“Education a Necessity of Life” John Dewey

This essay reviews John Dewey’s Democracy and Education book, specifically chapter one, “Education as a Necessity of Life”, in which education is said to be a part and related to communication (like social life) is a fundamental part educative. Exploring if Dewey is correct is his statements that communication and social life provide opportunities for an expanded and enhanced human experience, and whether Dewey lives up to these statements and delivers what the reader would think. Do you agree that “education” is a “Necessity of Life”? Why (or why not)? Let us know on are Facebook page here.


An interfering government is the fundamental barrier to any revival of educational freedom to promote an enhanced human experience. Educational choice is individual human action, therefore enforced state education ignores individual diversity by a national curriculum set by the bureaucratic process. A student’s upkeep of good grades and the professor’s upkeep of research and publication to receive state monetary appropriations demines education and inflates prices, distorting the two form of communication that are market price signals and grades. “This must also include a rethinking of the means, methods, and institutions most suitable for the education of the child.” (Ryan in Rothbard, 1999, p.5) Education is a necessity of life, as long as education is not of the progressive form. In which, John Dewey’s underlying educational issues and ideals led to reforms, specifically surrounding the Progressive Education Movement. Necessary attendance to a formal institution is subject to legal penalties and social conflict, inflicting upon people’s liberty and property. Social lives are closely related to communication as ‘education’ is defined as the acquiring of a body of knowledge through systematic instruction that is to an individual, enlightening. Social life, and therefore specialization can expand human educational experiences as a ‘necessity’; being the principal that something must be, whether for the functioning of a society or an individual; by virtue either of logic or of natural law and to advance ones ‘life’ or human existence and flourishing.


To say ‘education’ is a ‘necessity of life’, can be interpreted as the acting rational person choosing between various opportunities and coming to the choice of education, as which can satisfy one’s current needs the most. However, when an individual pursues educational options, it should not lead to the progressive ideals of education. Citizenship must not be subject to change on policy terms. “These [human] endeavours range from purporting to help students improve in mathematics to developing productive citizens.” (Kopkas, 2013, p.55) However, the classroom setting is often devoid of culture, “[culture being] the ensemble of social practices by which meanings are produced, circulated and exchanged.” (Thwaites, Davis, & Mules, 2002, p.1)


“[John Dewey believed education] is to promote a democratic society by involving students through experiential education in activities that would enable them to be critical of the social, political, and economic levels of society.” (Elias, 2005, p.162) In economic theory however, values are subjective and cannot be measureable; therefore the social value is often compared to the opportunity cost, represented as the consumers’ willingness to pay minus the actual payment for education.[1] As free goods, education has no price signals and the distribution of resources results in the socialist calculation problem. Political life tends toward increasing collective welfare that trades off protecting individual rights. Therefore, the lack in property rights does not mean “[…] coercion was a fact of life, and one could not escape from it by having a smaller or less regulatory state.” (Hovenkamp, 1999, p.1702) As like that of any other service, education is already provided by the free market more efficiently than the public or bureaucratic democracy process can provide or allow.


“Our social nature is expressed, like our rational nature, in everything we do; from the fact that our language and means of communication are shared to the reality that all of our basic needs depend on cooperation/exchange with others.” (Brook et al., 2014, p.3) Learning becomes a process of social life as one engages in dialogue to communicate, reading text to think critically, or to act appropriately through observing. However necessary education of a teacher’s instruction can be, “[the] greater part of the students are certainly not mature enough to form their own opinion on the ground of a critical examination of their teachers’ representation of the subject.” (Mises, 1949, p.873) Here, John Dewey’s epistemology disagreed with Plato on the ‘spectator theory’ of knowledge, in stating knowing as an active rather than a passive affair, in which Dewey thought dominated western philosophy and therefore can detract students away from learning in the ways of Plato. “The democratic way of life aims at allowing individuals some measure of control over their lives and [allows for a pursuit of] unique potential [rather] than being passively impacted by external, uncontrollable forces in a futile attempt at isolation.” (Jackson, 2014, p.16)[2]


“As Maritain notes, [specialization] dehumanizes [human] life.” (Maritain in Trapani, 2004, p.91) However, specialization is a fundamental aspect for educating a person for adult life. “The danger [is] the utilitarian aspect of education (i.e., job training) might, in the thinking of the prevalent culture, displace or overshadow the essential aim of a truly liberal education.” (Wiles in Trapani, 2004, p.91) Although, job training is a fundamental part of education that prepares society for work. Work as a means to fulfil an end, whether that end is wealth, happiness, or an enhanced human experience. “Human perfection or happiness is activity in accordance with the moral and intellectual virtues.” (Wiles in Trapani, 2004, p.92) Education would then require more specialisation as “[there] would be a need for more general social and moral rules (e.g. rules for the whole community) but there would also need to be more specific social and moral rules which apply to specific specialised interactions.” (Brook et al., 2014, p.4)


“John Dewey, founder of the Progressive Education Association in 1919, further influenced its philosophical direction.” (Leshnoff, 2006, p.96)[1] Progressive education in which John Dewey’s work was of central importance, does not lend itself a fixed definition and Dewey’s dense prose misled true educational beliefs, as with differing paradoxes: focus is on the unique needs of individual students, conversely being focused on the community learners.[2] For the purpose of this essay ‘progressive’ refers to the belief that the State has a welfare role in education, creating a dependence of students to the State, particularly views stemming from the 1800-1930s liberal social theorists and reformers. “The idea that the school should not simply teach subjects, but should educate the “whole child” in all phases of life, is obviously an attempt to arrogate to the State all the functions of the home.” (Rothbard, 1999, p.55)


“The effect of progressive education is to destroy independent thought in the child, indeed to repress any thought what-so ever.” (Rothbard, 1999, p.53) Referring to the focus on groups’ equality in communication and social life. “Dewey’s pragmatism fails, in the end, because it […] rejects all “metanarratives” as ahistorical and dogmatic, […]” (Kohli, 2013, p.66). Therefore, communication and social life in which Dewey refers could not provide opportunities for an expanded and enhanced human experience, as long as, progressive education impedes and retards human flourishing in independent thought. “Thus, subjects are taught as little as possible, and the child has little chance to develop any systematic reasoning powers in the study of definite courses.” (Rothbard, 1999, p.53) Where, reasoning powers should otherwise be key components to the child’s human experience and development. In which, Dewey allows complete freedom of the child to continue at an original superficial level, without guidance.


John Locke shows how a student can construct an individual understanding amid a standard and universal classroom setting, “[…] also serves the end of producing citizens capable of participation in political government.” (Brady, 2005, p.157) However, the education of all is considered as necessary to the point “[individuality] is suppressed by teaching all to adjust to the “group.” (Rothbard, 1999, p.54) Such educative tasks which involve group votes, can cause the student “[as] a result, [to be] taught to look for truth in the opinion of the majority, rather than in their own independent inquiry, or in the intelligence of the best in the field.” (Rothbard, 1999, p.54) Preparing the young minds for a life of democratic ideals and are forced “to discuss current events without first learning the systematic subjects (politics, economics, history) which are necessary in order to discuss them.” (Rothbard, 1999, p.54) Whereas, home education allows the student to develop at a rate that suits personal capabilities and encourages independent development and inquiry.


However, guidance is not always limited to the teacher’s instruction. “As education becomes more equally distributed, spillover effects of broadly educated communities predominate and determine the scope of positive education externalities.” (Sauer & Zagler, 2014, p.S376) For instance, A pays for a university degree, B provides education, as an unintended consequence C benefits from improved overall literacy. A “[positive externality: the] unintended benefit enjoyed by a third party to an exchange.” (Heyne, Boettke, & Prychitko, 2014, p.416) As shown in figure three, as optimal quantity exceeds equilibrium quantity.


Figure three Education and the Social Optimum


Source: (Mankiw, 2015, p.199).

“The inequality of achievement between the mature and the immature not only necessitates teaching the young, but [necessitates] reducing experience to that order and form which will render it most easily communicable and hence most usable.” (Dewey, 1916, p.14) While, equality does increase positive externalities to education, equality and uniformity that are stressed in the progressive ideals, could not enhance human educational experiences in a positive manner. “The plan is to abolish grades, by which better and worse children know the extent of their progress, and instead to grade “subjectively” or not at all.” (Rothbard, 1999, p.54) If public schools abolished grades, even though that would be nice for those currently receiving bad grades, it would eliminate any possibility for human development, as the student could not compare or judge what efforts lead to positive progression.


Grades can be a form of communication, in that human cognitive systems can be semiotic (sign-using systems). “[Hoffmann’s] empirical observation that small children can count more objects than numbers and proceeds to explain learning as a developmental process, which incorporates both individual and social forms of knowledge, that is, other people, things, and signs.” (Hoffmann in Semetsky, 2007, p.180) However, written and numerical communication is just one form of communication to learn to be proficient at, as with new technology communicating is global and easier than before. “A quick check of any of the big online indices to the Web, for example, will show an enormous variety of online support groups, providing resources, newsgroups, email lists, contacts and links for almost every conceivable interest.” (Thwaites, Davis, & Mules, 2002, p.225) People can now educate themselves faster using this medium, and education is not just a necessity of life as it is now an integrated and abundant part of the educated human life.


In conclusion, John Dewey argues in Democracy and Education that our social lives are closely related to communication, and further, that communication is as absolute educative. (Dewey, 1916, p.5) Social life provides opportunities for an expanded and enhanced human experience. To say ‘education’ is a ‘necessity of life’, it must be interpreted as the acting rational person choosing between various opportunities and coming to the choice of education, as which can satisfy one’s current needs most.  As long as education is not defined by the Progressive Education Movement.


Reference List

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[1] Note, however Kopkas (2013) explains the relationship between money and happiness are not both necessities as Mill had suggested, as money is a means to the end happiness from education.

[2] While, similarity both conclude toward a diversified experience, John Dewey’s democracy way of life is similar to Plato’s version of a democratic individual life.

[3] ‘On progressive education as an international movement, see Hermann Rӧhrs and

Volker Lenhart, (1995 eds.), Progressive Education Across the Continents: A Handbook.

[4] While, John Dewey often objects to any form of individual or society dualism.


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