Democracy Requires Education

John Dewey, who lived a century ago, so long ago that no one even remembers who he was and certain pays no heed to anything he ever said, was a troublemaker, as the quotation below makes very clear (to anyone who is educated, which is a relevant point). The face that he is a troublemaker is probably even more central to how well he is now ignored than the fact that he lived so far back in time few Americans can calculate it (we Americans are a forward-looking people).

In the following quotation, Dewey draws the fundamental linkage between education and democracy:

A democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. The extension in space of the number of individuals who participate in an interest so that each has to refer his own action to that of others, and to consider the action of others to give point and direction to his own, is equivalent to the breaking down of those barriers of class, race, and national territory which kept men from perceiving the full import of their activity. These more numerous and more varied points of contact denote a greater diversity of stimuli to which an individual has to respond; they consequently put a premium on variation in his action. They secure a liberation of powers which remain suppressed as long as the incitations to action are partial, as they must be in a group which in its exclusiveness shuts out many interests.

The widening of the area of shared concerns, and the liberation of a greater diversity of personal capacities which characterize a democracy, are not of course the product of deliberation and conscious effort. On the contrary, they were caused by the development of modes of manufacture and commerce, travel, migration, and intercommunication which flowed from the command of science over natural energy. But after greater individualization on one hand, and a broader community of interest on the other have come into existence, it is a matter of deliberate effort to sustain and extend them. Obviously a society to which stratification into separate classes would be fatal, must see to it that intellectual opportunities are accessible to all on equable and easy terms. A society marked off into classes need be specially attentive only to the education of its ruling elements. A society which is mobile, which is full of channels for the distribution of a change occurring, anywhere, must see to it that its members are educated to personal initiative and adaptability. Otherwise, they will be overwhehned by the changes in which they are caught and whose significance or connections they do not perceive. The result will be a confusion in which a few will appropriate to themselves the results of the blind and externally directed activities of others. [Wikisource.]

Considering how fast the world is changing, one obviously cannot rely on the education in one’s youth to maintain any serious understanding of what is happening. The majority relies on TV and the public remarks of leading figures, people who understand very clearly the opportunity of having a population of uneducated people amenable to the externally directed activities of others. Publicly pointing this out makes John Dewey a troublemaker.


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