'The power to develop dispositions': Revisiting John Dewey's democratic claims for education

Journal of Philosophy of Education 42 (1):149-163 (2008)
Abstract
This article reviews John Dewey and Our Educational Prospect, A Critical Engagement with Dewey's Democracy and Education, edited and spearheaded by David T. Hansen, with contributions by Gert Biesta, Reba N. Page, Larry A. Hickman, Naoko Saito, Gary D. Fenstermacher, Herbert M. Kliebard, Sharon Fieman-Nemser and Elizabeth Minnich. This review will not only praise and evaluate the merits of this book, but will also attempt to frame this new study of Dewey within the challenges that continue to engage education in the realms of democracy, as the latter continues to strive for its own survival. While highlighting salient aspects of Hansen et al.'s rereading of Dewey's great work, this review seeks to frame both Dewey's text and this Deweyan study within the breadth of those other challenges by which education—and in turn philosophy of education—has come to take on issues such as: the nexus between theory and practice, the prevalent domination of the social scientific paradigm in education and the continuous threat of the standardisation and institutionalisation of human learning. It will be argued that, to meet this challenge, philosophy of education must sustain a continuous engagement with Dewey's work. A rereading of Dewey also involves a revaluation of his pragmatic theory of education and its lineage, moving from Emerson's metaphilosophy to Cavell's ethics. As Hansen et al. invariably engage with the latter, this review will question, through Adorno and Horkheimer's critique of pragmatisation, whether Deweyan pragmatism can still challenge the current state of affairs by which education is not only systematised away from learning, but also subsumed into a more institutionalised state—a condition that immediately jars with Dewey's own philosophical instincts and pedagogical labours.
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