Sunday, 11 October 2009

2 + 2 = a John Dewey Hi5!

We rebel against all organization and all stability. If modern thought and sentiment is to escape from this division in its ideals, it must be through utilizing released impulse as an agent of steady reorganization of custom and institutions.

- John Dewey, "Impulse and Change of Habits," Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology. New York: Modern Library (1922): 95-105. Found here.

A rebellion against all organization and stability? The absence of demarcating contextual referents here is, ahem, regrettable. What exactly did this man have in mind? If we are to take that word "all" seriously then we suddenly find ourselves overlooking an abyss of human depravity - theft, rape, murder and such like are transvalued into acts of romantic rebelliousness. With reference to John Dewey, Newt Gingrich had this to say to Robert Costa of National Review:
Deweyism is the creation of an educated class which knows nothing. Dewey wrote about this: ‘You don’t want them to know too much history, because that limits their plasticity’; ‘you don’t want them to know too much math or science, because that limits their plasticity.

Malone Vandam calls this "knowledge without context" but I'm not sure I agree. On his interpretation, "too much" knowledge would mean facts bound by contexts, whereas "enough" knowledge would simply be facts devoid of context - facts with very limited meaning and thus usefulness. That's easy enough to see in history for example, with something as crude as "white men A, B and C did D, E and F to the native Indians on date G". However, I don't think it is possible to have knowledge without some context. In the above example, the lack of context is illusory since the terms "white" and "native" allude to a context, which is easily ascertained by reading between the lines, of collective racial criminality.

Because the content of education is controlled by the State, there is a political fight to control the context in which facts are taught. But more than that, there are sections of the Left that fight for a general numerical reduction of taught knowledge. I can recall, around this time last year, for example some of my University students not having done their homework on the grounds that their department had asked them to sell coffee to the public to help raise funds for an excursion. Such incidents can of course be dismissed if isolated occurrences, but I think that there will be more and more of this sort of thing.

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