BACKGROUND OF AMER EXCEPTIONALISM
America is unique. Most of the programs concerning schools designed in this century reveal the fruition of that unique strain. When we look at the dollar bill, we see a pyramid with an eye on top. Behind the pyramid is the desert of the old way of thinking. The superstitions of Europe. In the forground we see the fecundity of our new ways.
This new method of thinking isn't easy to define. However, it involves a belief in man. Though now taken for granted, at the time of the founding of America this was radical. All the sovereigns of Europe claimed divine sanction. Many of the recent and current wars were over religious issues. The justification of reasons via appeals to divine sanction belies a lack of faith in the ability of man to choose wisely. Europe's incessant wars were also held to reflect a man's inability to judge and discern. Grounded in middle ages Catholicism, as in most agricultural philosophies, man was seen a fallen, defective and reprhensible when not humble. Any assertion not sanctioned by God was seen as a denial of our imperfection and punishable by death.
America was discovered by the Spanish as they were warring with the Muslims. In 1492 humanism (basically a belief in human ability) was inchoate. In America, the advanced ideas of this trend were to be realized. Each person was seen to be a sovereign unto himself. This idea of the social contract, as approximated in America, showed an unprecented faith in the goodness, ability and rationality of man.
Europe was far different from us. Every step towards an all encompasing reason based freedom was hampered by or confined by circumstances steeped in precedent. America had none of that. It was Christian, but the colonists had different versions of Christianity. Thus, there was no common religious bond. They had different types of charters and legislatures. So, they could not assume what form their government would take. There was even divergence in their basis of economic sustenance. Thus there were few assumtions about government unquestioned. We were able to look at institutions fresh. It was every bit a "community of will and not a community of obedience". Our very form of government bespeaks the right of human contrivance.
Our constitution is possibly the greatest piece of rational social engineering in human history. Though tired catechism, it is truly remarkable that these men were able to contrive a document that has worked well, in widely different circumstances for over two hundred years. It is strong evidence for the contention that social engineering can be successful. Depending on how you define your terms, I'd say it undermines the veracity of the belief that all social engineering is disasterous. Our nation's seminal event was a masterful application of human reasoning to human events. Even though much of the intent of our constitution is to limit the power of the federal government, we should take pride in that fact. Especially, in light of the fact that this was a virtually unprecedented undertaking. This was a radical paradigm shift for the entire human race. And, it was definitely a major factor in making the twentieth century the American century.
God did not design America. The founders looked at some very human sources when they set out the design. These writings were combined with the practical needs of the immediate situtation. This is the American social science. For a practical guideline they went to several Europeans: John Locke, montesquie, Rousseau. They saw history as full of pattterns. Democracy disintigrates into anarchy. Monarchy leads to tyranny and Aristocracy leads to oligopoly. How then could America stop history? How could we contrive a system to balance these forces in nature. In retrospect the design is simple. A balance was struck between opposing forces. The house was popularly selected for mob sentiments' positive effects. The Senate was selected by an elite (not even elected by the people directly until-----------------. This injects the conservative bias of an aristocracy. And finally the system needed one figure-head to guide as a monarch might; this was the President. The supreme court was a scarcely allowed for afterthought that guarenteed the rights of the minority in this majority wins "democracy". Finally a fairly difficult system of Amending the Constitution was set up to allow for changes unforseen. This piece of social engineering has stood the test of time.
Thus America began. Our uniqueness can be seen in our initial relationship to history. History is mostly used to represent evils we must avoid. We consider ourselves, at this time, to be fundamentally different from others. While other countries were steeped in the morass of history, we had evaded it. We had set up a rational system in a land without precedent.
PRAGMATISM: AMERICAN IDEALS REALIZED
The philosophy of pragmatism is great because it leads to a life of joys and consequence. It is the master justification of the laudable American experience with social engineering. This notion has, again, shaped many institutions the world now takes for granted.
Pragmatism has its roots in England. Its godfather could be said to be Francis Bacon. Besides having admiration for science in common with the pragmatists, he thought that it should be applied to human goals. He spent many years collecting scientific information and setting forth questions to be answered in each. He preached that philosophers should be, in as much as possible, scientists. Creating a utopia would require a "coordination of scientific purposes".
There is a pragmatic streak in our ancestors, the British. Instead of the metaphysics of Germany or the romantic ideals of Rousseau and opinions of Voltaire, Britain has always been a little less dreamy. This is stark when we think of just how unBritish the Frenchman Bergson's "elan vital" sounds.
The movement directly antecedent to pragmatism was utilitarianism. Typical of its proponents was John Stuart Mills. He was true to the Utilitarians main motto, "the greatest good for the greatest number of people". Yet, as uncharacteristic of Americans as the concept of "elan vital" was to the British, he wrote exhausting volumes on the different meanings as to whether or not words signified or had reality. He sought to know how truth arose from our constructed sounds and sentence forms. Pragmatists touched on this, but often only to excuse it as meaningless metaphysics.
The term pragmatism was coined by Charles Pierce. Charles Pierce was born at Cambridge to a famous Harvard Mathematician. His career involved achievements in the areas of logic, geodesy, meterology as well as philosophy. Alas, his work was not well known outside of a small circle which included James and Dewey. In his lifetime he didn't even succeed in having any of his works published in book form. He later changed the name of his philosophy to " pragmaticism" to distinguish it from the commonly understood version of pragmatism. But most of the basic doctrine he formulated from the times and other influential thinkers.
The starting point in his definition of reality was reality as we each percieve it. If we were to construct a philosophy based on some unreal assumption of doubting all we can or assuming that we have no free will then we are creating a useless philosophy. If our inquiry into reality is to be applicable it must be applicable to our reality as we experience it, thoughts, dreams and all.
The question addressed is how to tell what reality is. And the answer given is that reality is useful thought as determined through experimentation. Remorse is the feeling we get when our action didn't live up to what we believe is right. It is used for a tool to change our behavior in line with our beliefs. When we don't have remorse we have behavior in tune with our hypothesis. Our thoughts approximate reality to the extent to which they don't lead to remorse. When life is without remorse we have reached a habitual view against which we can't but agree. Of course, the functionality of this action isn't determined by the individual alone. Reality is partially construed socially. Is thought then only funtional hypothesis? What of abstractions like General Washington? The meaning will vary for each person. But the floatability of the concept will be bouyed or sunk by its acceptance or rejection by its use in real life.
One might fear that such a conception of reality would lead to reality of the mob or that the state could use it to create reality. It is a very malleable definition of reality. But, nazism, reality showed, wasn't a tenable working hypothesis for the world. Josiah Royce, another leading pragmatist, created the quasi religious concept of loyalty to loyalty. He uses a rational appeal to show the emotional and practical use of a belief in loyalty to a concept higher than you as an individual. He then qualms fears that this would lead to arbitrary belief in horrible things thus; he demands that we must be loyal to loyalty. This means we mustn't commit the ultimate sin of trying to strip another person of their loyalty. If a man's reason d'etre is taken from him he will be in the deepest despair. He will be as flotsam. We must be loyal to any loyalty that does not seek to destroy another person's loyalty and find our own thing which to be loyal to. This is the ultimate in a functional doctrine for a life well lived.
Such a functional view of reality might lead to a very stale vision of life. Though convinced of his sincerity, I am not convinced of the ability for passion that can be evoked by William James' defense of faith on pragmatic grounds. He pointed out that to decry something because it is based on faith is absurd. In fact our entire society runs on faith. You have faith that when you work you will get paid. You have faith that the money you get wil be transferrable for food. With out faith our society couldn't function. He fends off science as rationally as aquinas defended irrationality and faith. Science itself is based on faith. It doesn't answer ultimate questions, just particulars. It is based on the unscientific premise that some things are intransgient. That all is not in flux. And that this isn't all just mind stuff or the dirt under someones nails or one of 40,000 parallel frequencies. These are all assumptions based on a faith in the untenable: everything came from nothing. So, if we are only choosing one faith over another, the question becomes which is the most functional faith.
Science looks for a unifying field theory. But we will discover it and go back to our lives. Science would demand one god because it is after generalizations. But we live in the particular moment. Of course, life abstracted of any connection to the larger universe is not worth living. The catalogue of facts approach to defining reality doesn't work with humans either. Humans see the world as it applies to them. Humans look for things to have significance for them. We are largely grounded in feeling not the intellect. Not general abstractions, this is why a personal God we can experience as bringing meaning to our individual lives is so important. Our individual experiences on this earth are our ultimate resposibilities. Thoughts and feelings determin our conduct. Most religions have different thoughts but we can determine shared feelings. That which isn't variable (the feeling part) must be the essence. The feeling is expansive and refreshing. When the intellect gets involved with faith it becames stale creed. The shared thing isn't about creed. Its about connection with something larger. Its about a shared experience of life. People do works in its name. This shared feeling of religion manifests reality and therefore exists. To put them into the scheme of things in a meaningful way. Religion gives us a meaningful interaction with the universe. It describes our role here. This works with our reality, the only one we know.
John Dewey was a truly American philosopher. Now as the definitions of the American way and our common conception of a philospher have thus far been outlined one would think `American philosopher' to be a contradiction in terms. Dewey addressed this issue in his essay "reconstruction in philosophy". In this essay he explicitly details the shift in the outlook on philosophy this book has been lauding.
Dewey considered mankind to be, generally, more concerned with fun than with intellectual accuracy. Originally man did not have to spend a lot of his time sustaining his bodily existence. To entertain himself he would retell stories of the hunt. This would, for entertainment and enhancement value, omit the mundane. This was done for emotional and experiential kicks. So distilled these stories became more like epics. These stories started to emphasize common life and became folklore which reinforced morality and efficacious ways of acting that unified the tribe. Often, as in the case of the Aryans in India, people (political and other) would hijack these stories for their own end. The previously free doctrine would harden into doctrine. All those that disagreed with these campfire stories would be dealt with severely. And these stories interpretation became the property of a select and distinct group.
Artisans knew of many scientific techniques in Greece. The philosophers seeing their job as above and dealing with morals never dealt with the mundane. This is one reason their practical science made so few gains. The moral guardians had the job of utmost importance.
However, the body of scientific knowledge continued to accumulate. Metaphsics and most European philosophy came about as an attempt to reconcile and bolster the traditional and emerginging bodies of knowledge. They have used gobs of convaluted logic to reconcile what the bible says and what we observe. Traditional philosophies attachent to the traditional while claiming to be unbiased also gave it an aire of insincerity. This history of convaluted insincerity still, rightfully, makes people reticent to consider it. it makes people roll their eyes when they hear the word`philosophy' mentioned.
Philosophy grew out of the imagination under the influence of love and hate and other emotions. This was done in the interest of emotional satisfaction. Later it was used to palpatize the stories told by those in charge of the maintenance of societies' bonds. They had to legitimize the veracity of universal truths. This unreal search for the enduring permanent truth informs the goals of philosophers topics of discussion.
In the future philosophy, realizing this, should leave the traditional arena. Dewey said it was time for a complete reevalutation of the role of philosphy. He said that concern with morality was still a legitimate function, but that nothing is absolute. Because things change we should be concerned with now. And we shouldn't fight scientifically derived knowledge as philosophers traditionaly have. We shouldn't disparage discoveries of this world. We should embrace them. In conclusion the job of philosophers should be to use science in the interest of making things better for people of their time.
In the twentieth century the American ideal of rational social sciences was brought to a new level. This new level of American thinking was new because of its scientific bent. Pierce wished to bring the scientific method to philosophy. Its has been stunningly manifest in our school systems creation. Its most beautifully lucid and covert supporters have been the philosophers who have codified and expounded upon it. They are collectively remembered as `Pragmatists'. The most famous of these were William James, George Satayana and John Dewey (the person most often given credit for engineering our public high school system).
There are numerous things that separated the American philosophers of this time from their predecessors and contemporaries of Europe. The first thing that makes our early philosophers different is the relationship with this world. Usually when people think philosophers people think of detatched old men who contemplate useless abstractions. This is because, historically, this has been the case. Nothing could be farther from the disposition of the American philosophers. The European view of humanity, remember, was of a irrational creature. Their history circumscribed their possibilities. People being largely a product of their environments, this world only entered the European philosophers thoughts as a problem. They tried to be lofty, get above and escape this world. If this world came up it was only to explain it away. To show why it wasn't as pristine as their constructs.
Nothing could be farther from the dispostion of the American philosophers. But America is qualitatively different from any place that has preceeded it. In our history social engineerings' success is part and parcel of our heritage. We have created ourselves on a rational basis by taking into account (not excusing) human nature. Charles Pierce in setting out the assumptions that one must take if one is to accept pragmaticism notes the unrealistic basis of previous philosophies assumptions. Descartes' starts by doubting everything. Another supposes that we should just take the first impression of the sense. Pierce and the other pragmatists rejected this bent. He asks that you start out in the "very state of mind from which you "set out"- a state in which you are laden with an immense mass of cognition already formed." (104) We are not buried in the morass of the past. We are a pliable nation of immigrants. Immigrants are people who are necessarily disjointed from their past. We are a forward looking nation. We don't look back in time for our inspiration. The world we live in is not a horrible world, but a world of our own choosing. Our country is benevolent, a place you'd want to be. And so our philosophers spend their time here on pressing issues of the day.
Another difference is the view of man in history. European philosophers saw themselves as a breed apart, a thinking man. That was specifically because they could think about things beyond this cruddy world. Humanity in general was hopeless. But James and others spent much of their time justifying the common perceptions. Because of this love of humanity they thought it imperative to improve this world. Humans were worth the effort. The pragmatists were ambistious for philosophy. They were ambitious for its ability to transformthe world. If everything is man made then it has potential. History didn't bind us. Therefore the pragmatists sought to do what was in their powers for the good common man and this wonderful country (none of which they separated themselves from.
Pragmatism was a revolution for philosophy. Beautiful in its use of common sense and amazing in its goals. Its first major formulator, Charles Pierce, was applying the lessons of science without the bias of past superstitions. He and James made it jibe with the perceptions of the common person in the mundane and devoted moments of their lives. Josiah Royce turned it into a new secular religion based on social action. And John Dewey put all this into practice. This movement was truly American in its scientific, optimistic, can-do-ness. This is an indigineous creation that conveys what is special about America, has traditionally and continues to inform our view of the world, and why this has truly been the American century.
HISTORY LEADING TO JOHN DEWEY
This belief in the individual and his worth were at the heart of Jeffersonian republicanism. The small landowner would stake out a life for himself. He would be a sovereign individual. Of course, no ever signs this social contract. Our civil war proved that you infact don't have the right to seceed or decide which laws to obey or disregard. But the feeling of unhampered self-reliance runs deep in our veins. When, in the nineteenth century Horace Mann spearheaded setting up the publicly funded elementary school these were the values he was trying to instill in the new immigrants. Good character traits were to make you industrious enough to become self-employed. This historic outlook is part of the reason for our distaste of social engineering.
We also believed we would escape the oppression and class strife that had plagued Europe. We wouldn't have an entrenched aristocracy. Our electoral system meant that people could affect change in a way other than revolution. The light of reason and fairness as opposed to vested interest and divine right would make us different. We had escaped history. America was fundamentally different from anything that had come before us.
But, alas, we didn't understand how much of our ability to believe in rugged self reliance and our uniqueness was based on economics. These concepts were able to flourish here because of our rich resources. If a person worked hard they could survive. Rugged individualism was a tenable guide in life. Indentured servant would buy their freedom and be small farmers if they worked hard. Our abundance reduced the intensity of class conflict. The Homestead act of 1862 created a safety valve. Those who were underemployed could leave. It was different from, say, Holland where they had to build dams to make more arable land.
Necessity modified our outlook. After the civil war our industrialism boomed exponentially. America's indutrialization is one of the most phenomenal stories in human history. We went from minor significance to out producing any two other countries combined in the nineteenth century. And, the 1890 census announced the end of the frontier. At this point our immunity from class strife, aristocracy and poverty ceased to be a given. In fact people started to organize with the idea that there was an entrenched elite (among other issues). They did so first as populists in the agricultural areas then as progressives in the industrialized areas. It was recognized that there were reasons other than moral weakness that kept people from getting out of poverty. With wages down and the capital needed to compete up the impedents to social mobility were almost insurmountable.
This is the situation the designers of the school system faced.
Why this is significant is significant. This is significant due to pragmatism and American philosophy.
All societies in all times have had schools. Some of these schools were informal. Others happened inside. The main purpose of schools is to reproduce the society in which they exist. Whether the school exists in order to educate the individual or prepare the citizen has been a long standing debate. Research indicates that this is due to a lack of historical perspective. If we are talking of formal education this principle nearly always holds: societies only provide for the education necessary to reproduce society. For the Egyptians this included a small number of priest and bookkeepers. Educating anyone beyond the clergy emerged in Europe as the need arose leading to the establishment of our first universities in the _____ . The guilds educated for skill and social reproduction, not personal enlightenment and not in excess.
Concerning the modern schools reproduction in formal schools has became necessary for the masses after industrialism spread. In order to do so they must socialize you into the society in which they exist. They teach you the ideas and skills to survive. If you are in an indigineous Alaskan community somehow they will teach you how to fish and about the beliefs of the tribe. If you were a Viking they taught you about the seasonal pilliage techniques and Woden. The women have traditionaly taught the girls the skills women must posess. After the age of six or so the men have taken charge of the rearing of the young male children.
It is my contention that there has been one main problem of the twentieth century. Namely, what to do with people. Machines, electricity and petroleum (even steam and coal) have forever changed the role of man on this earth. Since the agricultural revolution human's lives have been mostly filled with toil. Growing food, making clothes and other necessities was the stuff of life. The midwest farms of the late nineteenth century was "so full of smokestacks it looked like new yourk city". Soon a depression in farming emerged. Food became so inexpensive that farming didn't pay. Later the same problem occured in manufacturing. People were found to be only extraterraneous to the process of manufacturing. Wages went down. People could not afford the goods being made. The depression was on. Getting rid of excess labor was a big reason behind the growth of public schools. Take the children out of the job market and it makes the adult worker more valuable. The new deal created jobs so that people could spend money (even though they weren't needed to manufacture anything anymore). After the world war II (Germany's response to a lack of purpose for their people), we had many returning veterans. What do do with these people after their brief respite from the depression? The G.I. bill was passed to occupy them with schools. Fine tuning the ratio of unemployment statistics to those in college happened in the Jr. College expansion. We've spent the last 30 years trying to occupy people by just paying them to stay home; welfare.
Not only was industrialism changing the need for workers, it was changing the shape of work. The old agricultural system of socializing was ceasing to be relevant. The agricultural mechanism for socializing is called the family. The thing that holds them together (and created the need for them) was food. They had to work as a unit in order to avoid starvation. The child was working at an early age with the family. The family made sure the child knew the how to farm. Of course in such a society the older person has the most experience and thus garners the most respect. Now the neither the father nor the mother worked in the house. In fact they often didn't live near the house. Child labor laws were created to reduce the supply of labor. After this little coup, the children spent approximately 11 hours a day, six days a week out of the presence of their family. Into this vaccuum of guidance self conciously stepped our first protagonist: John Dewey.