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  • Universities, Schools, Communities, and Democracy
  • Lee Benson (bio), Ira Harkavy (bio), and John Puckett (bio)

Democracy must begin at home, and its home is the neighborly community.

—John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (1927)

Democracy has been given a mission to the world, and it is of no uncertain character. I wish to show that the university is the prophet of this democracy, as well as its priest and its philosopher; that in other words, the university is the Messiah of the democracy, its to-be-expected deliverer.

—William Rainey Harper, The University and Democracy (1899)

In the Preface to Dewey's Dream, we emphasized that the primary purposes of the book were "agenda setting and movement initiating, not thesis proving." Our hope was "to stimulate the constructive criticism, creative counterproposals, serious sustained debate, and experimental action necessary…to solve the Dewey Problem." We defined the Dewey Problem as, "what specifically is to be done beyond theoretical advocacy to transform American society and other developed societies into participatory democracies capable of helping to transform the world into a 'Great Community?'"1 This Symposium on Dewey's Dream and Bloom's Closing of the American Mind has produced precisely the kind of dialogue and discussion we had optimistically envisioned. Indeed, the authors of the seven articles that analyze themes addressed by John Dewey and Allan Bloom, as well as in Dewey's Dream, have provided "the give and take of ideas, facts, experiences" that Dewey claimed to be essential for democracy itself.2 Certainly we have learned a great deal from the ideas, proposals, and critiques. Among other benefits, the articles have helped us sharpen our own thinking, as well as clarify arguments we made in a relatively short book that we described as a "democratic manifesto" rather than "a traditional scholarly work."3

We have organized our response as follows. First, we comment upon core commonalities and differences between Dewey and Bloom. Summarily stated, both viewed the schooling system as the primary subsystem of society. However, the schooling system was to serve dramatically different purposes, and, as such, learning was to occur in markedly different ways for Dewey and Bloom. We also discuss Bloom's, Dewey's, as well as our, conceptualizations of the role of higher education in developing a good society. We then briefly describe our approach to university-school-community partnerships through the development of university-assisted community schools and expand on some of the important ideas provided by a number of the contributing authors, including their emphasis on democratic education and learning and the development of democratic partnerships.

It's the Schooling System

Nearly all the authors highlight issues relating to education and schooling. This is, of course, no accident since Dewey and Bloom focused on the purposes and methods of learning. While both identified the schooling system as the strategic subsystem of society, they called for very different types of schooling to help produce their radically different visions of a good society. They both would strongly agree with the Chilean sociologist Eugenio Tironi that the answer to the question "What kind of education do we need?" is to be found in the answer to the question "What kind of society do we want?"4 Bloom believed that the good society would be governed best by an educated elite, schooled in philosophy. As Michael Zuckert observes: "Bloom is not much concerned with the requisites of a free society in Closing of the American Mind. Rather, he is concerned with the requisites of a proper education, which he understands to be essentially and above all an education to philosophy. Education which is vocational or civic does not qualify as true education." Needless to say, Bloom to a significant extent is echoing an argument made by Plato, the philosopher that Dewy most liked to read.

Though Dewey admired Plato, their worldviews differed radically. We need note only two basic differences: Plato's worldview was aristocratic and contemplative, whereas Dewey's was democratic and activist. Despite their many differences, Dewey saw the great value of the basic ideas Plato had developed in The Republic concerning the complex relationships between education and society. To summarize Dewey's views on...


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pp. 86-94
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