Thursday, October 2, 2014

Hilary Putnam on Dewey, pragmatism and student protest; JEFFCO School Board meeting tonight at 6



The Jefferson County students exemplify the reality and hope of what John Dewey called a democratic public. They inspire many of us (Hilary sent me an initial report on this). Hilary rightly wrote to me about a recent post "Golden students and teachers stand up" here, however, in which I mistakenly allowed a misunderstanding of pragmatism to pass uncommented on:

"Dear Alan,

Tremblay's otherwise fine piece is marred by an ill-informed jab at Pragmatism. John Dewey was a strong supporter of Eugene Debs (and of the Pullman strikers) and after that a lifelong democratic socialist. His Ethics (with Tufts) contains the statement that his disagreement with Marx (whom he did not read very carefully), was not over class struggle - "I believe in class struggle", he wrote (I could look up the exact quote). And his predecessor, William James was certainly a very left liberal, a supporter of feminism, disarmament, etc., etc. Pragmatism was not a simple minded "it's true if it works" philosophy. As Dewey wrote, "Philosophy recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men." ("The Need for a Recovery in Philosophy," 1917; MW 10:42)

Best,
Hilary"

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Dewey was a great public intellectual whose work in education motivates the Jefferson County Open School which my youngest son and step daughter attended. The idea of student-led education with an advisor/mentor, involving the creation of passages and work/apprenticeships in a field the students find promising, taking a wide variety of courses (some designed by a student with advice/collaboration from faculty), travel abroad and in the United States, is all inspired by Deweyan pragmatism - an internal, practical, self-motivated approach. Mainstream schools with their insidious tracking, endless grading and testing - pitting students against one another over externals rather than fostering each student's learning how to set their own projects/goals and work toward them - as well as the AP curriculum could all learn something from the Open School.

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That Dewey supported the Pullman strike and Eugene Debs says much about philosophers and teachers generally who stand out for decent things (Hilary is one of the foremost fighters against racism and unjust war in American academia...). Debs, a Presidential candidate in 1912, was sentenced to jail (the only place to be as Thoreau once commented to Emerson) for speaking out against US engagement in World War I (quite an example of the fury and injustice of "patriotism" that the School Board seeks to impose from above...)

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And the first post in this series, that if the Jefferson County school board will not teach civil disobedience, students will learn about it for themselves, engage in protest on behalf of serious learning of history, is a profoundly Deweyan thought. Pragmatism, practice - acting as well as thinking - is central to learning. See here.

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A letter to the Times from an education professor at Hofstra speaks rightly of the inspirational character of these student protests and underlines the difference between Martin Luther King and authoritarian fools:

"LETTER
Colorado Student Protest
SEPTEMBER 30, 2014
To the Editor:

Re “A Student Counterprotest to an Anti-Protest Curriculum” (news article, Sept. 24):

Kudos to the protesting Jefferson County, Colo., high school students. Their walkout over the school board’s proposal of a curriculum review committee to guard against educational materials that “encourage or condone civil disorder” was truly inspirational.

The actions of these students bring to mind the words of a great American, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday is a federal holiday: “Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights.” Of course, if the school board gets its way, students would never read his final speech, delivered the day before he was killed in 1968.

Students charged that the school board’s effort to erase history was “stupid.” Perhaps not. Students who never learn about their rights might never exercise them, which might be exactly what the school board wants.

So, to the students: Keep protesting and attending social studies class. The rights you learn about may be your own!

ANDREA S. LIBRESCO
Mineola, N.Y., Sept. 24, 2014

The writer is a professor of social studies education at Hofstra University."

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And a note from Kathy Glatz (indeed, everyone should get in the act!):

"How about us Grandparents marching w/students? I don't want my grandkids to learn a sanitized version of past years of US. If Oct.1 is 'count day', is that the best day?

Kathy J Glatz "justice is what love looks like in public." Cornel West
Free Palestine: Abraham was an Iraqi"

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I would strongly recommend joining hundreds of others at the Jeffco School Board tonight at 6:00: Education Center, 1829 Denver West Drive, Bldg. 27, Golden in the Board Room, 5th floor.

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And one from Linda Hogan:

"Yes, I am so pleased with the students. Also, I wrote the school board. I don't think it matters to them, at least not as much as the protests. Hooray for the intelligence of these students."

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For the letter to the Board of the National Coalition against Censorship (many organizations including the ACLU) which cites relevant court cases and identifies further how anti-(what is good in)America the Board's censorship efforts are, see here.

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And students at Carmody Middle School walked out Monday...

"Students, like their older and taller high school counterparts who have been protesting since last week, waved signs and were cheering, 'Don't censor history!" (Jesse Paul, Carmody Middle School students walk-out as Jeffco protests continue," Denver Post, 9/30/2014)


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