In his recent book, A Search for Unity in
Diversity: The "Permanent Hegelian Deposit" in the Philosophy of John
Dewey, James A. Good makes much of what he calls "the lost Bildung tradition
in American philosophy." Good places Dewey in that tradition. In doing so,
he gives us a new, yet familiar way of looking not only at Dewey, but at the
very idea of professing education.
For Hegel, Bildung is a crucial concept that unifies
issues of development, education, and form, including logical,
aesthetic, and ethical forms. The idea of Bildung expresses
the emergent formative development of the natural biological
individual by the institutions and practices of culture, including,
but not limited to, explicitly educational institutions and their
agents (e.g., professors), along with the
development of culture by individuals. It is connected to the
idea that every individual has unique potential and it is
the task of education to form that potential so that
every individual can make their unique contribution to
the culture that originally shaped them. Those who
know Dewey well can readily recognize these themes in
his educational writings.
Hegel was a member of the first full generation of German artists
and intellectuals (including Herder, Goethe, and later Novalis)
who reacted against the excesses of the Enlightenment. Hölderlin,
one of the greatest and most philosophical of all German poets,
was his close friend. What all these Romantics (or perhaps more
accurately neo-humanists) had in common was a concern with unifying
the ideals of the radical freedom of the subject with the subject's
expressive richness. The highest achievement was to exercise
one's freedom in such a way as to creatively express oneself
as a unique work of art. The narrative of self-creation, the
Bildungsroman, was an especially popular expression of
this ideal. The German Romantics tended to work out freedom and
expressiveness within the narrative of the larger culture that
initially shaped them and that they then reshaped in the course
of their personal self-creation. Those who sense undercurrents
of Romanticism and other than Enlightenment thinking in Dewey
(see Goodman, 1990 and Haskins, 1999).
Hegel (1807/1977) insists that "an individual cannot know
what he is until he has made himself a reality through action" (section
401). This making is Bildung, and for Hegel that involves
the use of tools and language that emerges in organized labor.
As Alexandre Kojève (1969) writes: "Work is Bildung,
in the double meaning of the word: on the one hand, it forms,
transforms the World, humanizes it by making it more adapted
to Man; on the other, it transforms, forms, educates man, it
humanizes him" (p. 52). The transformative activity of
socially organized labor is crucial for Dewey who sees labor
as transforming the self as the self transforms the world. I
wish to emphasize this aspect of Hegel's influence on Dewey.
This influence not only leads Dewey (1916/1980) to write a chapter
in Democracy and Education titled "Vocational Aspects
of Education," but to say in it: "An occupation is
a continuous activity having a purpose. Education through occupations
consequently combines within itself more of the factors conducive
to learning than any other method (p. 319). Dewey's emphasis
on "through" here is crucial. He did not mean for an
occupation, but the formative development that occurs through
participating in the various occupations of a culture.
I want to look at the occupation of professing education. I
am especially interested in how it educates those who occupy
that social role. I will only look at one facet of the occupation
of professing education, the one where the proper professing
of education is inseparable from the proper receiving of education.
This is the place where Bildung implicates the professor,
the professed (subject matter), and the recipient of the profession.
Consider Dewey's (1916/1980) following comment regarding communication:
Not only is social life identical with communication, but all
communication (and hence all genuine social life) is educative.
To be the recipient of a communication is to have an enlarged
and changed experience . . . Nor is the one who communicates
left unaffected. Try the experiment of communicating with fullness
and accuracy, some experience to another, especially if it be
somewhat complicated, and you will find your own attitude toward
your experience changing... The experience has to be formulated
in order to be communicated. To formulate requires getting outside
of it, seeing it as another would see it, considering what points
of contact it has with the life of another so that it may be
got into such form that he can appreciate its meaning. (p. 8)
The foregoing comment is, however, thickly layered; let us explore
three layers as they pertain to the recipient of an educative
communication, the conveyer of communication, and what is communicated.
If Good is right that Dewey is in the Bildung tradition,
then the most educative communication should assist the recipient,
let us say a student, to realize their unique potential and,
thereby, become a truly unique individual capable of making creative
contributions to the community (including, for instance, the
classroom community). Now let us turn to the conveyer of communication;
for example, one who professes education. The professing of education
is communicative; hence, if Dewey is correct, educative. The
best professors of education help students realize the Romantic
ideal of developing their own narrative of creative self-expression.
Notice, however, that if Dewey is correct, the act of professing
should also allow professors to develop their own narrative.
Communication, hence, education, is transactionally transformative
for Dewey. Finally, notice that it is necessary to reformulate
the structure of what is being communicated; for instance, the
subject matter. Sometimes, restructuring the subject matter leads
not only to better understanding, but to genuinely novel creation.
In this way not only are individuals transformed, but so also
are cultural artifacts. I have only examined three layers, but
suspect there are more. I do not think the three "layers" form
a hierarchy, but they are actually organically related. They
are simply three subfunctions of the larger function of educating
(or communicating). Exploring the emergent relations of communicative
an exciting possibility, but I leave that for another occasion, though the readers
might enjoy coming up with their own, perhaps different, ideas.
Instead, I want to draw a somewhat surprising conclusion.
My computer comes equipped with an electronic version of the Oxford
American Dictionary, which allows lazy people like me to
quickly look up words like "professing." When I did,
I got "profess":
profess: verb [ trans. ]
1 claim openly but often falsely that one has (a quality
or feeling): he had professed his love for her | [with
infinitive] I don't profess to be an expert | [with complement]
(profess oneself) he professed himself amazed at the
2 affirm one's faith in or allegiance to (a religion
or set of beliefs): a people professing Christianity.
(be professed) be received into a religious order
under vows: she entered St. Margaret's Convent, and was professed
3 dated or humorous teach (a subject) as a professor: a
professorwhat does he profess?
4 archaic have or claim knowledge or skill in (a subject
ORIGIN Middle English (as be professed [be received into
a religious order]): from Latin profess- `declared publicly,' from
the verb profiteri, from pro- `before' + fateri
Not being ridiculously lazy, I found that other dictionaries
provide similar definitions. If we are to properly profess education
then it is best we receive an education when engaging in the
occupation. My conclusion is this: if by "professing education" we
mean professing Deweyan Bildung, we can define ourselves
in much better ways than some other authoritative sources in
society would define us, and I am not just thinking about dictionaries.
Dewey, J. (1916/1980). Democracy and education. In Jo Ann Boydston
(ed.), John Dewey: The Middle Works, Volume
9. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Good, James A. (2006). A search for unity in diversity: The "permanent
Hegelian deposit" in the philosophy of John Dewey.
Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Goodman, R. B. (1990). American philosophy and the Romantic
tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Haskins, C. (1999). "Dewey's Romanticism." In Casey
Haskins and David I. Seiple (eds.), Dewey: Reconfigured essays
on Deweyan pragmatism. Albany: State University of New Your
Hegel, G. W. F. (1807/1977). The phenomenology of spirit.
A. V. Miller (trans.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kojève, Alexandre (1969). Introduction to the reading
of Hegel. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
For all past issues, please visit
For Manuscript Submission Guidelines , please visit