The art of government, in as far as it concerns the direction of actions of persons in a non-adult state, may be termed the art of education. – Jeremy Bentham
Consider for example the case of education. Is it not almost a self-evident axiom, that the state should require and compel the education, up to a certain standard, of every human being who is born its citizen? Yet who is there that is not afraid to recognize and assert this truth? – J. S. Mill
The social “present” is generationally thick. Although we may think of child, parent, and grandparent as representing the future, the present, the past, they are all here now; and while each is at a particular stage and may, in his self-centeredness reinforced by peer-group consciousness, think of himself as the moving center, to the dispassionate observer peer groups come in stacks, and the here and now is many-layered. Lost or isolated generations hold a special interest—as when the Pied Piper removes a layer, or when a retirement village cuts itself off, or when a horde of children rediscover Beelzebub on an island or campus—but, normally, the social present is thick with generations.
This circumstance—that the individual lives through stages and is always at a particular place, while the society at any particular time has all stages present—has a profound bearing upon political theory and especially that part of political theory which concerns the relation of government to the mind. It means, I believe, that no single set of principles is adequate to the governing of the entire range of stages and that the basis and scope of authority within a single society may vary drastically over its different stages. Let me elaborate a bit.
There is a strange passage in the Republic in which Plato with deceptive diffidence offers us a myth which, he says, everyone should, if possible, be brought to believe. It is, apparently, a ridiculous tale and it is greeted as such and may seem so to us, until we realize that it is among the deepest accounts of our creation. I quote a relevant part. Everyone is to be convinced, when he reaches adulthood, “that all our training and education of them, all those things which they thought they experienced were only dreams. In reality, all that time they were under the earth, being fashioned and trained, and they themselves, their arms and all their possessions w&e being manufactured, and when they had been made quite ready, this earth, their mother, sent them up to the surface. Now, therefore, they must watch over the land in which they dwell, as their mother and nurse, and defend her against all invaders, and look upon the other citizens as their brothers and children of the same soil….”
The proposal is, of course, that we be brought to under stand ourselves as children of the polis, as the political animals that we are; that we understand our nonage or childhood as part of the process of the birth of a person, a fetal stage during which we receive our equipment—the language, habits, culture—without which we cannot emerge from underground, from limbo, from the social womb, from the childhood that, when we recall it later, seems like a strange prenatal dream. We are born in stages and, for the crucial stage, the polis is parental. We are, accordingly, siblings, brothers and sisters, children of the polis, polis-animated. The ridiculous tale is utterly true.
But generation is painful and the generations may forget the traumas of birth. In a familiar crisis of identity a generation may deny its generator and deny that it was generated at all. “Nonsense!” says Satan when the faithful Abdiel reminds him of his creator; “As long as I can remember I was there.” Surely, no one who endured life in the American incubator of the sixties can forget the sophomoric cry of generational revolt: “We are a self-created angelic generation, immaculate, untainted by parental sin, and we will remake the world [Ah, Pandemonium!] in our own image.” Nature, when she is bored, imitates art.
The point of all this is so obvious that we need constantly to be reminded of it. A society is not an undifferentiated heap of individuals, equal, at the same level of “authority” and “right.” It is a continuing entity, continuously regenerating itself, always pregnant, always with a generation in limbo, always with a part of itself in a condition of tutelage. The distinction between minor and adult—however much we may be baffled by borderline problems, by demands for adequate criteria, by administrative difficulties—is fundamental and inescapable. There is no society which does not recognize the distinction or mark, by some rite of passage, the movement from one condition to the other—the achievement, as we would say, of the age of consent. No single set of principles can adequately govern both minor and adult; we need both caterpillar principles and butterfly principles. Republic is a discussion of the raising of children; On Liberty is a discussion of the governing of adults. They are complementary works about different generations. John Stuart Mill would have been horrified by the application of the principles of On Liberty to children.
The special authority of a community over its emerging generation grows naturally out of the minor-adult aspect of the human situation. The conception of the community as the womb of the person puts the matter beyond the question of merely formal political authority and into the domain of parental function. The nurturing of children is to be seen, on the one hand, as the developing of persons and, on the other hand, as the process of social self-preservation and renewal—the re-embodiment, the reincarnation of the parental culture through the creation of the individual in its own image.
The natural right of self-preservation lies behind not only the traditionally asserted powers of war or defense, but also the universally claimed right of the community to shape its children. More fundamental and inalienable than even the war power stands the tutelary power of the state, or, as I shall call it, the teaching power.
The teaching power is the inherent constitutional authority of the state to establish and direct the teaching activity and institutions needed to ensure its continuity and further its legitimate general and special purposes. It is rather strange that a governmental power so visible in its operation and so pervasive in effect should lack a familiar name. The Supreme Court refers to the power of the state “to prescribe regulations to promote peace, morals, education, and good order of the people. . .”—a power, it adds casually, “sometimes termed its `police power’. . .” But it will prove useful if we separate out the school and call the power of government which comes to focus there by its own appropriate name. The teaching power is a peer to the legislative, the executive, and the judicial powers, if it is not, indeed, the first among them.
In a federal system we may have questions about the location of the teaching power. It is generally assumed, in the United States system, that powers not delegated to the Federal Government are reserved or retained by the states and, accordingly, that education is primarily a state matter, although subject, as are other state matters, to federal constitutional constraints and enjoying, under a variety of pretexts, federal support.
The teaching power is not limited in its scope to children or minors, although I stress that aspect. To exercise the teaching power is to make claims upon attention and to subject mental and physical energies to discipline. This is done in various ways. We may, as with minors, enforce attendance in accredited schools with required curricular elements for a number of years. But beyond compulsory schooling we may provide for general, professional, and vocational education. And here the idea of compulsion gives way to competitive claims to opportunities as we scramble for places in schools of medicine, law, engineering, etc., provided, in part at least, by the state. Beyond this voluntary relation to the teaching power by adults there may even be compulsory or quasi-compulsory relations in corrective, penal, or therapeutic situations. Thus the teaching power ranges over minor and adult, in voluntary and involuntary ways, for purposes ranging from the sheer necessities of survival and continuity to the enhancement of the quality of social services and individual lives. ( see note 1 )
The state’s claim to the teaching power may be asserted in a strong or a weak form. The strong claim is that the teaching power is vested fully in the state and is to be exercised exclusively by agencies of government or, in a variation, by licensed, authorized, supervised non-governmental institutions which operate within governmentally determined policy. In the strong view, non-governmental institutions-religious, commercial, private-in the domain of education exist not by inherent right but on tolerance or out of considerations of policy.
In its weak form the assertion is that the state is one of the legitimate claimants to a teaching power; it does not enjoy monopoly or even priority; but it may enter the field. This view would support an extensive proliferation of public education institutions, but governmental exercise of the teaching power would have to accommodate itself to the equal legitimacy and even independence of other teaching institutions. The weak assertion might carry us to the requirement that all be educated to a certain level; but not that we necessarily struggle in government classrooms.
The strong and weak versions pose, in this context, the bitter controversy between unitary sovereignty and pluralistic theories of the state. ( note 2 ) Fortunately, it is not necessary to resolve this dispute at a theoretical level in order to explicate or develop the notion of the teaching power. Nor need I, nor do I, assume the burden of defending the assertion of the teaching power in its strong form as appropriate for contemporary America. (But see note 2) We are deeply involved in the problems and politics of education and, I believe, the missing or neglected conception of the teaching power will clarify and aid our understanding. But it may well be the weak version which is implied in our theory and practice. In any case, that is a version more likely to be hospitably received; is compatible if it should prove necessary in the end, with the strong form; and is sufficient to establish government’s legitimate involvement with the mind. There is, even on a grudging view of our constitutional system, a teaching power, exercised by government, sustaining a public school system, whose existence or legitimacy is virtually beyond challenge.( note 3 ) That is not to say, of course, that the teaching power is boundless in scope or untrammeled in its exercise. Government is permitted, in its exercise, much that goes beyond what it is permitted in the governing, as we shall see, of the forum. But it is, like any governmental power, subject to the general and particular constraints which are the conditions of constitutional legitimacy.
The teaching power is vested in a structure of offices and institutions. The Constitution of the State of California, for example, states (Article IX) that “A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement.” (I love that statement for its sheer sanity, its uncomplicated directness, its casual profundity. It deserves a place, in our reflections about government, beside the First Amendment.) The California Constitution proceeds to provide for educational officials and institutions, and what evolves, here as elsewhere, is a formidable array of state or public schools-primary through university-ranks of administrative officials—principals, superintendents, chairmen, deans, provosts, chancellors, presidents, boards, councils, regents, trustees-and masses of teachers or “officers of instruction.”
There are charts for everyone’s taste, and the normal habits, tensions, and problems of bureaucratic life—hierarchy and autonomy, centralization and delegation, expansion and retrenchment, tradition and innovation—all bearing, although sometimes remotely, on who teaches what and to whom. But the politics of the teaching power is not confined to its internal organizational dimension. The past decades have brought into unusual prominence the surprising range of problems which haunt the exercise of the teaching power. Taxpayers, politicians, and courts struggle over the level and distribution of support; parental, ethnic, and neighborhood organizations press claims for equality and dignity; students present demands; teachers struggle to respond to new expectations and claims and to preserve their professional integrity; theorists and ideologues rush in with advice. Everyone organizes to parley or to fight as the society, uncertain about itself and its future, places heavier burdens on the school. It is not that the school has suddenly and improperly become “political,” but rather that the natural, inevitable, and legitimate politics of the school has become more urgent and more visible. The political struggle over education in all its aspects is, without exaggeration, among the most significant of our time. It is a bitter conflict over unavoidable issues and the stakes are high.
It is within this prosaic but turbulent framework that it becomes possible to understand the otherwise exotic conception of academic freedom. Immersed as it is in a sea of pressure the teaching branch of government claims the power and discretion it must have if it is to do its work. The legislature has its privilege, the executive has its prerogative, and judiciary has its independence. Each branch claims, within a system of due process, the freedom, in its own domain, necessary for the integrity of its function. Academic freedom is simply the extension of the principles of separation of powers and due process to the teaching power. A violation of academic freedom is a breaching of the constitutional structure of the academic branch of government.
If it is not that, it is difficult to make sense out of it at all. The academy is not a subsidized enclave within which teacher or student may do as he pleases. Teachers are not ambassadors from another country enjoying extraterritorial privileges; they are not licensed to steal children. But the absence of a working conception of the teaching power encourages misconception and makes academic freedom difficult to understand and explain. Teachers are, after all, hired, and sometimes fired; texts are selected and rejected; courses are approved or discontinued; curricula and requirements are established and changed; teaching methods are authorized or disallowed; students are admitted or turned away. When controversy develops at any of these points and flares into an academic freedom case, what is the case? Surely not that such things are done at all, but that something has been done by the wrong person or tribunal, or by a flawed process, or in violation of the relevant criteria and rules. The teaching power as a branch of government has, and is part of, a constitutional structure. Its integrity, its place as a power in a system of powers subject to the separation of powers, is defended under the banner of “academic freedom,” which claims for it what “judicial independence” claims for the judicial branch.
The scope of the teaching power is so formidable that the problem may appear, in the end, to be less how to protect it than how to limit it. It is not always diffident in asserting itself. Consider a classroom in a public primary school in a typical American community: a captive audience, involuntary reading, involuntary writing, involuntary reciting, involuntary revelation of guilty ignorance, all backed by the power to classify, grade, promote, fail and expel—sanctions which, in terms of consequences for one’s life, make pale indeed the transient chidings of the judicial power.( note 4)
The teaching power has its share of the general problem of government; it is another institutional setting for the study of politics and public administration. But it has as well the peculiar problems native to its special character. Its function is teaching; its unique functionary is the teacher.
Teaching must be seen both as an art and as an office. That teaching is an art is generally granted, although it works so mysteriously and assumes so many guises that we often attribute its fruits to luck or simply to not interfering with the inherent powers of the learner (forgetting that teaching is partly a strategy of non-interference). Teaching activity is so pervasive that much, perhaps most, of it escapes self-consciousness or identification with the teaching role. But it rises, at some points, to awareness of itself, finds its heroes and masters, cultivates its lore, and achieves the status of art and profession. As a profession it is properly seen as a fellowship entrusted with guardianship over a social function. And, in due course, as the function is provided for by the politically organized community, the profession finds itself enjoying and chafing at public office.
In this sweep from activity through art and profession to public office there is tension and confusion at every point. Much teaching, as is much that is called cooking, is over-dignified in being called an art, and seems in the one case to spoil learning as in the other to spoil food. Much of the art is, in novel and creative modes, denied the imprimatur of the guild or profession. Some of the profession escape or seek escape from the constraints of the formal teaching office. And some of the holders of the teaching office, notably university professors, deny flatly that they are really officeholders or public agents at all. The art is restless in office and resists the curb. Even Socrates is enigmatic. He was, of course, a master of the teaching art to which, he believed, he was called; but he thought of his teaching as the exercise of an office in the service of the polis. His suggestion, when challenged, was that he be appointed and even paid. Athens declined the opportunity. An unwise decision, Socrates thought, but one whose authority he acknowledged. The nuances of that episode still puzzle us and the message can be misread. But the teaching power, at any rate, brings the art into office.
The office is a sensitive one and involves, as do medicine and law, close and confidential relations. There is dependence and there are frightening possibilities of misdirection, exploitation, and betrayal. The teacher is an agent in a position of trust, and it follows naturally that access to the teaching office is quite properly restricted. Merely “wanting to teach” is not enough and is often, in my experience, a surprising sign of unfitness.( note 5) One must be admitted to a profession which maintains itself by co-option. There are systems of candidacy and apprenticeship. Fitness must be established. There are not only technical qualifications but a broader range of considerations having to do with the ethos of the role. The latter are very important, very “obvious,” and yet very difficult to translate into administrative criteria. So difficult, in fact, that the basic principle tends, too easily, to get discredited. The argument is that technical competence in “the subject” is all that is required. Because, presumably, the teacher will just teach that (mathematics, geography) and will not bring his private ideology or philosophy into the classroom. When, however, the obstreperous teacher, insisting on “wholeness,” “integrity,” and “conscience” does bring all that in, his “right” to do so is defended (unless, of course, he is a racist) in the name of free speech and the marketplace of ideas. The utter inappropriateness of these notions applied to a captive audience of minors in a school is so obvious to any sane person that the existence of this syndrome is believable only because it can be observed. In response, the simple-minded (but sane) fall back on notions of loyalty and orthodoxy as the appropriate spiritual complement to the teacher’s technical competence, and in times of crisis we suffer populist demands for loyalty oaths and the purging of subversive teachers. This program is not pursued with the zeal and thoroughness displayed by “revolutionary” regimes, which do not fool around with idiosyncratic teachers, but some martyrs may be created. And, among the academic freedom issues, the question of the autonomy of the profession may be tentatively raised.
Whether the profession governs and polices itself or shares with laymen the authority to judge qualifications, to appoint, to discipline, and to exclude is a matter of some importance. The profession by instinct is against lay intrusion into the heart of its affairs. It is, it says, the best judge of fitness and it can, it claims, best handle its own disciplinary problems. The first is generally conceded; the second is treated as a joke or a scandal. Whether we consider the legal, medical, law enforcement, or teaching professions, the professional capacity to tolerate marginal freebooters often seems excessive. But while autonomy claims receive some deference even in the case of teaching, where a profession works largely within a public institutional setting lay influence looms larger. The teacher may be a member of a profession; but he is also, in the usual case, working in a school—a public agent subject to a measure of political control. The teacher, as a wielder of the teaching power is ultimately answerable to the polity.
Life within the orbit of the teaching power shares the quandaries of life within any great bureau—the struggle to preserve the central vision against the corrosive effects of institutional inertia, habit, sloth, ambition, and time-serving cynicism; to preserve integrity against the pressures of institutional necessity, external and internal politics, colleagues, clients, and critics—whether seen from the point of view of the lower-echelon maverick or the senior establishment guardian. It has, additionally, the problems of a profession asserting, in its pride, the claim to autonomy while working within and subject to the constraints of public office. All, we must now consider, to what end?
The teaching power is primarily responsible for those institutional processes through which individuals are developed, recruited, and prepared for social functions or, more broadly, for life in a particular society. To the already familiar Platonic images of womb and cave let us add that of the great ladder, accessible to all, which each person climbs to the height of his powers, to the social and functional level suitably his. The teacher governs the ladder which, in its full Platonic or Jeffersonian reach, involves universal schooling and careers open to talent, with mobility, regardless of parental status, determined only by ability and character. Societies fall short of this ideal in characteristic ways, but it is surprising how rarely present-day societies repudiate the ideal itself—democracy and dictatorship alike. All seek continuity through the developing, husbanding, and directing of the energies of the mind. All, that is to say, must engage in education.
This is not a treatise on education but rather a squint at it from a particular perspective; not that of the individual learner but that of the teaching power itself, considering its task. That task, in its most general terms can be seen as development in a context of initiation. It is the combination of “development” and “initiation” which is crucial and it is the failure to temper the one by the other which breeds both individual and social monstrosities.
Development is a familiar educational idea and its very use is a protection against the errors of cruder notions—the potter’s shaping of clay, the filling of bottles, the stuffing with input, the conditioning of responses. Its attendant notions are more organic—cultivating, nourishing, unfolding, growing, strengthening, ripening—and, as any teacher recognizes, fundamentally appropriate. But development is only part of the story and, on its own, may generate anarchic or individualistic aberrations—the worship of the purely inner light, eccentricity, self-centeredness, solipsism. Development, yes; but in a context of initiation. For education is also the initiation into the ongoing activities of a culture, its arts and enterprises, its fellowships and pursuits. The great and universally applicable example is language: the development of one’s linguistic powers is an ever-deepening initiation into a particular set of cultural habits. And what is so obviously true of language is true of every human art, activity, power.
The teaching power has, so to speak, a double focus. One eye is on the particular student—his special bent, his character, his talents, his potentialities, and even, for what it signals, his likes, dislikes, desires. The other eye is on the needs, the tasks, the opportunities, the practices to which the student must, in his development, be led, to which his energies must be yoked. Teaching is not only developing; it is recruiting and initiating as well. The teaching power’s task is not so much to transmit culture as to continue it.
Thus, the teaching power, deployed at a crucial front, deals routinely with the generational crisis. Or rather, normal generational tension becomes a crisis when, for one reason or another, the teaching power is unable to take the inevitable challenge in its stride. Initiation into an ongoing enterprise involves, to some degree, a confrontation or encounter with the given. Recalcitrance, rejection, rebellion are, as we know, normal aspects of the complex response. The desired outcome is a well-tempered involvement, even commitment; failure, for the teaching power, for the society, and, most disastrously, for the individual, appears as alienation or estrangement—the deepest, although sometimes fashionable, of social diseases.
While it is obvious that the state acting through its teaching power is necessarily and legitimately involved with the mind, special features of that involvement are not always appreciated. The school is not a public forum and it is not governed by the same principles; children are not adults and are not governed by the same principles. If we grasp this we can begin to understand the distinctive exercise of the teaching power and not gape in foolish horror at the discovery that the school is neither a town hall nor an intellectual fair. It has its own version of due process. But it has unusual power to create and protect a special intellectual environment within which it may determine the mind’s agenda and cultivate its proper manners.
To begin to understand the school and the teaching power, therefore, requires that we begin by taking two simple steps; the first takes us over the cliché that marks off the realm of intellect and spirit, the second takes us deeper into the “forbidden” realm, beyond the forum-governing principles of freedom of speech. To make this a bit clearer let us consider, briefly, some aspects of liberty and dissent—of “doing as one pleases” and “criticizing”—as they apply to the school or appear to the teaching power.
An adult may, generally, have a choice about whether to submit himself to the disciplines of the teaching power. He need not go to the university or to a professional school. He may choose to live his life without more formal schooling if he is willing to pay the price. The choice (unless, perhaps, he is in the army or in a prison) is his. The child has no such choice. He may be compelled, for a time, to attend a public, or accredited, school; for him, to be at liberty is to be at large, to be a truant. Why do we not give him a choice? Because, although there are other reasons as well, it would be too cruel to condemn a person to a mode of life “chosen,” if we can even use the term here, in a condition of innocence, ignorance, and immaturity; he is, as yet, an incompetent guardian of his own future interests. He can, to be sure, frustrate and defeat us—himself—in many ways, but at least he must report in to the teaching power.
But the principle of voluntarism reappears beyond the threshold of the school because students may feel (I believe “feel” is the accepted locution for “assert without sufficient thought”) that they should have more choice about what to do or should even be governed entirely by the principle of student choice; and there are usually some teachers around, and youth-sycophant ideologues, who feel the same way.
In the world of development, however, below the age of consent, the choice or consent of the undeveloped cannot claim full sway. For mind, as for body, growth has its requirements, and what is required is not always obvious to those in need. Thus, the school has curricular responsibilities which it is not constitutionally free to abandon or to delegate unduly.( note 6) This is required, or this and that, or this first then that, like it or not. The teaching power must take account of liking and disliking as presenting problems and opportunities, not as limiting its authority. The student may be granted some elective options, but he must be led to whatever, in its place and season, is appropriate. It is not merely a case of formal exposure to required subjects. Habits must be formed and powers developed. The school is the kind of place where that goes on. It has a habituating mission and the necessary disciplinary power. The state, acting through its teaching power, confronts the mind in circumstances in which its authority is not defined by impulse and inclination. Here it can demand the attention and application for which, in the life of the forum, it can only plead.
The principle of liberty or of student-centered voluntarism is, nevertheless, persistently asserted. The argument, although varied, takes two main forms which I shall characterize as, first, a romantic view of pedagogy and, second, an infantile view of reality.
First, it is held that one learns (or learns best?) only when one has a desire to learn. Children, it is said, are naturally curious and this curiosity should be encouraged as the motive for learning. It is encouraged when given free rein and deadened when one is forced to learn what one is not curious about or interested in. Learning should be a self-directed form of play, and we are offered the vision of a society of addicted learners driven by unquenched curiosity, probing, examining, uprooting, creating, vanquishing ignorance, and bursting into the promised land—if only we don’t interfere with the game and if we get rid of requirements and structure.
This view of learning has deep roots and has all the power of a caricature. It cannot easily be refuted, and it deserves appreciation and sympathy. Curiosity is important; enjoyment does attend learning. One would have to be a fool or worse to deliberately strip education of their support. But, but, but… It is simply not the case that we learn only when we want to learn or that curiosity and cognitive pleasure are sufficient to guide and sustain us. There are some, no doubt, for whom knowledge is an end in itself, in whom curiosity or a desire to learn is the master passion. But for most, and I do not say this with regret or in derogation, learning is simply a part of life. We learn in the process of doing, developing, making, failing, experiencing, judging. We learn in stride, as we cope with situations in which we find ourselves or in which we are placed. Curiosity flashes on and off, opens up or diverts; enjoyment comes and goes, encouraging, rewarding, deserting, betraying. No, it is not the aim of the school to turn us into cognitive hedonists living to satisfy the demands of curiosity; the love of knowledge is not quite the love of wisdom. Curiosity can be an asset; but it does not deserve autonomy. The enjoyment of learning is to be encouraged; but it cannot determine or govern the curriculum. The teaching power must utilize these forces; it cannot abdicate to them. The conception of the school as an autonomous playground is a disaster.
Second, student-centered voluntarism is sometimes defended simply in the name of the autonomous child. The child, it is said, is a person, and his rights and dignity as a person should be respected. He has beliefs, desires, and needs and knows himself better than others know him. He is, of course, weak and dependent, but that does not justify overriding his beliefs, ignoring his desires, or deciding for him what he needs—subjecting him, in short, to a tyrannical regime, denying him his proper liberty.( note 7)
I cannot undertake to present fairly or adequately the variety of views which develop this theme. Sometimes the child-adult dichotomy is rejected in toto; sometimes it is accepted, guardedly, and the dispute is over where to draw the line. Sometimes it is granted that parents may, for a time, stand in loco parentis, but that no one else may. In some versions skepticism and relativism are pushed to the point of denying the parental claim to know better. In others, parents and the adult society are said to know worse. The child and the culture of the young may be seen as the embodiment of the virtues—innocence, goodness, spontaneity, honesty, generosity, love—which are corroded and corrupted by death-enamoured adult culture. In many variations, “leave them alone and they will save us” is the underlying theme.
In spite of all this charming (in small doses) childishness, society, all unregenerate, declines to regard the child as the tribunal to which it submits for judgment, or even as a proper claimant to an equal voice. It asserts over its children a measure of control which it does not claim over adults. It comforts itself, in doing so, with J. S. Mill’s observation in On Liberty that a society has only itself to blame “if it lets any considerable number of its members grow up mere children” since it has, he adds, “the whole period of childhood and nonage in which to try whether it could make them capable of rational conduct in life.” So we interfere with the liberty of children and impose our culture upon them—our language and arts, our sciences and crafts, our categories and creeds—preparing them for the processes of adult life and the rights, the liberties, and the dignities of that condition.
Is it not obvious, in this controversy, who has the deeper regard for the person who is, as yet, a child and under tutelage? The teacher, it seems, is torn between the role of nanny and the role of guardian. As nanny, one is allied with the child against the world—comforts, soothes, shields, indulges, interposes—and lets him play. As guardian, one scans the generation with a recruiter’s eye, aware of the world’s tasks, seeking to fit talents to roles and to harness and realize potentialities. The teaching power, in the end, is more than nanny. It cannot be completely child centered or bound by a claim of the right—not yet inherited—to do as one pleases.
A glance at “criticism” also reveals significant differences between life under the teaching power and life in the adult forum. Central to our view of the normal political process is the conception of a stream of criticism playing heavily and relentlessly over all that we are and do. It is, we believe, essential; it reveals our problems and moves us to improvement in a continuous process. Criticism as a way of life is seen as the cultural alternative to a life of dogmatic slumber punctuated by nightmare.
The principles of freedom of speech in the forum are, in good part, designed to encourage and protect the dissenter and critic. But, in many ways, the forum presupposes the school; it assumes and needs a general condition of forum-worthiness, the ingrained habits of discussion, disagreement, cooperation. In short, the institutions of criticism rest upon the art of criticism. We expect—demand—that the school prepare us for the forum. It is not enough to turn out acquiescent schoolboy patriots; we want a constant supply of fresh, critical minds. If we are to live with “caveat emptor” in the marketplace of ideas, we must do our best, in the school, to make ourselves capable of rational conduct.
The teaching power must, therefore, approach criticism as an art to be cultivated. It must understand criticism. It must, to begin with, understand that it is closer to appreciation than to hostility. To criticize is not simply—although long experience with the “critical essay” of students fresh from high school is sobering—to “find something wrong with” or “say something bad about”; it is to exercise intelligent judgment. It is easy to find something bad to say about a book, a person, an institution, a society; but to allow that to pass as “being critical” is to confuse hostility with understanding—to confuse, as we tend so easily to do, the loud expression of innocent (ignorant) hostility with the announcement of the arrival of the new age of critical consciousness.
Criticism is more difficult. We expect a music critic to understand music, a literary critic to understand literature. Must not a critic of society understand something? Is every ignorant carper to be dignified into social critic? Significant criticism is a form of appreciation; appreciation requires understanding. The teaching power, therefore, as it seeks to cultivate critical minds, does not merely encourage and protect irreverent outspokenness. It prods the impulsive mind into the discipline of understanding, into deeper comprehension, into sympathy, objectivity, fairness.
But the critical art may require more, even, than perceptiveness and understanding. Just as there is something strange about an art critic who does not love art, so there is something strange—and even fraudulent—about the critic of society, of politics, of government, who does not love the object of his critical attention. Burke says somewhere that one must approach the flaws in his society as one would approach the wounds of a parent. It may be difficult, these days, to know how to do either, but what is required are understanding and love.
The task of the teaching power is, with respect to criticism, not an easy one. It cannot simply supply rashness with a few tricks and pride itself on the critics it then unleashes and sends into the world. It must cultivate carefully, presiding; over a process of growth that has its own seasons. It must take account of timeliness, of due course, of the stages out of which critical intelligence ultimately emerges.
Consider, for example, the relation of habits to questions. Early education is largely the formation of habits, and questioning is one habit among others. To properly acquire the questioning habit is to learn when and how to question and when and how not to question; it is not simply to increase the proportion of our sentences ending in question marks. Questions can be premature or belated, relevant or irrelevant, superficial or profound, helpful or destructive, pointed or distracting, proper or improper. Questioning which can be an aggressive verbal habit must be developed into a deeper irenic art. Socrates is the patron saint of questions. He stands for the examined life. Not for indiscriminate questioning, not for eristic games, but for the right question at the right time and in the right way. And he held, it should be remembered, that virtue must be habitual before it is to be questioned or criticized. Thus, when the teaching power addresses itself to the task of developing the art of questioning, it may appear, to the unenlightened, that it is engaged in taming questioners.
The well-tempered questioning attitude is haunted by skepticism, cynicism, and iconoclasm, and the teaching power is badly vexed by these seductive spirits. It is, as has been stressed, concerned with initiation into the life of the community. It seeks participation and commitment to processes and ends which must be characterized normatively. But where there are methods there are always botcbings; where there are goals there are failures; where there is faith and trust there is betrayal. The introduction to shoulds, oughts, and goods is also an introduction to evil. This can be bewildering and complex where the need may be for something clear and simple. So we evoke—every culture evokes—its special parables and myths, its exemplary world. Here purposes are clearer and purer, devotion more unwavering, arts more potent than in the more prosaic world. And we begin the inevitable shuffling between two worlds—the ideal and the actual, the immaculate and the soiled, archetype and copy, normative and descriptive.
This aspect of education is, I believe, an inevitable feature of growth, and it is full of hazards for everyone. Ideals can suddenly seem illusions and the disillusioned idealist falls easy prey to self-destructive cynicism. Myths and parables can be foolishly rejected as lies instead of being cherished as perpetual invitations to interpretation and reinterpretation, lifelong touchstones. There is a need for enchantment; without it, nothing much happens. But it is shadowed by disenchantment. Or rather, there is a rhythm of enchantment, disenchantment, and enlightenment, which education must respect. There is a time for myth and a time to be literal, a time to accept and a time to examine, a time to be soft and a time to be tough. Confusion in timing can be disastrous, and even what is timely can be misunderstood. A quick glimpse of enchanting—Ah! Brainwashing, indoctrination; a glimpse at disenchanting—Ah! Subversion. A cross section of a process may not be very illuminating. But the confused outsider is more than matched by the confused insider—the ever-present educator-idiot who shouts “It’s up his sleeve” in the middle of the act; the professional iconoclast who doesn’t understand icons or, for that matter, truth; the teacher who applauds when the child says “The king is naked,” not realizing that a “king” is never naked and that it takes imagination, understanding, and discipline to see the otherwise invisible but real clothing—not the child’s half-opened eye. Problems such as this, alien to the public forum, are native to the teaching power.
A last comment on the cultivation of criticism. The critic, we say, must be independent minded, with courage to stand alone, with confidence in his own judgment. He must speak his mind, like Abdiel, “unshaken, unseduced, unterrified” by any serpentine chorus. But even here vices lurk in the shadow of virtue, waiting to pounce. Independence, yes. But not the incipient idiocy of the loner, stubborn, hard-core adamancy. Self-confidence, perhaps, if warranted. But pride is still, although this seems hard to remember, a terrible vice. In the healthy critic, independence must be tempered by modesty and humility, by the awareness of other minds, by the occasional recollection that the common herd contains one more member than each of us supposes. The critical independence we seek to cultivate is that of a partner, not of a crank.
This cursory glance at the shape of liberty and criticism in the domain of the teaching power should remind us that the school cannot be essentially understood as marketplace or forum and that the teaching power must wield routinely powers which are frightening in scope and implication and which are, perhaps, uniquely its own. The legislature, we say, cannot legislate morality. Can that be said of the teaching power? Not if we understand development in the context of initiation. The school seems inevitably to moralize. It is a dangerous place. We are concerned, therefore, to control the teaching power and prevent its misuse. We embed the school in a context of political controls and constitutional constraints. We insist on due process. We may encourage competitive and alternative schools. But this is not enough. We can hardly add—although some are tempted to—the principle that the school should leave the mind alone. But we do attempt to make distinctions and develop principles that clarify the proper function of the teaching power and which, if observed, would keep us safe. Some of these principles are better than others; some are misleading; all, I am sure, invite interpretation and require that we reflect upon important questions of educational and political theory. I turn now to a brief consideration of some principles proffered in the hope of fending off threats to freedom posed by the undeniable presence of government, in the guise of the teaching power, in the realm of the intellect and spirit.
That the school should stick to facts
Threatened by controversy it may seem wise for the school to retreat and take its stand on information. Here is the community torn by conflict over race, religion, sex, and politics. What is the school to do? It cannot altogether avoid everything that is controversial. But can it not, at least, eschew judgment and confine itself to dealing in information and to sticking to the hard facts? Let the school teach, it is said, the facts about religion, the facts about sex, the facts about race, the facts about capitalism and communism, the facts about history. Then the student can make up his own mind, or someone else can make it up for him—parents, priests, scout-masters—as long as it is not the school. Education then takes its stand on the acquiring of knowledge, on information, on getting the facts. Facts may be presented or, better still, the student can be taught to dig them out for himself. He is taught to demand them, to respect them, to gaze at them unflinchingly, to accept their verdict.
Respect for facts is not a negligible virtue and I do not mean to disparage it when I suggest that it is not central in the educational drama. It supports, but it does not lead. The facts do not present themselves to be served up in passive heaps, nor in complete collections, nor stripped bare, nor underlined for significance. They simply cannot be doled out, or gathered and assimilated first, without guidance by non-factual considerations.
Facts are digestible or significant only in context. When we are entertaining a belief, an hypothesis, a theory, then facts come into play. They are relevant or beside the point, they support or shake, they are insufficient or decisive, convenient or inconvenient, they help explain or need to be explained away. But the significant context is more than a context of belief. It is a context of actions, of enterprises, of purposes that, in turn, lend significance to belief and theory. In this broader practical context, facts, as they bear on action, can be upsetting, discouraging, destructive—one man’s triumph, another’s defeat.
To the teaching power,”just stick to the facts,” is advice that is easier to give than to follow. It cannot really strip education of its context of significance or values; it cannot organize itself around the bare facts. There are, for example, facts about sex. What is to be done with them? Are they to be dumped helter-skelter before schoolchildren? Or are they to be placed carefully in a context of love, family, society, cosmos? Clearly, facts must be handled with tact. (If the sex example doesn’t move you, try race.) They must be placed in context, seen in context, understood. There are educational tactics about facts—conditions of readiness which must be respected, questions of emphasis and focus, preparation and postponement, discretion and revelation. Facts are to come in time and season, not in an indiscriminate flood. But the flood is controlled by policy, and policy is controversial, and we are back, almost, to where we began. We cannot find permanent educational peace under the aegis of fact.
Nor is it clear that, if we could, we should. The teaching power, I have argued, is concerned with development in the context of initiation, with induction into ways of life, into modes of action which are purposive and value laden. Do we really mean—separating “fact” and “value”—that the schools should inform about honesty but not cultivate it? Inform about race but not affect racism? Here are the quests for truth, justice, beauty—take it or leave it. This is proper usage, should you ever care to use it. Are we running a gigantic department store, displaying all the options, teachers attending every counter, careful, in the name of free choice, not to influence the customers? Utter nonsense! The school is not a store. Students are not customers.
The relation of fact to context and the necessities of initiation defeat simplistic attempts to erect the fact-value distinction—itself rather tattered, by the way-into a basis for the limiting of the authority of the teaching power. The school cannot just stick to the facts.
That the school should just teach “methods”
The school, if it cannot simply stick to the facts should, it is said, teach not what to think but how to think. Learning is seen as learning how, as acquiring skills—reading, writing, calculating, arguing, proving, deciding. There are methods of inquiry, of disputation, of decision-making—supported by methodologies. The school is to transform these methods into habits; the method of inquiry, understood by the teacher, becomes, in due course, Johnny’s habit of inquiring. Since we do not know, and therefore cannot teach him what he will need to know, we teach him how to find out; since we cannot teach him what to do we must teach him how to decide for himself. The school, in short, is not to stuff students with information but is to train them as enquirers; it is not to supply them with opinions but is to prepare them for controversy. Not “what,” but “how” is all.
The power and appeal of this educational methodism is obvious. First, it celebrates the centrality of habit and, icon for icon, habit is better than fact as the object of educational adoration. (Mind is better seen as muscle than as bottle.) The teacher understands that skills are central and that imparting skills is forming habits, accustoming.
Second, teaching “how to” seems to respect and enhance the active independence of the student. Learning how is acquiring the ability, the power, to do something. The more we learn how, the greater our power, the greater our freedom to do or not to do. There is a real sense of liberation that one experiences as he learns how to do it himself. Who cannot recall the feeling of freedom and power that grew upon him as, learning to read, he found he could conquer libraries alone. Learning how frees us from dependence, from the transient fashions of teachers, from narrow, limiting context. We become empowered.
And finally, in teaching “method” the school seems to serve the community without becoming embroiled in its quarrels. Is there conflict over tradition and change, liberty and equality, left and right? Certainly. But the school need not decide who or what is right; it need not declare for Yin or for Yang. It tries to teach how to behave in the midst of controversy, how to solve problems and resolve disputes. It is everyone’s coach.
This attractive view of education seems to promise the avoidance of partisanship through a deeper commitment to methodology. It deserves respect. But, of course, it has its problems. To begin with, faith in “method” may be a misplaced faith. There are some areas in which we speak with confidence-“the scientific method,” for example; but even here, while there are zealots who regard its teaching as the panacea for all ills, there is an undercurrent of professional skepticism which provides a derisive undertone to naive enthusiasm. And when we get beyond the hard and triumphant sciences and look around for methods of decision-making, conflict-resolving, of dealing with moral or value questions, the faith in methodology gets stretched to the breaking point. To teach methods in these areas seems less to teach how problems are to be solved than to teach how to blunder, stumble, cope, suffer, and endure. There is, at any rate, some allowable doubt about the efficacy of faith in method. It sometimes seems that the farther one gets from the genuinely creative or productive master-worker the more one hears eulogies to method.
Nevertheless, teaching is largely teaching how. But teaching “how” is more fundamentally teaching “how we…” rather than “how to…”. Teaching a child to speak is, after all, teaching him to speak as we do, with some marginal play between how we do and how we should speak. Teaching how is always teaching something in particular. That is, we teach (and learn) English, not language: tennis, not game; democratic politics, not governance. In learning something general we learn something particular first.
Teaching “how” it turns out, is initiating into a particular, active fellowship. Someone is to get involved in what is going on; he is to get into the habit of doing something, to share in, participate in an institution. The habits, the methods, the ways, which the teaching power cultivates in its special environment prefigure, reflect, and prepare for the institutions, the culture of which the teaching power is the agent. The more we learn “how” the more we become involved, the more fully our habits incorporate our institutions, the more inevitably our character exemplifies our culture, the more deeply we become part of the going system.
And there, for some, is the rub. It is difficult, if not impossible, to habituate to what is not institutionalized, to teach a habit not supported by the environment, to shape a utopian character in an imperfect world. The Tao is the way; the way is the method; the method is the habit; the habit is wedded to the established fact. To those who do not realize that all our trips begin from where we are, it all sounds too much like a conservative plot.
That the school should be neutral
Besides being urged to stick to the facts and to teach how, not what, the teaching power, in order to serve the whole community, is urged or required to embrace neutrality as a guiding principle. This is a valid enough principle where it is applicable, but its scope is narrower than is often supposed and it can, when its limitation is not realized, cause serious confusion.
Neutrality is called for in the face of the partisanship of others; one is neutral as between combatants. I stress “as between.” Neutral “against” is a familiar joke. Neutral “about” is a locution suggesting indifference, “not caring,” lukewarmness rather than impartiality; and that is not the sense in which neutrality is recommended to the teaching power. Neutral as between . . . and, moreover, as between alternatives on the same level. That is, a referee is called on to be neutral between Ohio State and Michigan, not between Ohio State and Football. Or, to take another example, a judge is to be neutral as between the defense and the prosecution in a case before him. That does not mean that he is neutral in any sense about law. He is not—it hardly makes sense to talk this way—neutral as between the accused and lawfulness. He is not required to be lukewarm or indifferent about, or uncommitted to, legality.
The familiar American educational example has to do with religion. “No establishment” at least requires, almost everyone agrees, neutrality as between religions in the public schools. There is to be no favoring of Protestant over Catholic or Jew. But this, of course, should not be taken as implying that the school must be indifferent to religion or even that it is to be neutral as between parties to another dispute between the religious and unreligious views of life. Perhaps it should be, but that is another question and it should not be settled by momentum borrowed from the requirement of neutrality as between religious sects. We have drifted into such confusion about the implications of neutrality for education and religion as to evoke from Justice Douglas the remark: “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being”—a heresy for which, as a reward for his many other deeds, he may be forgiven.
Much the same problem appears in connection with the proper demand for political non-partisanship. When we say that the school should stay out of politics, we intend that its operation should not reflect partisan bias. It is not for this party or that, for Republican or Democrat; it is neutral as between parties. But this does not mean, as it is sometimes taken to mean, that the school is to be indifferent about politics in general or about the political system. Non-partisanship serves a deeper commitment to politics. The school is, among other things, to prepare people for political life, to develop the capacity, the understanding, the attitudes necessary for the operation of the society’s political institutions. It is indifferent to the fate of this or that party, but it is deeply concerned with the health of the political or constitutional structure. It educates members, agents, critics; it furnishes the establishment; it supports the system. This is not an accusation; it is a statement of its function.
The danger in the careless use of the notions of neutrality and non-partisanship is that the concern for fairness may be taken as requiring the relinquishing of commitment. Or, on the other hand, the obvious commitments of the school may be taken as reducing any claims to fairness to mere pretense and hypocrisy. These are foolish views and result, I repeat, from confusion; but this is a point arouind which fools, impatient with distinctions, seem to swarm and buzz. “Neutral” and “non-partisan” are necessary conceptions. There is a norrow sense of these terms suitably applied in limited contexts. But if we take them out of these contexts and attempt to apply them more broadly, we do not adequately express the relation of the teaching power to the community and, in confusion about fairness, become confused about commitment as well. “Neutral” does not express the fundamental relation of the school to the society it serves.
Seeing the teaching power as an inherent power of the polity we have considered ways in which its frightening power might be checked. Decentralization, the proliferation of private and parochial alternatives to government schools, attempts to define and limit the teaching role may, together, be quite effective. But there is something chilling about the very conception of the teaching power itself, about the conception of the teacher as the agent of the state. Can we somehow get out of that. I do not think so. We can ignore it or pretend it isn’t so, but there is no salvation in the averted gaze. Can we defiantly place the teaching power elsewhere? In the hands of the (a) church? The family? Can we simply renounce it or relinquish it? No such mere institutional moves will solve the problem any more effectively than will the principles of separation and distribution of powers, of decentralization and delegation of authority within the state. The teaching power inheres in the state as clearly and inevitably as does the judicial power.
Can we, in that case, at least formulate the function of the teaching power in such a way as to keep the agent from servility, to keep the schools from becomeing the instrument of the sins of the fathers, to aid the teacher in an attempt to shield the generation in its care from the influence of a sick or evil social order?
As we approach this question let us note that the same range of problems exists also in the comparable case of the judicial power. The judiciary practices its art within the structure of the judicial office. It is clearly a branch of government. Judges are officials of the state. Their functions can be described in different ways, but two things are centrally involved. First, judges decide certain disputes in a context of, with reference to, and in accordance with the positive law of a particular society. This law varies from society to society and is subject to judgment as foolish, harsh, or unenlightened or worse. Nevertheless the positive law has a strong initial claim to judicial deference whatever the private views of the judge may be. It is his job to apply it, to interpret it, to say what it requires. He is sometimes called the servant of the law. But second, the judicial concern is also for “justice,” and in its name, in many guises, the judge subjects the positive law to some higher-law influence, checking, frustrating, mitigating, reinterpreting the apparent will of the law-maker. It would be a naive mistake to dismiss justice or constitutionalism, or the higher law, as a mere “brooding omnipresence in the sky.” It is a fundamental feature of the legal order which keeps the service of legality distinct from mere subservience. Popular judgment, with a healthy instinct, has little difficulty with the dual xconception of the judicial function as “enforcing the law” and “promoting justice,” is perfectly aware of the possible divergence between law and justice, and accepts “judicial independence” as necessary if the judiciary is to be able to do its job properly. It does not occur to anyone that because a law may be unjust our judges, in order to promote justice, should not be agents of the state or public officials.
I find the parallel between the judicial and the teaching power very striking in many respects, but the similarity relevant here is this: just as the judicial power has a commitment to the “given” in the form of the society’s positive law, so the teaching power has a commitment to the given expressed as the function of initiation into the ongoing society. And just as the judicial power cherishes and insists on a commitment to a normative higher-law or justice, so the teaching power in the midst of its mundane initiatory tasks insists that it must also keep its commitment to the logos, or rationality, or virtue, or objectivity, or perhaps, the free mind—some transcendent, culture-critical higher-law ideal. I will consider this in a moment, but let me note again that to preserve the “higher-law” aspect of the teaching power’s function it is not necessary, anymore than in the case of the judiciary, to free the teacher from his role as agent of the state. Academic independence—the separation of powers—is enough.
What, then, do we want when we are dissatisfied with a merely initiatory role for the teaching power? What do we fear? We want the teaching power to protect our children from our errors, our follies, our vices, our shortcomings. We fear that a teaching power too timid, too uncritical, too responsive, will only perpetuate our betrayals of the ideal. And we fear, in the extreme case, that, if and when the state falls victim to tyranny, to the dictatorship of the zealot, a docile teaching power will dutifully warp the mind to its decrees.
In the context of these anxieties it is understandable that there is reluctance to accept the commitment of the teaching power to initiation into what is going on, and that there are recurring attempts to get around that commitment. One attempt, of course, is to deny that initiation is, in any sense, part of the teaching power’s function. Stress is placed on helping the learner develop himself as he sees fit and leaving him free, so to speak, to attach his energies to stars of his own choosing. I will not linger over this plausible view which produces, from time to time, child-centered schools with administrators who see their tasks as pandering to kids and keeping the adult culture off their backs. If, at this stage of the game, it is necessary to explain what is wrong with this to anyone, he is probably incapable of understanding the answer.
But the other attempt is more interesting. It accepts initiation as an educational necessity but claims, in a utopian spirit, the mission of initiating into a higher order of life than is exemplified by the imperfect existing culture. It attempts to shape an ideal character fit for an ideal culture, for the brotherhood of man, for a rational cosmopolis, for a “perfect” democracy, for the good life—whatever that may be. In this attempt it may find the existing culture of the community an obstacle to be swept aside or surmounted and it may come to regard the alienation of the student from that as a preliminary triumph.
The elevated tone of all this is, no doubt, appealing. It captivates the idealistic teacher disillusioned with a society that espouses competition for material goods—and all that. But I cannot really end on a note of acquiescence in a self-righteous declaration of independence by the teaching power in the name of its service to a higher morality. First, there is always the question to be put to the self-appointed guardians of the higher goods: Who are you? Where did you get your special insights? On what road did you find illumination? The local School of Education? The Teachers’ Union? A meeting of the committee on the curriculum? Who appointed you to veto the culture?
But, second, there are profound difficulties in the path of any attempt to derive from the contemplation of an “ideal” specific prescription for conduct. Thus, we cannot derive from the idea of justice a proper or ideal code of positive law; we cannot derive from the idea of a good society any particular set of social institutions; we cannot derive from an understanding of rationality the particular beliefs we ought to hold. We cannot, to add an odder example, determine from the most profound understanding of “language” what language the ideally educated person should speak, nor create the ideal language to supplant the poor excuses for language that people happen to use. The higher law, the higher ideal is critical, not creative; it may improve a way of life, but i cannot bypass it or provide another in its place. The road to paradise lies through and not around the here and now; if we are to get there, we must get there from here.
Teaching-power utopianism ignores these truisms and produces, from time to time, an other-worldly school with its strangely victimized students, or a gaggle of counter-culture gurus leading sullen children in circles, but on the whole the teaching power is saved, perhaps by lack of imagination, from messianic delusions. Its basic style is more Sancho Panza than Quixote, more Sam Weller than Mr. Pickwick, more Jeeves than Bertie Wooster. Its strength is in its pedestrian sanity and if it seems, at times, to lead its master a bit, it leads, nevertheless, in the master’s direction, in his terms, under his banners. It teaches English, if that is the going tongue, as she is spoke, perhaps, a bit, as she should be. And it does not harbor the illusion that all the errors made, lamentably, in English, would disappear if only we could be induced to speak in French.
Keeping the public school in the center of the stage in principle, undeniably legitimate,I have argued that it is an institutional expression of the teaching power, understood as a fundamental constitutional power of the state. The scope of the teaching power is enormous and the danger in its exercise, no less than the dangers of leaving it unexercised, requires the constant attempt to clarify and safeguard its proper goals. We need to see the school as a primary agency of the state exercising its authority over those who are still below the threshold of consent; we need to understand the special powers implied by the related tasks of development and initiation and the very limited assurance against misuse provided by over-simple theoretical attempts to disengage the school from politics. Education must be understood as an enterprise that places government fully within the sphere of the intellect and spirit and that requires, as a part of pedagogic theory, an understanding of the political aspects of the habitual structure of the mind.
* * * * * * * * * *
1. . . . minor and adult . . .
I realize that, in what follows, I devote most of my attention to the teaching power as it comes to bear upon the minor and where it operates, when challenged with the powers of compulsion. That is its most difficult and controversial sphere and the one in which the challenge to its legitimacy, widen its claims are pushed to the limit, is most familiar. But I do not mean, by this emphasis, to decry the importance of the teaching power as it exercises itself in the world of adults where, as I suggest, the issue is not the scope and nature of compulsory schooling but rather the access to special opportunities. The competition for places in professional and graduate schools has become quite fierce and the politics of opportunity quite bitter. Traditional admission criteria—grades, scores, recommendations—are challenged as racially, or sexually, or economically biased and there is a push toward quotas and “affirmative” admission procedures that, in some cases, are being challenged as “reverse discrimination.” An implicit assumption is that an “unbiased” distribution of professional schooling opportunity would produce professions that are both “representative” and maximally competent. But even if this were not the case some difficult questions would remain. For example, if the ideal criteria filled our medical schools entirely with white women, there would be legitimate political questions about departing from the “ideal result”—the “most skilled” medical profession—in order to provide for existence of some male and some non-white doctors for reasons of social policy. There is a growing body of literature on such fascinating questions and my bypassing them does not mean that I do not consider them important.
There are other questions as well as these more familiar ones. Most of our teaching energy is directed at the young and even our graduate and professional schools are inhabited largely by those within a decade of adolescence. But as we become affluent and live longer and entertain possibilities of mid-career vocational changes and become accustomed to early retirement, the redirection of the attention of the teaching power, in various ways, to the adult population becomes an interesting question of policy. Adult education may cease, someday, to be an oddity.
Nor do I deal here with the questions of “re-education,” compulsory or voluntary, that really deserve some attention. Some regimes are determined to “re-educate” significant portions of their populations in concentration-campuses. Others limit compulsory re-education attempts to the rehabilitation of those in reformatories or to those whose mental health leaves something to be desired.
There are, in short, a great many aspects of the exercise of the teaching power of the state, broadly conceived, that I mention only in passing. I cannot really defend this as a complete account. My lame excuse is that “Government and the Mind” does not mean “Everything that should be said about Government and the Mind.”
2. Strong and weak versions (Sovereignty and Pluralism)
The question is, “Who shapes the young?” And the initial response inevitably puts the family in the center of the picture. But the family is not autonomous. It is constrained by the law of the broader community. It may drift in the mainstream of religious life or may be caught up more strenuously in a sectarian enclave; it may dwell in social and political orthodoxy or stamp itself with the deep mark of a dissenting or heretical movement. It brings up its children not merely for family life but for something more. But its control over the situation seems to have diminished drastically. The family may no longer control the significant educational environment of its children. The movies, the news and magazine rack, radio, television, the neighborhood are competing influences almost impossible to overcome. And the children are yielded up earlier. The remorseless pushing back of the home-leaving date—kindergarten, nursery school, pre-nursery school, day-care center—interposes ever earlier between parent and child another set of adults serving it is not always clear whom and equipped with God knows what sort of weird notions. In relatively free situations the parent may stand bewildered, reduced to insignificance by a seething Babel; in dictatorships he may be rudely elbowed out of the picture, reduced to subservience by children who have been taught to report on backward tendencies. The condition of the family in the contemporary world does not really permit us to rest with “the family” as a conclusive answer to “Who shapes the young?” or even to “Who should?” Still, the family, and its condition, must be kept in mind as we consider the claim of the state to the teaching power in its strong or in its weaker form.
I begin with a reminder of the stark simplicity of the strong claim as it is asserted, for example, in states like the Soviet Union or Cuba or China. Where the problem of education is seen in terms of raising a new kind of person, of creating a fresh or correct consciousness free of the corruption of an old system, the triumphant revolutionary power simply takes over the incubator and rules it with a jealous eye. We hear little there of “private” schools, of alternative schools as counter-cultural enclaves, of old-style or deviant adult values interposed legitimately by parents between the child and the ministers of education. The teaching power, wielded exclusively by government, brooks no challenge (although it may sometimes condescend to explain to awed gapers from abroad, whose children are safe in alternative private schools back home, that someday in the happy future. . . .)
The assertion of a direct governmental monopoly of the teaching power is hardly familiar on the American scene and is not advocated by left, right, or center. Compulsory schooling, yes; with some marginal dissent—generally not, it should be noted, by the “disadvantaged.” There are disputes about substance and standards and duration. But there is general agreement that compulsory education in America does not mean compulsory public school education. Our educational establishment has three parts: a massive public system, nursery school through graduate or professional school; a large, almost massive parochial or church-related sector that, under our “no establishment” commitment, is broadly hospitable to almost all claimants, is without formal distinction between orthodoxy and dissent, and is largely, in principle, without public funds; and a large private sector, neither church-controlled nor public, also ranging from nursery school through the graduate and professional school. Clearly, the arrangement is not one in which the government’s claim to authority to teach is asserted in a monopolistic form.
But even this proliferation of teaching institutions does not lay the possibly overriding claims of government to rest. We require “schooling” up to a certain age. we undertake to provide a place in a public school for everyone subject to compulsory attendance. The parent may decline the public-school option. Truancy is avoided by the provision of equivalent schooling, and equivalence requires governmental certification. The certification or accreditation of schools as equivalent may, in practice, be quite lax, but the principle of the authority of government to set standards is preserved. The parent is permitted to offer attendance at an accredited school as satisfying the compulsory schooling requirement. It is not quite the case that no school may exist without the permission of the government; it is the case, however, that no school can offer itself as satisfying the attendance requirement unless it has been authorized, by government accreditation, to do so. Something of the “strong” assertion of the teaching power is preserved in this form, even though there is no public-school monopoly.
The point of our arrangement lies in the choice and variety it offers. Since we are dealing with children or minors the choice is exercised on their behalf by parent or guardian. It may be an exaggeration to characterize as “choice” what may be so much a result of circumstance and family habit but, within limits, the choice is real. It may be based on anything from considerations of class size and curricular richness to pedagogic style and religious orientation. The value of the arrangement is not only that it does satisfy deep and differing convictions about how children should be educated but also that, by providing alternatives, it removes from the public school an insupportable burden of controversy that, if there were no alternatives, would rage bitterly within it. And, for those who are neither substantively partisan nor impressed with the avoidance of trouble, a complex, varied system of schools can be seen as insurance against serious error, as a way to avoid putting all our educational eggs in one basket.
In spite of alternatives and variety there are, however, two points at which the authority of government asserts itself. First, there is the question of a governmentally insisted-on minimal core that all schools must provide; and, second, there is the question of governmentally declared and enforced limits to what may be taught in any school. There are some things that all schools must do; there are some things that some may do that others need not or may not; and there are some things that no school may do. In spite of efforts to restrict the teaching power to a weak form—in which government merely operates its public schools as one element among others—the authority of government inevitably asserts itself in guarding both the essential educational core and the bounds of educational legitimacy.
Consider, first, the problem of the essential core. Since this is normally a minimal requirement the argument for it is more likely to be based on the needs of the child, if he is to have his fair chance, than on what is essential to the society, although that may also be involved. Thus, a polity may have a mandatory universal language requirement: everyone, let us say, must be taught English as the primary language, whatever other language he may be taught; or, perhaps, everyone must he taught both English and French if the polity adopts a policy of cultural bilingualism. The core may include the elements of calculation or mathematics and some history and social studies deemed essential for life in the community. And we may, as John Stuart Mill ”suggested, require the cultivation of competence up to a certain level. All this seems unobjectionable enough. The public schools provide at least the minimal core and a non-public school alternative must be certified as doing so as well. But there are objections. Some parents may consider some part of the core as not necessary at all and even as harmful, and some may consider that it does not include what is really essential. There may be some attempts to reshape the public requirements to these views before taking refuge in private or parochial schools. Thus, we have had battles over the inclusion in the public school of a religious element considered, by some, an essential part of any sound education. And, in the case of the Amish, the required level of education was regarded as producing a worldliness that threatened their way of life. The core included too much; it might enable a boy to leave the farm and the community. It may seem odd that the Supreme Court heeded this plea and acquiesced in the parental demand for a lower minimal core for their children to deprive them of mobility, but in any case it took an action by the Supreme Court to sanction this anomaly.
A core requirement the polity insists upon is something that all schools, public or private, must do. Where that is not considered enough, the parent may seek to supplement it in various ways; but where that is considered too much, the process of certification of alternative schools makes the requirement, in principle, inescapable. What shall be required is a part of the politics of education.
There are times when the intervention of the government with its insistence on what is required appears as a rescuing of the child from parental tyranny, from a pattern of hereditary ignorance, from a narrow, limiting irrationality, from a depressingly benighted pattern of culture—the parent grimly following the child to school with “I don’t want him reading this. I don’t want him hearing about that. . . .” Or taking him out of public school to put him in his own safe special culture-preserving school to evade, if possible, even the minimal demands of the general culture. But soft! Do we believe in pluralism? In real differences, not merely trivial variations? Are we serious when we assert our belief in the value of different styles of life? How different? Can some differences be beyond the pale? The answer is, “Some differences are intolerable.”
That is to say, the principle of pluralism, like the principle of toleration, has its limits. I cannot understand why this should be treated as a scandal. When we learn that more than a single way will serve, we open up to a range of acceptable alternatives. Not to everything. The prohibition of some “alternatives” is compatible with pluralism. If we give up the principle of a single religious establishment and recognize, pluralistically, Catholicism, Judaism, and Protestantism, it does not follow that we must also recognize atheism as an alternative on an equal footing. The principle of pluralism does not require universal hospitality. Some things may be out of bounds.
So, also, with educational pluralism seeking scope in our complex system of public, parochial, and private schools. I have already argued that a common core can be required. I now suggest that some things, some culture patterns, may be educationally out of bounds. I will not parade horrible possibilities. Let me refer, instead, to the growing political quandary over “school busing” and let me put it as a question.
What is the real issue over busing? Not a ride in a vehicle. Not even equal or “quality” education. The real issue is over the determination of government to interpose itself between the child and the parent who, in his bones, wants to bring up his child in his environment and his culture—white, middle class, ethnocentric, color proud—the culture of his home, his neighborhood, his mores, his traditions, his ethnic jokes and foibles—the way of his fathers. What are we to say? “That’s pluralism!” or “Not that culture; it’s against public policy.” We can ban it, let us say, in the public schools. But suppose it moves massively to the private school system. Will we still want to say, or be able to say, “That culture pattern in the schools is beyond the bounds of American pluralism?” If there is to be the exclusion of an educational pattern from the sphere of legitimacy—whether we take the above example or other examples—the only effective exclusionary agency is government. It is the only possible guardian of the limits.
Thus, I believe it is apparent that the teaching power of the state, even when it is asserted in its weak form, even when it eschews the right of monopoly, retains, in the power to require and in the power to exclude, something of the final power that, ordinarily, we associate with the right of sovereignty.
3. . . . beyond challenge . . .
There are, of course, challenges to the public-school establishment that direct themselves not so much to the legitimacy as to the desirability of the system. The hysterical critics who would abolish the schools that they see as warehouses or prisons for the young do not deserve notice. The faddish vogue of “de-schooling” would, if anyone listened, merely doom the “disadvantaged” to permanent hopelessness. The attack on the privileged claim of the public school to tax support expressed in the “voucher” movement is more interesting and does raise a significant issue about fairness in support of educational variety. It also offers the benefit of genuine competition to a complacent institution. And, in various ways, the growth of private schools as an escape from the turmoil and inadequacy of the public school, challenges the dominant status of the public school. In many ways the public school comes under increasing criticism. Much of the criticism is well deserved, but it should not obscure the fact that the public school is an amazing institution, relatively recent in its massiveness, brilliantly successful in giving a concrete form to the ideal of free (relatively) education for all as far as ability, energy, character, and luck will carry. In the midst of our frustration over its disarray and its obvious shortcomings we should pause, from time to time, to acknowledge the incredible success with which it performs its impossible task.
4. . . . sanctions . . .
The ultimate sanction of the teaching power, expulsion, is really too drastic to be used freely. It can relieve the school of the burden of dealing with a troublesome and intractable youngster, but it dooms him to a life with limitations of which he is not yet really aware. The school, it should be noted, really loses nothing by expelling the hard case; it puts up with him for his own good. If we didn’t care about him the school could restore order with relative ease. Expulsion is like spiritual abortion.
But the consequences of the exercise of teaching power authority are drastic in other than disciplinary contexts. Tracking and guiding into roles may have decisive and permanent effects. The certification of competence or fitness for higher educational opportunities is the modern substitute for the accident of birth as the determiner of the quality of life.
It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that the consequences of the exercise of the teaching power outweigh the sanctions of the judicial power.
5. . . . wanting to teach . . .
What Plato says about politics seems to me at times—although I hesitate to say so—applicable to teaching as well: that eagerness for the role is more likely to be a sign of unfitness than of fitness. (My hesitation is due to the fact that this runs counter to the normal pieties of my profession and I am growing suspicious of heresies even when they are my own.) I have in mind less the teacher of a particular craft or art who, as part of his practice, initiates others into its mysteries than the person less concern to teach something in particular than just “to teach” or to teach “students, not subjects.” That suggests to me a dangerous disposition to impose oneself upon others, an eagerness to shape the malleable, a confident egoism, far removed from the spiritual condition of the true teacher. Preacher, perhaps, but that is quite another thing.
Nor do I consider that thus wanting to teach creates in any remote way the right to do so. Adults, of course, are presumably able to take care of themselves. But children are not fair game for spiritual pitchmen. It is odd that anyone should think otherwise; to think that he has a right to try to shape them or influence them or awaken them or lead them anywhere. Unless he is a parent exercising responsibility for his own children. Or unless he is appointed to the office of teacher by the proper authorities. The self-appointed teacher of the young is almost always a menace to everyone.
6. . . . curricular responsibilities . . .
That the school cannot properly delegate or abdicate its curricular responsibilities should be obvious, but apparently this is not always the case. We have traditionally been alert to pressure from this or that interest group seeking curricular influence, and, when it works its way through school boards and educational authority generally it may be said to be a part of curricular politics and not necessarily illegitimate or, as going beyond proper politics, a case of educational irresponsibility. The responsibility most pervasive recently has been in connection with the demand for student determination of the curriculum—either individually, as in the abolition of requirements so that each student can elect what to study; or collectively, as when student representatives claim or are granted an equal or even preponderant voice in the establishment of educational policy. In either case to turn the shaping of a student’s education over to the student himself or to his peers is so deep a betrayal of the student’s interests and so complete an abdication of educational responsibility as to leave one speechless. The smug, uncomprehending, “democratic” spirit in which this is done is, to my mind, more unbearable than the cynical indifference that simply bows to student pressure for the sake of peace and quiet.
7. . . . denying him his proper liberty
Defenders of the liberty and the “rights” of children spring up everywhere. It begins with the clear case of the battered, mistreated, or neglected child, surely an object of proper concern, and goes on from there. Soon we hear of ministers who offer themselves as negotiators between parent and child who have “differences” over questions of life-style; we hear of schools or teachers arranging for services for minors, bypassing parental knowledge or consent; of legal organizations for the defense of children’s rights. There is a lovely aura of goodness about all this—the gallant rescue and defense of the weak and helpless. And yet. . . . First, in spite of everything we say about the family, we systematically weaken its essential structure by diminishing the authority of parent over child. Second, we systematically weaken the tutelary power of public authority—as, for example, in the really ridiculous flag-salute opinion in the Barnette case and the more recent monstrosity, the Tinker case, that denied school authorities the power to ban a peaceful political demonstration in the classroom.
So we rescue the children. From their parents; from the state. Then what? Then we complain about alienation and pointlessness. We visit China and swoon in ecstasy at the sight of regiments of children pledging undying allegiance to their leader in schools from which no Supreme Court has banished a flag salute as an invasion of the rights of children.
There are other ways of battering children than by mistreating them physically—intolerable and inexcusable as that is. We can treat them as if they were adults and pretend that since “persons” have rights they all have the same rights. To treat those below the age of consent as if they have the rights of a consent-based status is not merely silly. It is suicidal.
“The Teaching Power” originally appeared in Government and the Mind, Oxford University Press, 1977