I’m presently pure-n-tee (as we say in the south) disgusted with the idea of DeVos for Secretary of Education, and now the new commentary surrounding Falwell’s potential involvement as head of a panel ordered by Trump to address issues of higher education has had a “Trumpian” effect on me, a term offered up by MSNBC’s Joy Reid in an effort to describe something unbelievable but fully expected. That’s how I feel today-utterly disgusted with the notion that any ole person off the street knows what is best for students.
Further, I have full blown dread about all the Trumpian moves to come, especially involving education, which I either have to tackle full on with cortisol pumping as fast as I can make it or try my best to mentally dodge in an effort to self preserve. At any rate, today I’ve spent some time considering why I feel so irritated with Trump’s negligent approach to education in the U.S. The following is what came to mind:
Though in some ways critical rationality leads to a questioning that is unending, members of a democratic society must be able to question aspects of societal life that are deemed worthy, as well as those aspects viewed as unworthy. This is the only way informed decisions can be made. It is also the way in which societal roles are redefined, a primary role of effective education.
In Democracy and Education, Dewey posited that “no subject, custom, or value was so sacrosanct that it could not be thought about, reflected on, and reconstructed, if necessary” (Dewey, 1916, p. IX). He asserted that humans are not predestined to follow any particular path in life, but rather have the ability to analyze consequences of projected actions and thus create plans for “life-enhancing” activities (p. X). Dewey viewed the school as a miniature society that had the ability to serve as a catalyst for promoting a democratic society. As a major contributor to the field of education and philosophy, Dewey, as a pragmatist, contributed to the argument that philosophy’s primary concern was to solve human problems in the real world of experience. This particular philosophical approach deals with the belief that ideas need to be tested and consequences determined to either solve a certain problem or satisfy a specific need. Dewey’s beliefs surrounding education were informed by the notion that “informed and enlightened citizens were capable of reforming and regulating their own lives” (Dewey, 1916, p. XIII).
Dewey stated, “As a society becomes more enlightened, it realizes that it is responsible not to transmit and conserve the whole of its existing achievements, but only such as it makes for a better future society” (1916 p. 22). Dewey argued that the school is the chief agency to bring about this end. He also believed that it is the job of the school to provide students with a balanced environment, where they can escape from the limitations in which they were born, and therefore come into contact with a much more diverse environment. “The intermingling in the school of youth of different races, differing religions, and unlike customs creates for all a new and broader environment” (Dewey, 1916, p. 23). Ultimately, Dewey believed that society would benefit from an integration of various life experiences and believed that a member of any isolated group could have no more than a limited world view.
Dewey argued that democracy serves the primary goal of associated living. Dewey stated that although any education given by a group tends to socialize its members, the quality of the education given depends largely on the habits and goals of the group (1916). The concept of democracy in education aims to allow for free play back and forth among members of the social group in an effort to keep things from becoming or remaining one sided. The only way to effectively keep from educating some members of society into socially superior roles while others are educated into socially inferior roles is to ensure a large variety of shared undertakings and experiences. “Lack of free and equitable intercourse which springs from a variety of shared interests makes intellectual stimulation unbalanced” (Dewey, 1916 p. 93). Dewey believed that isolation of a group made for the institutionalization of social life and for selfish ideals within any given group.
Education is important in terms of preserving a democratic society. When thinking and questioning is restricted, the ability of people to control the outcome of their lives is also restricted. Conformity and compliance are not, and should not be, educational goals of democratic educators.