2006/04/19

Reconstruction for Education?

The upshot of much of Dewey's thought ties in, directly or indirectly, with his views on education. Education, of course, being a lifelong process in one sense, an inculcation of habits of habit formation in another, a training ground, etc. The list goes on but it is obviously central to his thought; to be less thoughtless: a psychologist (for Dewey is that) has to understand and take education into account, even where it is viewed as continuous rather than contiguous with "socialization" or informal learning. In ethical education, we are concerned with the stuff traditionally regarded as moral, though of course the distinction of such from the rest of behavior is artificial, arbitrary.

Prior attempts to free ethical thought from the dogmatic and antirealistic past were stymied by the basic assumptions of all prior thought in ethics (save that, perhaps, of certain heretics).
... utilitarianism gave intellectual confirmation to all those tendencies which make "business" not a means of social service and an opportunity for personal groewth in creative power but a way of accumulating the means of private enjoyments. Utilitarian ethics thus affor a remarkable exampole of the need of philosophyic reconstruction [per the program of Reconstruction in Philosophy... it was still tied down by fundamental ideas of that very order which it thought it had completely left behind: The idea of a fixed and single end lying completely beyond the diversity of human needs and acts renedered utilitarianism incapable of being an adequate representative of the modern spirit.
Indeed this is the critique Dewey offers of all prior moral philosophy: it fails insofar as it subordinates the competing ends of actual life to a single further end to be sought above all else, as though this single heading could explain the varieties of things thought to be good in any way other than that human beings, since their very conception as a species, had up until insert moral theory here been completely wrong about how to be good--they didn't have their collective eyes on the prize, as it were. But this is, if one thinks about it, either so idealistic as to be religious, in the worst sense, or absurd.

A further thought: if the idea that there is a single end to be sought, this does not preclude that there is in fact (in some sense) an end all things human beings take to be ends are instrumental toward. Eudaimia, happiness, grace, these are names of such a thing--'flourishing' has been used to name it sometimes--that is the "ultimate" end, but of course this will be allowed as long as no one takes it to be plausible that the actual psychology of human beings is to take such a thing into account except perhaps very sporadically in deciding what to do. Think of podering "What do I wish to do with my life?" The process of moving towards, change, dynamic "improvement" or transformation anyway, of growth that is, these are the marks of a human life lived and lived fully--though of course contentment seems also to be a necessary condition on living the best kind of life (sometimes--Wittgenstein's last words were "Tell them I've had a wonderful life" though he hadn't been happy). And it is education that is the vehicle and the process:
Education has been traditionally thought of as preparation: as learning, acquiring certain things because they will later be useful. the end is remote, and education is getting ready, is a preliminary to something more important to happen later on. Childhood is only a preparation for adult life, and adult life for another life. Always the future...

If at whatever period we choose to take a person, he is still in process of growth, then education is not, save a s a by-product, a preparation for something coming later. Getting from the present the degree and kind of growth there is in it is education. This is a constant function, independent of age. The best thing that can be said about any special process of education, like that of the formal school period, is that it renders its subject capable of further education: more sensitive to conditions of growth and more able to take advantage of them. Acquisition of skill, possession of knowledge, attainment of culture are not ends: they are marks of growth and means to its continuing.

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