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Democracy and Education by John Dewey

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school. But this is not a reason for making a divorce between
knowledge and conduct, but for holding in low esteem this kind of
knowledge. The same thing may be said of knowledge which relates
merely to an isolated and technical specialty; it modifies action
but only in its own narrow line. In truth, the problem of moral
education in the schools is one with the problem of securing
knowledge -- the knowledge connected with the system of impulses
and habits. For the use to which any known fact is put depends
upon its connections. The knowledge of dynamite of a safecracker
may be identical in verbal form with that of a chemist; in fact,
it is different, for it is knit into connection with different
aims and habits, and thus has a different import.

Our prior discussion of subject-matter as proceeding from direct
activity having an immediate aim, to the enlargement of meaning
found in geography and history, and then to scientifically
organized knowledge, was based upon the idea of maintaining a
vital connection between knowledge and activity. What is learned
and employed in an occupation having an aim and involving
cooperation with others is moral knowledge, whether consciously
so regarded or not. For it builds up a social interest and
confers the intelligence needed to make that interest effective
in practice. Just because the studies of the curriculum
represent standard factors in social life, they are organs of
initiation into social values. As mere school studies, their
acquisition has only a technical worth. Acquired under
conditions where their social significance is realized, they feed
moral interest and develop moral insight. Moreover, the
qualities of mind discussed under the topic of method of learning
are all of them intrinsically moral qualities. Open-mindedness,
single-mindedness, sincerity, breadth of outlook, thoroughness,
assumption of responsibility for developing the consequences of
ideas which are accepted, are moral traits. The habit of
identifying moral characteristics with external conformity to
authoritative prescriptions may lead us to ignore the ethical
value of these intellectual attitudes, but the same habit tends
to reduce morals to a dead and machinelike routine. Consequently
while such an attitude has moral results, the results are morally
undesirable -- above all in a democratic society where so much
depends upon personal disposition.

4. The Social and the Moral. All of the separations which we
have been criticizing -- and which the idea of education set
forth in the previous chapters is designed to avoid -- spring
from taking morals too narrowly, -- giving them, on one side, a
sentimental goody-goody turn without reference to effective
ability to do what is socially needed, and, on the other side,
overemphasizing convention and tradition so as to limit morals to
a list of definitely stated acts. As a matter of fact, morals
are as broad as acts which concern our relationships with others.
potentially this includes all our acts, even though their social
bearing may not be thought of at the time of performance. For
every act, by the principle of habit, modifies disposition -- it
sets up a certain kind of inclination and desire. And it is
impossible to tell when the habit thus strengthened may have a
direct and perceptible influence on our association with others.
Certain traits of character have such an obvious connection with
our social relationships that we call them "moral" in an emphatic
sense -- truthfulness, honesty, chastity, amiability, etc. But
this only means that they are, as compared with some other
attitudes, central: -- that they carry other attitudes with them.
They are moral in an emphatic sense not because they are isolated
and exclusive, but because they are so intimately connected with
thousands of other attitudes which we do not explicitly
recognize -- which perhaps we have not even names for. To call
them virtues in their isolation is like taking the skeleton for
the living body. The bones are certainly important, but their
importance lies in the fact that they support other organs of the
body in such a way as to make them capable of integrated
effective activity. And the same is true of the qualities of
character which we specifically designate virtues. Morals
concern nothing less than the whole character, and the whole
character is identical with the man in all his concrete make-up
and manifestations. To possess virtue does not signify to have
cultivated a few namable and exclusive traits; it means to be
fully and adequately what one is capable of becoming through
association with others in all the offices of life.

The moral and the social quality of conduct are, in the last
analysis, identical with each other. It is then but to restate
explicitly the import of our earlier chapters regarding the
social function of education to say that the measure of the worth
of the administration, curriculum, and methods of instruction of
the school is the extent to which they are animated by a social
spirit. And the great danger which threatens school work is the
absence of conditions which make possible a permeating social
spirit; this is the great enemy of effective moral training. For
this spirit can be actively present only when certain conditions
are met.

(i) In the first place, the school must itself be a community
life in all which that implies. Social perceptions and interests
can be developed only in a genuinely social medium--one where
there is give and take in the building up of a common experience.
Informational statements about things can be acquired in relative
isolation by any one who previously has had enough intercourse
with others to have learned language. But realization of the
meaning of the linguistic signs is quite another matter. That
involves a context of work and play in association with others.
The plea which has been made for education through continued
constructive activities in this book rests upon the fact they
afford an opportunity for a social atmosphere. In place of a
school set apart from life as a place for learning lessons, we
have a miniature social group in which study and growth are
incidents of present shared experience. Playgrounds, shops,
workrooms, laboratories not only direct the natural active
tendencies of youth, but they involve intercourse,
communication, and cooperation, -- all extending the perception
of connections.

(ii) The learning in school should be continuous with that out of
school. There should be a free interplay between the two. This
is possible only when there are numerous points of contact
between the social interests of the one and of the other. A
school is conceivable in which there should be a spirit of
companionship and shared activity, but where its social life
would no more represent or typify that of the world beyond the
school walls than that of a monastery. Social concern and
understanding would be developed, but they would not be available
outside; they would not carry over. The proverbial separation of
town and gown, the cultivation of academic seclusion, operate in
this direction. So does such adherence to the culture of the
past as generates a reminiscent social spirit, for this makes an
individual feel more at home in the life of other days than in
his own. A professedly cultural education is peculiarly exposed
to this danger. An idealized past becomes the refuge and solace
of the spirit; present-day concerns are found sordid, and
unworthy of attention. But as a rule, the absence of a social
environment in connection with which learning is a need and a
reward is the chief reason for the isolation of the school; and
this isolation renders school knowledge inapplicable to life and
so infertile in character.

A narrow and moralistic view of morals is responsible for the
failure to recognize that all the aims and values which are
desirable in education are themselves moral. Discipline, natural
development, culture, social efficiency, are moral traits --
marks of a person who is a worthy member of that society which it
is the business of education to further. There is an old saying
to the effect that it is not enough for a man to be good; he must
be good for something. The something for which a man must be
good is capacity to live as a social member so that what he gets
from living with others balances with what he contributes. What
he gets and gives as a human being, a being with desires,
emotions, and ideas, is not external possessions, but a widening
and deepening of conscious life -- a more intense, disciplined,
and expanding realization of meanings. What he materially
receives and gives is at most opportunities and means for the
evolution of conscious life. Otherwise, it is neither giving nor
taking, but a shifting about of the position of things in space,
like the stirring of water and sand with a stick. Discipline,
culture, social efficiency, personal refinement, improvement of
character are but phases of the growth of capacity nobly to share
in such a balanced experience. And education is not a mere means
to such a life. Education is such a life. To maintain capacity
for such education is the essence of morals. For conscious life
is a continual beginning afresh.

Summary. The most important problem of moral education in the
school concerns the relationship of knowledge and conduct. For
unless the learning which accrues in the regular course of study
affects character, it is futile to conceive the moral end as the
unifying and culminating end of education. When there is no
intimate organic connection between the methods and materials of
knowledge and moral growth, particular lessons and modes of
discipline have to be resorted to: knowledge is not integrated
into the usual springs of action and the outlook on life, while
morals become moralistic -- a scheme of separate virtues.

The two theories chiefly associated with the separation of
learning from activity, and hence from morals, are those which
cut off inner disposition and motive -- the conscious personal
factor -- and deeds as purely physical and outer; and which set
action from interest in opposition to that from principle. Both
of these separations are overcome in an educational scheme where
learning is the accompaniment of continuous activities or
occupations which have a social aim and utilize the materials of
typical social situations. For under such conditions, the school
becomes itself a form of social life, a miniature community and
one in close interaction with other modes of associated
experience beyond school walls. All education which develops
power to share effectively in social life is moral. It forms a
character which not only does the particular deed socially
necessary but one which is interested in that continuous
readjustment which is essential to growth. Interest in learning
from all the contacts of life is the essential moral interest.

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