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An Admiring Account
(part 1 of 3)

George Dykhuizen’s book The Life and Mind of John Dewey (1973) contains a section on Dewey’s visit to Soviet Russia (pages 235-239), based on Dewey’s five magazine articles of 1928:  “Leningrad Gives the Clue,”  “A Country in a State of Flux,”  “A New World in the Making,”  “What Are the Russian Schools Doing?”  “New Schools for a New Era,”  and  “The Great Experiment and the Future.”  made into a book in 1929.

As Mr. Dykhuizen relates, after Dewey’s Soviet hosts gave him a tour of an art museum spontaneously supported by happy factory workers, they escorted him through some new Russian schools.  The following is from Mr. Dykhuizen’s book.  His quotes are from Dewey’s articles, my comments are in brackets.

What most attracted Dewey’s attention about the Russian schools was that they were made to serve the needs and interests of a Communist society.  The curriculum, he found, stressed the central role of work in human life, relating it on the one hand to materials and natural resources and on the other to social and political history [as understood by Marx] and institutions.  Classroom methods and procedures were designed to develop habits and dispositions that would lead people to “act cooperatively and collectively as readily as now in capitalistic countries they act ‘individualistically’.
...
Dewey learned that though all the schools had a common social aim, they were not all alike in regard to specific programs.  “Soviet education,” he said, “has not made the mistake of confusing unity of education with uniformity:  on the contrary, centralization is limited to the matter of ultimate aim and spirit [so it is uniform in that most important regard], while in detail diversification is permitted, or rather encouraged.” Schools started with local needs and conditions in setting up their specific programs but fitted these into the larger life of the nation.  Thus the numerous minority populations in Russia were able to preserve a high degree of cultural and local autonomy while at the same time remaining loyal to Soviet political and economic ideals.  [In other words you can do whatever you want, so long as you toe the communist line.]

Dewey found an immense amount of indoctrination and propaganda in the schools, much of it distasteful.  [Distasteful to whom, one wonders.]  But he believed that the broad general effort to make the schools serve social ends was justified [pause] and could not be cavalierly dismissed as mere propaganda without “relegating to that category all endeavor at deliberate social control.”  [In fact, the Soviets’ effort was government propaganda, it was control of the individual, and pointing this out is not being cavalier but rather dead serious.]

... [In Leningrad] he found a people full of “movement, vitality, energy,” with an interest in life and its possibilities probably unsurpassed in any other country.  Though Dewey was quite aware that behind the facade of Russian life there lurked secret police, that arrests, inquisitions, imprisonments, deportations, and executions were common occurrences, he found that these touched mostly [mostly!] those in high public places who posed threats to the Bolshevik regime. “Life for the masses,” he declared, “goes on with regularity, safety and decorum.

That last is really sick.  After reading the above ask yourself if you approve of Dewey’s intellectual acumen and sense of justice.

Mr. Dykhuizen summarizes Dewey’s little book Impressions of Soviet Russia pretty well.  The fact that Mr. Dykhuizen obviously admires Dewey only makes his summary more valuable as an exposé (*)

Based on abundant evidence the conclusion remains:
1. In 1928 and some years before and after, Dewey gushed with praise over many totalitarian aspects of the Soviet Union.
2. Dewey knew of the brutality of the Soviet regime but thought it irrelevant compared to the magnificent communist end.

We are talking about John Dewey and the value of his endorsement of the Alexander Technique, and about the relevance of his ideas to same.  My position has been that Dewey’s value is negative, and the relevance of his philosophy zero.  I’ve presented lots of evidence and argument for this position.

Many teachers’ Dewey references are of the testimonial type:  Dewey endorsed the A.T., you’ll like it too.  Whether you buy that or not depends on Dewey the man  his intelligence, perceptiveness, and character.  Other teachers link Dewey’s philosophy with A.T. ideas.  Dewey’s response to what was going on in Russia during its communist heyday is one key to what Dewey was really like, and what his philosophy was really about.

After reading Mr. Dykhuizen’s admiring summary of Dewey’s visit to Soviet Russia, and then reading a teacher’s conclusion that this and other Dewey material demonstrates

« the direct connection between Dewey’s politics and his support for Alexander »  (!)

I think we should begin to worry that the theory of the A.T. is in danger of being corrupted by a false philosophy.  Any connection between Dewey’s politics and the Alexander Technique rests on a perverted notion of the Alexander Technique.


*  Mr. Dykhuizen’s book leaves out any account of Dewey’s evident approval of teachers intruding into the home life of any child who resists communist socialization.  See Dewey’s “What Are The Russian Schools Doing?” quoted at  Education For the New Man  on this website.

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