The Gleam of Light: Moral Perfectionism and Education in Dewey and Emerson

The Gleam of Light: Moral Perfectionism and Education in Dewey and Emerson

The Gleam of Light: Moral Perfectionism and Education in Dewey and Emerson

The Gleam of Light: Moral Perfectionism and Education in Dewey and Emerson

Synopsis

In the name of efficiency, the practice of education has come to be dominated by neoliberal ideology andprocedures of standardization and quantification. Such attempts to make all aspects of practice transparent and subject to systematic accounting lack sensitivity to the invisible and the silent, to something in the humancondition that cannot readily be expressed in an either-or form. Seeking alternatives to such trends, Saito readsDewey's idea of progressive education through the lens of Emersonian moral perfectionism (to borrow a term coined by Stanley Cavell). She elucidates a spiritual and aesthetic dimension to Dewey's notion of growth, one considerably richer than what Dewey alone presents in his typically scientific terminology.

Excerpt

In the past several decades in the United States there has been a remarkable revival of interest in two (perhaps the two) of the most famous, or influential, American claimants to the title of philosopher: John Dewey and Ralph Waldo Emerson. From the point of view of a philosopher and teacher such as myself, this revival of interest is a valuable, heartening turn of events. But I find that it has come at a high price, namely one in which Emerson's so-called transcendentalism is largely subordinated to Dewey's pragmatism. I mean that the tendency on the part of most participants in these matters has been to think of Emerson as essentially a forerunner of pragmatism, whose writings, so far as philosophically useful, are taken up, and taken forward, in Dewey's massive corpus of works. the resulting inattention to the details of Emerson's texts contributes, to my mind, to a thinning of American intellectual and cultural life, which is not unequivocally expressed by pragmatism but rather, it seems to me, by an irreducible tension between pragmatic and transcendentalist instincts and expressions. This is not something that manifests itself with particular clarity within the field of professional philosophy, where both of these instincts are themselves heavily, not of course wholly, subordinated to styles of analytical philosophy that go back to inheritances from England and from Vienna during the first half of the twentieth century. the tension is manifest most clearly, perhaps, in the history of American literature and in America's contribution to the development of the worldwide art of cinema. But these are not matters to which professional philosophy on this continent has for the most part felt that it must be responsive.

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