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Remember the folk wisdom: Never judge a book by its cover. There's a metaphor there as well as a concrete and literal truth. And, of late with my discovery (below) one could add to this folk wisdom, and Never judge a philosopher by their books-- that is, unless you've really looked into them all in fine-detail. 

In the past couple days, due to meeting some interesting people and a project they have cooking in Murphysboro, IL (1), I've been researching in an area I have not looked at as intensely in the past as I ought to have. And, a good couple lessons it taught me: one of them being, that just when I thought I spent decades getting to know the literature in the field of Education, and thought I knew most of what educators (from scholars to practitioners) had and/or were saying seriously about fear and fearlessness (that's my speciality)... ahhhhh... 

I have to say I am a bit "shocked" that I have finally found a Western philosopher-educator, thought by many to be The Greatest Philosopher in America in the 19th-20th Century era--none other than John Dewey (1859-1952), writing a "holy rant" (prophetic) piece on fear and fearlessness.

My second lesson in finding this prophetic gem (quoted below), is that I have bolstered my respect for Dewey's life and work by a whole lot of positive notches. Fact is, I never liked Dewey (meaning his writing)--nor, did I like the male philosophers at UBC (my alma mater) who were so off-putting because they were Dewey experts and I hadn't read much Dewey. I tried getting into his work a few times in my undergrad and graduate years and later but... it bored me.

I should have read Dewey, after all I was in Education becoming a teacher and later a curriculum and pedagogy scholar and so you have to read John Dewey (it's part of the educational culture and W. canon)--but I preferred reading a lot of others and mostly I enjoyed reading the educational philosophy of Jiddu Krishnamurti (2) and others (primarily, Eastern type philosophers or my fav was E-W integral philosophers like Ken Wilber). I was not (still am not) a big fan of the philosophy of pragmatism he advanced in America during his life, with great success I might add--he had enormous impact in this country at many levels and I felt it the moment I moved here.

The Center for Dewey Studies was just one block away from where Barbara and I moved in to rent a house. And, part of the "awakening" in myself and others here is that SIU just bull-dozed that Center to the ground yesterday and relocated (3), with several disturbed people (myself included) taking pictures of the devastation. One by-stander told me "it is so violent" how the university administrators have only an interest in profit and have disrespect for history, and tradition (i.e., John Dewey). What they mean is there is an increasing disrespect for the Arts & Humanities in the current university system all across this country and many other W. countries. Yes, right here in Carbondale is one of the best collections of Dewey's work in the world. It attracts an ongoing stream of international scholars, and apparently Dewey has never been so popular in other countries around the world, while his reputation in America has fallen considerably since his death (albeit, with small revivals now and then). And guess what? I never ever went in that Center since I lived here, now 7 yrs. I rode by it on my bike many times, and looked in the windows, but could never get myself to go in, even though I thought of doing so. I should have but I had no calling strong enough. There were too many brewing arguments in my scholarly head, filled with complaints of why I didn't like Dewey's work (i.e., it didn't fit my way of thinking) (4). I suppose I was also ticked that Dewey got so much attention here and it felt like there was no philosophical room for my own views. All of that was part of my alienating feelings as a Canadian coming to live in the USA for the first time. A lot of mixed feelings there, as I have been an out and out critic of much of America's philosophy and politics (mainstream that is, Americanism as ideology, etc.). I didn't think Dewey's work was critical or radical enough. But now I realize that was a short-sighted judgment (5). Oooops!

Okay, my great excitement was to discover a passage published in 1922, from an interview with Dewey by Charles W. Wood, and I just thought of a great piece of art to accompany Dewey's Holy Rant on the role of fear and fearlessness in American education (then and now, as his rant so applies to everything today, 93 years later). 

Art work by Art Young (entitled: "This World of Creepers", c. 1907 [15 yrs. before Dewey's published Holy Rant on fear and fearlessness], published in a political magazine I found in the library stacks at UBC in my graduate years (unfortunately I didn't right down the exact reference info. and haven't been able to find it again). Oh, this image is slightly 'touched up' by yours truly as I added the 'ISM' part in the original version. I love that the artist (Young) was tapping into the climate of increasing fear and its consequences in the world (America) at the time of post-WWI, and it is rather earth-shaking, spine-shaking, to me the prophecy in Art Young's piece and John Dewey's piece (below). These are both markers of the history of fear and fearlessness that has been left out of the history books, I'm sorry to say, it is sad. I really need to write my own version of the history of these fascinating and important ideas/realities-- fear and fearlessness, and their dynamic relationship. Mostly, what is missing is the history of fearlessness! (I have found at least five good scholarly works on the history of fear). So, why the absence of a history of fearlessness (especially, in the West)? See my recent technical paper "What is the West's Problem with Fearlessness?" (scroll down the web page link to find a pdf). 

John Dewey on Fear & Fearlessness

[This is not the complete interview, nor the complete text from the summary of the interview by Charles W. Wood in 1922, just after Dewey had returned from a long visit to China; this article was originally published as Wood, C. W. (1922). Professor John Dewey on the hysteria which holds teaching in check. New York World, 27, Aug.; the current excerpt [reprinted version] below is from Boydston, J. A. (Ed.) (2008). Report of Interview with Dewey (by Wood, C. W.), In John Dewey, the middle works, 1899-1924, Vol. 13, 1921-22 (pp. 425-32). Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press]

[with bold added for emphasis] [Dewey:] "The greatest enemy to human progress is fear. People generally tell the truth unless they are afraid to--afraid of punishment, afraid of someone's opinion or afraid that some competitor will gain an advantage. A large percentage of human ills is due to greed, but back of greed lies the sense of insecurity and its accompanying fear. Fear is the soil in which wars are bred. Fear engenders hate. Individually and socially, wherever human life and human relations become inhuman, we are quite sure to discover that they have been poisoned by fear. Cowardice in public office, cowardice in business dealings, cowardice in international relations--we are all more or less familiar with the havoc wrought by these; but the most insidious poison I know of in modern society is cowardice on the part of those who are charged with the responsibility of teaching our youth" 


[that open's Wood's article, and Wood responds to it:] "Before I tell you who said it, I wish you all read that paragraph again. Find a flaw in it if you can."

[Dewey continues:] "And the boys and girls in our New York schools... are not getting half a chance. They are the victims of an inherent timidity, if not an active intimidation, within our school system. There can be no real education unless there is fearlessness, but New York teachers are not free to teach. The situation in this respect is worse, it seems to me, than it ever was before.... [re: his critique of "training" vs. true "education"] But the very basis of such training is fear of what they [the child] may do without it. When we are trying to draw out human intelligence , there must be no such fear.... the system is now additionally cursed by a set of silly laws conceived in fear and born in political hysteria [culture of fear] which seized this country during and immediately after the war.... The public now would like to return to sanity: But unless it provides some antidote for those poisonous [fear-based] laws, the minds of our children generally must suffer incalculably.... The school authorities, in the very nature of their organization, cannot be trusted with this task. They are, to say the least, timid. It is their nature [fear habit] to travel the beaten paths. They are afraid of innovations. They are necessarily afraid to run counter to the public wishes.... [and what we must do, he says] see to it that this haunting fear is eliminated from our school life [and society]."

******

If I am over-zealously reading Dewey, forgive me for my ignorance, and passion, it is just that it seems obvious this mild-mannered philosopher is going for the juglar vein, with no holds barred. That's prophetic pedagogy and philosophy of the kind very rare to see in the Western world, especially in the Education field. But it was the 1920s. I wonder if Dewey ever came back to these poignant points and arguments and fleshed them out? I am going to find out. I wonder if all the hundreds of scholars who have taken up to critique and follow Dewey's legacy, with multiple angles of interpretations, do they write about this interview on fear and fearlessness? Why have I never seen this referenced in my 26 yrs of researching on fear and fearlessness? I'm sort of thinking that perhaps no one has picked up on the holy rant of Dewey in 1922, which I am dubbing as John Dewey's Fearlessness Project. Again, I caution myself that perhaps I am overly reading into Dewey's grand philosophical and educational (and political) project... and, it then seems clear as a bell when I re-read and re-read his interview extracts here. Thank you Charles W. Wood (if you are still alive) for bringing this holy rant out of Dewey and publishing it. Thank you all the Dewey followers for reprinting it (note: in a book/journal issue published in Carbondale, IL by SIU Press in 2008). I haven't read it in the complete yet, and will do so soon. 

John Dewey's Fearlessness Project is not a label I use lightly, it is however one I am totally glad to apply and I am considering (after more research, perhaps) to end up including Dewey's movement in progressive education and philosophy in America (19th-20th century) as a contributing "Fearlessness Movement" initiative and add it to the Wikipedia on that topic. One outstanding question is can a pragmatist (6) like Dewey be prophetic (are they supposed to be, based on the definition of pragmatism and its history in American philosophy and as American philosophy)? I won't go on and on here with so many questions that arise, some very troubling as to the 'absence' of this holy rant in all my scouring the Educational field (albeit, I will say I have found other W. critical thinkers, and educators saying very similar things to Dewey in the above--but that's another article; I'm wondering if they had read Dewey's rant or it was picked up in them by osmosis--matrixial threads--unconscious collective archetypes?)--I trust some of you may like to comment on this. I look forward to hearing from you. 

Oh, one last (very interesting) thought, according to a Dewey scholar (Ryan, 1997, p. 80), it was Alice Chirman, Dewey's wife (1886 on) who gave Dewey three things he need, says Ryan, "The first was fearlessness about the ideas and opinions of the rest of the world" -- the other two things (note) follow from that gift... now there is a great feminist, womanist, feminine acknowledgement. See Ryan, A. (1997). John Dewey and the high tide of American liberalism. NY: W.W. Norton. 

End Notes

1. I am referring to a very interesting duo (and others), Prof. of Philosophy Randy Auxier, SIU and Prof. of Philosophy John Shook, University of Buffalo NY, who have decided to pool their huge libraries, each over 15,000 books, into a library and research center in Randy's home in Murphysboro, IL (a 5 min. drive W. of Carbondale, IL where I live). They are putting together a non-profit organization at the same time and already have other retiring philosophy professors donating their life-long book collections to their center. Auxier and Shook believe their project reflects, as a counter-response, to a growing disturbing trend of American higher education institutes in general, which have disregarded the best quality of philosophy from American scholars in history. They are more than a little perturbed at the "State" of funding losses in higher education from the public purse and the overly business attitude of administration in many universities today in N.A. I agree with their critique and I think it is fascinating they are taking their passions into their own hands and not depending on anyone else to secure the best of knowledge and wisdom. One could write an essay about this changing landscape of American higher education in the past few decades where institutions care more about "profit" than securing the wisdom of a culture, in particular through the academy. I think they are marking a trend of alternative learning centers. The place at Randy's will be available to the public not merely scholars. It will have a residential component for scholars as well. I am even putting together a proposal for such a year long residency (I'll talk about that later perhaps). 

2. My all time favorite education book has got to be Krishnamurti, J. (1953/81). Education and the significance of life. NY: Harper & Row.

3. The Dewey materials from the Center are now in the (cold and dark) basement level of Morris Library, SIU. Larry Hickman, Director of the Center for Dewey Studies has been demoted to a small cubicle in that basement and most of his budget for research assistants and graduate assistants sliced. This doesn't speak well of the attitudes of the upper administration in SIU. 

4. The almost repulsive quality I had built up inside myself for over 3 decades in the field of Education, can be summarized (albeit, a bit grossly) to what I read in his work as a functionalist perspective (even if he was somewhat a radical liberal reformer challenging the status quo) and not a conflict perspective (i.e., based in critical theory). This is a much longer argument of differentiation that I spent years in my graduate work sorting out and researching, to come to the conclusion I was a conflict theorist not a functionalist (pragmatist) theorist. It makes a big political difference. For those really keen to know more about this you can check out these terms online and a really good summary of the distinction is my daughter and her collaborator's chapter in a recent book I also have a chapter in, see Fisher, V., and Nicholson, S. E. (2014). Introduction: Developing a critical integral praxis for sex, gender, and sexuality. In S. E. Nicholson and V. Fisher (Eds.), Integral voices on sex, gender, and sexuality: Critical inquiries (pp. 1-12). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. 

5. I still am not convinced his work is strong enough to bring about the transformation that I think America needs to go through before it destroys itself and the rest of the world with it. Thus, I am still rightfully critical he was not "radical enough" (you could say)--that is, he never was a good conflict theorist. Now, even that, as I age, is becoming a little more tenuous of a divide in my mind (despite E.N. #4). But that's a longer story, and I'm interested to study Dewey to look at just what kind of conflict theorist he perhaps was and/or he was an integral theorist and I just missed it and frankly, I haven't read enough nearly to even assess this anymore. 

6. I had read a scholar recently writing on Dewey's work and suggesting Dewey preferred to be called some working with the philosophy of "experimentalism" and yet, many have dubbed him working with the philosophy of pragmatism (along with William James, Charles S. Peirce, etc.). Albeit, Dewey is uniquely a pragmatist with a strong social philosophy (activist) bent; and his background in Christianity (which he left the church eventually) and as a social reformer connected with religious life in America (i.e., New England)--all this leads to him being "prophetic" (and I mean that, because of his confrontation of our society with its culture of fear and the need for fearlessness). 

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Comments

  • I received this from a colleague: 

    "Yeah for Dewey!! His work continues to resonate like good poetry!" 

  • I received this from a colleague: 
    "Thanks Michael.  Nice blog post.
     
    My first reading of Dewey was in Theology studies  (I did my masters in theology at GTU at Berkeley in the 1970s and started my PhD in theology at Ariz State.... and switched to Curriculum Theory at LSU in 1995).
     
    Dewey was foundational in theology... especially "A Common Faith" 1935.  I did not think of Dewey as an educator/educational philosopher until after a few years at LSU."
     
    Patrick Slattery, Ph.D.
    Prof. Leadership Education
    University of Texas A & M
  • I sent this piece to my fear connoiseur friend and colleague, Dr. Don Trent Jacobs (Four Arrows), Prof. in Leadership at Fielding Grad. School, CA. He wrote back: 

    "Wow, I am a big quoter of Dewey and never came upon this! Thanks so much for sharing it. I'm going to reference [it] today in my critique of my colleagues.... Thanks Amigo."

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