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November 15, 2012

Some doubts about John Dewey as the "philosopher of the common good"

Michael Perry has linked to Charles Reid's suggestion that, in the wake of the election, we look to John Dewey -- described as the "philosopher of the common good" -- for optimism and inspiration.  It seems to me that we should look elsewhere. 

John Dewey's "optimism" and "egalitarianism" included -- indeed, his approach had at its heart -- a deep antipathy to religious authority and truth-claims, and indeed to any significant role for non-state mediating associations in the formation and education of persons.  Dewey praised Paul Blanshard's anti-Catholic screeds, and in some ways inspired them.  Charles notes, of course, that praise of Dewey needs to be "qualified," and says that he "appreciate[s] the diversity religious education offers in a world where public education might otherwise become too homogeneous."  As he should, and as Dewey -- an implacable enemy of the Catholic schools -- did not. 

I wonder, does Michael endorse Reid's endorsement of Dewey?  Why or why not? 

Posted by Rick Garnett on November 15, 2012 at 08:19 AM in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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Since Prof. Perry closed comments on his his post, I can't ask him the question directly, but I was struck by his quote of Prof. Reid's characterization of the "ugly campaign season" by naming only "racist dog-whistles" and "class hatred (the "takers" vs. the "makers"). I wonder if Profs. Perry & Reid would think Sandra Fluke's assertion that if Gov. Romney had won "pregnant women would be allowed to die" in American emergency rooms is part of this "ugly campaign season". Furthermore, I wonder if they would characterize an ad by a SuperPAC run by a former Obama White House official linking Gov. Romney to the death of a woman by cancer five years after he left Bain Capital?

I agree with the Profs. that our country needs bipartisan solutions, but calls to bipartisan solutions cloaked in partisan tut-tutting doesn't seem very fruitful to me in advancing any cause - pro-life or otherwise.

Posted by: Josh DeCuir | Nov 15, 2012 9:38:45 AM

"As he should, and as Dewey -- an implacable enemy of the Catholic schools -- did not."

This raises interesting issues about American Catholic schools. How much have they conceded to the Dewey educational system and have become a more expensive version of public schools?

Posted by: CK | Nov 15, 2012 10:05:41 AM

Seriously, Dewey for inspiration? And this coming from a professor at a Catholic university?

It seems that Reid, at least, has confused things that Dewey supported with what he actually thought. The admonition from the popes about socialism comes to mind - while there may be good things accomplished by its proponents, the underlying principles are flawed, if not dangerous.

At his core Dewey seems incompatible with Catholic thought and, despite all his talk, anti-democratic.

Posted by: ctd | Nov 15, 2012 10:21:47 AM

Casey -- I think that some Catholic schools (not all, certainly) have not done all that they should to be meaningfully "Catholic", in a way that distinguishes them (in terms of formation, sacramental preparation, moral education, etc.) from public schools. That said, they are certainly not "more expensive" than public schools. They cost more to those who choose them because of our unjust denial of public funding to those who choose them, but the "cost" of educating a kid in a Catholic school is dramatically less than the cost in the typical public-school district (and part of that cost is usually absorbed by the parish, dioceses, or school).

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Nov 15, 2012 11:17:24 AM

"That said, they are certainly not "more expensive" than public schools. They cost more to those who choose them because of our unjust denial of public funding to those who choose them, but the "cost" of educating a kid in a Catholic school is dramatically less than the cost in the typical public-school district (and part of that cost is usually absorbed by the parish, dioceses, or school)."

Sorry that was unclear, but your point is what I was getting at. For those of us in the Northeast who send our kids to Catholic schools, the individual cost is huge between the property taxes to finance our neighbor's education as well as the tuition for our own kids.

And I agree, that many Catholic schools have done much in the way of distinction, I'm just concerned that some of our schools have given in to Dewey originated trends such as STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics) which can take the place of the faith in the central importance of child education. I've seen this development at my kids school. However, I do think science and math are extremely important to learn in our technocratic, consequentialist age.

Posted by: CK | Nov 15, 2012 5:15:34 PM

Ck--I think you are correct in that our parochial schools produce smart students but not very faithful ones.

Rick--not to veer off topic, but considering the religious freedom problems we've seen with accepting government control or funds of late, I think it high time for us to reconsider support for vouchers.

Posted by: Don Altonello | Nov 17, 2012 7:55:13 AM

Don - the evidence is that Catholic schools *do* help form faithful, active Catholics. And, in fact, vouchers have not come with intrusive conditions (yet). If they do, then we say "no". But vouchers are a basic requirement of justice.

Posted by: [email protected] | Nov 17, 2012 10:39:06 AM

Rick--

I'll trust you on the statistics. My own experience is anecdotal. Very few of my classmates appear to have anything resembling a serious faith. It's not surprising considering the permissive culture and attitudes (of both teachers and parents) and sorry religious instruction, though.

My concern, and perhaps it can be abated, is when our schools begin the rely on voucher money. The state legislature changes hands or a court decision is handed down, and we start getting Canadian and western-European style demands about what moral teachings can and cannot be taught. Or--they start mandating morals curriculum--ie., "showing both sides" because the state has an interest in the political values being taught children in a pluralistic democracy etc... Perhaps a more immediate problem is what I noted above--namely, that those Catholic schools that already have watered down their identity will fee a subtle pressure to do so even more.

You saw the outcry in Denver when Chaput decided it was probably not prudent to admit the children of gay parents...and they weren't even receiving government money.

In all the commentary I see in support of vouchers, I see little to nothing discussed about this very real issue. I'm all for affordable parochial education--it just seems that the devil's bargain we're making is that because of the lack of religious vocations, costs of education go up. Because costs go up, we turn to public funding.

Either way, it's a shame we feel we need something like vouchers to secure a solid religious education for impoverished children.

Posted by: Don Altobello | Nov 17, 2012 2:41:01 PM

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