Tuesday, October 2, 2012

John Dewey, modern schooling, and Adler's Great Books

An interview with Mortimer Adler on the Dick Cavett show here. Adler was the second editor of the Great Books of the Western World (GBWW) set of books. (The first editor was Robert Maynard Hutchins.) In this interview -- part one is a real snoozer, by the way -- Adler suggests that John Dewey, one of the fathers of modern schooling, was a crank. Disappointing me, he does not explain why.

John Taylor Gatto is also critical of Dewey but he, too, in his book, The Underground History of Education, fails to give Dewey the thrashing he deserves. Gatto, being an egalitarian, instead lays the blame for the disaster that is modern schooling primarily on the Puritans, the Prussians, and the 19th century industrialists.

Refreshingly, English professor Richard Mitchell explains Dewey's warped view of the mind and chronicles the results in his amusing books about learning, schooling, and education. Richard Weaver also explains what was wrong with Dewey's methods in his insightful book, Visions of Order, in the chapter, Gnostics of Education.

Here are reading assignments from the Adler GBWW set, spread over only 10 years, along with many other related links.

Adler says that philosophy, unlike medicine, law, or engineering, should be everybody's business. He advises the self-taught man :
My second bit of advice to autodidacts is short and sweet. To the question: what should autodidacts do? The answer is: Read and discuss. Not just read, for reading without discussion with others who have read the same book is not nearly as profitable as it should be for the mind and its effort to understand what has been read. (Solitary reading is as horrible as solitary drinking.)

As reading without discussion can fail to yield the full measure of understanding that should be sought, discussion without the substance for discussion that good and great books afford, is likely to degenerate into dinner-party chit-chat or little more than an exchange of opinions and personal prejudices.

Autodidacts who read, year after year, the great books of history, philosophy, and poetry, and discuss them with their peers, are on the road to becoming generally educated persons before they die, and to have lives that are enriched by a lifetime of learning.
Bene dictum, sed caveat emptor. Some of the Great Books programs, such as the famous one at St. John's College, are more effective at deconstructing the West rather than learning from it or nurturing it. Even Adler himself, like Socrates, insists that, Nothing that is capable of being discussed should be out of the schools. Adler was blinded by his love of learning to the truth that Socrates was guilty as charged and received his just reward.

Many lovers of great books, such as Mortimer Adler and Allan Bloom should be avoided. Adler was, whether he intended to be or not, a Western deconstructionist. His favorite tactic was to provoke people by being a Marxist apologist and then denying that he was one. Bloom is a neo-platonist, a favorite of the neo-cons and similar leftists who love to hate the West. Leaning on the understanding of men such as these is like depending on Dr. Kevorkian to fill your doctor's prescription.

Tampering with a text is bad enough (Reader's Digest regularly alters great works of literature) but readers, especially young and unguided readers, must be careful not to ingest the poison contained in the introductions and footnotes to these great works such as are to be found in the Penguin and Loebs series of classical reprints. To be on the safe side (and save hours of valuable time), just skip over the introductions and get right to the original text.

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