Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

Education for Global Understanding: Learning From Dewey's Visit to Japan

by Naoko Saito - 2003

This article examines the implications of John Dewey's democratic philosophy for contemporary education for global understanding. Its special focus is on his idea of mutual learning through difference - a democratic principle that was put to the test in his own cross-cultural encounter with Japan in 1919. Using Dewey's difficult experience in Japan as a context, I then consider how contemporary Japanese education can best engage with a philosophical question he left, a question involving the difficulty of understanding the different in the absence of common ground. I present various examples that show Japan must face anew the challenge of Deweyan democracy. In exploring certain educational implications, I argue that the age of value diversity and globalization calls for the wisdom of Deweyan pragmatisma philosophy for a middle way of living, somewhere between resignation to the absence of common ground and belief in an absolute common ground. Dewey's idea of mutual learning based on friendship invites teachers and students to be engaged in translating different ways of language and thinking in the classroom in search of common ground. This approach to education struggles to cultivate open-mindedness toward radical otherness.


Travel is known to have a broadening effect, at least if the traveler is willing to keep his mind open. The amount of enlightenment which is gained from travel usually depends upon the amount of difference there is between the civilization from which the traveler starts his journey and that of the country at which he arrives. The more unlike the two are, the more opportunity there is for learning.1

When John Dewey paid a visit to China and Japan in the late 1910s and the early 1920s, he called for mutual understanding between the East and the West for the cause of democracy. He criticized the mode of contact prevalent during the period - one colored by superficial emotion, ignorance, fear, and prejudice, which did not ‘‘penetrate below the surface’’ of other cultures (MNU, p. 263). Instead, he emphasized the importance of an understanding that reached ‘‘the inner spirit and real life of a people’’ (MNU, p. 267). By confronting and surmounting difference in ways of thinking, value systems, and habits of mind in other countries, Dewey proposed that such contact with another nation become ‘‘a real means of education, a means of insight and understanding’’ (MNU, p. 263). Dewey’s cross-cultural experience reflects his own democratic philosophy based on the pluralistic vision of the global community. He claims a need for education for global understanding that is supported by the notion of unity in diversity, a solidarity among human beings that is made possible only through interaction between different perspectives. Dewey emphasizes that creative democracy is made possible by mutual learning through difference and that it requires a dialogue between ‘‘friends.’’2

Dewey’s philosophy of creative democracy has gained renewed significance in the context of ethnic and religious tensions around the world and the extended and borderless network of global communication. Japanese education can be considered a case in point. To cope with a changing global situation in a relatively homogeneous culture, one of the central aims in its educational reform is the promotion of global understanding. The government has taken initiatives to increase occasions for children to be exposed to foreign cultures, the number of native speakers of foreign languages has increased, and Japanese teachers are encouraged to study abroad. At the university level, a diverse range of international exchange programs has been implemented, and more students take advantage of these programs.

Behind this apparently outward-looking and international orientation, an inward-looking tendency upholding traditional values and national identity has also been reinforced. A conservative movement to change the Fundamental Law of Education, which was originally implemented after the war and which follows the American model of democracy, has recently gained momentum.3 Here a tension is created between being a national citizen and a global citizen.4 Each one of us as a citizen of both our country and the global society is faced with questions concerning what it means to understand different cultures while maintaining one’s own national and cultural identity: how to find common ground in the conflict of values and how to be engaged in open-minded dialogue with those who present us with radical otherness - questions that involve our personal ways of living and that precede the institutional reforms initiated by the state.

This article is an attempt to respond to philosophical and moral questions involving education for global understanding in the light of Deweyan democracy. In response to the need of our times, Dewey’s philosophy needs to be critically reread so that popular discourse on education for global understanding can be placed in dialogue with his work. It is his ideal of unity in diversity that especially faces a challenge in the light of the difficulties of our times: the challenge of finding a common ground, the possibility that it will be fragmented, and the difficulty of coming to a mutual understanding with those who are different. A major challenge for education is to empower students (and teachers, as I discuss later) to start with the genuine difficulty of establishing common ground. In dealing with this challenge, a critical dialogue with Dewey is needed to prevent his concept of mutual learning from turning into an easy and overly optimistic set of assumptions about common understanding or assimilation into the whole.

I first examine Dewey’s ideal of mutual learning through difference - his democratic faith that was tested in his own cross-cultural encounter with Japan. In his dealing with the radical difference that he experienced in the undemocratic culture of Japan, Dewey came near, through his underestimation of the profundity of difference, to betraying his pragmatic principle and thereby revealing the difficulty of mutual learning from the different.

Learning from Dewey’s encounter with Japan, I then discuss a challenge to Japanese education for global understanding. Finally, to reorient education for global understanding so that it can navigate from difference and diversity towards unity, I propose a reconsideration of the wisdom of the pragmatism that underlies Dewey’s democratic philosophy: his philosophy for a middle way of living between no common ground (the relativist stance) and the absolute common ground (the position of total assimilation). I argue that it is this aspect of Deweyan pragmatism that can benefit contemporary education for global understanding - education that translates different ways of language and thinking in search of common ground and education that struggles to cultivate open-mindedness toward otherness. Finally, I relate Deweyan pragmatism to a kind of perfectionist education that cultivates among students an awareness of the impossibility of full translation.


Dewey’s remark on mutual national understanding reflects the principle of his democratic philosophy. For democracy to be a ‘‘personal way of individual life,’’ one that is distinguished from democracy as a political mechanism (CD, p. 228), it requires more than a fair distribution of goods, a procedure to guarantee the welfare of citizens, or a method of promoting free discussion. No mater how important these procedural mechanisms are, democracy is primarily an ethical and creative task that requires each of us to respond to the question of how we should live our daily lives. In interacting with people of different cultures, this principle must also be practiced. Dewey tells us that the moral language of mutual national understanding is insincere if, behind the political slogan of anti-Nazism, we still interact with others next to us with the psychological barrier of prejudice, suspicion or hatred, and unless such a claim is funded by our genuine openness ‘‘in our daily walk and conversation’’ (CD, pp. 226–228). Democracy as a personal way of living is more than the matter of the ‘‘right’’ to express freely and exchange different views. Rather, it must be the nurturing process of mutual learning. Dewey expresses a ‘‘genuinely democratic faith in peace’’ as follows:

To cooperate by giving differences a chance to show themselves because of the belief that the expression of difference is not only a right of the other persons but is a means of enriching one’s life experience, is inherent in the democratic personal way of life. (CD, p. 228)

Dewey suggests that the understanding of the inner spirit of people in different cultures, those who live in a different universe than the one we are familiar with, cannot merely be a matter of neutral, objective comparison or the assimilation of difference into unity based on an ethnocentric framework. Equality among the different can be won only through an interactive, interpretive, and educative dialogue. The heart and final guarantee of democracy is its capacity to cultivate through dialogue the ‘‘habit of amicable cooperation’’ among friends (Ibid).

Dewey’s experience of visiting Japan, however, challenged this democratic principle of mutual learning, and even suggests the difficulty of putting it into practice. In his visit to Japan, from February 9 until April 28, 1919, Dewey was confronted with a severe challenge to his hope of attaining mutual understanding and universal democracy beyond national and cultural boundaries. Japan at that time was between two world wars and had undergone a democratization movement called Taisho Democracy - a movement that was soon to give way to looming nationalism and militarism. Dewey saw a flickering hope for liberalism in Japan, but he left the country in disappointment. He tried to approach Japan through his principle of mutual national understanding. During the short period of his stay, he struggled to penetrate below the surface of the culture. As a philosopher who was thrown into an abyss that existed between two cultures, Dewey acknowledged that ‘‘Japan is a unique country, one whose aims and methods are baffling to any foreigner.’’5 He communicated with Japanese liberal intellectuals, gave a lecture at the University of Tokyo, and was exposed to the left-wing democratic movements among college youth.6 But he learned that ‘‘such higher criticism is confined to the confidence of the classroom’’ (JL, p. 174). Dewey realized that the ‘‘popular mind,’’ to which he wished to communicate his idea of democracy as a personal way of living, was dominated by ‘‘nationalistic sentiment.’’ He observed that ‘‘the growth of democratic ideas’’ and ‘‘the growth of liberalism’’ were hampered by the inculcation of ‘‘the emperor cult’’ (LJ, pp. 170–173). Especially in contrast to China, where ‘‘[e]very articulate conscious influence [was] liberal,’’ Dewey noticed the obstacles to ‘‘the development of an enlightened liberal public opinion in Japan’’ - ‘‘the conspiracy of silence,’’ patriotism, and the institutional religion that prevented ‘‘critical thought and free discussion.’’7 Dewey was troubled by the authoritarian, nationalistic ethics indoctrinated in primary education (LJ, pp. 167–168). He could not find democracy in Japanese people’s way of living.

Furthermore, Dewey was confused by an inconsistency involved in Japanese modernization - a combination of the ‘‘feudal’’ and ‘‘barbarian’’ ethos of the warrior with the worship of western industrialization (LJ, pp. 160–161). As he put it, ‘‘There is some quality in the Japanese inscrutable to a foreigner which makes them at once the most rigid and the most pliable people on earth, the most self-satisfied and the most eager to learn’’ (LJ, p. 168). In the country’s ‘‘opportunism,’’ Dewey found it ‘‘difficult in the present condition of Japan to construct even in imagination a coherent and unswerving working policy for a truly liberal political party’’ (POJ, p. 259).

Researchers often comment on Dewey’s experience in Japan mainly in negative terms, especially in comparison with his subsequent experience in China. Louis S. Feuer tells us of the way that Dewey disclosed his ‘‘disillusionment’’ with Japan to his close Japanese friends.8 Feuer points out that Dewey ‘‘found Japanese society immovable, myth ridden, class congealed, and recalcitrant to liberal influences.’’9 In a second trip to Japan after a two-year stay in China, Dewey was struck by the static rigidity of the Japanese.10 Robert B. Westbrook also describes Dewey’s experience in Japan as troubling, even hostile. Japan is presented as a country where ‘‘the heart of Deweyan democracy’’ could not be communicated or understood.11 While agreeing that Dewey’s experience in Japan was not as informative as that in China, Alan Ryan raises doubts about Dewey’s belief that the American model of liberal democracy might seep into the traditional culture of Japan. He asserts that Dewey, to be true to his pragmatism, should have been more open and tolerant to the incoherence, diversity, and ‘‘opposite outlooks’’ of the culture of Japan - its internal conflicts between the process of Western industrialization and modernization and the traditions of the feudal and reactionary system.12

Dewey’s visit to Japan was a test case in which he was caught out by a real gap in cross-cultural communication - in a foreign place where the English word democracy was untranslatable.13 As a result, as Feuer states, ‘‘Dewey was puzzled as to the advice he, as an American liberal, should give.’’14 Confronted with contradictions in standards between the East and the West over the meaning of spiritual and ideal that he found made mutual understanding difficult, Dewey was faced with the question of ‘‘how shall a choice be made between these two ideals?’’ In Japan, Dewey felt that ‘‘genuinely Western ideas and aims’’ were ‘‘shut out’’ (LJ, p. 161). The expression captures Dewey’s sense of being thrown into an abyss between different cultures; it illustrates the fallacy in presuming a common ground of communication. His failed relationship with Japan has left us with a challenging question of whether we can work toward common ground, when two cultures are radically different. Dewey tried to respond to this question through his faith in democracy, the unshaken ground of his philosophical creed. This experience of Dewey leaves us with a philosophical question: what happens if one’s democratic faith is not totally accepted in a different culture? This question is still relevant in a contemporary global situation in which the validity of the Western model of democracy is at issue.

In turn, Japan was also exposed to its own limitations through Dewey’s criticism - criticism of the ‘‘conspiracy of silence’’ that in his eyes suppressed the voice of Japanese liberals. Dewey spoke to Japanese liberals, acknowledging their need to demonstrate moral courage: ‘‘It takes more force, more moral courage to be an outspoken critic of the politics and social condition of one’s nation, to be a dissenter, in Japan, than in any other country in the world’’ (PJ, p. 257). Courage was at the heart of Dewey’s liberalism and pragmatism - the courage to speak out, the courage to break the conspiracy of silence, and the courage to take action according to one’s faith. The courage Dewey asked for on the part of Japanese liberals in those times was of a radical and non-conformist kind: ‘‘I think that the surest sign of the approach of democracy will be given when we read that a group of intellectuals have braved prison or death by setting forth to the public the truth about such matters’’ (LJ, p. 174).

Dewey’s thinking was not, however, necessarily fully communicated to his Japanese audience. The way in which his pragmatism has been treated in Japanese culture demonstrates the difficulty of mutual learning. In the series of lectures that Dewey gave at the University of Tokyo, the number of participants decreased from around a thousand to less than forty towards the end.15 His lectures were not occasions for mutual learning, still less for enriching mutual experience. Subsequent history also demonstrates that Dewey’s pragmatism and progressive philosophy of education have not taken deep root in the soil of Japanese culture in such a way as to influence extensively Japanese people’s daily ways of living, even after political democratization took place after World War II.16

Dewey’s experience in Japan shows the real difficulty of communicating one’s own faith to another culture. In confrontation with such a difficulty, should we take a relativistic attitude or impose our own values? In the light of this question, it is doubtful whether Dewey could have learned fully from Japan’s ‘‘inner spirit and real life.’’ At the very point where he foregrounds his conception of the genuine Western ideal of democracy, he seems to betray his principle of mutual learning through difference, and even suggests unwittingly a possibility of the assimilation of the different into the same. If understanding the different simply means projecting one’s own framework of thinking onto something beyond one’s comprehension, mutual learning of the kind that Dewey hoped to realize needs more than understanding. As Alan Ryan states, Dewey, despite his teaching of mutual learning, was not ‘‘open’’ enough to what did not make sense to his own familiar way of thinking.17

Paul Standish’s criticism captures this omission on the part of Dewey. Standish raises a question concerning Dewey’s comment on the ‘‘conspiracy of silence,’’ asking if silence is necessarily and simply a conspiracy: ‘‘Does [silence] always relate to authority and fear? Or is there something else here to do with different senses of what can be openly expressed or represented? A different relationship to surface and depth, to the revealed and the hidden, to noise and silence?’’18 Drawing attention to the positive side of silence, in the unique ways that it emerges in Japanese culture, Standish suggests that Dewey might have been insensitive to the silent dimension of the silenced culture of Japan.19 Standish’s comment on silence reminds us of our familiar experience of communicating in a different language, one in which we are often left with a feeling that something is left unsaid, despite our best possible efforts of articulation. Though we must acknowledge the limits in the length of stay and the number of people Dewey met during his visit to Japan as well as the difference in language, his visit to Japan illustrates the difficulty of practising the principle of mutual learning and of being sufficiently attentive to ‘‘the spiritual character of the indigenous civilization’’ (MUN, p. 271).

Supporting Dewey’s Darwinian account of human beings as those who adjust themselves to the environment, Richard Rorty says that beliefs are not ‘‘representations’’ but ‘‘habits of action.’’20 Appropriating Michael Waltzer’s distinction, Rorty claims that the ‘‘thick morality’’ of society is composed of the ‘‘thick set of customs and institutions’’ that commands the ‘‘moral allegiance’’ of people.21 Unlike Rorty’s own proposal of a dialogue among the ‘‘thin’’ moralities of different cultures, which are more peripheral and contingent than thick moralities, Dewey, in his idea of mutual learning, seeks conversation between the thick moralities of different cultures, moralities that are embedded in the habits of indigenous people. To show Dewey’s nonrelativist and more committed mode of transactional dialogue, James Garrison cites words from Democracy and Education where Dewey emphasizes the need for ‘‘change in social habit - its continuous readjustment through meeting the new situations produced by varied intercourse.’’22 If such change is the heart of Deweyan democracy, then, a contemporary challenge is to show how such thick dialogue can be initiated when two parties face the real difficulty of finding a common ground and when they lose their words before the silence of the other.


The challenging question that Dewey addressed in his own cross-cultural experience in Japan is one that the country still faces today in its efforts of educating for global understanding. Its homogeneous culture has been rapidly undergoing change with the urgent need to live in a heterogeneous global society and to coexist with people from different backgrounds - a situation in stark contrast to the one that Dewey once encountered. Japanese educators face the challenge of opening the minds of the young (as well as their own) in the age of Kokusai-ka (globalization or internationalization), a key term in the national curriculum. As the course of study for elementary school states, ‘‘For the learning of global understanding, including the conversation class in foreign language teaching, experienced-based learning should be conducted that is appropriate to the level of the elementary school, involving children’s immediate exposure to foreign languages and the life and culture of a foreign country.’’23 Fifty-eight years after political democratization, Japan now faces an emerging need for practicing democratic ways of living on its own soil, democratization from within the culture - as Dewey had hoped to see in Japan nearly eighty years ago. The curriculum has been revised to cope with the globalization of the world. Schools have come to be opened to various sectors of society. Teachers are struggling to expose their students to foreign cultures. Practical skill in communicating in foreign languages has been emphasized more than ever; institutional changes have been made to prepare teachers to study abroad to improve their language and cross-cultural skills.

Despite these governmental and institutional changes, education for global understanding needs philosophical examination at the level of one’s personal, daily ways of living. So too the prevalent discourse concerning education, which speaks of mutual recognition, open-mindedness, and coexistence, must be critically reexamined. In a country where people are used to living with people from similar backgrounds and where being different is not necessarily considered to be a virtue, it is not only understanding but living with the different that requires a radical transformation of people’s habits of mind.

There are many examples of Japanese education that exhibit an ironical discrepancy between the ideal of global understanding and the reality that blocks it. Rie Hirose, a Japanese college student discussing her recent teaching practice in a junior high school, comments on the exclusive attitude of a teacher she encountered towards a Chinese student. She cites the words of the teacher: ‘‘Ms. O [a Chinese student] has a different sensitivity. It is wrong. She does not seem to have a willingness to change it. That is why she cannot get along with other people in the class.’’24 Hirose observes the irony of a situation where students were more adaptable to the differences in foreign students than the teacher. Her example illustrates the reality of the implicit, and perhaps deep-rooted, attitude of the assimilation of the different into the same in the name of mutual understanding. A Burmese university student in my own class also made a critical remark to the effect that there is no genuine freedom in Japanese society. In her view, Japanese society is one in which people cannot freely express themselves. The problem of ‘‘those who wish to return,’’ as reported by the New York Times, is a further illustration of the ‘‘undemocratic’’ culture of Japan, which can be closed-minded to foreign elements. The problem involves insensitivity to the suffering of those who fall into an abyss between two cultures, to their sense of leaving (and even losing) home.25 Such blindness is often evidenced among those who speak from the standpoint of one’s own ‘‘genuine’’ framework.

To further complicate the problem, Japanese educational reform is now exhibiting a tension between the apparently liberal direction toward Kokusai-ka, on the one hand, and a more conservative, inward movement toward reinforcing national identity and patriotism on the other. When the notion of citizenship is tied to the latter, the language of education can come to mold teachers’ and students’ minds in a secure framework, the price of which is their loss of the courage to expose themselves to the surprise of the different. Much as the conserving of one’s cultural core, traditional values, and national identity are essential to the resuscitation of culture, its tendency toward assimilation can at any time, in the name of the common good and social inclusion, overwhelm the voice of those who on the edge of that culture or of the dissident who cannot simply stay within a culture.

These cases illustrate the real difficulty of realizing creative democracy as Dewey envisioned it. Combining a superficial level of hospitality outside with the stubborn closed-mindedness inside is perhaps more dangerous than a clearly visible form of illegal discrimination. Given such hidden discrimination, understanding the background of different others is an indispensable component of education for global understanding. The examples cited above suggest, however, that even when the curriculum is centered around Kokusai-ka, and when a foreign language is taught in the classroom, there is no occasion for mutual learning, or even for misunderstanding - if the different is silenced from the beginning, if the ‘‘genuine’’ framework of one’s own thinking is not questioned in confrontation with the different, and if one stays at home only to accommodate (and even worse assimilate) the different that arrives from outside. In the popular discourse of open-mindedness, mutual recognition and coexistence, the sense of imperfection, lack, and failure is often obliterated; the silenced voice of those who suffer from the sense of leaving home tends to become inaudible; and in the worst case, becomes suppressed by those who stay cozily at home (to appropriate Ralph Waldo Emerson’s metaphor, those who cannot leave the ‘‘prison’’ of their own thought26). It is in resistance to such dangers that the value of Dewey’s message concerning mutual learning from the different needs to be appreciated anew.

Dewey said that travel can have an enlightening effect ‘‘if the traveler is willing to keep his mind open’’ (MNU, p. 262). In light of the urgent need of education for global understanding, an opportunity has arrived again for a creative and critical dialogue with Deweyan democracy. Japanese education for global understanding can learn anew from both the positive and the negative lessons that can be drawn from Dewey’s visit to Japan - a necessity to learn from the different in ‘‘thick’’ dialogue, especially from the unfamiliar and silent aspects of different cultures. In today’s world situation where the lack of common ground is too real to be ignored, a challenge to education for global understanding is how to start from within the conditions of indifference, exclusiveness, and blindness to ‘‘the inner spirit and real life of a people,’’ how to open one’s mind from within this poverty of thought. In this context, perhaps, Dewey’s pluralistic view of democracy can reach out to a Japanese audience more persuasively than it did in the 1920s.


In the light of the urgent need of education for global understanding, we must lend an attentive ear to Dewey’s message that mutual learning from difference is at the heart of creative democracy. When we face a gap as we encounter the other, we encounter Dewey’s words anew; there is no occasion for mutual learning if we leave the gap untouched and stay safely within our separate homes or appeal to our ‘‘genuine’’ ideal in an attitude of self-righteousness and complacency. We cannot simply resort to a utopian vision of a global community as if the distance created by difference were merely a temporal source of insecurity, uncertainty, or even an evil to be got rid of. Both modes of life entail the danger of obliviousness, and even violence, to the lives of different others. Instead if we follow the path of Deweyan democracy, we will start in the midst of ambiguity and groundlessness (which can become the source of further inquiry27); we will gain distance in our thinking and gradually narrow the existing gap to work towards common ground. For Deweyan democracy, what is common is not pregiven but something to be realized in the process of searching; it is always on the way, in the process of becoming, but never finally perfected. Dewey’s own recognition of the absence of the common ground of communication, his experience of the profundity of difference, illustrates this principle of pragmatism - the common ground not as the precondition of communication but as something that we work toward. The entanglement of a drive for perfection with this sense of the unattainability of an ideal state of democracy is at the heart of Deweyan democracy; the humble acceptance of our incessant want of perfect understanding of the different is the essence of mutual learning through difference. Encounter with the different and confrontation with the limitation of one’s existing knowledge creates a momentum for further learning. Dewey’s philosophy of democracy suggests a drive toward perfectionism without any final perfectibility.

In his perfectionist model of democracy, Dewey’s pragmatism can offer a middle way of living, beyond the restrictions of relativism, universalism, and ethnocentrism. As Hilary Putnam recognizes, Deweyan democracy and pragmatism open an alternative way beyond the choice between a relativistic, separationist stance and an assimilationist call for common ‘‘American culture.’’28 The Deweyan middle way is a pragmatist’s antidualist path, as Rorty says, but Dewey’s idea of mutual learning involves more than a ‘‘compromise between competing goods.’’29 Mutual learning through traveling requires a thick dialogue with different others, in order to build a relational bridge and hopefully bring forth the transformation of mutual habits and even one’s initial faith. The middle way implies a transitional mode of living in order gradually to transcend our differences through the mutual transformation of identity and self-knowledge.

How then can Dewey’s perfectionist model of democracy have any bearing on the practice of education for global understanding? A promising answer lies in Dewey’s proposal for an art of communication. In Democracy and Education he presents a view that communication is the condition of growth. He says that ‘‘communication insures participation in a common understanding’’ (DE, p. 7) and that ‘‘[c]onsensus demands communication’’ (DE, p. 8). In his later writing during the 1920s and 1930s he develops the idea that communication is not simply a matter of skill or means, but rather an art for creating a democratic community.30 In Art as Experience (1934), he presents this idea in connection with conversation and friendship. Dewey suggests that art enables us to transcend our habitual framework of thinking and ways of seeing, to ‘‘forget ourselves by finding ourselves in the delight of experiencing the world about us in its varied qualities and forms.’’31 Friendship in itself is the ‘‘arts of living’’:

Friendship and intimate affection are not the result of information about another person even though knowledge may further their formation. But it does so only as it becomes an integral part of sympathy through the imagination. It is when the desires and aims, the interests and modes of response of another become an expansion of our own being that we understand him. We learn to see with his eyes, hear with his ears, and their results give true instruction, for they are built into our own structure. (AE, p. 339)

Conversation among friends involves more than the understanding of the other as the object of knowledge, or framing the other in one’s own perspective. Combined with his original remark about traveling as a metaphor for mutual learning, the passage above can be interpreted as a way of being attentive to the different other. Openness to the difference of others means the reception of the other’s life as a part of one’s own structure of thought.32 The Deweyan art of communication and conversation among friends can provide teachers and students with a key to achieving education for global understanding from within the classroom.

There still remains a challenge. Garrison cites a passage from Democracy and Education in which Dewey identifies the need for ‘‘breaking down barriers of class, race, and national territory which kept men from perceiving the full import of their activity.’’33 A challenge to today’s education, as Dewey’s visit to Japan also illustrated, is how to make possible the transformative experience of breaking down the rigidities of one’s framework of thinking through the opening of our eyes and ears to the faces and voices of different others. In response to this challenge, I would like to extend the Deweyan notion of the art of communication into the art of translation - translation as a specific mode of communication that at once highlights the gap between languages and is driven by the hope of creating a common ground of conversation. As a mediator between two parties whose worlds are mutually alien at the outset, the translator needs to travel from one place to another and then travel back again. In search of the shared areas of language and culture, she struggles to redefine the still indefinite boundary of one language in the light of another. She must maintain the courage to persevere in the middle of things, often suffering from a sense of her own anonymity. In this process she must accept the impossibility of a perfect translation in order to find some common focus and to narrow the initial gap. Different voices invite us to start again from the lack of common ground by reminding us of the impossibility of full articulation, understanding, and translation. Those who have the experience of studying and living abroad undergo this sense of imperfect translation between two cultures - of crossing distances and sometimes of falling into an abyss.

Dewey states, ‘‘Democracy must begin at home’’ (PP, p. 368). The experiences of a translator and a foreigner in a culture point us beyond this remark: We must unsettle ourselves and leave home to find home again. This is a shaking of one’s own frame of mind, of one’s unflagging faith, and familiar ways of thinking, in an encounter with different others. This encounter does not mean, however, to trivialize one’s own culture and traditions; rather it aims at enriching it by leaving it. To familiarize oneself with the unfamiliar, to open oneself to the different, one must exercise the courage to leave the familiar and to throw oneself into the unknown. Such openness can be acquired by holding onto one’s faith while releasing it beyond one’s self to receive the other in all its ambiguity, unfamiliarity, and unknowability - by acknowledging the imperfectibility of one’s own existing knowledge and with an enduring sense of an inevitable gap. As Dewey puts it, ‘‘‘Detachment’ is a negative name for something extremely positive’’ (AE, p. 262). It is this art of detachment that is needed for us to follow the middle way when we have to start from within a gap. Otherwise, in cross-cultural dialogue, one can never ‘‘penetrate below the surface’’ of the different, the ‘‘thick morality’’ of different cultures.

In resistance to our fated drive toward assimilation of the unfamiliar into the familiar and toward disclosure and articulation of the unknown in the name of public participation and social inclusion, the experience of translation is crucial to creating a breathing space for the indefinite and anonymous part of a human being. The presence of the anonymous can be a disturbing factor within a culture, and the acknowledgment of the unknown calls for the courage to reach out and embrace it. The experience of breaking down, however, requires the encounter with such otherness within and without one’s own self. The resuscitation of culture awaits the prophetic voice of the alien. Here the art of detachment is a precondition for the epistemological and cognitive understanding of different others, and an integral element of our moral life. To follow Standish after Levinas, it is a dimension of our ethical life that precedes the politics of mutual recognition.34

The experience of leaving home can be created in the classroom even without going abroad, for example, in a foreign language class. Cultivating the awareness of a gap and distance is a precondition for the teaching of foreign language as the art of translation. If students are encouraged to study a foreign language with a sense of the impossibility both of full translation and of perfect understanding, the very experience of difficulty may cultivate in them a drive for further perfection in their understanding of unknowable others at the same time as a recognition of its impossibility. This approach unsettles the naı¨ve assumption that a foreign language is simply a different code for saying the same thing.

By developing Dewey’s theory of communication in terms of the art of translation, Deweyan perfectionist democracy and education, and its pragmatist wisdom of the middle way of living, can contribute to citizenship education, particularly in overcoming the tension between being a national citizen and being a global citizen. In the face of the dilemma between holding on to one’s faith and lending an ear to the voice of different others who might threaten the ease we experience at home, Dewey’s pragmatist wisdom of living in the middle way and art of detachment can offer an alternative mode of learning to be a citizen of both one’s nation and the world - beyond any stark dichotomy between the conservative and the radical. If we follow Dewey’s pragmatism, as Putnam says, ‘‘we do not have to choose between patriotism and universal reason.’’35

The Deweyan wisdom of living in a middle way can be exercised not only in the history class or the social science class, as an extension of citizenship education, but also in moral education in the broadest sense. In a world of tragic confrontations between different cultures and religions, Dewey offers a way of living with the tragic beyond the absolute distinction between good and evil. He suggests a way of education for global understanding that can enable us to overcome conflicts not by revenge or retaliation in the name of combating evil, but by a pragmatic search for the better. This approach does not see itself in terms of a realization of totalized good but rather encourages patient dialogue as the most practical, intelligent means to live with different others. It is to perfectionist education understood in this vein that Dewey’s idea of mutual learning based on friendship invites both teachers and students to participate.36


1 John Dewey, ‘‘Some Factors in Mutual National Understanding,’’ in The Middle Works of John Dewey, Vol. 13, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983), 262 (hereafter cited as MNU).

2 John Dewey, ‘‘Creative Democracy–The Task Before Us,’’ in The Later Works of John Dewey, Vol. 14, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988), 228 (hereafter cited as CD).

3 Tetsuya Takahashi and Akiko Miyake, ‘‘Kore wa ‘Kokumin Seishin Kaizo Undo’ da’’ [‘‘This is the ‘Movement for Reconstructing the National Spirit’’’], in Sekai, No. 712 (Tokyo: Iwanami, 2003): 33–47.

4 Nel Noddings, ‘‘Global Citizenship’’ (a presentation given at the International Symposium Education for Citizenship: Its Tasks and Prospects at the University of Tokyo on December 18, 2002).

5 John Dewey, ‘‘Liberalism in Japan,’’ in The Middle Works of John Dewey, Vol. 11 (1982), 171 (hereafter cited as LJ).

6 During his stay in Japan, Dewey had close contact with the Waseda Group of Liberals, which included Riichiro Hoashi and Kojiro Sugimori. Hoashi translated Dewey’s Democracy and Education in 1919, and Experience and Nature in 1925 (Akihiro Mori, Nihon-ni okeru John Dewey Shiso Kenkyhu no Seiri [Review of John Dewey Studies in Japan] [Tokyo: Shu-Oh Sha, 1992], 4–7, 52; Hisao Kamidera, ‘‘Nihon ni okeru Dewey Kenkyu’’ [‘‘Dewey Studies in Japan’’], in Dewey Kyoiku-Riron no Sho-Mondai: Dewey Tanjo Hyaku-nen sai wo Kinen-shite [The Fundamental Problems in the Philosophy and Educational Theory of John Dewey: Essays in Commemoration of the Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of John Dewey], ed. The John Dewey Society of Japan [Tokyo: Tokyo- Shoin Press, 1959], 248–250; Louis S. Feuer, ‘‘John Dewey’s Sojourn in Japan,’’ in Teachers College Record, in Vol. 71, No. 1 (September 1969), 125, 130.

7 John Dewey, ‘‘Public Opinion in Japan,’’ in The Middle Works of John Dewey, Vol. 13 (1983), 256–257 (hereafter cited as POJ).

8 Feuer, ‘‘John Dewey’s Sojourn in Japan,’’ 139.

9 Ibid., 140.

10 Ibid., 143.

11 Robert B. Westbrook, John, Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 240–242.

12 Alan Ryan, John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism (New York: W. W. Norton and Company), 221–222.

13 As a symbol of difference, at the time when the emperor held sovereign power, the English word ‘‘democracy’’ could not be translated into Japanese (Mori, Nihon-ni okeru John Dewey Shiso Kenkyhu no Seiri). Also there is an episode that there was no translator in Dewey’s eight-day lecture at the University of Tokyo, which was to be published as Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920) (Shunsuke Tsurumi, Dewey [Tokyo: Kodan-Sha, 1984], 85.)

14 Feuer, ‘‘Dewey’s Sojourn in Japan,’’ 141.

15 Shunsuke Tsurumi, Dewey, 85. Tsurumi observes that Dewey’s influence was almost totally shut out of Japan by the emperor thought and its theoretical support given by German idealism (Ibid., 95).

16 Many Japanese researchers share this view: Mori, Nihon-ni okeru John Dewey Shiso Kenkyhu no Seiri, 4-7, 52; Kamidera, ‘‘Nihon ni okeru Dewey Kenkyu’’; Nihon no Sengo Kyoiku to Dewey ([Dewey and Postwar Japanese Education]), ed. Hiroshi Sugiura (Tokyo: Sekai-Shiso-Sha, 1998).

17 Ryan, John Dewey and the High tide of American Liberalism, 222.

18 Paul Standish in his comment to the original draft of this paper (May 2001).

19 In his personal letters to his children, it should be acknowledged, Dewey expresses his appreciation for the beauty of Japanese culture (John Dewey and Alice Chapman Dewey, Letters from China and Japan, ed. Evelyn Dewey [New York: E. P. Dutton, 1920]).

20 Richard Rorty, ‘‘Introduction: Relativism: Finding and Making,’’ in Richard Rorty, Philosophy and Social Hope (London: Penguin Books, 1999), xxv.

21 Ibid., xxxi.

22 John Dewey, Democracy and Education, in The Middle Works of John Dewey, Vol. 9 (1980),

92, (hereafter cited as DE) cited in: James Garrison, ‘‘A Deweyan Theory of Democratic Listening,’’ Educational Theory (1996): 429–451.

23 Monbu-sho [The Ministry of Education], Shogakko Gakushu Shido Yoryo Kaisetsu: Dodokuhen [Course of Study for the Elementary School: A volume on moral education] (Tokyo: The Ministry of Education, 1999), 120.

24 Rie Hirose in her report on my comparative education class at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (Summer 2001).

25 Howard French, ‘‘Japan Unsettles Returnees, Who Yearn to Leave Again,’’ The New York Times, 3 May 2000, A1 and A 12 in the International section.

26 Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘‘The Poet,’’ in Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Richard Poirier (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 210.

27 Israel Scheffler highlights the pragmatic wisdom of Peirce’s idea that ‘‘we begin in the middle of things’’ (Israel Scheffler, Four Pragmatists: A Critical Introduction to Peirce, James, Mead, and Dewey [New York: Humanities Press, 1974], 44); Putnam and Putnam also discuss Peirce’s and Dewey’s ideas of inquiry that begins and is conducted in ‘‘an indeterminate situation,’’ a situation that is ‘‘inherently doubtful’’ (Hilary Putnam and Ruth Anna Putnam, ‘‘Dewey’s Logic: Epistemology as Hypothesis,’’ in Hilary Putnam, Words and Life, ed. James Conant [Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1994], 21).

28 Hilary Putnam with Ruth Anna Putnam, ‘‘Education for Democracy,’’ in Hilary Putnam, Words and Life, 237–239.

29 Rorty, ‘‘Relativism,’’ p. xxviii.

30 John Dewey, The Public and its Problems, in The Later Works of John Dewey, vol. 2, ed. (1984), 350 (hereafter cited as PP).

31 John Dewey, Art as Experience, in The Later Works of John Dewey, vol. 10, (1987), 11 (hereafter cited as AE).

32 In connection with the theme of conversation for democracy, Garrison discusses the importance of democratic listening (Garrison, ‘‘Deweyan Theory of Democratic Listening’’).

33 Dewey, Democracy and Education, 93, in: Garrison, ‘‘Deweyan Theory of Democratic Listening.’’

34 Paul Standish, ‘‘Ethics before Equality: Moral Education after Levinas,’’ Journal of Moral Education, 30:4 (2001), 339–347.

35 Hilary Putnam, ‘‘Must we choose between patriotism and universal reason?’’ in Martha C. Nussbaum, For Love of country? (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 97.

36 An earlier version of this article was presented to the Philosophy of Education Discussion Group at the University of Cambridge (Cambridge Branch, Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, February 7, 2002), and at the Biennial Meeting of International Network of Philosophers of Education (Oslo, Norway, 9 August 2002). I am grateful to those present for their comments. I also thank James Garrison and Paul Standish for their comments on this article.)

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 9, 2003, p. 1758-1773
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11563, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 10:39:45 AM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Naoko Saito
    University of Tokyo
    E-mail Author
    NAOKO SAITO is a research associate at the Center for Philosophy at the University of Tokyo. She currently serves as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Academy of Education sponsored by the Spencer Foundation.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue