What’s pragmatic about community organizing?
In this paper I explore whether and how philosophical pragmatism might be a useful tool for achieving educational reform through social action work such as community organizing. I explore Aaron Schutz’s arguments relevant to Deweyan democracy and revisit Dewey’s democratic theory to test these arguments. The purpose is not to “rescue” Dewey from Schutz’s critique, but to ask a question related to it: whether, and how, can pragmatism be a useful philosophical orientation for community organizing work in the face of today’s educational injustices? My analysis points to an affirmative answer to this question. Dewey’s pragmatist political theory would frame community organizing as a viable form of social intelligence and democratic experimentalism. Not unlike Schutz, however, I believe Deweyan pragmatism cannot be read prescriptively. Instead, we might understand education organizing to be a practice that helps to constitute publics for education, igniting new meanings of the idea of public education, a political and moral concept central to pragmatist political theory but much depleted in U.S. society today.
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