Chapter XXIV: Philosophy of Education - 1. A Critical Review

Although we are dealing with the philosophy of education, no definition of philosophy has yet been given; nor has there been an explicit consideration of the nature of a philosophy of education. This topic is now introduced by a summary account of the logical order implied in the previous discussions, for the purpose of bringing out the philosophic issues involved. Afterwards we shall undertake a brief discussion, in more specifically philosophical terms, of the theories of knowledge and of morals implied in different educational ideals as they operate in practice.

The prior chapters fall logically into three parts. I. The first chapters deal with education as a social need and function. Their purpose is to outline the general features of education as the process by which social groups maintain their continuous existence. Education was shown to be a process of renewal of the meanings of experience through a process of transmission, partly incidental to the ordinary companionship or intercourse of adults and youth, partly deliberately instituted to effect social continuity. This process was seen to involve control and growth of both the immature individual and the group in which he lives.

This consideration was formal in that it took no specific account of the quality of the social group concerned—the kind of society aiming at its own perpetuation through education. The general discussion was then specified by application to social groups which are intentionally progressive, and which aim at a greater variety of mutually shared interests in distinction from those which aim simply at the preservation of established customs. Such societies were found to be democratic in quality, because of the greater freedom allowed the constituent members, and the conscious need of securing in individuals a consciously socialized interest, instead of trusting mainly to the force of customs operating under the control of a superior class. The sort of education appropriate to the development of a democratic community was then explicitly taken as the criterion of the further, more detailed analysis of education.

II. This analysis, based upon the democratic criterion, was seen to imply the ideal of a continuous reconstruction or reorganizing of experience, of such a nature as to increase its recognized meaning or social content, and as to increase the capacity of individuals to act as directive guardians of this reorganization. (See Chapters VIVII.) This distinction was then used to outline the respective characters of subject matter and method. It also defined their unity, since method in study and learning upon this basis is just the consciously directed movement of reorganization of the subject matter of experience. From this point of view the main principles of method and subject matter of learning were developed (Chapters XIIIXIV).

III. Save for incidental criticisms designed to illustrate principles by force of contrast, this phase of the discussion took for granted the democratic criterion and its application in present social life. In the subsequent chapters (XVIIIXXIII) we considered the present limitations of its actual realization. They were found to spring from the notion that experience consists of a variety of segregated domains, or interests, each having its own independent value, material, and method, each checking every other, and, when each is kept properly bounded by the others, forming a kind of 'balance of powers' in education. We then proceeded to an analysis of the various assumptions underlying this segregation. On the practical side, they were found to have their cause in the divisions of society into more or less rigidly marked-off classes and groups—in other words, in obstruction to full and flexible social interaction and intercourse. These social ruptures of continuity were seen to have their intellectual formulation in various dualisms or antitheses—such as that of labor and leisure, practical and intellectual activity, man and nature, individuality and association, culture and vocation. In this discussion, we found that these different issues have their counterparts in formulations which have been made in classic philosophic systems; and that they involve the chief problems of philosophy—such as mind (or spirit) and matter, body and mind, the mind and the world, the individual and his relationships to others, etc. Underlying these various separations we found the fundamental assumption to be an isolation of mind from activity involving physical conditions, bodily organs, material appliances, and natural objects. Consequently, there was indicated a philosophy which recognizes the origin, place, and function of mind in an activity which controls the environment. Thus we have completed the circuit and returned to the conceptions of the first portion of this book: such as the biological continuity of human impulses and instincts with natural energies; the dependence of the growth of mind upon participation in conjoint activities having a common purpose; the influence of the physical environment through the uses made of it in the social medium; the necessity of utilization of individual variations in desire and thinking for a progressively developing society; the essential unity of method and subject matter; the intrinsic continuity of ends and means; the recognition of mind as thinking which perceives and tests the meanings of behavior. These conceptions are consistent with the philosophy which sees intelligence to be the purposive reorganization, through action, of the material of experience; and they are inconsistent with each of the dualistic philosophies mentioned.