Jane Addams and John Dewey

The Toynbee papers #2

Jane addams

An imagined conversation.John_Dewey_lib_large

Toynbee Hall, Commercial street, Whitechapel, 1921. Jane Addams of Chicago is greeting her old friend John Dewey who has just arrived.

John, my dear friend – welcome to Toynbee Hall. I trust you are well.

I’m so glad to see you, Jane. You seem very much at home here.

Yes, coming back is always a little like a return to my roots. Would you care for some tea?

Yes thank you. So what is it you have planned for us?

Well, I thought it might be worthwhile to gather together a few distinguished educationalists to share some ideas about the role of education in social reconstruction. We have been disgraced by this war and by the iniquitous peace which has followed it. Education must surely be our greatest hope for the future.

Indeed. We may have disagreed about our involvement in this terrible conflict but we must put everything we have into rebuilding and we certainly need some new ideas and new energy if we are to avoid such a disaster ever happening again. Who is joining us?

I’ve invited DuBois from the NAACP, his perspective is always worthwhile I think.

A good choice. I know him well and I’ve enjoyed corresponding with him. In fact I think I may owe him an article for his publication, The Crisis.

I’ve written several for him. Tagore, the Indian poet, is also in London and has agreed to join us. He has established a new type of school in Bengal – soon to be a university too.

Congratulations – a Nobel prize-winner! I gather he’s quite a remarkable person – we should be in for a stimulating discussion. I wonder, did you think to invite Bertrand Russell too?

No, I think one philosopher is quite enough, this isn’t the Plato Club! I want us to discuss practical ideas for action from various different perspectives. It did occur to me to invite commissar Lunacharsky or perhaps Nadezhda Krupskaya to tell us of the ideals and latest progress of Soviet education.

Ah, ‘Madame Lenin’ … I assume they are too busy to come to London – with the situation as it is.

Yes, well, I’ve also invited Dr. Montessori; Maria Montessori.

That woman? I really don’t think signora Montessori has much to contribute. Her ideas about education…

John, you know very well that she is widely respected and her movement is growing. I had the chance to meet her in Chicago and she gave us good advice for our Hull House kindergarten. I think she has a lot to say which will be of interest.

But I’ve looked into her methods, they’re half-baked, second-rate; all that ridiculous equipment… You know Kilpatrick has written a whole book debunking her ideas about children’s development. I can’t think why you’ve brought her into this.

Yes, well, instead of hiding behind the words of your protégé you’ll be able to take Maria on yourself in person shortly. But I won’t allow you to grind her down, I want a proper exchange of ideas and beliefs; a conversation, not argumentation or verbal jousting.

I cannot abide the woman, but of course I shall be the model of courtesy.

Is it possible that some of your disdain may be based on the fact that she is… well… not a man?

Nonsense Jane, it was I who welcomed her to Carnegie Hall when she first came to lecture in America. Besides, you know I have the utmost admiration for your own immense contribution and I believe you also to be ‘not a man’?

Quite, and now that we have the vote on both sides of the Atlantic, there will be no stopping us. The men have made war – it’s time for the women to help make peace.

And I am confident that many of us will be working alongside you enthusiastically in that respect.

Very well. I’m going to settle myself in and I shall see you at dinner.


Conversation imagined as part of ‘the Toynbee papers’

#1 Jane Addams and Toynbee Hall (January 2016)

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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