Archive for September, 2007

Chapter 3: Education as Direction

September 12, 2007

Writing about a book chapter for chapter is a constant reminder that you don’t know all that you’re writing about. Sure I’ve mentioned this before, but like I’m saying, the reminder is constant. Not that a critique of the entire book would encircle a knowledge of it all, it’s just that this partial critique and my partial experience are amplifying. That said, I’m going to spend a lot of time with chapter three.

Dewey got it wrong. Getting it wrong is a problem for any advancement of a theory of change. What I mean is it’s hard enough to change one person’s mind, even when the change is to the complete and obvious advantage of everyone involved. Changing the many minds involved in the protection and perpetuation of institutionalized education, is an overwhelming task. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but the combination of perfect theory and a multiplicity of small scale advances, is a possibility of hope and desire, that at this point can only motivate the work of perfecting theory. The idea of a perfect theory, might be objectionable, I’d probably object to the idea if someone else was putting it forward, but as a motivational idea Perfect Theory works. The problem with using a small scale mind change as an example, say one person changing the mind of one other, is the difficulty even on that small scale of reaching an understanding and course of action that both minds now agree to be in their best interest. At the institutional level, there are many interests, and contradictory interests. In a situation where interests contradict, the perfect theory would harmonize the contradiction. No matter how well intentioned a theory is, with an error it can only go so far. Dewey attempts to connect growth of democracy with the development of the experimental scientific method and evolutionary ideas, but limits the application of the method and ideas in his theory of education to the point where he completely contradicts the concepts behind the method and ideas.

I have a few friends in education who I am in conversation with, and one of the things I usually come around to is the problem of thinking about education while teaching in a classroom. It’s like the classroom structure and organization are binding and make any free thinking impossible. I mention this because Dewey is limited by pragmatism. Sure eventually teachers should think about how to do the work of teaching, but a philosophy of education, or a theory of education needs complete freedom to conceptualize education.

Evolution theory and the Experimental Scientific Method are fertile grounds for education, but how do we follow? I’m not quoting any sources, so if there are any readers who feel like correcting the Folk Theory and Method I’m about to use I’d appreciate it. The theory as I understand it is based on a concept of infinite variation. It’s through infinite variation that survival and diversification are possible. And the Method is a form of documenting a process so that results can be repeated or tested. But in the experimental stage the result can not be known, it’s a process of discovery.

But if, as Dewey suggests in Chapter 3, the general function of education is direction, control or guidance or assisting through cooperation the natural capacities of individuals. then where is the discovery? Dewey falls into the same trap he sets for students by insisting on direction as opposed to aimlessness.

Of course a proposal of aimlessness in education isn’t pragmatic. And there are ends, like reading that need direction. Specific skills and tools, like decoding, encoding and codes themselves are acts and knowledge teachers can aim to teach students. Education as a concept is different than training. Training has a direction, an end, and as such is a more accurate description for what takes place in schools.

Dewey says that when an immature human being is subject to some stimuli, “There is always a great deal of superfluous energy aroused. This energy may be wasted, going aside from the point; it may go against the successful performance of an act. “(p.24) To call this extra energy a waste, to see diversion as “going against” is to completely ignore or misunderstand evolutionary theory. Life tends toward variation, infinite variation, and it is precisely through this open attempt that organisms learn and change.

Is Dewey connecting his philosophy with accepted theories and methods of his contemporary society, as a means of gaining acceptance? He is well aware of social pressure and control. He writes of control, “Still more effective is the fact that unless an individual acts in the way current in his group, he is literally out of it.” (p.34) Is Dewey expressing his desire through current ideas?

Scientific discovery and evolution are nondirectable, uncontrollable processes. The method is a system of reproducing and testing discoveries. Discovery cannot be systematized, what happens next is always unknown. The system is the application of what is known, conservative, anti-evolutionary, closed and controlling. “Control, in truth, means only an emphatic form of direction of powers, and covers the regulation gained by an individual through his own efforts quite as much as that brought about when others take the lead. “(P.23) In Dewey’s definition control is the regulation of power or what is known. But if education is a system of control, how does the result deal with real discovery. Dewey is proposing controlled discovery as an educational method. The educator knows and directs that discovery, the point of any act. But what about the pointlessness of real discovery? How are children educated in the known, in the system, the controlled constructed environment of schools prepared to be free creative beings in an ever changing world?

Dewey Quotes on Mind, Language and Intentional Education

“When children go to school, they already have “minds” — they have knowledge and dispositions of judgment which may be appealed to through the use of language. But these “minds” are the organized habits of intelligent response which they have previously required by putting things to use in connection with the way other persons use things. The control is inescapable; it saturates disposition.” p.32

“Mind as a concrete thing is precisely the power to understand things in terms of the use made of them; a socialized mind is the power to understand them in terms of the use to which they are turned in joint or shared situations. And mind in this sense is the method of social control.” p.32

“Interaction with things may form habits of external adjustment. But it leads to activity having meaning and conscious intent only when things are used to produce results. And the only way one person can modify the mind of another is by using physical conditions, crude or artificial, so as to evoke some answering activity from him. Such are our two main conclusions.” p.33

“Intentional education signifies, as we have already seen, a specially selected environment, the selection being made on the basis of materials and method specifically promoting growth in the desired direction.” p.37

“Schools require for their full efficiency more opportunity for conjoint activities in which those instructed take part, so that they may acquire a social sense of their powers and of the materials and appliances used.” p.39

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I’m shocked and appalled

September 2, 2007

This portrait by John Allemang is a collection of meaty bones for the enemies of Naomi Klein to gnaw on. From the first line: ” If there’s anyone who knows the ins and outs of a successful marketing campaign, it’s Naomi Klein.” Allemang keeps a cynical distance to the point where any possibility of communicating Klein’s message is lost.

He calls “intellectual culture” a “commodity” and refers to Klein’s work as a “successful brand of activism-for-our-times has always had a soft spot for the hot new thing.”

And he’s downright dismissive of “the masses, whoever they now may be?” As well as Klein’s work which he more or less relegates to a world of her own; “Does that make sense? In Ms. Klein’s world, these are givens.”

The one thing I don’t understand is Klein’s complicity is the comparison of the left with religious tradition and a form of inheritance. How could she allow the left to be written up as an elitist family tradition?

It’s funny to read the comments from writers who view the article as ass kissing, even the article’s title is a Seinfeld joke. All in all it’s a reductive piece. Somehow, regardless, I’ve got an inkling the book will rise above it.