Think Of The Homeless

There are over 30 million Americans who live on the streets of our nation. Can you consider giving something to a shelter near you? Your fellow human beings need socks because they walk everywhere. Food and shelter are great too, if they will take them. So please give.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Are We Really in the Dawn
of a New Age?
Part 3

Let’s continue our study by looking at the issues and subjects that are relevant to us today. John Dewey was indeed hard to understand on these points at times, but all too often he did indeed present these ideas candidly and in great detail. For one thing he had no faith in eternal truth. He believed that the closest you could come to eternal truth was in philosophy, that philosophers were often the creators of the future but most assuredly the creatures of the past. As we all are.

True to his own form, Dewey uses other terms to espouse his own inherent atheism. Cloaked in terms of philosophy and murky logic, he again and again denies the existence of God or an eternal truth of God’s word. Meaning is more important than truth, was his mantra and he felt that philosophy was more concerned with meaning than truth. Placing some type of separation between meaning and truth can be risky, as eventually you’ll have to prove that such a thing can be done, for how can falsehood have any meaning or function if you are a person who is concentrating on results rather than mechanics. This is just one more example of the grey area of logic that Dewey, a man who influenced the world of education, convinced the world of his “genius” with.

For this sort of thing, Dewey was known as an “instrumentalist”. Education and all other activities for him were to be evaluated by the consequences experienced by the person educated and not by their truth content. For Dewey, there was no content in truth. Dewey believed that the ultimate problem in production was the production of human beings. In my opinion, this is an obvious point put forth as though it were some kind of new rational, for without the humans to build the machines and run the machines, in all their faulty, mistake riddle ways, we would have no production at all.

Dewey felt that any final formulations of truth often lead to disaster for mankind, and he stated past historical activities related to what he called “dogma” as evidence of this fact. He once said:

“A great tragedy of the present situation may turn out to be that those most conscious of present evils and the need of a thorough-going change in the socioeconomic system will trust to some short cut-way out, like the method of civil war or violence. Instead of relying on the constant application of all socially available resources of knowledge and continuous inquiry, that may rely upon the frozen intelligence of some past thinker, sect or party cult, frozen because arrested into dogma.

That intelligence, when frozen into dogmatic social philosophies , themselves the fruit of arrested philosophies of history, generates a vicious cycle of blind oscillation, as strategically exemplified by the present state of the world.”

So, pray tell, what is the answer Mr. Dewey?

“But an immense difference divides the planned society from the continuously planning society. The former requires fixed blueprints imposed from above and therefore involving reliance upon physical and psychological force to secure conformity to them. The latter means the release of intelligence through the widest form of cooperative give and take. The attempt to plan social organization and association without the freest possible play of intelligence contradicts the very idea of social planning. For the latter is an operative method of activity, not a predetermined set of truths.”

Thus the trail of ambiguity left by Dewey infects all aspects of education today. How the world could have greeted a man who only raised questions but abstained from providing concrete answers as some sort of new age genius is a deep mystery. Eventually the world got wise though, and came away with the impression that Dewey was indeed a thinker, but only a thinker.

Dewey continued to speak all over the world, however, especially on the education system. He felt that education must move one way or another, either backwards toward the intellectual and moral standards of the pre-scientific age or forward to ever increasing utilization of scientific method in the development of the possibilities of growing, expanding and experience. Dewey loved that word experience and when he would speak of the “forward” method he would use it consistently along with “growing”, “expanding”, ....”change”. (Sound familiar?)

He believed firmly in the “experimental method” when applied to education. The current educational system, for him in the late 1800’s, was a failure. He believed a total revamp of the system was desperately needed. He also felt that there were inherent problems with education being solely focused on the promotion of literacy, i.e. the acquiring of skill in reading, writing and figuring. Educators of the past, he said, lacked uncanny insight and imagination in not seeing any other way for education to be performed, and this included higher education.

Historically, higher education was focused on foreign languages and mathematics as the core of education. These were the springboards toward all other education and would equip the student to find greater success in anything else they studied. Schools presented facts to students and then returned respect for conclusions drawn by students in relation to those facts. Dewey was against this sort of thing, as he believed that it was too parochial of an exchange to quickly give information and then derive new information from a set of facts absorbed by the student. Instead, he favored drawing conclusions apart from the facts as a gateway to higher thought. Education became a democratic process instead of developing concrete tools for dealing with the physical world around the student.

Little could he have imagined the influence of the democratic process on that of education as it has produced a society of lower achieving students who think they know everything. He believed that schools should be about producing social change, much in the same way that the ancient Greek philosophers sat around all day postulating man’s existence while other people did the hammer and nails work that put together the city they could sit around and debate in. For Dewey, since change was constant, education had to be constantly changing. He felt that this was a “modern” and “progressive” way of seeing the educational process and anyone who disagreed was operating from an ignorant fear.

His thoughts on the subject of Religion:

“Science has the same spiritual import as supernaturalism; that democracy translates into the same religious attitude as did feudalism; that it is all a slight change in the phraseology, a development of old symbolisms into new shades of meaning - such beliefs testify to that torpor of the imagination which is the uniform effect of dogmatic belief. The reconstruction of the church is a matter which concerns, indeed, the whole community so far as its outcome is concerned; while the responsibility for its initiation belongs primarily to those within the churches. The burden of conducting the development, the reconstruction, of other educational agencies belongs, however, to the community as a whole. With respect to its intellectual aspect, its philosophy, it belongs especially to those who, having become conscious to some degree of the modern ideas of nature, of man and society, are able best to forecast the direction which social changes are taking. It is lucidity, sincerity, and the sense of reality which demand that, until the non-supernatural view is more completely elaborated in all its implications and is more completely in the possession of the machinery of education, the schools shall keep hands off and shall do as little as possible.

We need, however, to accept the responsibilities of living in an age marked by the greatest intellectual readjustment history records.”

Dewey rejoices in the idea of society and education moving from a focus on the supernatural to the non supernatural. In other statements Dewey comes very close to calling religion a social faction, and in that way categorized a major strain in society that had been around for several centuries to a lower tier of social importance below that of science and societal development.

Dewey continues:

“But of one thing I am quite sure, our ordinary opinions about the rise and falling off of religion are highly conventional, based mostly on the acceptance of a standard of religion which is a product of just those things in historic religions which are ceasing to be credible. So far as education is concerned, those who believe in religion as a natural expression of human experience must devote themselves to the development of the ideas of life which lie implicit and are still new science and are still new democracy. They must interest themselves in the transformation of those institutions which still bear the dogmatic and the feudal stamp (and which do not?) till they are in accord with these ideas. In performing this service, it is their business to do what they can to prevent all public educational agencies from being employed in ways which inevitably impede the recognition of the spiritual import of science and democracy, and hence of the type of religion which will be the fine flower of the modern spirit’s achievement.”

How familiar is this? The religion that must now be put forward is the spiritual import of science and democracy. Sound like America to you?

Dewey shows his near utopian attitude about the progress of history, and as anyone reading the newspapers will tell you, we certainly have a problem with ideology in high political offices. The best way for progress to be achieved, he thought, was by influencing the content of education.

Before we get into the long term results of Dewey’s influence upon our world today, let’s just summarize his main ideas.

1) Final truth is illusory.

We live in a world that is ever changing and the only thing you can count on is change. With this idea Dewey stood in contrast to epistemologists who held any concept of eternal truth. And like wise, he stood against “the doctrine of objective value”, postulated by C.S. Lewis in his tome, The Abolition of Man. In this book he stated, “When we deny the doctrine of objective value, we must as an inevitable result finally produce the destruction of humanity.”

For Dewey, all of reality is merely in the mind of the observer. Nothing is valuable or true unless it means something to somebody... somebody human. However, the mind of man is teleologically oriented, and must have purpose and reason. To live on the edge day to day with no grounding is madness to the human soul, and has resulted in some of the most baffling bewilderments and confusions of all time. If reality begins with people and ends with people then you have nothing but circular thinking, which has no anchor in final truth.

2) We must not consider truth but meaning instead.

Truth is restrictive and inconvenient. Meaning is better because it is the facts interacting with the dynamic of the moment.

Dewey’s insistence on meaning brings about a shifting sand of logic to stand on. When a word means something to you and another thing to me, and yet they are both acceptable, chaos is born. Truth on the other hand has a universality that anyone anywhere can stand on, when you remove it, you can eventually give let to any and all impulses as having merit. This can lead to passing laws for legalized murder, with those of the society who are the least defensible paying the ultimate price. The word meaning may sound sublime in light of using the word truth, but it only fosters the fog of misunderstanding and incomprehension.

3) Truth is resident in experience.

The truth of simple syllogisms that are contemplated by the mind, but not experienced in reality is to be denied. Experience, sparked by interest creating teachers, and rewarded by realization is what education is all about. Information can only go so far in its relating to the student the truth of a situation, thus the lecture method was devalued by Dewey in favor of education as experience and visa versa.

Thus due to this ontological view of the nature of experience, Dewey subverted nearly every faction of everyday life, including religion, with existentialism. In the years since, the spirit of the age, influenced by the doctrine that truth is experience, has brought forth ideas that would have been thought the height of madness in the past. It wasn’t too long before society decided that happiness, fulfillment, the thrill of the moment, and even anticipation (it’s making me way-yay-yate) where more desirable than black and white propositional dogma.

If truth is equivalent to experience than answer me this: What kind of experience? Since my experience can be different than yours in any different circumstance, how can we define experience at all? This is the practice of imaginary thinking that has polluted out educational system. When we ascribe that truth equals experience we being an emotional questing that has lead to a world which is more unsettled than at anytime in history.

4) Teaching fundamentally depends on experiment.

There is no final methodology, anything can be done in anyway as long as you find results. The ends justify the means, in both educational revelation and also in progressive life acquisition. “Give it a try and see what happens”, is the motto of the day. You only break the law... if you get caught. (Go ahead and take a bite of the forbidden fruit, who knows what will REALLY happen?)

School has ceased to be the place where your kids go everyday to learn objective truths about reality so that they may act wisely and responsibly tomorrow. Instead, it has become a testing ground for any and all new ideas to come from the powers that be “just to see what happens”, and our kids are the ginny pigs. School today is all about finding the truth that we get today and seeing what comes from the experiment of tomorrow.

Busing is a prime example of this thinking. Some sociologist put forth the idea of changing society by equally distributing kids all around the city so as to fill quotas and influence experience and open up social contact; this is not, however, an incentive to better education.

5) The idea of “God” has meaning to those who believe. Religion however, must be reformed to serve mankind.

Everything has to be redirected to facilitate democracy and freedom. God must remain a serviceable concept that serves the moment and not something written in stone. Dogma was anathema to Dewey. He did believe in teaching Christianity in schools, but was as usual, he was fuzzy as to what Christianity was, citing the multiple fractions of Christianity that had, by their own default, made the teaching unsuitable and unprofitable in public schools.

In Dewey’s opinion, God was a unifying force between the ideal and the actual. Results were everything, and if a group succeeded due to a set of religious ideas, then the process could be accelerated by removing those ideas which connect to the supernatural. In a sense, if some activity while serving God results in visible success, then you’ll have even more success and be quicker about it if you just lose the original God element.

The New Age Movement loves this sort of thing, for it makes God a “spacey gobble-de-goo” of the universe that is there to serve man in whatever fashion man sees fit.

Dewey was indeed a positive, forward thinker, who did outright reject fundamentalist religion. He did however, find a place for almost every strain of new thought that dared to come along and enter into his view of the universe. One might say he was the father of “the vast emergence” of ideas that broke upon the 20th century like a flood of locusts and soon entrenched themselves within the machinery of the American educational system.

So what have we gotten as a result of all this new age education and thought in our world today? What is the afterbirth of the dawn of the new age?

More on this next time.

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