chapters of promoting natural development (like a plant) that will provide the best environment for proper education. Dewey ignores Rousseau’s discussion of the education of Sophie, the ideal partner for his imaginary &Emile;mile. Girls need to be trained to serve their husbands, not left free to grow into independent human beings.)
Section 5 addresses widely held belief in the late 19
th Century (but not by the rising socialist and communist thinkers) that continental European countries, especially Germany had developed the most advanced, sophisticated and liberal modern public education systems. Germany also represented the model of a civil society with its national, public health care system and other government supported civic activities Dewey argues that the individual interests are subjugated to the state under these systems. (Dewey, unlike most of his ambitious academic contemporaries chose not to go to Germany for higher education.)
He concludes (last sentences before the summary) that in order to develop a progressive (democratic) form of education we need to accept the “idea of education as a freeing of individual capacity in a progressive growth directed to social aims. Otherwise a democratic criterion of education can only be inconsistently applied.”
If the aim of education as stated previously, “is to enable individuals to continue their education—or that the object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth,” then “we are not concerned . . . with finding an end outside of the educative process.” (1
st paragraph of the chapter.) Here is another example of How Dewey avoids a dualism: the separation of ends from means. The aim of education should not be separated from the means used to educate.
Just because something happens as a
result of an action does not mean that it was a conscious end associated with that action. In section 2 (The criteria of Good aims) Dewey gives us 3 criteria for “good” aims and states again. “An end which grows up within an activity as plan for its direction is always both ends and means.” (2 nd paragraph of (3)).
The overarching point of this chapter is that education should focus on outcomes that are themselves educative, not on achieving goals that are “externally imposed.” This “deep rooted vice” and its unfortunate results are discussed in the last section, 3. Application to Education.
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Patty Mason of the lesley education faculty posted this short video on her linked in page. the educational activities that it describes seem to adhere to the progressive ideas we have been discussing in the group. you can find it at
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Thanks for this post. Yes, Seymour Papert's idea that learning is active, not the result of listening, and that the child's interest needs to be engaged, echoes Dewey. Papert, with two other MIT faculty, tried to have MIT develop a whole division committed to research on education in the earlhy 1970's (I was a visiting scholar there for a year), but he couldn't convince the MIT administration that this was an appropriate topic for them at the level of a formal department. He did (and still does,despite his accident?) amazing work. I hade the good fortune to evaluate one of Papert's experimental classes at the Lincoln School in Brookline where the kids (5th grade? 6th grade? I don't remember) worked with his Logo language on their computers--like the opens in the opening scene of the video--creating drawings and diagrams. Besides observing them and talking with them, we got the print out of their keystrokes and could get a pretty good idea of their thinking. The children both enjoyed the work and learned a lot. George
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Chapters 9 and 10 have one theme in common: Dewey uses the discussion to demonstrate the relevance of the political component of progressive education. Both chapters provide arguments for promoting democratic practices in education.
In Chapter 9, Dewey considers two opposing views of aims for education (elaborating on material discussed in Chapter 7). Section 1 focuses on the argument for letting children develop “naturally,” and Section 2, discusses the argument that education should “supply precisely what nature fails to secure; namely habituation of an individual to social control; subordination of natural powers to social rules.” (First paragraph under 2. Social Efficiency as Aim). Rousseau is again quoted and his theory criticized for not recognizing that although natural development “furnish[es] the
conditions of all teaching of the use of the organs; but [he was] profoundly wrong in intimating that they supply not only the conditions but also the ends of their development ”, Without guidance, natural development does not lead to sound education and certainly not to democratic practice. Too great a focus on individual development ignores the fact that humans are social beings and education needs to address their relationships with others in society.
Similarly, a complete focus on an opposing doctrine of “Social Efficiency as Aim” (section 2) is dangerous if it accepts current society as its model. Rousseau’s approach was to shield the student from the “evils” of society. Dewey asserts that this is impossible and impractical and “It is the aim of progressive education to take part in correcting unfair privilege and unfair deprivation, not to perpetuate them.” (2
nd paragraph in 2. (1).)
The discussion in Chapter 9 again invokes Dewey’s critique of dualisms and his definition of experience (discussed more thoroughly in Chapter 11.) Separating the individual from society is problematic. Experiences need to be considered as involving not only an individual but also the surrounding society.
The first sentence of Chapter 10 introduces another Dewey theme: a critique of “spectator” theories; theories that leave humans as passive creatures that have things happen to them, rather than being active agents in our own lives.
 But Dewey leaves this to define interest and discipline and state, “It is hardly necessary to press the point that interest and discipline are connected not opposed.” (last paragraph before 2.) He then goes on for pages to actually press that point!
All this discussion is intended to lead us to section 3, “Some Social Aspects of the Question,” in which he argues that what we do,—the experiences we have—will influence our worldviews. “Man’s fundamental attitudes toward the world are fixed by the scope and qualities of the activities in which we partake.” (first paragraph of 3.) Thus, education should include activities rather than rely on students’ passive listening to accounts of activities. “The act of learning or studying is artificial and ineffective in the degree in which pupils are merely presented with a lesson to be learned.” (last paragraph before 3.) Only if students can participate in a wide range of activities will they have the experiences that will give them the understanding to help improve society. “The school cannot immediately escape from the ideas set by prior social conditions. But it should contribute through the type of intellectual and emotional disposition which it forms to the improvement of those conditions.” (last paragraph before Summary.)
Chapter 11 discusses a key Dewey topic: his definition of “experience.” This is a central concept for all of Dewey’s writing. He used the word in the title of three seminal works and provides a longer discussion of the meaning of “experience” in
Experience and Nature. 
Experience consists of two components
trying (doing) and undergoing (reflecting on the doing.) It is the connection between doing and undergoing that leads to learning. “Mere activity does not constitute experience . . . When an activity is continued into the undergoing of consequences, when the change made by action is reflected back into a change made in us, the mere flux is loaded with significance. We learn something.” (1 st paragraph).
The first paragraph ends with the example of a child who learns that sticking his hand into a fire causes pain. The act is only an “experience” if the child learns from it. This happens to be a famous example, used by William James as well as by behaviorists.
 The rest of the chapter goes on to elaborate on this expansive definition of experience:
(1) That experience is both active, involving the body, and “passive” (as far as physical action is concerned), involving the mind. This analysis challenges the dualism of mind vs. body since the two components of experience are connected.
(2) The value of experience for education “lies in the perception of relationships or continuities to which it leads up” (3
rd paragraph.) It is reflection on the active part of experience that makes it valuable for education.
The rest of the chapter deals with the dangers or separating the components of experience and provides an analysis of “reflective thinking.” This states Dewey’s version of what is often described as the “scientific method.“
 But for Dewey this method of thinking is not a rigid formula but a loose guide to consider how to take advantage of reflecting on experiences to proceed in any activity.  The critique of the concept that there are absolute truths—often called a “spectator theory of knowledge”—is the main argument of Dewey’s 1929, The Quest for Certainty.  Experience and Nature, based on lectures Dewey gave in 1923, was published in 1925. It is dense and complex and received mixed reviews. Dewey added a long first chapter in a second edition in 1930, mainly to try to explain his meaning of “experience.”  Dewey criticized it as implying more than a simple case of stimulus and response in his influential The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology (1896.)  Dewey discussed scientific method in How We Think (1911), a book based on lectures to teachers.
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Chapter 12 and 13 seem fairly straightforward to me, full of classic Dewey-isms: a rejection of dualisms and a constant emphasis on process. The introduction in Chapter 11 of Dewey’s conception of experience as a process—a “doing and undergoing,” "an activity that has a past and a future"—is extended to “method” including both reflective thought and pedagogic method.
Chapter 12 begins with the bold statement that the purpose of schooling is “to develop the ability to think.” Thinking is a process, and its purpose is not only to solve an immediate problem but also to help us to think better in the future. Dewey quickly provides the steps in the process of thinking: experience, followed by data, then ideas (reflection) and finally possible solutions, “[ideas] tested by the operation of acting upon them. (These four concepts are described in sections preceded by the roman numerals I, II, III, IV.) Here we have the application of both the depth and breadth of his meaning of experience. We need to have (or have in mind) actual physical experiences in order to think about something (there is no “abstract thought” unrelated to what we experience) and then we need to consider this experience using what we have experienced and reflected upon in the past and try to fit what we’ve considered with what we knew before (ideas) and use this to advance our understanding (come to some conclusion).
This description of method parallels the previous description of experience in chapter 11. In the summary of chapter 12 he writes, “ Thinking is the method of an educative experience. The essentials of method are therefore identical with the essentials of reflection.” But, when Dewey describes the “steps,” or the temporal sequence of events for any process, we have to remember that this order is not absolute and can vary with occasion or with individuals.
Chapter 13 puts “methods” into a context. Schools of Education traditionally have “methods” courses in which students are presumably taught how to teach a particular subject. But making a distinction between methods of teaching and content is anathema to Dewey’s rejection of dualisms. Thus, the chapter begins with the topic, “The Unity of Subject Matter and Method.” Dewey’s first sentence is” The trinity of school topics is subject matter, methods, and administrations or government.” The absence of “assessment” is striking for a current reader.
Much of the chapter is devoted to a critique of the “evils of education” that arise from “the isolation of method from subject matter.” (The quotation is from the beginning of the paragraph that beings the lists of four evils, labeled (i) – (iv) in subsequent paragraphs.)
The argument emphasizes that teachers need to balance their knowledge of and experience with pedagogic methods with consideration of each current teaching moment, and use their knowledge as a guide but not as an inflexible rule. Current school practices whereby teachers follow specified scripts and uniform lesson plans are not what Dewey has in mind for democratic education.
He also makes a specific point that teachers should not assume they can judge a student’s potential. “How one person’s abilities compare in quantity with those of another is none of the teacher’s business. It is irrelevant to his work. What is required is that every individual shall have opportunities to employ hi own powers in activities that have meaning.” (Last paragraph before, 3. Traits of Individual Method.” (This statement was made before standardized tests were in use in schools, but also at a time when racial segregation was still the norm in many schools, even in the North.)
 He says this explicitly in How We Think, 1911  The more modern concept of Pedagogic Content Knowledge (PCK), popularized by Lee Shulman in the 1980’s is an effort to combine content and method in teacher education programs.
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Anyone who reads chapter 14 has to acknowledge that Dewey’s educational program emphasizes that teachers need to master the subject matter they intend to teach. “When engaged in the direct act of teaching, the instructor needs to have the subject matter at his fingers’ ends.” (6
th paragraph.) The teacher’s job is to figure out how each student, and any group of students might be able to connect with the subject given their limited knowledge. The teacher’s “attention should be upon the attitude and response of the pupil.” (same paragraph a above).
The chapter starts with a reference to the beginning of the book, that “subject matter consists of facts and ideas “in the course of a development of a situation having a purpose.” That complex (awkward?) phrase indicates that facts and ideas by themselves are useless, and being able to recite them does not constitute “knowledge” (or evidence of meaningful learning). Only when facts or ideas support an effort to understand and act carried out for some purpose do they come alive and (presumably) have a chance of being remembered after lessons are concluded. ”In the last analysis,
all that the educator can do is modify stimuli so that response will as surely as possible result in the formation of desirable intellectual and emotional dispositions.” (2 nd paragraph.)
That’s the first point Dewey wishes to emphasize, but it is the second point, “the necessity of a social environment to give meaning to habits formed” (also 2
nd paragraph) that most interests Dewey. He keeps coming back to it in this and subsequent chapters, since social engagement is the key factor in identifying those educational practices that support and encourage democracy. As he does so often, Dewey refers to “primitive societies” a simpler time when children learned informally (not in schools), working with elders, participating in rituals and hearing local myths in the context of ordinary social life. The invention of writing, and the development of formal educational settings, necessary as societies became more complex, resulted in learning subject matter separately from engaging in family and social life assisting in making things or solving problems. “The ties [to the habits and ideals of the social group] are so loosened that it often appears as if there were none; as if subject matter existed simply as knowledge on its own independent behoof, and as if study were the mere act of mastering it for its own sake, irrespective of any social values.” (3 rd paragraph.)
This leads to the distinction between what the teacher knows and what the student understands. The former (should) know the subject matter thoroughly, while the latter is building it up gradually. The teacher’s task is to find the practical applications that might make sense to the student (who is learning by doing) that can form the vehicle for teaching and learning. Students, on the other hand, need to learn to add the results from the experiences derived from solving problems to their growing repertoire of experiences. (see the examples at the end of the 6
th paragraph.) “Only in education, never in the life of a farmer, sailor merchant, physician, or laboratory experimenter, does knowledge mean primarily a store of information aloof from doing.” (end of 3rd paragraph section 2. I.)
Again and again, Dewey connects the acts of learning with social life. “Modes of purposeful doing include dealings with persons as well as things. Impulses of communication and habits of intercourse have to be adapted to maintaining successful connections with others; a large fund of social knowledge accrues.” (Section 2. II, first paragraph). Not only should this social interaction be a constant activity in education, but it is also important to consciously promote it since, “the extension in modern times of the area of intercommunication; the invention of appliances for securing acquaintance with remote parts of the heavens . . . have created an immense bulk of communicated subject matter ” (3
rd paragraph of 2.11) Although Dewey is referring to the expansion of available printed material and illustrations, the same issues are of concern today with the new electronic means of “distributing information—genuine and alleged” (3 rd paragraph of 2. II). The problem posed by this huge amount of information is that “the imposing stupendous bulk of this material has unconsciously influenced men’s notion of the nature of knowledge itself . . . the record of knowledge, independent of its place as an outcome of inquiry and resource in further inquiry, is taken to be knowledge.”” (2.II, 4 th paragraph.)
The term “inquiry” leads a few paragraphs later to a discussion of “science in its most characteristic form” (section 3.) The point here is not that scientific conclusions are necessarily “true” but that the process of science, based ion evidence and the constant opportunity of self-correction is the most useful method that can lead to rational action. “Without initiation into the scientific spirit one is not in possession of the best tools which humanity has so far devised for effectively directed reflection.” (Section 3, 3
The chapter ends with a section on
4. Subject Matter as Social, including an admonition that curriculum should be chosen with the “intention of improving the life we live in common so that the future shall be better than the past.” (Section 4, 2 nd paragraph.) This task has two components, one is selecting the most appropriate experiences for this purpose and the other requires an attitude towards education that does not overemphasize its utilitarian qualities or results in the separation of students into different tracks.
Chapter 15 is the first of several that deal with particular subjects in the usual curriculum. Play and its relation to work are covered here, since play is usually associated with the lowest, earliest grades of the school. Although modern psychology has demonstrated the desirability of play as an activity for children it should not be introduced into the curriculum “merely as an agreeable diversion.” (Section 2, 2
nd paragraph.) “Play and work correspond, point for point, with the traits of the initial stage of knowing, which consists, as we saw in the last chapter, in learning how to do things and in acquaintance with things and process gained in the doing.” (Section 2, 2 nd paragraph.) But, in order to emphasize the educational outcome of play and work, which is “only a by-product of out-of-school conditions” we need to examine “the way they are employed [in the curriculum].” (Section 2, 4 th paragraph).
Various conditions that need to be fulfilled (or avaided)_are discussed in section 2.
1. Avoid activities “which follow definite prescriptions and dictations”
2. Provide opportunities for students to make mistakes
3. Let them learn their own capacity by allowing them to attempt to try to do things that are beyond their capacity.
4. Provide raw material rather than purposely designed materials that are created specifically for pedagogic purposes. (Dewey did not approve of Montessori materials designed to teach specific skills.)
5. “[Students’] occupations should be concerned primarily with
wholes” (Section 2, 5 th paragraph.) Teachers should try to avoid tasks—such as learning how to measure— independently of using measurement for the purpose of building something.
All these admonitions are intended to avoid the error of assuming that “before objects can be intelligently used, their properties must be known.” (Section 2, 5
th paragraph.) Dewey believes the opposite: by manipulating objects we learn their properties.
After this long list Dewey reverts to discussing the (for him) all-important social aspect of play and work in education. “But it is time for a positive statement. Aside from the fact that active occupations represent things to do, not studies, their educational significance consists in the fact that they may typify social situations.“ (Section 2, 7
The example of gardening is used to illustrate the social value of doing “work” in schools, but there are still caveats to be discussed. Activities that are carried out for monetary gain, or as tasks that are assigned, or required to earn a wage with no immediate other gain for the worker (such as work on an assembly line) are not educational. The complex interaction between work and play for its own reward and as part of the burden of life is covered in Section 3, Work and Play.
The chapter concludes with a tantalizing sentence considering Dewey’s interest in aesthetics much later in his life, “Work which remains permeated with the play attitude is art—in quality if not in conventional designation.”
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Chapter 16 provides Dewey’s analysis of the value of history and geography (including nature study!) as “the information studies
par excellence of the schools” (first sentence of section 2). “Geography and history are the two great school resources for bringing about the enlargement of the significance of a direct personal experience” (Summary). These subjects are so important because they deal with all the issues that arise from our experiences. Therefore, the chapter begins (once again) with a reminder of the nature of experience, that it has depth and breadth. When we do something, if we think about it we can have mare than just a physical experience. We can consider its possible meaning (reflective thinking); we can learn that ordinary experience is a particular instance with larger implications. Humans, unlike animals, can add meaning(s) to their physical acts. All our experiences connect with our personal and social past and can be a guide for considering the future. “The final educational importance of such occupations in play and work as were considered in the last chapter is that they afford the most direct instrumentalities for such extension of meaning” (second paragraph in section 1). “With every increase of ability to place our own doings in their time and space connections, our doings gain in significant content . . .Thus our ordinary daily experiences cease to be things of the moment and gain enduring significance”(3 rd paragraph, section 1).
This is why progressive schools worldwide include topics such as studying the local environment, looking at family histories and local agencies and government, and similar activities that engage students in exploring their own lives and social and natural surroundings. The mental activity that allows us to make meanings out of our personal (perhaps seemingly trivial} happenings is the use of imagination. (The 4
th paragraph of section 2 used the word “imagination” repeatedly.) “[History and geography used] as instruments for extending the limits of experience, bringing within its scope peoples and things otherwise strange and unknown, they are transfigured by the use to which they are put. . . . To follow their course is to enlarge the mind not by stuffing it with additional information, but by remaking the meaning of what was previously a matter of course” (end of 4 th paragraph, section 2). Throughout Dewey’s writings “imagination” used not in the sense of fantasy, but as a basic component of reflective thinking plays a significant role. Dewey explains the nature of induction as a thought process that requires imagination.
The last paragraph of section 2 explains why nature study is included in the treatment of “geography.” “Nature and the earth should be equivalent terms, and so should earth study and nature study.” If geographical study includes subunits called “astronomical, physiographic, topographic, political, commercial and geography” why not add nature study to the list, since all of these are part of the earth on which we live” (last paragraph of section 2.)
Finally, we come to the social, moral role in all these studies illustrated by considering the study of history in detail (section 3.) History only comes alive if it concerns ”social life.” “Past events cannot be separated from the living present and retain meaning. The true starting point of history is always some present situation with its problems. (end of first paragraph of section 3). For example, studying history through emphasis on the lives of great men is a mistake if it “throw[s] into exaggerated relief the doings of a few individuals without reference to the social situations which they represent” (2
nd paragraph in section 3). Similarly, study of “primitive life” often becomes oversimplified or sensationalized unless “social relationships and modes of organized action” are emphasized. (3 rd paragraph of section 3). Economic history, industrial history and even the recent interest in intellectual history are ineffective unless they include their relevance to improving current social conditions.
Dewey believed in the “Idea of Progress,” the concept that human society was, in general, progressing toward better lives for more people through time. A 20
th century version of this Enlightenment belief was promoted in Dewey’s time by his Columbia colleague and friend historian Charles A. Beard and famously summarized by a British historian, J. B. Bury in a 1920 eponymous treatise emphasizing how civilization had progressed. Thus, Dewey writes, as if it were an obvious social goal, “The one thing every individual must dois live ; the one thing that society must do is to secure from each individual his fair contribution to the general well being and see to it that a just return is made for him.” (end of paragraph in section 3 that begins with “Primitive history”).“Pursued in this fashion, history would most naturally become of ethical value in teaching. Intelligent insight into present forms of associated life is necessary for a character whose morality is more than colorless tolerance” (Last paragraph before Summary).
Dewey championed including science as a topic in elementary as well secondary and higher education. And he always emphasized that it was more important for its way of thinking than its accomplishments. But the latter are also significant. Dewey provides the example of ”railways, steamboats, electric motors, telephone and telegraph, automobiles, aëroplanes, and dirigibles as conspicuous evidence of the application of science to life” (second paragraph in section 2). Except for the first two, which were still quite new when Dewey was born, all appeared long after Dewey’s childhood. And the whole list certainly “[has broken down physical barriers which formerly separated men; …has immensely widened the area of intercourse. It has brought about interdependence of interest on an enormous scale. It has brought with it an established conviction of the possibility of control of nature in the interests of mankind and thus has led men to look to the future, instead of the past.” (4
th paragraph in section 2). It’s easy to appreciate why he is enamored of science and the idea of progress, introduced in the last chapter.
But this chapter challenges traditional natural science education on two fronts: the manner in which science is taught and the lack of “humanistic” value attributed to it in intellectual circles.
Science itself is impersonal, following a strict logic of “observation, reflection, and testing which are deliberately adopted to secure a settled, assured subject matter.” “Science is the perfecting of knowing, its last stage.” (First and last sentence in first paragraph of section 1). Unfortunately, this “perfected form” that leads to conclusions is a “stumbling block” for pedagogic purposes because of the great temptation to focus on the conclusions when teaching science rather than on the method, which requires experimentation (experience.) “There is a strong temptation to assume that presenting subject matter in its perfected form provides a royal road to learning.” (First sentence in 4
th paragraph of section 1).
In addition, the language of science—mathematical symbols and formulas—obscures the dependence of scientific conclusions on the actual material of nature. (Last two paragraphs of section 1).
Like all subjects, science education should focus on student experiences, on
doing science, not learning its currently settled outcomes. My (George Hein’s) personal criterion for activities useful for learning science is that they require students to do things that allow them to make mistakes. Unless there is an opportunity for error based on the way nature works, then there is no opportunity to reason out the best possible next steps. Too often, what are called student “experiments” in science laboratories are actually carefully designed demonstrations of previously determined sequences that are intended to illustrate what is already known. The correct method in such activities is not the one that is most reasonable, but the one that leads to a predetermined conclusion.
The second current (certainly in Dewey’s time) problem with science education is its inferior standing in the academy. As late as 1959, English physical chemist and author C. P. Snow delivered a widely distributed lecture,
The Two Cultures deploring the fact that humanists knew little natural science, while scientists often were well informed in both cultures. This gap was even wider in Dewey’s time. He attributes it to the classical mindset, derived from Greek culture and Platonic philosophy that attributes higher standing to pure thought than to empirical activity and knowledge derived from experience. Dewey asserts that science can be “humanistic” when taught in its social context (see section 3).
Finally, Dewey needs to connect natural science education with his moral goals for education, to demonstrate that appropriate science pedagogy will help students reflect on how to improve the world. This happens in two ways.
a) If students, through their own experience can learn to appreciate the power of conclusions reached through the impersonal process of science, they can participate in using it (or at least, accepting its conclusions) to better mankind. “Science marks the emancipation of mind from devotion to customary purposes and makes possible the systematic pursuit of new ends. It is the agency of progress in action.” (1
st paragraph in section 2.)
b) The products of science can (and have) expanded our conception of what is possible. “Science has already modified men’s thoughts of the purposes and goods of life to a sufficient extent to give some idea of the nature of this responsibility and the ways of meeting it.
Although in the early 20
th Century there was already an active conservation movement, Dewey does not address our current concerns about the dramatic decay of the natural environment. But his response to those who would challenge the claims of science on ideological or religious grounds is evident.
After a brief discussion of “values” in general, provides three short sections on evaluation, appreciation, and literature and fine arts and then continues with a long discussion of the value of all the possible subjects of the curriculum.
Education requires that students have “experiences” but, obviously, our own experiences are limited. Fortunately, we can connect them with the larger range of experiences of humans past and present through our access to “agencies for representing absent and distant affairs.” “Every step from savagery to civilization is dependent upon the invention of media which enlarge the range of purely immediate experience and give it deeper as well as wider meaning.” (First paragraph in section 1). A problem arises when education relies too much on these intervening symbols. “Formal education is peculiarly exposed to this danger, with the result that when literacy supervenes, mere bookishness. . . too often comes with it” (2
nd paragraph in section 1). The challenge for educators is to provide “quality” experiences for students that lead to interest in the wider world represented through media and balance the two sources for learning. “Sufficient direct experience is . . . a matter of quality, it must be of a sort to connect readily and fruitfully with the symbolic material of instruction (3 rd paragraph of section 1).
Three sort subsections follow this introduction:
1. “Standards of valuation.” The point here is that placing too much emphasis on external values rather than the value that is associated with a student’s own realization of the worth of his or her educational accomplishments is an inappropriate goal. “There are adequate grounds for asserting that the premium to often put in schools upon external ‘discipline,’ and upon marks and rewards, upon promotion and keeping back, are the obverse of the lack of attention given to life situation in which the meaning of facts, ideas, principles, and problems is vitally brought home” (final sentence of subsection 1).
2. “Appreciation of any field” (of study). Here is another discussion of the significance of imagination One goal of education is to have students learn to appreciate the intrinsic value of any subject. And the only way to do that is though the use of imagination. “”An adequate recognition of the play of imagination as the medium of realization of every kind of thing which lies beyond the scope of direct physical response is the sole way of escape from mechanical method of teaching.” (second paragraph in subsection 2.)
3. Dewey wants to be sure to include in the curriculum subjects that are usually considered to have “only” aesthetic value, such a literature and the fine arts. He specifically adds this category because aesthetic experiences “Are not only intrinsically and directly enjoyable, but they serve a purpose beyond themselves. They have the office, in increased degree, of all appreciation in fixing taste, in forming standards for the worth of later experiences” (2
nd paragraph in subsection 3). Four years after the publication of Democracy and Education he wrote in a letter to Albert Barnes that he had no interest in writing about aesthetics. This brief statement about aesthetics comes 18 years before the publication of Art as Experience.
Finally, this chapter concludes with a long discussion of the value of particular subjects in the curriculum. What should be included and how to make these choices? The central point is that any subject can have intrinsic value (educational value by itself) and it has instrumental value (its useful to accomplish something in the world.) Historically, subjects have been chosen for a variety of reasons, such as tradition or social values of a particular society. Frequently the choices lead to “congestion of the course of study, overpressure and distraction of pupils, and a narrow specialization fatal to the very idea of education” (7
th paragraph in section 3).
They can also lead to isolation of individual subjects from each other. This should be avoided because “”It is the business of education in a democratic social group to struggle against the isolation in order that the various interests may reinforce and play into one another” (last sentence of Summary).
Dewey ends the chapter with a series of questions concerning the organization of the curriculum and says, “With the questions of reorganization thus suggested, we shall be concerned in the coming chapters” (Final sentence before Summary.)
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good morning all, my advisor, marion nesbit, sent me this notice about new books celebrating the centennial. i hope that the lesley library purchases them. just in case you have not seen this announcement..... best, paula
Dewey After One Hundred Years Jim Garrison, Stefan Neubert, Kersten Reich Democracy and Education Reconsidered highlights the continued relevance of John Dewey’s Democracy and Education while also examining the need to reconstruct and re-contextualize Dewey’s educational philosophy for our time. The authors propose ways of revising Dewey’s thought in light of the challenges facing contemporary education and society, and address other themes not touched upon heavily in Dewey’s work, such as racism, feminism, post-industrial capitalism, and liquid modernity. As a final component, the authors integrate Dewey’s philosophy with more recent trends in scholarship, including pragmatism, post-structuralism, and the works of other key philosophers and scholars. Learn more... January 2016 ● 9781138939509 ● $49.95 Also of Interest: by Donna Adair Breault and Rick Breault Experiencing Dewey
“As a teacher educator and former public school teacher, I still find Dewey’s work both formative and transformative. This book reminds us of Dewey’s profound impact on education and the need to reflect and engage in a national discourse about the value of experience in the learning process as we prepare students for the 21st Century.”
—Maria Stallions, Associate Professor, Education, Roanoke University Learn more...
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hello all, pardon my additional post to this board, but i just read chapter 16 and was struck by dewey's treatment of geography. specifically: "We realize that we are citizens of no mean city in discovering the scene in space of which we are denizens, and the continuous manifestation of endeavor in time of which we are heirs and continuers." (para. 2) as i read this i recalled hearing of feminist geography many years ago. (is this an example of one of the connections that dewey speaks about?)
briefly wikipedia describes feminist geography as follows: Feminist geographers such as Katherine McKittrick have asserted pointed critiques of the ways in which we see and understand space are fundamentally bound up in how we understand the hegemonic presence of the white male subject in history, geography and in the materiality of everyday space. McKittrick stakes claim in the co-articulation of race and gender as they articulate space and she writes, “I am emphasizing here that racism and sexism are not simply bodily or identity based; racism and sexism are also spatial acts and illustrate black women’s geographic experiences and knowledges as they are made possible through domination.”* the surprising understanding for me, many years ago and now reading critical feminist geographers, is that the field of geography is not simply about the boundaries of countries or mountain ranges, but as dewey states, a "scene in space" that continues to affect our endeavors, in just and unjust ways. * McKittrick, Katherine. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle . Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. p. 92