John Dewey and Peace Education
Dewey remains one of America’s most preeminent philosophers and educational theorists. After World War I he applied his instrumentalism and progressive education ideas to the advancement of world peace. Dewey’s peace education was based on the view that teaching subjects like history and geography should be premised on the goal of promoting internationalism. His educational objective was to counter the philistine notion of patriotism and nationalism developed by individual nation-states which had been a basic cause of war.
Born in Vermont on October 20, 1859 and later educated at the University of Vermont (A.B.) and Johns Hopkins (Ph.D.), John Dewey established himself as one of the leading philosophers in the field of pragmatism while teaching at the University of Chicago in the 1890s. The increasing dominance of evolutionary biology and psychology in his thinking led to the abandonment of the Hegelian theory of ideas and the acceptance of an instrumental theory of knowledge that conceived of ideas as tools or instruments in the solution of problems encountered in the environment. Prior to an appointment at Columbia University in 1904, moreover, Dewey’s writings on school and education gained him a widespread audience. In The School and Society (1899) and The Child and the Curriculum (1902), he argued that the educational process must be built upon the interest of the child, that it must provide opportunity for the interplay of thinking and doing in the child’s classroom experience, that schools should be organized as a miniature community, that the teacher should be a guide and co-worker with pupils rather than rigid taskmaster assigning a fixed set of lessons and recitations, and that the goal of education is the growth of the child. His crowning work, Democracy and Education (1916), solidified his reputation in the history of American education.
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But nothing prepared John Dewey for the events taking place in the world from 1914-1918. Despite being hailed as America’s foremost educational philosopher, the Great War tested Dewey’s mettle. During the First World War he reasoned that the use of force might provide a useful and efficient means for bringing about the goal of a democratically organized world order. Writing for his New Republic readers in “Force and Coercion” and “Force, Violence and Law,” he commented that armed force was morally correct and war legally justified.
What he did not count on was the stinging rebuke he received from his former Columbia student, Randolph Bourne. Bourne challenged Dewey’s support for war by pointing out that the esteemed philosopher’s instrumentalism had trapped him into miscalculating the relationship of the war to true national interests and democratic values. In a powerfully written article, “Twilight of Idols,” Bourne argued that Dewey’s excessive optimism caused him to overestimate the power of intelligence and underestimate the force of violence and irrationality.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO PEACE EDUCATION
It was Bourne’s telling criticism that Dewey’s support for war was technique conscious and morally blind that led to the Columbia philosopher’s promotion of peace education after the war. In the postwar years, Dewey’s interest in peace education was defined by a curious mixture of moralistic beliefs, democratic values, and nonreligious ethics. The basic thrust of his pragmatic philosophy and peace education efforts after 1918 was formulating the method of intelligence in such discriminating fashion as to minimize the appeal to nationalistic propaganda. Eliminating the institution of war required an educational program that would reconstruct existing social and political habits. The tragedies of the war convinced Dewey that schools could serve as a basis for dynamic change. Given proper direction, schools could become dynamic instead of reflexive agencies; as instruments of reform schools could search out and reinforce concrete patterns to remake society in the name of peace while at the same time enabling each student to realize his or her potential for building a nonviolent world.
The War against American Public Schools by Gerald Bracey In his book The War against American Public Schools Gerald W. Bracey, a famous educational psychologist and research analyst, makes an attempt to broadly examine the system of American public education schools and functioning of alternative institutions like vouchers, charters, private schools, etc. He studies and summarizes a variety of ...
During the years between the two world wars, Dewey energetically examined ways in which peace education could become an effective instrument in promoting global understanding as opposed to the more traditional patriotic indoctrination currently doled out in schools and textbooks. Specifically, efforts for establishing world peace and universal citizenship were based upon a social science approach to education. Dewey insisted that there were two subjects that represented the foundation blocks necessary for building international understanding: geography and history. He believed that geography and history enable students to reconstruct the past in order to cope with the present. Both subjects were necessary for overcoming some of the more sinister aspects of chauvinism which were being taught as citizenship in the schools.
When it came to the study of geography, for instance, Dewey applied his child-centered concepts and school as community into a more detailed investigation of peoples and their societies. Tying the notion of peace to global awareness required ways of teaching geography that will “help students gain insight into both nature and society, and which will help them apply what they learn . . . to their study of social and political problems” (Dewey, 1927, pp. 174-75).
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The proper teaching of geography to young students must take into account the study of all peoples, cultures, habits, occupations, art, and societies’ contributions to the development of culture in general. For teachers it is important that they stop “worrying about the height of mountains and the length of rivers. When we do give consideration to these things, it must be in the context of cultural development” (Dewey, 1939, pp. 725-28).
Teaching geography to impressionable young minds had to become dynamic in order to act as a catalyst necessary for shaping a global picture. “Geography is a topic that originally appeals to imagination – even to the romantic imagination,” Dewey asserted. “The variety of peoples and environment, their contrast with familiar scenes, furnishes infinite stimulation”(Dewey, 1916, p. 212).
As an important part of the curriculum, necessary for fostering global cooperation, “. . . instruction in geography . . . should be intellectually more honest, should bring students into gradual contact with the actual realities of contemporary life and not leave them to make acquaintance with these things in [a] surprised way. . . .” (Dewey, 1958, p. 4a).
The teaching of history should also promote the goal of peace by divorcing itself from the past emphasis on the study of dates, military heroes, and battles. What Dewey stressed in the curriculum was for teachers to focus more on the social meaning of history: “History is not the story of heroes, but an account of social development; it provides us with knowledge of the past which contributes to the solution of social problems of the present and the future” (quoted in Clopton & Tsuin-Chen, 1973, p. 277).
Present-day problems, such as wars, should be examined in their historical setting in order “to determine the origin of the problem; examine past efforts to deal with the problem; find out what sort of situation caused it to become a problem” (quoted in Clopton & Tsuin-Chen, 1973, p. 277).
Knowledge of the past, coupled with a forward-looking approach to problem solving and values clarification, characterized Dewey’s conception of history as moral imperative. “Intellectual insight into present forms of associated life,” Dewey insisted,
is necessary for a character whose morality is more than colorless innocence. Historical knowledge helps provide such insight. The assistance which may be given by history to a more intelligent sympathetic understanding of the social situations of the present in which individuals share is a permanent and constructive moral asset (Dewey, 1916, p. 217).
The Essay on Social Geography discussing public spaces as places where everyone is welcome and is free to express their identity.
IntroductionPublic spaces are defined as places where there is inclusion, open mindedness, equality, and acceptance, no matter where an individual stands in the rank of society (Iveson 2003; Iveson 2007; Nolan 2003) But public spaces are often not always what they should be and this is because dominant groups, politics, culture, and power dictates who is in and out of place and the appropriate ...