Authentic Bona Fide Democrats Must Go beyond Liberalism, Capitalism, and Imperialism: A Review of Dewey's Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform: By Lee Benson, Ira Harkavy, & John Puckett

By Brosio, Richard A. | Notes and Abstracts in American and International Education, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Authentic Bona Fide Democrats Must Go beyond Liberalism, Capitalism, and Imperialism: A Review of Dewey's Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform: By Lee Benson, Ira Harkavy, & John Puckett


Brosio, Richard A., Notes and Abstracts in American and International Education


Part I

As I read the book under review, my concerns were what the three authors' view of "democracy" actually were and why they were so hostile to John Dewey's ideas and actions--and/or lack of the latter. Dewey's work has been central to my scholarship and teaching since writing a doctoral thesis at the University of Michigan: namely, The Relationship of Dewey's Pedagogy to His Concept of Community (1972). It seems that these three authors are angry with Dewey because his theoretical work was not translated into action. These authors' presentation of Dewey's theory is somewhat troubling, therefore resulting in difficulties with their complaints about the failure to convert theory into practice. Returning to how "democracy" is portrayed in Dewey's Dream, I will focus on this and also provide a critique of what I think is an overall weak series of arguments in the book.

In the book's "Preface" the reader learns the authors' intent is to lay out a "democratic manifesto" that could help develop Dewey's "utopian vision of a worldwide, organic, 'Great Community' composed of truly participatory, democratic, collaborative, and independent societies" (p. ix). The "Introduction" addresses "Dewey's Lifelong Crusade for Participatory Democracy." Although this may not be of great importance to some, the word "crusade" does not signify authentic democracy for me, and arguably to many others. My nervousness is heightened by the authors' view of the globalization that has occurred in the last thirty years--a movement basically driven by the neo-liberals who considered Milton Friedman as a brilliant theorist with regard to solving the so-called "accumulation crisis (the alleged lack of enough profit)." This solution required the U.S. military and its allies to overcome resistance by many third world nations. The three authors ask: "what specifically is to be done beyond theoretical advocacy to transform American society and over developed societies into participatory democracies capable of helping to transform the world into a 'Great Community?'" (p. xiii). Again, these kinds of passages can be interpreted in many ways within a diverse global population.

The NATO treatment of the "Balkan Problem" in the 1990s may seem "Great Community" to some; however, others can make plausible arguments that it really was the extension of American imperial power--with a little help from "our" friends." Was Iraq brutally conquered to make its people eligible for inclusion in the "Great Community"? What of the U.S. war in Afghanistan and Pakistan? And let us remember the U.S. hand in Central America, Chile, Argentina, and other Monroe Doctrine places in this hemisphere. Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine (2007) provides a vivid and explanatory analysis of what Benson et al. should consider when they propose what is to be done for what ails America! The dust cover of Klein's book includes the following: "Disaster capitalism--the rapid-fire corporate re-engineering of societies ... did not began with 9/11/01." Given what is actually occurring in the twenty-first century around the world, it seems naive that the authors of Dewey's Dream seem to think that "university-assisted community schools" backed by national and international organizations are the best way to achieve Dewey's utopian vision as a global, organic "Great Community."

Because the term "civil society" is included in the book under review, I believe it is best to address what this term means and has meant in the past. The abstract of my "Civil Society: Concepts and Critique, from a Radical Democratic Perspective" (1) reads as follows (pp. 1-2)--although not verbatim.

   My intention is to present an initial/introductory framework for
   further study on how and why civil society and arguments about it
   are important for educators and their allies who favor
   schooling-education for: democratic empowerment, social and
   economic justice, respect for diversity, and the possibilities for
   developing further the opportunities to act altruistically--if not
   'caringly'--in schools and society. … 

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