Democracy and Education: Liberal Political Philosophy, University History, and Contemporary Culture.course description
My aim for this course, which takes its name from John Dewey's 1915 seminal text, would be to engage with students in studying the historically complicated and theoretically dynamic relationships between freedom of thought and higher education. The course would begin with a look at Dewey in a historical context, examining both his role as “father” of the modern discipline of Education and his work with the American Association of University Professors in establishing the institution of tenure in the modern American University. A philosophical reading of Democracy and Education will bring into focus its attempt to rethink the separation between liberal and technical education. Dewey argues that an education suited to a democratic society, in which freedom of thought is essential, must teach the meaningfulness of all forms of human labor. Stepping back from Dewey, we will then examine the much longer intellectual history of the meaning of freedom of thought in higher education. We would make a brief study of the history of the Liberal Arts of the late-medieval university. These “liberal arts” were the occupations that were suitable for men, who, mostly by birthright, were above the manual labors of the peasantry. Our present political word “liberal”originates in this pre-enlightenment educational concept. Tracing this intellectual history, we will read the classic liberal political theory of John Locke and Adam Smith, as well as Thomas Jefferson and the Federalists. This unit would foreground political philosophy to examine the foundations of American democracy. Then we would return to the history of higher education in the United States, looking at the history of the earliest universities in the U.S., and at the expansion of public education in the United States that took place in the late-nineteenth century. In looking at this history, we will focus on how institutions regarded liberal and technical education. We will explore in literature and film the tension between the elite character of higher education and the populism of American culture. As a final turn, we might examine contemporary debates about political bias in academia, tenure protections and freedom of expression. Discussions might include the critiques of higher education in the modern conservative movement offered by such thinkers as William F. Buckley, Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb and David Horowitz. For contrast, we could read Lionel Trilling, Irving Howe, Richard Rorty, Wendy Brown and Michael Bérubé.