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    Rerun: Dewey, Real Education, and the Child with a Soul

    May 17, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    This post first appeared on March 27, 2008. You can read the original here. I have edited it for errors, and reposted it today as an addition to the Poetic Knowledge book club hosted by Mystie. It really should have been posted last week, but Blogger had issues, as many of you probably noticed. I figured I’d go ahead and post this today, and then post my new entry tomorrow, as they are best read in that order.


    Yesterday, I spent a little more time reading about education, the Amish, and technology. It was like a vacation, spending the day at my parents’. It didn’t matter that there were chores in need of doing at home. Because I wasn’t at home. And so I read in the sun while the children ran, screaming, along the path behind the trees.

    It was just windy enough to make them a bit wild.

    I am currently reading a wonderful chapter in Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education by James Taylor called Descartes and the Cartesian Legacy. Have I mentioned I love this book? Because I do. It is packed with wonderful, great ideas, and reading it is like eating a super-rich dessert. I take a bite at a time, savoring and examining. I am in no rush to finish, and I take the time to enjoy and let it assimilate into my being.

    Part of this chapter deals with Dewey as an heir of the Cartesian Legacy. I have heard many criticize Dewey and what he “did” to education, but I never understood the situation. I believe I am now beginning to understand the mystery of that educational transformation a bit:

    Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of EducationWith the influences of Kant, as well as with Descartes, all learning now becomes a kind of effort and work which Dewey models after a dynamic idea of democracy of social change, where learning has as its end the fulfillment of a progressive society always changing toward some perfected goals. Everything is measured by the changing needs of a social end, rather than knowing and learning beginning as a natural and effortless good in itself and leading to the fulfillment of the innate desire to know and to love. Instead, Dewey states in his creed: “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.”

    This, by the way, completely explains to me why “socialization” has become the battering ram the educational institutions prefer to use against homeschooling. The educational institutions do not define education in terms of knowledge, understanding, or wisdom. Of course, some individual teachers might, but I’m talking about the institution as a whole, which is fully devoted to Dewey’s philosophy. Because education, to them, is gained through encountering social situations, homeschoolers are viewed as completely uneducated.

    Our family, I am learning, is quite Medieval in its view of the child and his education. We see him as a soul, to be fed and watered. The end purpose of this soul is to, first and foremost, glorify and enjoy God. The secondary purposes of this soul are to live life as God designed, to form his own family and train the resulting new souls by feeding and watering them. And so it goes. The endless cycle of bringing forth godly seed.

    The learner, with Dewey, is more of an organism, a Darwinian species, to be adapted to the needs of the community. Since Dewey reassigns first principles and absolutes regarding human nature to no more than discovered instruments of mental activity to be used to understand and control the environment, there is no set definition of what the needs of the community are, beyond the utilitarian ends of an experimental democracy, whatever that might be…In short, the entire spiritual nature of the knower…Dewey reduces to a communal learner who will master “skills” and apply “tools of learning” to form a better democracy.

    And then Taylor quotes John Senior in a way that made time stand still for me for a moment:

    John Dewey taught that schools are instruments of social change rather than of education, and that is one reason why Johnny neither reads nor writes nor dreams or thinks; but real schools are places of un-change, of the permanent things.

    Real schools are places of un-change, of the permanent things. To think that such a concept should be revolutionary! And yet it is.

    Taylor goes on to explain:

    [A] school as was understood since the time of Plato, conversed about those things that do not change because permanence had been discovered as standing underneath all appearances of change and thus was a greater reality than change.

    Our society now desires Dewey’s ideas implemented on every level. We have an entire political party completely and utterly devoted to change. {I am not sure what the other party is devoted to. Change at a slower pace? Keeping old changes rather than instigating new ones?} However, as people of the Book, we should be people of un-change, people of the permanent things. While the world is clamoring after this and that new idea that they hope will save them or at the very least make their lives more tolerable, we can be the island of peace and stability. We know the unchanging God. We know His unchanging Word. We know where true salvation comes from. We have knowledge of the unchanging virtues. We, simply, have the answers.

    And so, yet another reason to keep a child out of institutional schools: I do not want my child to be trained to be nothing but a cog in the consumer-driven wheel. There is nothing noble in this sort of training, nor is there any comfort. As I recognize what my child is {viz., a soul given to me for training by his Creator} I realize the great responsibility I have to make sure his education recognizes, and does not attempt to mar or destroy, this true identity.

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  • Reply Silvia May 20, 2011 at 2:08 am

    Note: not just good books, most are excellent, I’d dare say. But there are many excellent we may run across, and some which won’t work for any reason, so ultimately, we make the call.
    And that is just the books, CM was much more than an excellent book list. I know I’m preaching to the choir.

  • Reply Silvia May 20, 2011 at 2:06 am

    It’s funny you just said that. I talked about exactly the same with a friend.

    Personally Ambleside guides me, I like that they have thought of good books to convey history, geography, and quality books in general, but more and more I’m owing my decisions, leaving some books out and choosing others.

    If you approach homeschooling expecting a style, curriculum, philosophy, or schedule to be your guide and boss you are simply heading out for failure. But I sympathize with those considering this for the first time, or taking their first steps into CM.

    Remember what CM says about decisions. And her approach to planning (she threw every year plans and book lists, I know you know this, she also refused to give book lists). But there is as I said the beginning, and at that point I surely must have sounded and looked very pathetic to the more experienced moms. I still have such a looooong way to walk and learn!

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts May 20, 2011 at 12:27 am

    I agree. I like the way you said that, too, Mystie.

    I had another family over yesterday. They are considering Ambleside and wanted to see what a day looks like. {I warned her we weren’t all that impressive.} Anyhow, the mom is still struggling with her decision. We are also reading Vol. 6 of CM with some other moms together. I told her I feel like, in the end, there are these principles and they can be applied with whatever, as long as you know how to choose good books. I like AO because I appreciate not having to choose all the books, but really if you have a Bible and a good library, you can apply the principles daily and do well, I think…

  • Reply Silvia May 19, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Mystie, I like how you worded this, and I agree with the things you work on.

    And Ack, I need to keep a list of what my oldest reads by herself. She started a couple of months ago, but she has been reading along with me so now I’ll pick some of our nice books at her reach and start keeping records.

  • Reply Mystie May 19, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Ack, Silvia, I need to read Ideas Have Consequences, too! 🙂

    I have been realizing more and more that the most important things we do for “school,” are simply good and important things for people — reading and memorizing Scripture, singing, learning about other people and other times, talking about what we’re reading. These are things that really should never end — permanent things, not “7-year-old things.” And the other, more training-oriented things (like spelling or writing) are preparation for adulthood and maturity, a path toward maturity and responsibility.

  • Reply Silvia May 17, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    These stood up to me as I read. That there are many homeschoolers who follow Dewey’s ideas as much as public schools too. This song,
    Time is filled with swift transition,
    naught of earth unmoved can stand,
    build your hopes on things eternal,
    hold to God’s unchanging hand.

    And a cross with Ideas Have Consequences that I’m reading now too, when Weaver talks about democracy as tyranny, and what you comment about our two parties and the one devoted to change, or Dewey, defending social change but having an empty order, lack of references as to what direction to go. The lack of past and future perspective that you only have in systems that recognize and accept permanent truths, values, and principles. It’s like change is the new mantra and the end in itself. This reminds me of my latest math quest, my first reaction was to CHANGE the curriculum, and in truth, one may need a new approach, I don’t deny, but all problems do not magically disappear with change. Thankfully I do not have the same assaulting thoughts whenever I have disagreements with my husband. Though most Americans (and worldwide too) also believe in CHANGE of partners, just to run into the same “eternal” situations that arise in any marriage and to CHANGE once more!

    I never realized we are also MEDIEVAL. My husband would love that!

    And lastly, the definition of the student (and all individuals as well) as a social agent for change, and I add as a consumer, what Mystie asks us to elaborate about the doing versus being and that I extend to HAVING versus being.

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