Sunday, December 13, 2009

Progressives Take Over Education, A Late Warning

Big Hollywood has been almost floor to ceiling complaints lately about Howard Zinn's Progressive history book and the recent documentary (The People Speak) based on it. Michelle Malkin gets into the act, too.

I'm glad they're highlighting the Marxist nature of Zinn's book, and the Progressive goals of his 'students', like Matt Damon. Unfortunately, they're about 110 (or 40) years behind the curve (the number depending on where you want to start), and bearing much less firepower than is needed.

John Dewey created the philosophy – and in some cases the practical implementation – of Progressive education 110 years ago with the publication of The School and Society in 1899. He wrote extensively on the subject in later works, both philosophical and popular. He was, in a sense, the anti-Rand before she published a word.

I'll save for later a full explication of Dewey's philosophy. For now, a simple quote or four will do to convey the flavor. First, his views on morality:
"Moral and social problems, for Dewey, are concerned with the guidance of human action to the achievement of socially defined ends that are productive of a satisfying life for individuals within the social context.

Regarding the nature of what constitutes a satisfying life, Dewey was intentionally vague, out of his conviction that specific ends or goods can be defined only in particular socio-historical contexts. In the Ethics (1932) he speaks of the ends simply as the cultivation of interests in goods that recommend themselves in the light of calm reflection."
In line with Pragmatism, his ethics is essentially contentless. It's whatever 'society' decides at any given time. But the basic approach is key here and that approach is unwaveringly collectivistic. That's even clearer in statements like these:
"I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race.
I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child's powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself. Through these demands he is stimulated to act as a member of a unity, to emerge from his original narrowness of action and feeling and to conceive of himself from the standpoint of the welfare of the group to which he belongs." [My Pedagogic Creed (1897)]
That translated easily into his view of the purpose of education, from a social or political standpoint:
"I believe it is the business of every one interested in education to insist upon the school as the primary and most effective instrument of social progress and reform in order that society may be awakened to realize what the school stands for, and aroused to the necessity of endowing the educator with sufficient equipment properly to perform his task." [ibid]
By the late 1960s, Progressive education (at least in public schools) was nearly the only kind there was. What we see today — with the near monopoly of the views of Greens, unionists, and other Progressive types in education — is the inevitable result.

Compared to Dewey — as measured by the standard of radical transforming destructiveness — Zinn and his followers are pikers.

So, while once again, I'm glad that BH and Malkin are exposing these clowns, I'll be much more impressed when they start attacking the root of the problem. Given the perpetual myopia of most conservatives — as well as their not-so-intellectual leaders' unfortunate tendency to populism — I'm not holding my breath.


Ted Amadeus said...

John Dewey is second only to John Meinert Keynes in being one of the darkest characters in the history of Western Civilization. I found him a fascinating case study in what malignant atheism does to the mind (incredible how they almost without exception gravitate toward group-feeeeeel and earth-worship).

If George W. Bush and John McCain are the measure of the modern Conservative, I'm surprised these writers aren't in a tizzy over the Progs stealing their thunder!

Jeff Perren said...

Sorry, Ted, I can't quite see how you reach those conclusions.

Keynes' views are certainly causing a great deal of harm. But they would never be considered without the softening of the will made possible by the absorption of Pragmatism.

And - working backwards through time - given Hegel, Kant, Rousseau, Plato and a great many lesser figures I can't really place Dewey that high up.

Granted, measuring these things is tough...

Also, what is "malignant atheism?" I'm an atheist and I can't see anything malignant about it, quite the opposite. I can't see how it leads to the adoption of malignant philosophies. It seems pretty neutral in that respect, and religion has much to answer for historically. It's only because consistent Christianity has been mostly neutralized that it's no longer doing the kind of damage it once did.

With regard to Dewey in particular, I don't see how that's historically accurate. He may not have been a standard-issue Christian of the day, but he certainly believed that religion was necessary and pragmatically useful.