How to Pollute a Mind: Lessons from John Dewey and Van Jones

Originally in American Thinker, March 11, 2010.

A new Ivy League “fellow” will soon have the opportunity to teach students his belief that white people are “steering poison into the people-of-color communities” and that America should give up its wealth to the American Indians. This June, Princeton University will welcome to its hallowed halls former Obama Green Jobs Czar Van Jones, a self-proclaimed communist. The story of how America started down a path leading to communist instructors in our classrooms begs to be told.

In 1899, Vermonter John Dewey unveiled his vision for remaking American education — a vision swallowed whole by “progressive” educators and used to corrupt the themes and methods used to teach our young. In The School and Society, Dewey declared that education doesn’t occur “between teacher and pupil, or between teacher and parent”[i]. Education is a responsibility that society must execute using techniques “previously ignored as trivial, futile, or even condemned as positively evil”[ii].

Characters like Van Jones have a way with technique. Jones endorsed a Maoist anti-police demonstration and believes that Marxists and anarchists are “spiritual people.” Princeton’s new communist has said that taxpayers fund “violence against people of color” and that without wisdom from people such as him, the human “locust” would “scour this planet to the bones.” Jones’s toolbox contains the “positively evil” techniques which Dewey demanded.

Dewey envisioned a society that assures “the full growth of all [of its] individuals,” a society in which “individualism and socialism” become one[iii]. The notion that society must guarantee everyone’s welfare would be pursued by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, FDR, LBJ, Carter, George W. Bush, and Obama. But the fact that a collective can never be an individual eludes hopelessly theoretical progressives.

No progressive can tolerate natural law. Blind to nature’s way, Dewey told parents that only a “radical change in education” could fix their children’s immodesty, irreverence, and disobedience[iv]. The likelihood that children just like 1899′s troublemakers caused trouble in every generation throughout Homo sapiens’ existence escaped Dewey. More amazingly, to address immodesty, irreverence, and disobedience, Dewey prescribed not structure, but squishy weirdness:

We must recognize our compensations — the increase in toleration, in breadth of social judgments, the larger acquaintance with human nature, the sharpened alertness in reading signs of character and interpreting social situations, greater accuracy of adaptation to differing personalities, contact with greater commercial activities[v].

So looser morals, tolerance of slackers, and weaker judgment became central to the progressive’s lesson plan. In 1899, moral relativism and “diversity” debuted in American education.

Following the principles of Friedrich Froebel, “inventor” of kindergarten, Dewey proclaimed that schools should condition children for the desired “social order”[vi]. Teachers must stress “mutually helpful living” in order to indoctrinate children in collectivism. Schools must deemphasize facts, knowledge, and real-world skills[vii]. Dewey changed the “whole conception of school discipline,” thus birthing the noisy, disorganized classroom whose business is to fill children with “a spirit of social cooperation and community life”[viii]. The kids don’t need to understand “economic value.” They need “social power and insight”[ix]. Today’s anti-competition, no-homework zealots, like The Homework Myth author Alfie Kohn and his groupies, go ga-ga over such baseless mush[x],[xi],[xii],[xiii],[xiv].

Dewey drafted educators in a war on traditional America, promising that when teachers ready each child for “membership” in society,

… saturating him with the spirit of service, and providing him with the instruments of effective self-direction, we shall have the deepest and best guaranty of a larger society which is worthy, lovely, and harmonious[xv].

With this proclamation 111 years ago, Dewey launched the progressive mission to erase individuality and breed automatons to “serve” society. It’s hard to ignore the similarity between Dewey’s “worthy” society and Barack Obama’s call for “all students to engage in service” to America.

Not satisfied with simply envisioning a lovely society, Dewey cast one of his most destructive legacies when he made the otherworldly contention that the child must “play” to his heart’s content in order to achieve his “supreme end,” the “fulness [sic] of realization of his budding powers, a realization which continually carries him on from one plane to another”[xvi]. Dewey’s silliness fired up the “self-esteem” movement. Stroke children. No pressure. Their “budding powers” will kick in eventually, maybe.

In One Nation under Therapy, Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel find that Dewey’s kind of foolishness produces “overprotected children” who are “denied essential life lessons,” instilled with unearned self-esteem, and duped into believing that “that they should be judged by no one’s standards but their own”[xvii]. In his book Mexifornia, classicist Victor Davis Hanson observes that people gain “self-esteem in accomplishment rather than in therapeutic rhetoric”[xviii]. Self-esteem is a product of, not a motivator for, achievement. Progressives wave at such truth as it passes by.

Dewey ridiculed the learning of facts and ignored Psychology 101 in warning teachers against using grading, non-promotion, and after-school detention to get results. The child must specify his own “relevant material”[xix]. Because educators have increasingly embraced Dewey’s rubbish, it would come as no surprise should today’s government-schooled adult name John, Paul, George, and Ringo as the “dudes” on Mount Rushmore or identify the Civil War as “that nasty thing in the ’60s.”

To summarize, Dewey, and pseudo-intellectuals after him, employed moral relativism to excuse moral decay. Under the umbrella of “tolerance,” progressive educators conditioned children to misidentify that moral decay as a sign of healthy “diversity.” Tolerance festered into acceptance of students utterly deficient in basic knowledge such as America’s history and founding principles. Dewey-influenced teachers now allow radical politicians to enlist students in radical agendas.

Pamela Geller reports that Obama’s “Organizing for America” recruits children for indoctrination in Marxism, the teachings of Pentagon bomber William Ayers, global warming alarmism, and pro-illegal immigration propaganda. Obama’s recommended reading for the kids includes Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and leftist Rinku Sen’s Stir It Up. Brainwash a child in militant anti-Americanism, and maybe he’ll be a future Van Jones.

A century of Dewey has swept the likes of communist Jones into our classrooms and put fear in educators to label Jones’s venom as venom. Corrupted techniques and dumbed-down curricula have normalized ignorance of America’s unique goodness and brought forth a characteristic exhibited by all socialistic societies: massive dependence on government handouts. Though the current recession contributed to a rise in dependence, it was progressivism itself and Dewey-saturated education that crushed both the economy and Americans’ resolve.

How much is Dewey still embraced today? Run a Google search on “John Dewey.” A scan of the two million hits will reveal schools of every kind smitten by Dewey dogma. Brussels Journal member and Pope Center for Higher Education Policy contributor Thomas Bertonneau tells me that Dewey’s theories form a “kind of currency, which people take for granted, and which has a certain ‘buying power’ in institutions.” Sadly, English Professor Bertonneau is correct. Culturally toxic Deweyism is American education’s legal tender, a worthless currency backed only by a long-dead Vermonter’s sermonizing.

 [i] John Dewey, The School and Society and The Child and the Curriculum, BN Publishing, 2008, p. 5.
[ii] Ibid, p. 73.
[iii] Ibid, p. 5.
[iv] Ibid, p. 9.
[v] Ibid
[vi] Ibid, p. 11.
[vii] Ibid, p. 72.
[viii] Ibid, p. 12.
[ix] Ibid, p. 13.
[x] Janine Bempec at, “The motivational benefits of homework: a social-cognitive perspective,” Theory Into Practice, The Ohio State University College of Education, Summer 2004.
[xi] Brian P. Gill and Steven L. Schlossman, “Villain or savior? The American discourse on homework, 1850-2003,” Theory Into Practice, The Ohio State University College of Education, Summer 2004.
[xii] Merith Cosden, Gale Morrison, Lisa Gutierrez, Megan Brown, “The effects of homework programs and after-school activities on school success,” Theory Into Practice, The Ohio State University College of Education, Summer 2004.
[xiii] Lyn Corno and Jianzhong Xu, “Homework as the job of childhood,” Theory Into Practice, The Ohio State University College of Education, Summer 2004.
[xiv] Hanna Skandera and Richard Sousa, “Homework Pays Off,” Hoover Digest, The Hoover Institution, No. 4, Fall Issue, 2003.
[xv] Dewey, p. 20.
[xvi] Ibid, p. 73.
[xvii] Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel, One Nation Under Therapy, St. Martin’s Press, 2005, p 25.
[xviii] Victor Davis Hanson, Mexifornia, Encounter Books, 2007, pp. 3-4.
[xix] Dewey, p. 94.

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