Archive for December, 2014

Philosophy, Democracy and Education: Reconstructing Dewey by Philip Cam

December 31, 2014

 Philosophy, Democracy and Education: Reconstructing Dewey by Phil Cam is From: In-Suk Cha (ed.), Teaching Philosophy for Democracy (Seoul: Seoul University Press, 2000), pp. 158-181.

Phil Cam is Adjunct Associate Professor, BA MA Adelaide, DPhil Oxford, School of Humanities and Languages

When it comes to the connections between philosophy, democracy and education we could hardly find a more rewarding philosopher than John Dewey. Not only does the quest for democracy animate the whole vast canvas of his work, but Dewey also has an abiding concern with both education and the social value of philosophy, which makes the intersection between philosophy, democracy and education Dewey’s home ground. Nor is Dewey’s work lacking in contemporary social relevance. His vision of the democratic society as one that is democratic throughout the whole of its social fabric, and which thereby supplies everyday life with greater opportunities for human fulfillment, remains vital today, when democratic societies are still popularly conceived of merely as those that enjoy a certain form of government. On the educational front, widespread advocacy of the basic need to promote thinking in education distantly echoes Dewey’s claim that we educate to the extent that we develop the ability to think intelligently, education being for Dewey but a continuous reconstruction of experience which increases our ability to direct and control our lives. And Dewey’s insistence that philosophy should assume a social responsibility equal to its calling and help us to deal with the major issues and problems of contemporary social life has never been more pressing in a world where social values are increasingly in danger of being reduced to a narrowly economic outlook, while philosophers, on the whole, still busy themselves with rather remote subject matter.1

I will be exploring these themes in Dewey in the hope of encouraging those who are interested in the connections between philosophy and democracy to include him in their teaching program. In unashamedly Deweyan style, however, I will also be making some broad proposals for reconstructing Dewey’s proposals about philosophy itself.

  1. Democracy and Community

Dewey never thought of the machinery of government as central to democracy, and took questions as to the institutions of state as subsidiary to the broader and deeper issues of community that lie at the heart of his conception of a democratic society. Indeed, for Dewey, the idea of democracy is coincident with that of community:

Regarded as an idea, democracy is not an alternative to other principles of associated life. It is the idea of community life itself. . . Wherever there is conjoint activity whose consequences are appreciated as good by all singular persons who partake in it, and where the realization of the good is such as to effect the energetic desire and effort to sustain it in being just because it is a good shared by all, there is in so far a community. The clear consciousness of a communal life, in all its implications, constitutes the idea of democracy.2

This means that, as an ideal, democracy is nothing but a projection of those extant patterns of associated life that are characterized by joint and mutual effort which is sustained by common assent and undertaken for the good of all. In short, we can say that, for Dewey, a society is democratic to the extent to which its social institutions and forms of association encourage and sustain community.

Dewey’s simple equation of democracy with community can be more carefully delineated in terms of a number of significant characteristics of Deweyan community that make for democracy. As Dewey understands it, community is a way of living in which a group of people is bound together by “mutually interpenetrating” interests, where “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”.3 This means that each agent acts in ways that are congruent with the interests of others and which actively reflect and enhance them. As a result, community tends to achieve outcomes that are not only coherent, but maximally inclusive of individual interests as well.

Deweyan community is not authoritarian and hierarchical, with political or social policy made on high, and social and industrial decisions commanded down the line. Change within community is not directed from above, but is communicated in many directions by individuals, and both within and between all manner of social groupings; and reciprocally, as it were, it is shaped by the interests of all those who would feel its effects. This means that the members of a community, as Dewey conceives it, are actively involved in building community, and share responsibility for its growth and development. This is empowering. The constant adjustment of individuals to each other, and of social institutions and arrangements to continuing efforts to be inclusive of the interests of all, liberates the powers of the individual. Thereby it provides opportunities for the development of distinctive capacities and individual contributions which themselves are a means to further growth, and it gives force to that tie between freedom and culture which is one of the great promises of democracy.4

In Education and Democracy, Dewey identifies two criteria for evaluating social life. These are, first, the extent to which society, within its various groupings, gives conscious expression to common interests rather than to the interests of the few, as well as to a full range of humanly significant interests rather than, say, a small range of narrowly economic ones; and secondly, the degree of free interplay and cooperation between groups, whereby the possibilities of socially cohesive development are enlarged.5 These criteria essentially gather together the characteristics of community identified above: that is to say, the maximization and cohesion of interests and the creative freedom of open interaction. And they are the same criteria that Dewey goes on to identify with the general conception of democracy:

The first signifies not only more numerous and more varied points of common interest, but greater reliance upon the recognition of mutual interests as a factor in social control. The second means not only freer interaction between social groups . . . but change in social habit–its continuous readjustment through meeting the new situations produced by varied intercourse. And these two traits are precisely what characterize the democratically constituted society.6

It should be noted that for Dewey these two broad features of what he calls community are intimately connected to the traditional trio of democratic life: equality, liberty and fraternity. In fact, so far as Dewey is concerned, it is only insofar as these three notions have their grounding in community that they can have other than a sentimental, false and ultimately destructive meaning. Rightly perceived, equality, liberty and fraternity arise out of and are realized in those forms of relationship that constitute community, and so it is only within community that we can understand their concrete identity and effective meaning:

In its just connection with communal experience, fraternity is another name for the consciously appreciated goods which accrue from an association in which all share, and which give direction to the conduct of each. Liberty is that secure release and fulfillment of personal potentialities which take place only in rich and manifold association with others: the power to be an individualized self making a distinctive contribution and enjoying in its own way the fruits of association. Equality denotes the unhampered share which each individual member of the community has in the consequences of associated action. . . . Equality does not signify that kind of mathematical or physical equivalence of which any one element may be substituted for another. It denotes effective regard for whatever is distinctive and unique in each, irrespective of physical and psychological inequalities. It is not a natural possession but is a fruit of the community when its action is directed by its character as a community.7

Community also involves communication. For Dewey, communal life is not just a matter of associated activity. It involves a consciousness of its consequences on the part of the participants, as well as a shared desire to sustain that activity for those ends. This is consciousness not merely as an individual awareness, but as a “social consciousness” in the sense of joint or mutual knowledge, which effectively implies both community and communication.8 Dewey insists upon the communal, public nature of knowledge, claiming that communication is indispensable to knowledge, while the idea of “knowledge cooped up in a private consciousness is a myth”. This is not only because objective knowledge relies upon record and communication, but also because “only by distribution can . . . knowledge be either obtained or tested”.9 Establishing and maintaining publicly available records, conducting open inquiry into matters of public interest and concern, developing the art of translating complex and technical information into readily intelligible forms, and improving the means of disseminating it widely—these are the kinds of communal and communicative acts that make for informed opinion, and for public consciousness in the sense of joint and common knowledge. For that reason, they are the marks of communication within a community that make for democracy.

In addition to this, Dewey claims that thought itself comes to fruition only through communication and that its realization is most complete when we think together in “face-to-face relationships by means of direct give and take” within the communal encounters of dialogue. Thought in its fullness is communal and dialogical, according to Dewey, and only through a desire for personal gain rather than public good is it converted into the private capital of the individual:

The problem of securing diffused and seminal intelligence can be solved only in the degree in which local communal life becomes a reality. Signs and symbols, language, are the means of communication by which a fraternally shared experience is ushered in and sustained. But the winged words of conversation in immediate intercourse have a vital import lacking in the fixed and frozen words of written speech. . . Logic in its fulfillment recurs to the primitive sense of the word: dialogue. Ideas which are not communicated, shared, and reborn in expression are but soliloquy, and soliloquy is but broken and imperfect thought. It, like the acquisition of material wealth, marks a diversion of the wealth created by associated endeavor and exchange to private ends. It is more genteel, and it is called more noble. But there is no difference in kind.10


We can readily appreciate that thought finds its basis in dialogue when we reflect on the fact that, in everyday contexts—whether in our families or with our friends, in our workplaces or in public life–most of our thinking is undertaken not in isolation, but as part of conjoint activity. Dialogue is the vehicle for thought which carries much of the constructive, reflective and communicative burden of doing things together. In its various phases, it involves such things as stopping what we are doing in order to discuss problems or difficulties (that is, stopping to think about what we are doing), dealing with our disagreements, helping each other to interpret the troublesome actions and uncertain intentions of third parties, and helping to give each other guidance in deciding what to do when we are in doubt. As Dewey says, thinking does not occur through spontaneous combustion. It is a response to uncertainty, hesitation or doubt. We begin to think when there is some difficulty to be overcome, a problem to be solved, or questions to be answered, and we feel the need of a resolution.11 While it is true enough that most of us are given to privately ruminating upon our problems and difficulties to some extent, dialogue is the basic means through which we resolve them.

Dialogue rather than monologue is the natural form of thought. Even when we turn to what Dewey dubs soliloquy, we do not merely keep our thoughts to ourselves. We address ourselves in a curious parallel to the actor’s asides to an audience. Dewey is right to claim that these private interludes are imperfect. Lacking a proper interlocutor, they are linguistically derivative and incomplete. They beg for a respondent, someone who listens to what is said, and who offers advice or consolation. Little wonder that soliloquy so readily gives way to those even more obviously derivative episodes where we become our own interlocutor and converse inwardly with ourselves.

Finally, in speaking of democracy as community we need to keep in mind the connection that Dewey sees between communication and inquiry. Dewey conceives of what he calls the “Great Community” as one in which an informed and articulate public has come to enjoy the consequences of associated life in expanding abundance, and it is precisely this Great Community which he envisages as giving robust expression to democracy, understood as “a life of free and enriching communion”. Democracy, says Dewey, “will have its consummation when free social inquiry is indissolubly wedded to the art of full and moving communication”.12 The democratic public must be both articulate and informed, and an informed public is only possible when continuous, systematic, and freely conducted social inquiry is carried out and its results are effectively communicated throughout the society at large. Otherwise, says Dewey, “what passes as public opinion will be ‘opinion’ in its derogatory sense rather than truly public, no matter how widespread the opinion is.”13

It is important to notice that, as Dewey uses the term ‘public’ here, a public is something that has to be brought about. The achievement of a public requires an awareness of the arena of our common interests in connection with the multifarious consequences of our interactions. To the extent that we do not recognize our common interests in controlling the consequences of our interactions, but individuals or groups independently seek their own advantage, or to the extent that our interactions are manipulated by powerful interests for private gain, there is no public. In fact, in The Public and its Problems, Dewey was in part lamenting the eclipse of the public. Hence the need for social inquiry and communication. Without them, the public proper cannot be established. “Systematic and continuous inquiry into all the conditions which effect association and their dissemination,” says Dewey, “is the precondition of the creation of a true public”.14

  1. Democracy and Education

Since Dewey’s social democracy is developed and sustained by those features of community described above, education will be geared to democracy to the extent that it emphasizes such things as open inquiry, dialogue and communication, cooperation, and active participation in a wide range of associated groups. While these are among the direct educational implications of Dewey’s conception of democracy, to be sure, it will be useful to explore the connections between democracy and education in greater depth.

Dewey defines education as “that reconstruction or reorganization of experience which adds to the meaning of experience, and which increases ability to direct the course of subsequent experience”.15 In a less formal tone, he tells us that education is growth.16 As a process of reconstruction, education is growth in that it involves an enlargement of the meaning of our experience and of the capacity to take charge of our lives. But education is also growth in terms of its aim. For the aim of education, according to Dewey, is nothing but to enlarge the capacity for further education—to enhance the capacity for growth. So education is growth in terms of its ends as well as its means.

Once we put the claim that education is growth together with the equation of democracy with community, we can see that, for Dewey, the relations between democracy and education must come down to those between community and growth. And that is just how Dewey’s story goes. His story about the relations between democracy and education is one of community as the provision for abundant growth.

It will be convenient to begin with the necessity of community in the child’s early encounters with the use of things. In discussing how experience becomes meaningful, Dewey claims that, contrary to empiricist psychology, we do not acquire meaning through the synthesis of sensory impressions, or anything of the kind. Rather, we attain meaning only as we come to intelligently and intentionally interact with the world around us. And this comes about through our involvement in communicative activities, and particularly through those episodes in which we learn about what Dewey loosely calls the “use of things”. Let us look at these connections by means of an example:

If the mother hands the child something needed, the latter must reach for the thing in order to get it. Where there is giving there must be taking. The way the child handles the thing after it is got, the use to which it is put, is surely influenced by the fact that the child has watched the mother. When the child sees the parent looking for something, it is natural for it also to look for the object and to give it over when it finds it, as it was, under other circumstances, to receive it. . . [Such instances show] the part played in the joint activity by the use of things. . . But as a matter of fact, it is the characteristic use to which the thing is put, because of its specific qualities, which supplies the meaning with which it is identified. A chair is a thing which is put to one use; a table, a thing which employed for another purpose; an orange is a thing which costs so much, which is grown in warm climes, which is eaten, and when eaten has an agreeable odour and refreshing taste, etc.17

In our communicative interactions with children, particularly when we do things with objects and involve the children in the activity, we engage them in the making of meaning. This is how children learn about everything from tables and chairs to oranges and orangutans, as well as about the larger world of human action, and just about everything else. We bring them within the circle of communicative activity. Yet notice how smoothly we move from talking about the acquisition of meaning to speaking of the educative process. By engaging children in the making of meaning, we thereby educate them. And this is because education is the process of making experience meaningful.

For Dewey, all genuinely social acts are communicative, and all communication is educative. “To be a recipient of a communication is to have an enlarged and changed experience.”18 This means that the reconstruction of experience is not, of course, confined to formal education. Formal education is but a deliberately organized part of a continuing process. Meaningful, educative experience permeates our lives to the extent that we are engaged in genuinely communicative, social activity. Yet it is as true today as when Dewey complained about it over eighty years ago, that so much nominally social activity is virtually meaningless, at least for many of its participants. On Dewey’s analysis, this is basically because the activity is not communicative, or not even really shared, when those participating in the activity either cannot or do not enter into the enterprise with that common mind, that sense of common purpose, which belongs to community. Dewey’s industrial examples may be a little dated in some respects, but they are still make the point very clear:

A pin may pass in the course of its manufacture through the hands of many persons. But each may do his part without knowing what the others do or without any reference to what they do; each may operate simply for the sake of a separate result–his own pay. There is, in this case, no common consequence to which the several acts are referred, and hence no genuine intercourse or association, in spite of juxtaposition, and in spite of the fact that their respective doings contribute to a single outcome. But if each views the consequences of his own acts as having a bearing upon what others are doing and takes into account the consequences of their behaviour upon himself, then there is a common mind; a common intent in behaviour. There is an understanding set up between the different contributors; and this common understanding controls the action of each.19

The mere contrivance of coordinated effort, without a shared sense of purpose among the participants, is socially unintelligent and humanly unrewarding. In a word, it lacks the virtues of community. By contrast, when there is Deweyan communication, so that the members of a group operate under a common understanding, joint activity becomes genuinely social and meaningful. It comes within community.

By now the connections between growth and community—between education and democracy—have begun to surface. Community is a rich mixture of communication and activity directed towards common and interconnected interests, and hence it provides fertile ground for the growth of meaningful experience and of our capacity to direct its onward course. Just because community is such a rich source of growth, it is abundantly educational. And given that democracy is founded upon community, democracy shows itself to be a deeply educational form of life. Here again is Dewey:

[Democracy] 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 class, race, and national territory which kept men from perceiving the full import of their activity. These more numerous and 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.20

We are now back in familiar territory, in that promised land of an ever broadening community of interest and a fuller and freer interplay that liberates our powers. Yet now we can see that democratic growth, the expansion of “conjoint communicated experience,” is the very process of education itself. From the viewpoint of process, democracy is education, in that the life of community is, above all others, the life of abundant and continuing growth in meaningful experience.

It makes little difference if we view this matter in terms of ends rather than means. Once we see the aim of education as the capacity for continuing growth, and ask what social arrangements would best answer to this aim, then we see that “this idea cannot be applied to all the members of society except where intercourse of man with man is mutual, and except where there is adequate provision for the reconstruction of social habits and institutions by means of wide stimulation arising from equitably distributed interests. And this means a democratic society.”21 Only those social arrangements which provide for free association, open communication, active inquiry, and unfettered social participation by all, could fulfil the aim of continuing growth—and only then provided that the society’s established institutions are sufficiently flexible to respond to the many and continuous needs for change. To repeat, it is community which provides the basis for a continuing capacity for growth; and this is equivalent to saying that the aim of education finds its fulfilment in democracy.

In continuing the discussion about democracy and education, or community and growth, I would like to say something about the importance of inquiry in community, particularly as it relates to formal education. Dewey says that the move to democracy represents “the will to substitute the method of discussion for the method of coercion” in settling differences of opinion, but that this method has not yet run deep.22 While some such substitution has taken effect in political decision-making in many parts of the world, it has made relatively little gains in the home, school, or workplace, where authority and coercion still tend to reign. Speaking to Americans against the grim backdrop of fascism and totalitarianism and under the darkening skies of impending war in Europe, Dewey warns that conflict over democracy begins at home, within our own attitudes and institutions. In the end, this conflict “can be won only by extending the application of democratic methods, methods of consultation, persuasion, negotiation, communication, cooperative intelligence, in the task of making our own politics, industry, education, our culture generally, a servant and an evolving manifestation of democratic ideas”.23

Dewey sees continuity between these methods and those of science. Democratic decision-making, as he conceives of it, strives for a consensus through free-ranging inquiry into our different points of view. It seeks the relevant facts, employs publicly conspicuous processes, communicates its findings, and is always prepared to submit its working results to the challenge of further experience:

It is of the nature of science not so much to tolerate as to welcome diversity of opinion, while it insists that inquiry brings the evidence of observed facts to bear to effect a consensus of conclusions–and even then to hold the conclusion subject to what is ascertained and made public in further new inquiries. I would not claim that any existing democracy has ever made complete or adequate use of scientific method in deciding upon its policies. But freedom of inquiry, toleration of diverse views, freedom of communication, the distribution of what is found out to every individual as the ultimate intellectual consumer, are involved in the democratic as in the scientific method.24

Dewey traces the development of democracy to changes in our social and material circumstances resulting from the growth of science and technology; and, in arguing for the adaptation of scientific method to the problems of social life, he sees us as finally being able to throw off the shackles of the pre-scientific world view in which most of our social thinking is still confined.25 In the handy phrase that Charles Sanders Peirce used to characterize the scientific community, Dewey’s democratic community is very much envisaged as a community of inquiry.

Dewey particularly laments the fact that the methods of democracy are so sadly lacking where they are most in need of being taught—in the school education system:

That the schools have mostly been given to imparting information ready-made, along with teaching the tools of literacy, cannot be denied. The methods used in acquiring such information are not those which develop skill in inquiry and in test of opinions. On the contrary, they are positively hostile to it. They tend to dull native curiosity, and to load powers of observation and experimentation with such a mass of unrelated material that they do not operate as effectively as they do in many an illiterate person. The problem of the common schools in a democracy has reached only its first stage when they are provided for everybody. Until what shall be taught and how it is taught is settled upon the basis of formation of the scientific attitude, the so-called educational work of schools is a dangerously hit-and-miss affair as far as democracy is concerned.26

One might see Dewey as having a scientistic attitude to the problems of social life, and as here advocating the development of a corresponding outlook in school education. Yet this would be to mistake pragmatism for scientism. Roughly, the mistake would be to conflate the claim that we should look to the consequences of our ideas in judging their meaning or their worth with the view that the established sciences provide the measure of all meaning and value. Rather than embracing a narrow scientism, Dewey is warning us of the dangers of the manipulation of public opinion by media propaganda, and reminding us of the influence on belief, attitude, and action of unargued authority, unthinking habit, unreflective sentiment, and sectional bias. And he is admonishing us to develop, through school education, a critical, inquiring and reflective citizenry, that is willing to suspend judgment, to put evidence before personal preference, and to treat ideas as hypotheses to be tested in experience rather than to be treated as dogma that it would be heretical or perfidious to question.

Dewey presents education and democracy as two sides of a golden coin. If this is to be more than a glowing vision, we need to see what its consequences might be for thinking about our own poor versions of community and our work-a-day educational institutions. If we believe that our educational institutions should not help merely to perpetuate existing social conditions, but should be a means of making them more democratic, then they must not be places where students are weighed down by the legacy of the past or indoctrinated with prevailing attitudes, beliefs and values. Instead, as Dewey says, we should establish in our schools “a projection in type of the society that we should like to realize, and by forming minds in accord with it gradually modify the larger and more recalcitrant features of adult society”._ Insofar as we are talking about a projection of the democratic society, this means that we need to turn our schools into communities, in Dewey’s sense. Among other things, this would require that we foster communication among our students instead of isolating them from one another; that we engage them in open inquiry rather than simply teaching them by authority; that classroom activity and school life should expand students’ interests by building upon them; that schooling should build on cooperation and reciprocity of interest rather than focusing upon competition and social division; and that many and varied forms of association should be developed within the school, and between the school and the wider community, so as to enable children in groups and as individuals to develop socially intelligent attitudes and approaches to one another. In sum, we should do all that we can to turn schools into communities through which we can liberate the powers of those that inhabit them and develop their capacities for growth. If Dewey is right, then schools must practice the virtues of community if they are to project democracy and to provide the society at large with better prospects for progress in that direction.

  1. Philosophy, Democracy and Education

So far we have been exploring Dewey’s conceptions of democracy and education through their connections with his notion of community. By this means, I have tried to persuade you that we ought to aspire to democratic forms of life because they maximize the prospects of growth. If we want rich and fulfilling lives, lives that are meaningful and continue to grow, and if we want such lives not only for ourselves, but for all of our fellows, then we should march toward democracy under the banner of community.

It is finally time to ask what contribution philosophy may make to the pursuit of this democracy.28 In the previous section I made the connection between what Dewey calls the “method of democracy” and scientific inquiry, and noted Dewey’s call for the development of a corresponding attitude as an organizing principle in school education. In this section, I proceed to draw attention to the connections that Dewey makes between this inquiring outlook and the need for a practically-minded philosophy, and go on to suggest that we can carry Dewey’s project forward by making philosophical inquiry an active ingredient in daily life. The kind of thing that I have in mind is best exemplified by recent attempts to set up communities of philosophical inquiry in our schools and classrooms. Another move would be to establish more inclusive forums for cultural dialogue in our communities, and across ethnic and sectarian divides. To the extent that such developments would add to the meaning of experience within community, philosophy would become both broadly educational and truly public. This would make philosophy continuous with both the means and the ends of democracy.

Dewey says that “the distinctive office, problems and subject matter of philosophy grow out of stresses and strains in the community life in which a given form of philosophy arises”.29 Yet philosophy does not merely mirror the conditions from which it springs. It is also creative and socially transforming. Its pronouncements are “prophecies rather than records”; it is more concerned with the possibilities of meaning than with truth. Dewey sums this up rather grandly by saying that, while philosophy is “a conversion of such culture as exists into consciousness . . . this conversion is itself a further movement of civilization”.30

This means that philosophy has deep historical and theoretical connections with education. Insofar as movements in civilization embody modifications of mental and moral attitudes, which it is the business of education to promote, and in as much as philosophy is “an explicit formulation of the problems of the formation of right mental and moral habitudes in respect to the difficulties of contemporary social life,” philosophy becomes but “the theory of education in its most general phases” and the “reconstruction of philosophy, of education, and of social ideals and methods thus go hand in hand”.31

If we ask what philosophical transformations would assist the passage from mere political democracy to the life of abundant community, Dewey’s basic claim is that we must make philosophy practical. Once again, he begins with the consequences to be drawn from the earlier development of a scientific epistemology:

. . . in the actual course of the development of science, a tremendous change has come about. When the practice of knowledge ceased to be dialectical and became experimental, knowing became preoccupied with changes and the test of knowledge became the ability to bring about certain changes. Knowing, for the experimental sciences, means a certain kind of intelligently conducted doing; it ceases to be contemplative and becomes in a true sense practical. Now this implies that philosophy, unless it is to undergo a complete break with the authorized spirit of science, must also alter its nature. It must assume a practical nature; it must become operative and experimental.32


The change in orientation required by an “operative and experimental” philosophy would mean either total abandonment of philosophy’s former problems, or at least their radical reconstruction. Such a practically oriented approach would turn us away from endless disputes between realists and idealists, unproductive disagreements over the metaphysics of possible worlds, and the like, towards the more pressing problems of humanity. As Dewey rhetorically asks:

Would it not encourage philosophy to face the great social and moral defects and troubles from which humanity suffers, to concentrate its attention upon clearing up the causes and exact nature of these evils and upon developing a clear idea of better social possibilities; in short upon projecting an idea or ideal which, instead of expressing the notion of another world or some far-away unrealizable goal, would be used as a method of understanding and rectifying specific social ills?33

If we go on to ask how this socially oriented philosophy might be developed in the quest for Dewey’s Great Community, it is not entirely empty to suggest that its value would depend upon the extent to which it found a place in attempts to think through those problems and issues that bar the path to a more inclusive and liberating community. It is in the nature of such a community that everyone should share in its deliberations, to the extent of their capacity, and that the community should develop the individual’s capacities to the full. And given that community exists only to the extent that its members are able to participate fully and freely in it, it is clear that philosophical inquiry, in the context of community, should not be thought of as the exclusive prerogative of an educated elite, let alone of professional philosophers. Community makes reflection on how we should think and act, and involvement in social transformation, an inclusive affair.

The educational consequences of this line of thought are staggering. When we ask what kinds of reconstruction would fit philosophical inquiry for its role in community, we can see that they must be ones which make its processes educational and democratic. At least, this follows given the Deweyan ties between democracy, community, education and growth. To say that the processes must be educational means that philosophical inquiry should aim to enrich the ongoing experience of those individuals and groups undertaking it, and to develop those “mental and moral habitudes” that enable people to deal more intelligently with the problems and possibilities of social life. To say that its processes must be democratic means that they should involve open, cooperative, conjoint activity, centering upon face-to-face dialogue which takes as much account of everyone’s interests as possible, and comes to be sustained by the efforts of those involved because of a common conscious awareness of the benefit that it imparts.34

While I cannot discuss concrete applications here, I should like to record that the educational enterprise to which I have just alluded is hardly untried. Without doubt, the most thorough-going attempt to set philosophy on this course was initiated some thirty years ago by Matthew Lipman under the name of ‘Philosophy for Children’. Lipman’s conception of philosophy within school education presents the classroom as a community of inquiry, and is as clear a case of the reconstruction of philosophy within community as one could hope to find.35 In terms of the development of community groups, the influence of Habermas and critical theory might be mentioned. And whatever difficulties attend Habermas’ account of the ideal speech community, attempts to turn such work to good account amongst such groups as non-government organizations must be strongly welcomed.36 Other groups with at least somewhat similar aims would include those based on Socratic dialogue, and groups stimulated by British physicist David Bohm’s work on dialogue.37

No brief tour of the major sites and their connecting pathways can do justice to either the details or the totality of Dewey’s thought on democracy, philosophy and education. Still, we have seen enough to make it clear that Dewey has things to say on these matters which are of significant continuing social importance, and that he should still occupy a place when it comes to the philosophy of democracy and our teaching programs. At the same time, we would fail to teach Dewey well if we thought that his continuing significance lies in merely comprehending his ideas. The deeper lesson to be learnt from Dewey is how to reconstruct them in ways that apply to contemporary social life. And that is a lesson we are just beginning to learn.


  1. There has been a recent resurgence of interest in the American pragmatists, and in Dewey in particular. That the reasons for this are connected with the points made above is confirmed by more than one writer who has recently addressed the issue. See for example, Alan Ryan’s John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1995) and Robert B. Westbrook’s John Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991). For wider reading exploring connections between contemporary pragmatism and Dewey and the other classical pragmatists, see H.O. Mounce, The Two Pragmatism (New York: Routledge, 1997) and the recent anthologies, Pragmatism: A Reader (New York: Vintage Books, 1997), edited by Louis Menard, and Pragmatism: A Contemporary Reader (New York: Routledge, 1995), edited by Russell B. Goodman.
  2. John Dewey, The Public and its Problems (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1991), pp. 148-49.
  3. John Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education (New York: Collier Macmillan, 1966), p. 87.
  4. See Dewey’s Freedom and Culture (New York: Capricorn Books, 1963) for an extended discussion of the importance of the interaction between the individual will and the social environment in the development of a truly democratic society, as against a totalitarian one.
  5. Democracy and Education, p. 83.
  6. Ibid., pp. 86-87. Compare also the following passage: “In a search for the conditions under which the inchoate public now extant may function democractically, we may proceed from a statement of the nature of the democratic idea in its generic social sense. From the standpoint of the individual, it consists in having a responsible share according to capacity in forming and directing the activities of the groups to which one belongs and in participating according to need in the values which the groups sustain. From the standpoint of the groups, it demands liberation of the potentialities of members of a group in harmony with the interests and goods which are common. Since every individual is a member of many groups, this specification cannot be fulfilled except when different groups interact flexibly and fully in connection with other groups.” (The Public and its Problems, p. 147.)
  7. The Public and its Problems, p. 150.
  8. If this understanding of consciousness is not readily familiar, it would not be altogether misleading to think of it as akin to the conception of consciousness attached to the once fashionable idea of the “consciousness raising” group.
  9. Ibid., p. 176.
  10. Ibid., p. 218.
  11. John Dewey, How We Think (New York: D.C. Heath, 1933), p. 6.
  12. The Public and its Problems, p. 184.
  13. Ibid., p. 177.
  14. Ibid., p. 218.
  15. Democracy and Education, p. 76.
  16. Aside from being appropriate to Dewey’s account of education as the continuous reconstruction of experience, the idea of education as growth also provides a proper contrast with other well-known conceptions of education with which Dewey finds fault. This includes the ideas of education as a preparation, as an unfolding of latent powers, as a training of mental faculties, as learning various subject matters, and as acquiring the heritage of the past.
  17. Ibid., pp. 28-29.
  18. Ibid., p. 5.
  19. Ibid., p. 30.
  20. Ibid., p. 87.
  21. Ibid., p. 100. It is important to emphasise the word ‘all’, as Dewey does here. Many societies have provided for the “mutual intercourse of man with man” amongst the members of a privileged class, and condemned the rest of the populace to servitude. They have simultaneously denied that multitude the possibility of growth in Dewey’s sense. On the other hand, as Dewey notes, the institutions and social arrangements that make for such divisions also tend to thwart the continuing growth of even its privileged members. To the extent that this is true, the aim of education cannot be met when such restrictions are applied. Unless the benefits of community are extended to all, the prospects of continuing growth for even the privileged few are going to be diminished.
  22. Freedom and Culture, p. 128ff.
  23. Ibid., p. 175.
  24. Ibid., p. 102.
  25. For an extended discussion of the need for the reconstruction of our social and moral thinking along the path first traversed by science, see Dewey’s Reconstruction in Philosophy, enlarged edition (Boston: Beacon Press, 1948). For Dewey’s full treatment of the method of inquiry, see Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (New York: Holt, 1938), and for an earlier and easy-going treatment see How We Think, revised edition (New York: D. C. Heath, 1933).
  26. Ibid., pp. 149-150.
  27. Ibid., p. 317. Discussion of the need for the school to provide a model of community life can be found in many other places in Dewey, most famously in The School and Society, reprinted in Philip W. Jackson (ed.), The School and Society and the Child and the Curriculum (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956).
  28. Many topics might be taken up in this connection with Dewey: Dewey’s philosophy of “the common man”, the philosophical reconstruction of social and moral thinking, the revitalized connections between democracy and pragmatism, or the need for philosophers to be involved in the problems of their day, to take obvious examples. My focus will be on the contribution that philosophy education can make to democracy.
  29. John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, ‘Introduction: Reconstruction as Seen Twenty-Five Years Later.’
  30. John Dewey, Philosophy and Civilization (New York: Minton, Balch & Company, 1931), pp. 7-10.
  31. Democracy and Education, pp. 328-331.
  32. Reconstruction in Philosophy, p. 121.
  33. Ibid., p. 124. This does not make philosophy a branch of social science, or a substitute for it, by the way. Rather, it is an attempt to think about our lives and the life of our societies so as to work out more clearly what kind of society we would want, and what lives we should live.
  34. In saying these things, I am, of course, merely reiterating Dewey’s characterisations of education and democracy, and in the briefest of terms.
  35. See Matthew Lipman, Philosophy Goes to School (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988) and Thinking in Education (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991) and the classroom programs discussed therein. See also my own Thinking Together (Sydney: Hale & Ironmonger, 1995) and the Thinking Stories books in Hale & Ironmonger’s Children’s Philosophy Series. It is also worth recording that UNESCO’s Division of Philosophy and Ethics has recently begun a project on Philosophy for Children and Youth, in recognition of the concrete and effective opportunities it offers to make these connections between philosophy and democracy. UNESCO Philosophy for Children, Meeting of Experts, Paris, 26-27 March, 1998.
  36. See Juergen Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action, trans. T. McCarthy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984) and Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, trans. C. Lenhardt and S. W. Nicholsen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). On application to NGOs, see Rainier A. Ibana, Six HGO Terminologies: Their Philosophical Contexts (Manila: Ateneo Centre for Social Policy and Public Affairs, Ateneo de Manila University, 1994).
  37. See David Bohm, On Dialogue, edited by Lee Nichol (London: Routledge, 1996).


Australia in America’s Third Iraq War by Richard Tanter

December 31, 2014

Little more than two months after the start of bombing operations, Australia’s new war in Iraq is following the path of its predecessor, a path marked by Australian subordination to American interests, irrelevance to Australian national interests, casual disregard for Iraqi sovereignty and law, increasingly severe restriction of information provided to the Australian public, and an inclination to escalation.

Just as it is America’s, this is Australia’s third war with Iraq in less than 25 years – following on from the Gulf War following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990-1991, and the illegal and destructive invasion and occupation of Iraq between 2003 and 2008. Australia’s 600-strong deployment to Iraq this time is as large as Canada’s, and is exceeded only by the deployments by the United States and Britain.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott welcomed the war with apocalyptic religious imagery, describing the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham as a ‘death cult’ which ‘exults in evil’.1 The real character of the Australian decision to deploy special forces troops and aircraft to the Middle East for the latest phase of the United States Iraq War is best deduced from the Australian Defence Department’s website on the deployment. The last paragraph of thedepartment’s imaginatively uninformative Operation Okra web page advises readers that ‘further information about the international effort to combat the ISIL terrorist threat in Iraq can be found at the U.S. Department of Defense website.’2

In compliance with the mantra of alliance integration, distribution of news about all significant decisions about Australia’s war in Iraq have been handed over to the United States. The incoherence of US strategic policy, together with the inherent military escalation logic of the Iraq-Syria intervention, and the collapse within Australian politics of the capacity to question presumptions of automatic alignment of Australian and US interests, all collude to guarantee outcomes worse than failure.

According to one of the U.S. State Department’s more bizarre statements, Australia is amongst 60 countries that have joined the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL – demonstrating ‘the global and unified nature of this endeavor’.3 Like the Bush-era ‘Coalition of the Willing’, this is a peculiar multilateral structure. Like all of America’s post-Cold War ‘coalitions’ this multilateral formation includes core and peripheral members, with most countries present in name only, and a much smaller number making a visible military contribution. Amongst these, Australia is one of about 15 countries from outside the region collaborating with the United States in the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq precipitated by the summer advances made by the Islamic State insurgency.4

As of the end of November, the United States had carried out 819 air strikes against targets in Iraq, and another 10 countries had carried out 157 strikes.5 The actual number of militarily active countries in the grandly named Global Coalition is unclear, partly because certain Middle Eastern allies of the U.S. prefer that their participation be less than visible to their citizens. Saudi Arabian, United Arab Emirates and Jordanian air force aircraft participated in at least a small number of bombing operations against Syrian targets in late October.6 However, there are no reports of subsequent operations by regional countries, with very few details of those that are known to have taken place.

…. ( A lengthy article worth reading, concludes)
Members of the Special Operations Task Group, advisors and trainers or whatever they may be labelled, are certain to find themselves in combat at some point, and with a high risk of non-combatant Iraqi casualties. Use of diplomatic passports to protect ADF soldiers from Iraqi legal jurisdiction at such points – or from antagonism by those immediately affected – or from the wider Iraqi public, is likely to be politically ineffective and counter-productive.

Indeed the whole approach to the legal basis on which the ADF has been deployed to Iraq, like so much of the American-led war itself is fundamentally counter-productive, and shows a large measure of disregard, if not contempt, for both Iraqi sovereignty and for the right of Australians to know the basis on which our forces are fighting in foreign wars. 15 December 2014

Read the full article here

How have political events shaped education policy and the production of regulatory and quality frameworks in Australia?

December 30, 2014

How have political events shaped education policy and the production of regulatory and quality frameworks in Australia? What effects may this have on how and who you can ‘become’ as an early childhood professional?

Political events will always shape our society and culture generally. Politics is the activity of organising people and society to achieve purposeful collective outcomes. What these outcomes may be, and how they will be achieved, and who for, is defined as ideology. Politics per se should not be defined primarily by political parties and parliamentary participation; organised people, community members, trade unions, involved in extra-parliamentary activity have and can also significantly shaped early childhood policy and regulatory outcomes.

The State (the rule of law, parliaments and local government, the military and paramilitary) mediates the expressed interests of the contending parties. The State is the product of the means to achieving said social organisation which is partly defined by policy and regulations

Policy as quality and regulation while expressed through the transactions of The State machinery is shaped by the relative power of contending forces that work under and within its mandates. While the current federal government works to protect the market and the needs of corporate business and power it must, as an emperor sans culottes, must attempt to disguise prevarication and counter reforms as an ‘Education Revolution’.

Current ALP policy is a reminder that policy rhetoric and actual practice need to be interrogated if we are to make sense of the political landscape; what political and departmental representatives say they mean and what they do should never be taken at face value.

‘Productivity’, the business person’s and politician’s euphemism for ‘corporate profits’, informs the direction of ALP policy for children and education. The former deputy prime minister in addressing corporate business groups says it as it really is;

‘In today’s world’, she told a gathering of the Australian Industry Group, ‘the areas covered by my portfolios – early childhood education and childcare, schooling, training, universities, social inclusion, employment participation and workplace cooperation – are all ultimately about the same thing: productivity’. …. Further to the point ‘I’m going to be ignoring the old battles between unions and employers, public and private schools (taxpayer-funded-non-government-schools), the trades and universities and welfare and work’ … ‘Instead, I’m going to be measuring policies against the all-important criteria of how effectively they increase national productivity.’ (Dusevic 2009)

The question now is what should be done and by whom? For advocates and activists the real questions are; what are Australian governments hiding; where are the support and resources for; children who are having social, emotional or academic difficulties; school libraries and librarians; science and art rooms; maintaining and cleaning schools and care for gardens; to incorporate the creative arts, music, and dance? Why are essentially human activities regarded as distinct to literacy and numeracy, and good learning generally? These questions tell us quite a deal about what quality may mean. Is there a connection between the absences and regulation?

The view of education implied by the likes of PM Gillard is a default setting for a second-rate, standardised mass education for the mass of the people, the working class. Are Australian governments (COAG) the best advocates for school improvement? Do they assists to raise the sights and standards of teacher moral and professional learning. How does the Ministerial Council’s (MCEETYA) ‘Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians’ compare to the past two declarations?

How do we argue for, and provide a choice between an education worthy us of us all, as creative citizens, rather than a mass education suitable only for entraining teachers, students and the masses for the needs of corporations? For these choices to be made there needs to be a voice alerting our communities to other possibilities. This is the role of the early childhood teacher who regards themselves as an activist and advocate.

Dusevic, T. 2009, The Great Gillard Experiment, The Best Australian Political Writing 2009, MUP.

The Economy of Desires

December 30, 2014

Kenway and Bullen (2007) in their article ‘Globalising the young in the Age of Desire’ expose core aspects of the issues that should concern us as educators. By emphasising the particular values of neo-liberalism and the corporate-state such a critique must be argued within the context of the capitalist economic and political system. Is there a danger of assuming that there is a desire to analyse, and the political will to challenge mass corporate culture within the profession; and ultimately the authors assume that teachers, children and students are able to stand apart and resist the script of the ‘global corporate curriculum’?

As you enter ‘XY’ school one of the first things you see is the very large free-standing box encouraging parents to shop at Coles supermarkets so we can scrounge together some extra dollars for sports equipment. To resist by speaking-out about this issue is to be seen as a spoilsport; Coles is being philanthropic; parents have to shop anyway; we need the equipment. The character of western society and the corporate culture that currently conditions our daily life is achieved by such insidious examples of the ‘corporate script’ and how it is ‘acted-out’ in schools. How is this small exemplar repeated within the culture of corporations, is it as ubiquitous as their ads and their bad spelling?

Mass consumer culture, and mass corporate culture, provides the process of ‘privatisation’, one consequence of the corporate economic and political dynamic. Every individual subject becomes a ‘market’ to be exploited to expand capital and make profits for the corporations. This corporatisation of life dominated by technocratic CEOs, politicians and ‘human resource’ managers who use ‘the market’ as the excuse to dominate over us has implications for schools. Should this be of special concern for educators if we are to regard ourselves as critical advocates in relation to children’s rights and humanist pedagogies?

Workplace legislation that limit democratic rights by outlawing our right to organise and determine the character of our workplaces and our relationship with our employers; commercial in confidence rules; and penalties for bringing a corporation into disrepute, are just some of many examples that mitigate against reasonable relationships, flexibility in meeting individual and community needs, delivery and advocacy for programs that encourage democratic citizenship, workplaces and practices. What might be necessary to overcome these particular legal issues of control?

Naming this epoch as the ‘age of desire’ while proposing there is corresponding ‘lose of enchantment’ suggests there is a dual and contradictory process underway. Certainly the suggestion is that mass consumer culture appears to provide limitless possibilities to entertain, gratify and give pleasure. It appears too that this pleasure can be achieved easily and anywhere – but perhaps not in schools – where disenchantment threatens to pervade all one way or another.

Are schools expected to replicate corporations and the markets ability to reduce us all to the status of objects that consume? One past premier of Victoria who closed schools and sacked thousands of teachers believed the purpose of education was to make us ‘critical consumers’. To resist requires us to provide an antidote; it is not valid criticism if it is not a step toward providing an alternative to the threat of a purely reductionist conception and enactment that currently shapes humankind.

There is no doubt that schools and teachers need to rethink the meaning and purpose of education, but for that to happen discussions like this one must be generalised across the generations and across our communities. To take our education seriously means we do need educators and teachers in ‘schools’ who are capable and willing to overcome the corporate juggernaut, and re-enchant and redefine our needs, desires and therefore ourselves.

Kenway, J. & Bullen, E. (2007) Globalizing the young in the age of desire: Some educational policy issues. In M. Apple, J. Kenway & M. Singh, M. (Eds.) Globalizing Education: Policies, Pedagogies and Politics, New York: Peter Lang, pp.31-44.

The origins of our Present: The struggle for the care of children within the family and society

December 29, 2014

The struggle for the care of children both within the family and society continues and changes. In this country, Australia, the treatment of children has gone through a number of major identifiable shifts. Initially the formal care and education of very young children, now commonly accepted as the early years, was the privilege only of the very rich. In many respects working class children were regarded as either not worthy, or incapable of being educated. So dire was the situation for the working class that they were reduced to being recipients of charity and volunteers’s good intentions. Aboriginal child rearing has its own special complexities over and above the settler population, their generalised dehumanisation and conditions of slavery still resound with paternalistic attitudes.

Conditions of life in “the 1920s and 1930s saw intense debate about the health and welfare of mothers and children…fuelled by a variety of concerns ranging from fears of ‘race suicide’ to humanitarian concern for the plight of the poor.” (Brennan 1994) Government intervention was effectively non-existent but by the late 1930s the extremely impoverished and unhealthy conditions of overcrowded working class life could not be ignored and were especially compounded by the effects of the First World War and the economic depression.

Consequently many women were left without a breadwinner and were forced into wage slavery themselves, while also suffering indignities at the hands of religious bigots, and the paternalistic class prejudices of the well-to-do philanthropists. Care of children and their mothers were the priority both from social and physical disease. Education as we understand it was not a concern in these circumstances, “During the depression…kindergartens added a ‘meal and sleep’ program…to ensure that children had at least one good meal and a rest each day. … relatively few children attended…the scale of the problem was vast. (Brennan 1994, p35)

While class issues continue to dominate our working and home lives, the inclusion of our concerns in the public discourse is glaringly absent. Perhaps, like the aboriginal and Torres Straight islanders, we are only included when there is a social crisis of a kind that even the most racist political leaders can no longer ignore it, as was the case of the Howard led Coalition Government which initiated the Northern territory intervention into aboriginal affairs. In this regard both ALP leaders of recent time have not only failed to speak to any of our most pressing concerns, they have actively assisted the most powerful people and corporations to disorganise and oppress our attempts to organise the working class.

Citizenship is not only a problematic concept for children, but it is an empty one for the majority, the working class. While Millei and Imre (2009) are thought provoking and raise any number of concerns around the problem of defining what citizenship may mean for children, and so therefore, definitions of a child and children, they too omit our everyday reality. While they confine themselves to the conceptual use of the term in policy documents, they beg the question, for whom, and by who, are policy written? Suffice to say that the word ‘children’ could be substituted with ’adult’, the issues remain, and are the same. Teachers who choose to be disempowered cannot empower the powerless.

Under the Fair Work Act (Workchoices) we do not have rights at work, the right to strike, the right to make our workplaces our places, therefore considering the idea of citizenship as a social and democratic element of the ‘good life’ is rendered especially meaningless. Policy is meaningless unless it is enacted. In regards to education policy, curriculum, and citizenship, it is correct to say it being misrepresented and undermined by the politicians and their departmental, and academic quislings. Rather it is quantitative data gathering, NAPLAN tests, and a generalised distrust of teachers that dominates the discourse – in effect the lowest common denominator prevails. The terms of ‘empowerment’, ‘citizenship’, and ‘rights’, the ‘rhetorical vision’ in social and educational policy will remain a chimera for the majority of us unless we organise and propose alternatives rather than merely continue react to the bourgeoisie’s corporate agendas. .


Brennan, D. (1994) The politics of Australian Childcare; From Philanthropy to Feminism, Cambridge University Press, p.33

Millei, Z. and Imre, R. (2009) The Problems with Using the Concept of ‘Citizenship’ in Early Years Policy, Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Vol. 10(3)


Where do good theories come from?

December 29, 2014


Best theories must assist practice but from where and how do best theories evolve? Questions, hypotheses and then theories arise from our practice. To adopt a theory or the point of view of a theorist means we have to interrogate our own ‘philosophical’ assumptions and prejudices about human nature and our relationships with each other and The World. To reach some provisional conclusions means that clarity can be achieved from such interrogations; otherwise would mean to be in danger of being hopelessly bound up in eclectic and contradictory tangles.

Education is a highly contested field. Our political, economic, and social and cultural positions and consequent biases are expressed and played out through our private lives and public institutions, and the corporations and the market place. The presumption from which I begin is this, because we act on the world and each other we change the world, and by changing the world we too are changed. Karl Marx put it something like this, Philosophers have interpreted the world in many ways; the point however is to change it. We interpret the world, by observing, researching, questioning, reconstructing and acting; that is, we are changed by what we do.

We learn by doing stated philosopher and educationalist John Dewey. Consequently he has the most enduring influence on my pedagogical outlook. As a teacher practitioner and aspiring pedagogue, Paulo Freire is another pedagogue who continues to speak to me in ways that will always refresh me. I find inspiration, challenges and affirmations from reading and thinking about their work. Both these philosophers understood education as a process indistinguishable from life itself.

I would argue that the challenge they pose for us is to think through the implications of the following question; if the institutions and systems of mass education are an integral aspect of our personal and social formation; how then do we respond personally and collectively while working within these social and cultural formations and systems in ways that enable us still to meet our most profound human needs and desires?

Armed Services get negative wage increases and trading-off conditions

December 29, 2014

The current federal government in Australia is attacking the wages and conditions of Commonwealth public servants. They are using the armed services as the wedge to win public support for these attacks.
A am an ex-serviceman. It was not until I left the navy that I discovered that we had to fight for any of rights, and you had to fight to defend them lest we forget that in the first instance it will be the first thing that the employers and politicians will try and grab back. The armed services are being used as an emotional weapon to press gang the rest of the commonwealth public service work force. That they would stoop so low to use a section of the workforce that is duty bound to relinquish many of our rights at work because laws prevent them from organising democratic unions. It is the true measure of the current federal government. No worker should take a pay cut, and the more so, be forced to trade in long held working conditions; in this case leave entitlements. One could add, that these workers in uniform literally put their lives on the line for the government’s policies. There are many aspects of the economy and society that could be addressed to re-mediate inequalities and injustices. Attacking workers is taking the easy way out. By using the need for wages as a carrot, they combine our economic and social relationships of our slavery to wages, with the stick of the law, to force us to accept unreasonable demands by our employers and their governments. What good is an economy that can only take away from us the means to a reasonable standard of living. What good is an economy that is unable to provide the passion necessary to meet our desire to live in a society that will provide for our children in an harmonious and peaceful world. What good is an economy and a democracy if it is unable to provide the where-with-all to make it an actuality by preventing the conditions that produce ill-health, underfunded schools, a lack of affordable public housing and next to no support for the homeless. I suspect the current political system and their arrangements are unlikely to ever address in a constructive and critical the issues and concerns that determine so much of what we do. My time in the navy left me believing it manifested many socialist principles of social organisation and relationships. It also taught me that there was power in a union.

Food, glorious food! Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Gardens

December 28, 2014


Reflection on my years teaching and learning through cooking and gardening in primary schools. I am currently a preschool teacher at Namadgi School (Australian Capital Territory). I also run the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program for Years Three, Four and Five.

Food, glorious food!

Running the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden at Namadgi School will probably be my teaching career highlight. Rarely does school-based learning involve doing. That is, physical activity and applying knowledge in any practical sense. Both of which, in my experience, are increasingly, and sadly, absent from primary-school activities. Cooking and gardening heighten and refine all our sensory perceptions, and the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation’s approach emphasises engagement through such sensory experiences. Actively engaging children in this way is a counter to the idea that our attitudes, and our experiences of food and eating can change by learning with pen and paper alone. It is importantly an antidote to the myopia infecting all of us who must contend with the narrow mindedness of NAPLAN and all the other coinciding efforts to corporatise and standardise life. I have long believed that if we are serious about meeting the diverse needs of our children, an entire curriculum, of real significance and rigour, could be built around the activities of growing and cooking food. Food, without exception is essential to all of us.

At every school where I have taught I have established some kind of a garden for children to be involved with. The purpose has been to make tangible the connections between literacy, maths, science and art. Witnessing the enthusiasm of enough young people told me that those projects were but a glimpse of what may be possible. Success, however, would not be the right word to describe my efforts. Generally, a significant handicap has been the principals’ unenviable preoccupation with the limits of school budgets, or perhaps the department’s latest pedagogical turn. Serious consideration of gardening and cooking providing for good learning did not ever get very far. So it is with a real sense of elation that my school’s leadership has embraced the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden project, and given me the opportunity to develop it.

Stephanie Alexander herself is best known in metro Melbourne as one of the eminent ‘foodies’ and has been owner and chef of that city’s finest restaurants. Ten years ago, however, her concerns about our society’s abuse of food, and the sensory harm it was inflicting on children and families, saw her create what has become the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation. I knew about Stephanie from my years as a cook in the industry, but it was later, as a teacher, that I observed the development of her ambition to see children involved in the growing, cooking, and the sharing of their delights at the table. It is an impressive achievement. I can only recommend that any teacher who wishes to undertake any kind of cooking and garden program in their school to give this program top-most consideration. Gardening and cooking experiences and activities from over four hundred schools have been synthesised to produce excellent set-up support, and curriculum materials that will assist teachers integrate literacy, maths, science and art. ICT curriculum demands are also met, by a website designed to upload and document activities and recipes which can then be shared with other participating schools.

It is an age of paradox when the media becomes social; food, like porn is everywhere; and good cooking are competitions defined by TV advertisers. Many of us share Stephanie’s concerns one way or another, the discouragement of sensory refinement, our knowledge of nature, and the decline of conviviality. The pressures families face distorts our lives. Global food markets and corporate retailing leave us malnourished irrespective of our social class. Be it a life-style of over-indulging on the finest of everything, or alternatively, attempting to live on kitten fried Kentucky style, both are the consequence of corporate capitalists’ cultivating ignorance. Consciously engaging children and teachers in the sharing of knowledge about how, when, and why things grow, and cooking and eating together is what enriches us, and protects the world surrounding us.

We care about the things we love. Why then, even before our children can enjoy the natural world, do we emphasis everything that threatens it? So too it is with the food we eat. A pie in a classroom is more likely to be a healthy eating chart rather than a culinary and sensory delight that the children have made. The suggestion seems to be that our children’s ignorance will be remedied by a moralising that engenders species-loathing fear. In turn that approach denies the possibility of learning from hands-on effort and the pleasures that brings. Classroom culture tends to deny the importance of sensory experiences and the development of our capacities to think and talk about them. Rather, the argument seems to go, that to do so is not serious learning. Really? Conversely, I would argue, we do not take ourselves seriously enough.


December 28, 2014

A letter sent to the Canberra Times (Australian Capital Territory, Australia) in response to the Education Minister’s call to ‘crackdown’ on vending machines in schools.

Fat lot of good it’ll do

August 29, 2014

Vending machines and school canteens in public schools are once again the easy target in the ”war” on obesity (”Crackdown on school junk food: vending machines may go”, August 25, p3).

I do not know how many vending machines are left in schools but it cannot be so many as to be a significant contributor to the high sugar diets that too many people subject themselves to. The school canteen is another issue. They are expensive to run and there is a slim profit margin. The commercial imperative pushes canteen contractors down the junk food path. It would be a mistake to think that either of these is a significant causal contributor to the mal-nutrition that plagues Western diets. In fact it could be argued that it is obfuscation and avoidance of more significant issues.

The problem begins in the profit-driven corporate food manufacture and distribution, and the general anti-social character of our working lives.

Lunchboxes that come from home are loaded with disturbing amounts of high sugar and salt items. Chocolates and chips were once occasional treats but they have now become a lunchbox staple. Time-poor parents are attracted to these substitutes for good food because they are generally dressed up to appear healthy and are packaged to fit in a lunchbox.

If the Territory government were serious about addressing obesity and diet amongst our most vulnerable people, children, then it would need to initiate a campaign against all advertising of high sugar and salt ”food” in much the same way that tobacco has been dealt with. In the long run it will be only radical social change in the conduct of our daily lives and the manner of food production that can begin to address these multiple concerns.

Peter Greene: The Essential Lessons of Pearson’s Worldview

December 27, 2014

Diane Ravitch's blog

I have never given over a day of blogging over to one person, but I am doing so today. Peter Greene has carefully dissected an 88-page document, written by Michael Barber and Peter Hill, that reveals the corporate mind of Pearson. In this post, he distills the lessons to be gleaned from Pearson’s dystopian vision of the future. Pearson is so important in American education that it behooves all of us to watch its plans and priorities with care. It owns large segments of the curriculum, textbook, and assessment industry, as well as the EdTPA for new teacher evaluation and a major virtual charter chain called Connections Academy. It is a mighty educational Octopus.

Lesson 1: Students will be plugged in

Lesson 2: Teachers will not be teachers

Lesson 3: Personalized learning won’t be

Lesson 4: Character may be important, but humanity, not so much

Lesson 5: Software will…

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