Dewey's Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform : Civil Society, Public Schools, and Democratic Citizenship

By Lee Benson; Ira Harkavy et al. | Go to book overview

5
Penn and the Third Revolution
in American Higher Education

Nothing is of more importance to the public weal, than to
form and train up youth in wisdom and virtue. Wise and
good men are, in my opinion, the strength of a state; much
more so than riches or arms, which, under the management
of Ignorance and Wickedness, often draw on destruction,
instead of providing for the safety of a people
.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN TO SAMUEL JOHNSON (AUGUST 23, 1750)

AS EMPHASIZED IN CHAPTER 2, the president of the University of Chicago, William Rainey Harper, significantly helped John Dewey see the critically important role the schooling system must play in the development of a democratic American society. Unfortunately, Dewey's work on schools suffered badly from his failure to see what Harper saw so clearly, namely, that the research university must constitute the primary component of a highly integrated (pre-K-post 16) schooling system that could potentially function as the primary agent of democracy in the world and in the United States in particular. As we emphasized, Harper envisioned the university as the “prophet of democracy, its priest and its philosopher … the Messiah of the democracy, its to-be-expected deliverer.”1

Democracy is the soul of America—its charter myth, its ultimate end-in-view The American university, alas, has never played anything like the messianic democratic role Harper optimistically envisioned for it. But “the times they are a-changin'” and our work since 1985 has been strongly influenced by our own optimistic belief that

-77-

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