- John Dewey and the Philosophy and Practice of Hope
In John Dewey and the Philosophy and Practice of Hope, Stephen M. Fishman, Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and Lucille McCarthy, Professor of English at the University of Maryland, join forces to experiment with John Dewey's ideas in the classroom. They focus on the topic of hope, something they notice lacking in the world. Living in these dark times, they admit, wears on their own confidence. Like many people over thirty years old, they came of age during a time that encouraged optimism. Today, in contrast, evidence of growing political and religious unrest, including war, widening gaps between rich and poor, and perilous ecological conditions, despite our best and most reasoned efforts to improve the world, often engenders a sense of despair. Failure can seem inevitable. A significant problem becomes that of recovering and sustaining a sense of hope.
Fishman is determined to solve this problem by making "philosophy hit the ground" (164). As McCarthy and he have demonstrated in earlier collaborations, Fishman is comfortable making his classroom a laboratory to test ideas; his approach to recovering hope is to design and teach a course on it. McCarthy, his partner, graciously returns in her role as sensitive, insightful, and articulate observer. Sympathetic to Fishman's challenges and dreams, she holds up a mirror to his teaching. The two professors also return to John Dewey's works for inspiration. Fishman notes Dewey's capacity to sustain hopefulness, even as he encountered difficult personal and public losses. This leads Fishman to find in Dewey what he calls a "road map" to a more enduring sense of hope. Moreover, Fishman wants to see if by taking his course, students "might better understand and enhance their levels of hope" (xx). [End Page 66]
The book is divided into two parts, the first largely philosophical and the second more practical. Fishman devotes the first chapter to presenting his theory of "Deweyan hope." In the next three chapters, he compares and contrasts the set of ideas constituting Deweyan hope with those from other scholars who have written on hope, including French existential philosopher Gabriel Marcel, Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, and psychologist C. R. Snyder. Believing that "Dewey's voice becomes clearer and more resonant when it is heard in dialogue with these other voices" (xxiii), Fishman devotes a chapter to each individual, although throughout the text, he does not treat them as fully as he does Dewey. He concludes this more theoretical part of the book with a chapter titled "Highlights of a Deweyan Theory of Hope."
With an audience of teachers in mind, McCarthy then takes on most of the second section, "The Practice of Hope," which comprises about a third of the book. Here she makes the course come alive by reporting on her empirical study of Fishman's upper-division course, "Philosophy and the Practice of Hope," which he taught to ten undergraduates at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte during the spring of 2005. In chapter 6, "Teaching a Course on Hope," she explains Fishman's seminarlike approach to engaging in collaborative inquiry, discusses the aim of what she calls "constructed knowing," reports on the assignments, provides portraits of the students, and recounts a class discussion. In addition to viewing all the classes either directly or via videotape, McCarthy reflected with Fishman on student work and conducted at least four interviews with almost every student. In chapter 7, "Undergraduates in a Course on Hope," she reports on "ideas about hope that the students were most able to use in their own lives" (105). She concludes her section with "Highlights of a Deweyan Practice of Hope." For the final chapter of the book, Fishman and McCarthy reflect on their own collaborative learning experience.
In constructing a theory of Deweyan hope, Fishman offers an idea he calls "ultimate hope" or "living in hope." As he explains, "By living in hope...