Several days ago a friend of mine, gone back to school for a PhD, was working on a paper related to educational theory. She had to choose a subject from back a ways in time, so she chose John Dewey. I mentioned that I wasn’t a fan of Dewey, so she asked why (there had to be a critical part of the paper anyway). So I looked through what I had and came across a piece I wrote, in 2006, for a homeschooling newsletter. Bits and pieces of it have shown up in my other writings. [You can go to my Education Collection from July 2013.]
Anyway, I thought I’d adapt that 2006 piece for a post here. It’s a good reminder never to give power over what you value most—like the education of your children—to some “expert” or bureaucrat who doesn’t know your child the way you do.
John Dewey could be, whether we know it or not, the biggest reason many of us homeschool.
Let’s go back to the beginning of public education, an experiment that began with a crusade by Horace Mann. Mann believed in shifting the responsibility of educating children from parents (who had done it pretty successfully in America since the days the Pilgrims landed, and many generations and cultures prior) to the state. His “progressive” concepts allowed no room for God. Mann said, “What the church has been for medieval man, the public school must become for democratic and rational man. God will be replaced by the concept of the public good…. The common schools… shall create a more far-seeing intelligence and a pure morality than has ever existed among communities of men” ( Klicka, The Right Choice—Home Schooling, p. 32).
During the industrial revolution, public schools were built up in cities, where there were many immigrants and people working in factories, and there seemed to be a need for the public to provide education where families apparently couldn’t. So, within a generation or two, Horace Mann’s ideas were flooding the nation.
Then along comes John Dewey. (Yes, he is the one who created the Dewey decimal system.) He took Horace Mann’s ideas, and made them worse. I’m about to quote a chunk of material from our history book God’s Hand in the Building of America, Volume 1, by Glenn & Julianne Kimber, starting at p. 269. They quote from an article by Cleon Skousen, whom you might know as the author of The 5000-Year Leap and The Naked Communist. (I’ll reference as they do.)
In 1916, John Dewey published his book Democracy and Education, in which he advocated an entirely new, revolutionary approach to child training. The American schools have never been the same since.
John Dewey called his brainchild “progressive education” but even liberal educators such as Robert M. Hutchins called his whole conception regressive education.
Dewey received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins where G. Stanley Hall, a disciple of the German socialist philosopher, Wilhelm Wundt, indoctrinated him with the vision of a welfare state with the schools serving as the change agent to bring it about in our generation.
Democracy in Education turned out to be a planned pattern of anarchy in education. Something called “self-realization” became the goal instead of “learning.” Nothing but the most casual reference was made to English grammar, ancient history,
geography, the classics of Western civilization, or even the basic sciences.
School was to be just fun, with each student doing his own thing in a climate
of permissive, unstructured confusion. US
Contemporary educators of national stature treated Dewey with respectful demeanor but expressed professional horror when they saw what Dewey was promoting as “progressive education.” Robert M. Hutchins declared: “His book is a noble, generous effort to solve…social problems through the education system. Unfortunately, the methods he proposed could not solve these problems; they would merely destroy the education system” (Great Western Books, vol. 1, p. 15).
In practice, Dewey practically threw traditional “book learning” out the window. Dr. Hutchins wrote: “The disappearance of great books from education and from the reading of adults constitutes a calamity. In this view, education in the West has been steadily deteriorating; the rising generation has been deprived of its birthright; the mess of pottage it has received in exchange has not been nutritious; adults have come to lead lives comparatively rich in material comforts and very poor in moral, intellectual, and spiritual tone” (Ibid., preface; pp. xii, xiii).
Dewey looked upon the schools as a wonderful opportunity to indoctrinate the American youth in the virtues of a glorious age where private property, the free market, open competition and profits would all be eliminated. He visited the
Soviet Union in the
late 1920s and, instead of recognizing the wasteland of revolutionary
desolation and the widespread destruction of human values, he blissfully
described it all as “a popular culture impregnated with esthetic quality” (John
Dewey, Impressions of Soviet Russia,
[New York; 1932], p. 44).
Long before, in 1904, he had joined the faculty of the Teachers College at Columbia University. He had then teamed up with James Earl Russell, the dean of the Teachers College, who was also a student of Wilhelm Wundt, and together they had worked for a quarter of a century diligently building this branch of Columbia University into the largest institution in the world for the training of teachers. By 1953, about one-third of all the presidents and deans of teacher training schools in
were graduates of ’s
Teachers College. Columbia
Today we are reaping the tragic results of the pedagogical misery that America inherited from Dewey’s misadventure in experimental education. (W. Clean Skousen, editorial, The Freemen Digest, May 1984).
Back to my voice again. I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird a few years ago, where the young girl, Scout, describes her disappointment with school. Her description of the first day of first grade (no kindergarten back then) was hilarious. Her teacher discovered that she not only knew the alphabet, she could read all the readers and The Mobile Register, which she had learned naturally just by sitting with her father and reading together in the evenings. The teacher said,
“You tell him I’ll take over from here and try to undo the damage—”
“Your father does not know how to teach. You can have a seat now.”
I mumbled that I was sorry and retired meditating upon my crime. I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers (p. 22 of my copy).
Apparently John Dewey was to blame. She goes on:
The remainder of my schooldays were no more auspicious than the first. Indeed, they were an endless Project that slowly evolved into a Unit, in which miles of construction paper and wax crayon were expended by the State of
in its well-meaning but fruitless efforts to teach me Group Dynamics. What Jem
[her brother] called the Dewey Decimal System was school-wide by the end of my
first year, so I had no chance to compare it with other teaching techniques. I
could only look around me: Atticus [her father] and my uncle, who went to
school at home, knew everything—at least, what one didn’t know the other did.
Furthermore, I couldn’t help noticing that my father had served for years in
the state legislature, elected each time without opposition, innocent of the
adjustments my teacher thought essential to the development of Good
Citizenship. Jem educated on a half-Decimal half-Duncecap basis, seemed to
function effectively alone or in a group, but Jem was a poor example: no
tutorial system devised by man could have stopped him from getting at books. As
for me, I knew nothing except what I gathered from Time magazine and reading everything I could lay hands on at home,
but as I inched sluggishly along the treadmill of the Alabama
school system, I could not help receiving the impression that I was being
cheated out of something. Out of what I knew not, yet I did not believe that
twelve years of unrelieved boredom was exactly what the state had in mind for
me (p. 37). Maycomb County
The book review that led to my writing this piece was of the book John Dewey & the Decline of American Education: How the Patron Saint of Schools Has Corrupted Teaching and Learning, by Henry T. Edmondson III. Here’s a quote from that review:
Eschewing our existing institutions and what he called the “idolatry of the US Constitution,” Dewey promoted a futuristic, socialistic idea of “the Great Community,” whose “seer” for him was the polymorphous, promiscuous, egalitarian egotist-aesthete Walt Whitman, who sang both of himself [“Song of Myself” is one of Whitman’s famous works] and of future “democratic vistas” (National Review, April 24, 2006, p. 56-58).
This is later in the review:
Dewey’s promotion of what he called “social experimentation leading to great social change” was a working out of Whitman’s social, psychological, and sexual radicalism and egalitarianism…. Dewey slandered a wide range of more conservative or traditionalist education-policy thinkers and critics as “fundamentalists” obsessed with a fruitless, retrograde “quest for certainty” (the title of his 1929 book). In this regard he is the father…of our contemporary “post-modern”deconstructionists, with their attacks on “foundationalism” and “logo-centrism.”
The review mentions a truth-speaking
professor named Isaac L. Kandel, who saw through Dewey decades ago in his book The Cult of Uncertainty (1943): “A
Jewish immigrant writing in a dark time, Kandel knew that Dewey’s influential
denial of history, traditional learning, and moral common sense in teacher
training and the schools was a new form of barbarism. We are living with its
consequences.” Columbia Teachers College
The point of all this quoting is this: In six thousand years of human history, children have been brought up and taught by their parents. Turning that responsibility over to the state is a social experiment—an undeniably failing experiment—begun only a little over a century ago. While we homeschoolers may look radical to the people around us who don’t know anything different from the government institutional factory-like schools they grew up with, we are the ones following the traditional pattern.
We don’t need to reproduce schools at home; we’re better off reproducing the homes of our founding fathers. We don’t need to teach “group dynamics” (what some people call socialization); we’re better off teaching our children acceptable family behavior. We don’t need our children taught by professionals; we’re better off having them taught by the parents who have a stake in helping them achieve all they can.