In this 2006 John Dewey Society Invited Address, I place Dewey in a larger philosophical and historical context. My hope is that by doing so we can learn more about the future prospects for the role of philosophy of education. I see Dewey as one of those rare canonical philosophers whose reputation as a philosopher is intricately tied to their writings on education and I want to explore why this tie makes sense with some canonical figures, such as Plato and Rousseau, but not with others, such as Aristotle, Locke, Whitehead, and Russell, who have also contributed to our understanding of education.
My project aims to develop a relational, pluralistic political theory that moves us beyond liberal democracy, and to consider how such a theory translates into our public school settings. In this essay I argue that Dewey offers us possibilities for moving beyond one key assumption of classical liberalism, individualism, with his theory of social transaction. I focus my discussion for this paper on Dewey's renascent liberal democracy. I move from a discussion of Dewey's liberal democratic theory to what a relational, pluralistic democratic theory might look like, with Dewey's help.
This paper describes John Dewey's attitude regarding the potential for the social studies as a vehicle for citizenship education. During the 1930s, Dewey specifically addressed his concerns for teaching social studies in two articles. By situating these concerns within his framework for democratic education, he outlines the potential for creating participatory citizens. This goal for citizenship education is still relevant today, especially given the current political climate.
Educational historians, philosophers, and sociologists have long warned that the increasing encroachment of business logic in public schools bodes ill for democracy as a way of life. Many have concluded that the business person's interest in affecting public education is to bring about a greater bottom line, which, of course, is profit, albeit secured in the name of democratic freedom and social progress. These scholars have noted that the corporate parasite is eating away the insides of our public schools and is reproducing its hereditary material (consumer materialism) within the bodies and souls of its captive hosts: our children. Through corporate advertisements on school walls, corporate-sponsored curriculum materials and programs, and corporate-sponsored fundraisers and contests (not to mention the enormous political influence corporations have in framing the very aim and purpose of public education), corporations use schools as conduits by which to establish consumption as the ultimate expression of participatory democracy and, thus, as the supreme good and standard of personal growth. Drawing upon the work of John Dewey, this paper articulates a conception of democracy and a democratic theory of education that privileges the social over the private, the public over the corporate, such that the homo-economicus ideal that our public schools train our children to aspire to on a daily basis is checked by a wider commitment to the good life, defined in more socially benevolent ways.
The radical subjectivism of the Austrian school of economics is a special case of Dewey's ways of knowing. Austrian economists adopted an Aristotelian deductive approach to economic issues such as social behavior and exchange. In Dewey's contrasting view, the scientist commends new, alternative ways of knowing to the scientific community, offering more profound insight or more efficacious practical applications. Alternative ways of knowing which do not offer practical or intellectual benefits are to be rejected. Dewey's transactional strategy, asserting knowledge as ways of knowing, suggests a broader and more fundamental critique of the socialist position in the calculation debate. The arguments presented by the Austrian school can be reformulated in terms of Dewey's transactional philosophy.