The last few Friday Lessons have offered excerpts from Steve Simpson’s newest book Rediscovering Dewey.
In this last excerpt Simpson explores the relevancy of John Dewey’s ideas today:
Most of Dewey’s ideas about education for democracy were written nearly one hundred years ago during a time of industrialization. A reasonable question would be, “Are his ideas still relevant in a post-industrial age?” Several contemporary philosophers and educators believe that Dewey’s ideas are very relevant today. One of the most articulate is Richard Bernstein.
(from Simpson’s Rediscovering Dewey) Bernstein described Dewey as a best hope and wrote that unless educators embraced the Deweyan position of teaching for communitarian individualism, the quality of life in a democratic society could not improve:
If man is to achieve genuine freedom and individuality, it is necessary to counter the natural tendency of a technological society. Present social institutions must be reconstructed so that they will encourage the realization of creative individuality… we must attempt continually to reform and rebuild social institutions so that our ideal values become concretely realized. The relevance of this view of social reform to education should be clear. We frequently speak of the failures of a generation and the hope that the younger generation will do a better job. This is an idle and fanciful hope unless we take the concrete steps to reform the educational process so that those dispositions which are essential for leading more creatively intelligent lives are encouraged.
Bernstein’s quote actually mirrors Dewey’s own words in “Education and Social Change,” where he wrote”
Democracy also means voluntary choice, based on an intelligence that is the outcome of free association and communication with others. It means a way of living together in which mutual and free consultation rule instead of force, and in which cooperation instead of brutal competition is the law of life; a social order in which all the forces that make for friendship, beauty, and knowledge are cherished in order that each individual may become what he, and he alone, is capable of becoming. These things at least give a point of departure for filling in of the democratic idea and aim as a frame of reference. If a sufficient number of educators devote themselves to striving courageously and with full sincerity to find the answers to the concrete questions which the idea and the aim put to us, I believe that the question of the relation of the schools to direction of social change will cease to be a question, and will become a moving answer in action.