Democratic Theory and Technological Society

By Richard B. Day; Ronald Beiner et al. | Go to book overview

POLITICAL TECHNOLOGY, DEMOCRACY AND EDUCATION: JOHN DEWEY'S LEGACY

Frank J. Kurtz

For John Dewey education is "the supreme human interest in which ... other problems, cosmological, moral, logical, come to a head."1 As the supreme human interest, education must also be the public or political interest; in Dewey's philosophy of education we should discover the charged core of his political theory. For this reason political theorists should focus on the relation of his pedagogy and politics.

Yet political theorists have widely ignored Dewey. Much of the better literature has seized upon the epistemology of his political thought. The domination of the methodological interest has meant that theorists have not probed for the heart of Dewey's conception of politics; they have virtually ignored his psychological critique of corporate capitalism, and the role of technology and education in his democratic idealism.

I argue that for Dewey, technology - material and political - is the necessary condition of genuine democracy. The democratic potential of this force cannot be liberated because of the social psychology of capitalism. Formal education can release technology, for it alone can transform character and establish a new social psychology consistent with democracy. Dewey's view of technology as an engine of democratic social change cannot be fully appreciated unless it is seen in relation to his social psychology and educational theory. In this light, Dewey leads us to a surprising conclusion: only the school and the teacher enjoy the political power sufficient to liberate the enormous democratic potential of technology. Plato taught that the state must educate its citizens, and Marx claimed that the proletariat must educate -- in the pregnant historical sense - the state. Dewey learned from both: he fully accepted economic determinism, technology as a revolutionary social force, and the interpretation of politics as paideia. This synthesis enabled him to define the locus of political power in an unconventional fashion. Through this redefinition Dewey's political thought shares in the spirit of the

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