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A Reply to Schutz on Dewey's Conundrum

Posted By: Daniel Elliott on October 23, 2002
Aaron Schutz has made a most excellent study of Dewey and laid down important understandings for the education community of academics regarding the failure of Deweyan thinking regarding the impact of schooling on shaping society. I applaud everything he says in this excellent work “John Dewey’s Conundrum. . .” But may I make a few additional observations for the community to consider.

Dewey argued for collective action around common or shared values and views. I argue that there can never be collective action. There can only be individual action and in action. There can be a collection of individual action, amplified by a collection of absent opposing actions or inactions.

Schutz concludes that Dewey was forced to begrudgingly recognize over his life that his earliest altruistic views of social forces were flawed. When Dewey advocated for trained social collectiveness of conscious in artificially contrived school settings then he set students up for severe disappointment when they entered a society where many decline or refuse to join in a collective conscious. Dewey’s recognition of diversity only recognized the “accepted” differences and loathed the rejected differences, such as isolationism.

But Schutz, as excellent as his analysis is, does not quite go far enough to uncover the key problem in Dewey and the progressivist liberal world views. Since Dewey rejected the God as the ultimate Creator, rejected Christ as the only God, and chose to see many “gods” made in the images of collective man, Dewey built his entire life’s vision on a false and failed premise. By rejecting God, Dewey had to reject the truth of a “created perfect human nature” that was destroyed by a fall into sin. Since Dewey rejected the notion of Sin and could only accept social offences as defined by the social collective, then Dewey was ever unable to see the enemy that was continually frustrating him. No matter how contrived and wide-spread the training and education systems might become to prepare students for potential collective action for good, the reality of the self-will—the individual nature automatically puts self foremost among all considerations, especially when faced by the prospect of a Divine will. What Dewey experienced when viewing the prodigies of his training philosophy in later years was the impact something he could never recognize—an invisible sin or fallen nature.

When one starts from the premise that God is, God created mankind, mankind fell from a created perfection into self-willed sin nature, and thus became separated from the Creator, then one can clearly see what to Dewey was ever invisible—a Sin nature that needs supernatural changing through individual submission to the Redemption offered by God through the Savior Jesus Christ. However, Dewey could never hear this call because he has long before closed the door to such a possibility. When the voice came to him he only heard wind whistling through the trees, clanging gongs, and tinkling cymbals. Because, even as the New Testament scripture proclaims, “no one can come unless he hears and recognizes the call of Creator God to return to Him (John 6:44 & 65)

To us who can see through to this truth the cry of Dewey’s heart is painful to hear. It is the voice of one crying out in a wilderness seeking goodness and not finding it in collective social action but refusing to look into the exact direction from whence it could be obtained. So thorough was Dewey’s eradication of any and all personal orientation to the existence of God when he developed his “humanist manifesto” work that he became deaf to the very truth for which he so long sought.

Thus democracy in education could work if it was working among individuals who were being continuously changed from a fallen (self-willed) nature into a God-centered individual responsive to God’s priorities in relationships to all others. But never could this system completely remake society on the whole. It would only be as a result of the collected individual decisions that would make up that society. Perhaps that is what Jesus Christ said when queried by Pontius Pilate about his kingly status, when he said, “my kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

While it is too late for Dewey it is not too late for the people of 2003. Let us look away from the coercive efforts from progressivism to force society into an image the even they are unable to realize among themselves. Let us look to that God-shaped void within all humans and see the possibilities of a return to our created nature through the forgiveness and grace of our Creator God in Christ Jesus.

Daniel C. Elliott,
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 A Reply to Schutz on Dewey's Conundrum by Daniel Elliott on October 23, 2002
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