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Nature, Education and Things

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In this essay it is argued that the educational philosophy of John Dewey gains in depth and importance by being related to his philosophy of nature, his metaphysics. The result is that any experiental process is situated inside an event, an existence, a thing, and I try to interpret this “thing” as schools or major cultural events such as the French revolution. This basic view is correlated to Dewey’s concept of transaction, of experience and finally, it is related to a discussion of methods in education.

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  1. See Lyotard (1988 ch. 1) for this expression.

  2. See Oelkers & Rhyn (2000).

  3. See Criblez (2000), Elkjær (2007) and Schön (1983).

  4. Admittingly, Dewey sometimes speak as if processes of epistemology have particular distinct phases (as in Dewey 1944 at the end of chapter 11 and in some parts of How We Think) but his more profound and in depth analysis of these issues reveals the opposite view, returning method to the swampy situations, where intelligent nature appears.

  5. All references in this section are to Dewey (2008).

  6. See Agamben (2009) for a discussion of nudity along those lines.

  7. This use of the concept of “event” is of paramount educational importance. The school is an event, a thing. It is also puzzling how the “event” plays an important role in different branches of postmodern theory, broadly defined Lyotard (1979), Badiou (2005). This co-existence might, perhaps, explain, why educationalists inspired by postmodern philosoply have found immense inspiration in Dewey’s philosophy (e.g. Hickmann (1998), Lehmann-Rommel (2000), Rorty (1999), Biesta and Burbules (2003).

  8. Vanderstraeten discusses the concept of transaction in a similar fashion. However, he does not connect his discussion to Dewey’s metaphysics. Therefore, Vanderstraeten tends to understand “transaction” as a complex kind of social constructivism rather than as a part of ontology proper (Vanderstraeten 2002).

  9. Compare to a purely constructivist equivalent in Rasmussen (2010). Rasmussen describes a system, where all things are completely absorbed by the system.

  10. I am not going to elaborate further on this, even though it is of utmost importance. The relationship between the twin-objects is, I think, the reason why education is a poetic and artistic activity.

  11. This part of the essay is based on research presented in Rømer (2010).

  12. The concept of ‘play’ is also important for the Central European philosophy of Building, a fact of which Dewey, to my knowledge, was not aware.

  13. See Heidegger (2001) and Rømer (2010). One of the reviewers suggested that the focus on the concept of thing tends to make Dewey’s philosophy static. But that is not at all the case, as is illustrated by the formulation “to thing”.

  14. One reviewer suggested that Dewey contributes to both conservatism and liberalism, but on the fundamental level, I do not agree, although the textual evidence is somewhat ambiguous. The basic concept for Dewey is not individuality but habit and continuity, and this situates him philosophically within conservatism.

  15. All quotes are from Dewey (1944, ch. 13).

  16. These ways of speaking correspond very well to analysis of attentiveness in the first book of Emile and in the philosophy of Rancière (Rømer 2010).

  17. Rockefeller (1998) describes religious experience in very similar vocabulary. In this way, there is even an inner connection between religion and education.


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Correspondence to Thomas Aastrup Rømer.

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Rømer, T.A. Nature, Education and Things. Stud Philos Educ 32, 641–652 (2013).

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