- Education and the Good Society
Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of the Government of the United States
Introduction to the Symposium
Legislators ought to pay attention, above all else, to education.1 To the degree that scholars and educators are in any loose sense legislators, this injunction to treat seriously and above all else the question of education is just as imperative. The Committee on the Political Economy of the Good Society has accordingly decided to focus the current issue of the journal to the subject of education, guided by this belief in the absolute necessity of education generally, and of university education particularly, to the flourishing or well-being of a good society. Nothing is as important.
Last year important scholarship was done on the question of education, and two events particularly drew our attention. First, many scholars and academics marked the twentieth anniversary of Allan Bloom's controversial yet influential The Closing of the American Mind with conference panels and articles reassessing the insights, merits, or flaws of that work. The same year, John L. Puckett, Ira Harkavy, and Lee Benson published their own thoughtful and engaging collaborative manifesto Dewey's Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform, which sought to bring Dewey's thought to bear on the current problems facing the academy and the good society. Greatly interested in pursuing scholarship on the question of education and the good society, we were inspired to take the educational thought of Allan Bloom and John Dewey (and, by extension, Dewey's contemporary supporters Puckett, Harkavy, and Benson) as our guides in putting together a symposium. Part of the reason for this is the obvious tension or disagreement on the role of education in the thought of these two men. Our symposium on education, then, consists chiefly of two parts. One focus, inspired by Puckett, Benson, and Harkavy's recent book, would consist of articles and reflections on John Dewey's thoughts and writing on education, especially as they relate to universities. The other focus would be on Allan Bloom's work. In the best cases, our contributors would address both foci; that is, there would be genuine dialogue. Bringing together a discussion of Dewey's democratic education together with Bloom's account of liberal education is truly an amazing feat. We believe that we have brought together an impressive group of diverse scholars to comment on two thinkers who wrote on education and are impressive, although quite distinct, in their own right: Allan Bloom and John Dewey.
In this symposium, we first asked the contributors to reflect very generally on university education in the good society. To the extent that we offered any further guidance, we urged the contributors to consider the educational writings of Allan Bloom and John Dewey. However, we gave no explicit limitations as to what direction individual articles should take from this suggestion. Indeed, the symposium before you consists of many articles that treat either Bloom or Dewey as well as those that treat them both. There are also a number of excellent articles that look at the university in action, describing what a civically engaged university looks like or should be. All in all, we have what promises to be an excellent symposium around what is perhaps the single most important issue of political concern for a good society.
But why bring together scholars with such profound disagreements to speak about other thinkers—Bloom and Dewey—who themselves had profound disagreements on the nature of education in this democracy? To be sure, Allan Bloom and John Dewey have widely differing opinions and concerns regarding higher education. But perhaps more importantly, they share a conviction regarding the centrality of education to democracy at its best. Whatever the disagreements amongst the contributors to this symposium, and whatever the disagreements between Bloom and Dewey for that matter, all of the contributors agree on the matter of the most fundamental importance, that...