[Journals]: Bill Ayers “exhumes” John Dewey for a conversation on progressive education

April 19, 2012

Conservative commentator Glenn Beck has denounced John Dewey as the originator of an educational philosophy in which teachers help students through a “touchy-feely period of self-discovery” rather than actually teaching them anything. How might the late great philosopher and advocate of progressive education have responded?

An article in the latest issue of Schools: Studies in Education gives us an idea.
 
The article, titled “John Dewey Lives,” is a transcript of a conversation between educators William C. Ayers and William H. Schubert, with Schubert playing the role of John Dewey. Full video of the conversation is also available on the Schools Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/SCHOOLS.Studies.in.Education/videos. The transcript is available here: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/665019.
 
The conversation took place last November at the national conference of the Progressive Education Network. Ayers and Schubert call upon and read from Dewey’s vast writings and address how his ideas relate to modern debates and controversies in American education. “Dewey” reminds us that education should be a democratic process involving students, teachers, parents, communities.
 
“And I think we have to realize that everybody is entitled to try to think seriously and deeply about their own education,” says Schubert, channeling Dewey. “If they’re only the recipient of what’s called an education, they soon lose interest. And they feel as if they have no stake except to jump over hurdles or through hoops and make some kind of progress to move up the prescribed societal ladder. I don’t think that’s what education should be about.” Ayers suggests that a student doesn’t receive an education, she must seize it.
 
As for a response to Beck, Schubert suggests that Dewey may have asked for a little faith. “And the kinds of questions that you’re deriving from … [Beck], I would say are questions that don’t bespeak someone having a common faith, not a common faith in human beings to be able to, if given the freedom, move in the right direction,” Schubert said. “If human beings are basically evil and will do lazy and perverted things if left on their own, then there isn’t much hope at all. And I don’t want to accept that.”
 
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Schools: Studies in Education is a refereed international education journal for pre K-12 educators, administrators, university professors, and others who work with school-aged students.

 
Published biannually, Schools fills a long standing void in the world of educational publications, providing a forum to promote the scholarship and career growth of school educators by providing school teachers and others a rare space to explore, through stories and their related commentaries, the more dynamic and complex experiences of school life in ways that convey how human relationships, thoughts, and emotions shape the meaning of educational experience in schools.

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