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Adler, Philip A. (ed.) / The Wisconsin literary magazine
Volume XVI, Number 4 (January 1917)

Eaton, Howard O.
Education and democracy,   pp. 121-122

Page 121

Education and Democracy
A     NY  educational theory which emphasizes the
11,      child's own activity above the activities of its
teachers will doubtless be branded as the mouthings
of a Modest Modernist. John Dewey, however,
sponsors this view, and if only to get closer to the
pragmatic treatment of education, it is well worth
while to follow the reasoning with which he supports it.
His first task is to show that the assumptions of
those who have minimized the importance of child ac-
tivity are false. These have been of all types and
brands of philosophy, from Plato to Hegel. Just at
present the password is to treat the child with the ut-
most sympathy. If the little tots cannot quite grasp
the mystic significances of a Froebelian kindergarten
we must lead them still more gently. One school af-
ter another lugs forward a marvelous assortment of
games, toys, and building blocks, having at least this
simplicity in common, that the child is not more mys-
tified than the onlooker.
Such reverential sympathy for the child has not al-
ways dominated the field. The three R's would at
one time have outbid it for public favor. Other the-
ories have come and gone; some regard the child as
but an empty container to be filled with the world's
knowledge, or a photographic plate which is to be ex-
posed to the happenings of the world and the educa-
tive process thereby recorded on the sensitized mind.
Or, again, the child by intimation acquires ability; or
is a microcosm matching in perfection the macrocosm
which is the world. Each theory has been the pro-
duct of its age, the scheme best suited to meet the
needs of those in control of the educational machinery.
The dualisms involved-and every such theory is a
dualism, whether it contrasts the theoretical and the
practical, the rational and the empirical, the one and
the many, or what not-arise out of the fundamental
opposition of a laboring class and a leisure class.
The studies and interests of the latter class have been
assumed to be of a higher quality, closer to truth; else
why should they, who have leisure, choose them?
Working men, on the other hand, are engaged in han-
dling the raw material of life, the crude, unshaped,
meaningless lumps of wood and earth and stone; they
are empirics, and it is not surprising that the aristo-
cratic philosopher, watching their uncertain knowl-
edge and many mistakes, concluded that they were
not concerned with Reality, and that Truth lay in an-
other, neater region.
Thus the educational tradition, as it has come down
to us from the Greeks, got under way. It perfectly
suited the ruling, leisure class, for it was ideally
adapted to perpetuate the control of society by a
small, self-centered group. Nor was it mere momen-
tum that carried the tradition across the Dark Ages
to implant it again in the Europe which inherited the
Renaissance. The same forces that gave it birth have
preserved it, and will doubtless lend it voice when
Plato has been forgotten.
Its exact content and character have changed from
time to time. In general it seeks its educational ma-
terial and its inspiration in the records, particularly the
literary records, of the past. Such information is cer-
tainly free from complicity in the daily life, and thus
perpetuates the dualism which is the really vital part
of all these theories. As might be expected in socie-
ties essentially static, the assumption is that life has a
definite goal-the earning of money or fame, or the
preservation of existing and time-venerated institutions,
or other equally rigid ideals-a goal which is pretty
much the same for each of us. It is desirable to reach
this goal as directly as possible. This means in plain
terms the bending of all the energies of teacher and
pupil towards fitting the latter with the requisite equip-
ment to play his part. .That this requires the neglect
and inhibition of many if not the most of the unique
qualities of the student, or else a blind revolt on his
part which is needlessly wasteful and destructive, does
not deter these traditional educators.
Most of their theories contain such inherent inac-
curacies, or gross exaggerations of one phase or an-
other of the problem, or are so inconsistent with them-
selves that they get but short shrift at Mr. Dewey's
hands.  It is not sufficient, however, to uncover their
short-comings and fallacies. The picking of flaws in
theories which have for the most part been replaced
in practical education by others perhaps equally per-
nicious but in a different garb, is at best an endless
and thankless task.
Hence Mr. Dewey has taken great care to lay down
the philosophical basis for an education which shall
meet the requirements of real democracy. This in-
volves a redefinition of both education and democracy.
And both are to be found in the arguments with which
he attacks the dualisms and absolutisms of the older
One of the great problems of philosophy is the in-
dividual as he is affected by living in society. Most
philosophers are prone to assume the individual as the
ultimate unit, and upon a basis of individualistic free-
will and self-interest, generally implicit, to build this
system or that. This is essentially begging the ques-
tion, for if an individual is at all affected by living in

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