13 SES 12 A, Political Politics, Biopolitics, and Dewey’s Pragmatism
It is one of the serious problems in education today that educational policy decisions and actual practices get affected more and more seriously by efficiency-oriented technocratic culture. It puts growing emphasis on bureaucratic control, standardized evaluation and measurable competencies for both teachers and students, whereas questioning the significance of philosophical reflections on the theory and practice of education. This problematic situation in turn is suggestive of practical inability for philosophers of education to take part in effectively and redirect intelligently transformative efforts in education today. Moreover, the usual conception of the philosophical as somewhat abstract, rigorous and transcendental makes it complicated further to figure out the ways in which doing philosophy of education is to respond to the practical needs and contributing to the good and betterment of education.
Considering this problematic situation as rooted in conceptual confusion and ambiguity concerning the relation of philosophy and education, we might reflect upon the following perennial questions: (1) What comprises the characteristic conception of philosophy of education as a field of study? How does philosophy of education relate to philosophy as an academic discipline? (2) What is the major objective of doing philosophy of education? Is it to construct certain knowledge for theoretical understanding of education or to suggest ideal possibilities of alternative practice based on critical reflections? (3) In what ways should inquiries in philosophy of education be conducive and responsive to the practical needs of education so as to gain the practical significance? The fundamental issues underlying these questions have comprised a recurring theme for the philosophers of education concerned with the disciplinary identity and its practical significance (Edel, 1972; Maloney, 1985; Burbules, 2000; Carr, 2004; Hirst & Carr, 2005).
In this context I am concerned with participating in search for better ways to conceive the place and role of philosophy of education as genuinely practical without surrendering its theoretical rigor as a philosophical pursuit. For this purpose, I take Dewey's conceptions of philosophy, education, and philosophy of education to provide an enriching and challenging perspective. Dewey’s pragmatism as “a thought movement” is regarded as an attempt to reconstruct inherited obstructing ideas in philosophic tradition that stands aloof from problems of men in communal life. Dewey traces the root of the underlying various dualisms back to the Greek philosophy, but it is noteworthy that his immediate criticism is directed against modernist philosophies which antagonistically distinguish between experience and nature, body and mind, means and ends, theory and practice, etc. In this respect, agreeing with those who situate and re-read Dewey within the post-modern context, I explore the meanings and relevance of his thoughts on philosophy and education as internally and vitally related, with a view to illuminating the practical implications for contemporary educational situations.
In this paper, first with regard to the relationship of philosophy and education, I shall explicate Dewey’s notion that philosophy of education is an important phase in the developing course of philosophy toward its own inner purpose. Then, I shall explore further his pragmatist conception of philosophy focused on the origin, intrinsic role and method of philosophy, which will show that philosophy is to be conceived as concerning the unity and wholeness of human experience by reconciling intrinsic duality of the theoretical and the practical, the poetic and the prosaic, and the contemplative and the experimental. Finally, I shall delineate hypothetically the practical meanings of doing philosophy of education by drawing upon the conception of philosophy as reconstructed from Dewey’s pragmatist perspective.
The first sub-topic is Dewey’s thoughts on the nature of philosophy of education, which are to be tied to his views on philosophy, education and their relation to each other. As we do today, Dewey must have reflected upon what he himself ought to do as a philosopher and an educator in his days, and he published some essays related with these topics from his middle work period (Dewey, 1907, 1913), and later in his seventies wrote an essay under the same title, “Philosophy and education” (Dewey, 1930). I take the following three theses in Dewey’s thoughts to require further illumination: (1) The nature of philosophy of education varies depending on the ways in which the relation of philosophy and education is perceived. (2) Whether the relation of education and philosophy is internal or external corresponds with different conceptions of what education is. (3) Only if “the intimate and vital relation of education and philosophy” is restored, philosophy of education will be regarded as constituting the developing phase of philosophy “to the point of adequate manifestation of its own inner purpose and motive” (Dewey, 1913: 298). The second sub-topic is what is distinctive in Dewey’s pragmatist conception of philosophy with respect to the origin and intrinsic office of philosophy. I shall focus on illuminating his distinctive notions that philosophy is an attempt to reconcile conflicts between the poetic imaginative world and the prosaic actual one, and that the role of philosophy is to critically reflect, clarify, and reconstruct human desires and ideal possibilities in life experience by means of experimental intelligence, what he calls the philosophic method of experience. For Dewey, it is the primacy of desiring rather than reasoning in human natural tendency along with the naturalistic source of idealizing imagination in ordinary troubled life. And in contrast with the classical notion of philosophy as quest for immutable universal Ideal, logical demonstrative Truth, and transcendental absolute Being, Dewey suggests the idea of philosophy as a generalized form of critical reflection, which is effective in both everyday life experiences and in special scientific inquiries. The third sub-topic is the practical methods of doing philosophy of education, which will be proposed hypothetically in four aspects: critical reflections upon the problematic situations as experientially lived, rigorous clarification of conceptual meanings and values as current in educational activities, creative construction of ideal possibilities as actual aims, and responsible action to enhance growing experiences.
This paper is an attempt to search for better ways to conceive the place and role of philosophy of education today in a way as to attend to the practical concerns in education without surrendering theoretical rigor of philosophy. For this purpose, I take Dewey's pragmatism to provide an enriching possibility in that it is an attempt to reconstruct inherited dualistic presuppositions separating theory and practice, knowledge and action, the ideal and the real. As for the distinctive aspects in Dewey’s pragmatist conception, we may resort to his original proposition on the nature of philosophy as a criticism of criticisms, which implies theoretical pursuit by means of practical considerations. My major arguments to be reached by having recourse to Dewey’s pragmatist perspective will be summarized as follows: First, as long as philosophy and education are internally and vitally related, the nature of philosophy of education is to be regarded as an important phase in the developing course of philosophy. Secondly, philosophy in its origin is to be viewed as an attempt to reconcile conflicts between the poetic imaginative world and the prosaic actual one, and the essential role of philosophy is to reflect critically, clarify, and reconstruct human desires and ideal possibilities in life experience by means of experimental intelligence. Finally, the actual method of doing philosophy of education is to be understood as involving critical reflections upon the educational practices as lived experiences, conceptual clarification of meanings and values in educational activities, creative construction of ideal vision, responsible practical actions by means of attending to what is experienced as good or better in actual educational situations.
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