Neopragmatism and My Public Education

For a PhD seminar I am currently enrolled in, George Knight’s Philosophy & Education is required reading. It certainly has been an eye-opener how important our philosophical presuppositions are to every aspect of life—especially education.

One thing I have realized reading this book is that I have Richard Rorty to thank for my experience in public school education. In 1979, Rorty famously declared that philosophy was dead in a paper presented—ironically—to the American Philosophical Society. Then he proceeded to set out an educational philosophy in the spirit of William James, the American pragmatist, that he thought should be implemented in the American public school system. Here are the distinctives of Rorty’s neopragmatism, which is very similar to the educational philosophy of John Dewey, the man who has perhaps most influentially shaped—or destroyed, depending on who you ask—America’s current educational landscape.

If you were educated in the public school system like I was, see if you can detect your experience in these distinctives (my commentary appears in parentheses):

  1. A criticalness toward all appeals to absolutes (such as religion)
  2. An insistence upon “a robust plurality of experiences, beliefs, and inquiries” (truth is relative)
  3. A continuing emphasis on ethical, political, and social responsibility (save the rainforest!!)
  4. A strong sense of the precariousness of human existence (pollution will kill us all!)
  5. A commitment to democratic action (did anyone else get to vote to not have tests on certain days?)
  6. A felt need to communicate in a language that all social classes can understand and participate in (educating to the lowest common denominator)
  7. A positive outlook on the possibilities of human action based on a “reconstruction” philosophy (we can do anything we can set our minds to!)

Ideas have consequences. As for me, I will be choosing an education for my children more along the lines of neo-scholasticism, thank you very much.


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