Michael Glassman's response

From: Oudeyis (victor@kfar-hanassi.org.il)
Date: Tue Apr 27 2004 - 11:06:21 PDT

Don, Phil, Steve, Bill etc.
Forwarding M Glassman's response (he's still not able to post direct to xmca).
Original Message-----
From: Michael Glassman
Sent: Tue 4/27/2004 10:49 AM
To: xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
Subject: RE: Michael Glassman's response

Victor, Don, Steve,

Here is the issue as I see it, and I am still (if you will forgive me) in the process of trying to understand this. There is a relationship between the casual comment that Dewey was not a developmentalist and Vygotsky was, and the rest of the article (one of the major points being the difference between facilitator and mentor). To be honest, I think I have a better grasp of that relationship now.

Dewey was not a developmentalist -at least looking at development from the individual perspective - for a reason. If you make the assumption that human beings develop you also have to make the assumption that they are moving in the direction of some (pre-conceived) better understanding about how the world works. I develop an understanding of how something works and can therefore use it to better control my environment making me a more worthwhile member of my species group. In my reading Dewey and Mead did not argue about whether this was right or wrong - they argued about whether it was the most worthwhile model for the human condition in general.

If I am teaching you about something that I know about and that you don't know about, and we are acting under the assumption that if you do know about this you will be a better and more productive citizen, who has all the power in the relationship? Of course the person who is doing the teaching has all the power.

If I am claiming that there is some object in the world that you must get to know, as I define it, because once you get to know it you will be a better and more productive citizen, this offers enormous power to whoever is defining this object in the world that you must get to know.

Most important, if I am claiming that I know the object better than you (closer to its Platonic ideal or real nature or whatever you want to call it), and you question me about the nature of the object I can not only stifle debate on the subject (and any new ideas that might come from it) based on my proprietary claim to knowledge, I can ostracize you from the community by claiming that you are actually working at cross purposes with the community needs (because we need people who have a REAL understanding of the object, and those who argue for other understandings are not only outliers but actually detrimental to the needs of the community).

It is these conditions that led me to understand why dualism is such a dangerous concept (I think on this very list a number of years ago I questioned why we should worry so much about dualism - now I think I have a better idea). But in order to avoid dualism you have to give up an enormous amount - that is what Dewey did. And one of the things that Dewey gave up was the concept of individual development.

But one thing that Dewey did not give up was the concept of progress. Instead he developed a metaphysics suggesting that human activity, when process rather than object based, naturally moves towards melioration of the human condition. This is where many post-modernists part company with Dewey (and in general I part company with the post-modernists). Rorty claimed the development of a metaphysics was Dewey's greatest mistake. But I think it is what makes his theory most meaningful and worthwhile. There is nothing mystical about this natural desire towards melioration, it is based I think in strong evolutionary arguments (Dewey had a strong affinity for evolutionary theory). The best discussion of this is Petr Kropotkin's Mutual Aid theory (disclaimer - there is not direct evidence anywhere that Dewey read Kropotkin, yet I am becoming more and more convinced that he must have read Kropotkin's work. In a lecture/debate somewhere around the 1920s he took the Kropotkin position in arguing against Huxley's theory.)

Interestingly enough, even though Dewey doesn't deal with individual development (and I have thought about this and thought about this and from where I am standing right now there is no way to discuss individual development and avoid dualism - I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm just saying that I haven't see it done yet) he is often referred to as dealing with the inidividual. This gets back to your point on creativity. My view is exactly the opposite of Victor's. I see Dewey have one of the few viable theories of creativity. The education system nurture's the individual's natural inclination towards novelty and the desire to make the human condition better through implementation of novel ideas. In order to do this you have to abandon the object model of education where experts know and what they know is transmitted to individuals (see above) and concentrate on the development of democratic dialogue where not only does the individual feel safe expressing these novel ideas (i.e. if well thought out they will be treated with respect and dignity), but other individuals are willing to listen to them and explore them. There is always the possibility of the minority position becoming part of the majority position. As humans we have no shortage of novel ideas, what is lacking is the willingness to embrace them because (by definition) novel ideas take us off course. Every problem is unique, and the answer to any problem can come from any quarter.


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