Dare the School Build a New Social Order?

October 22, 2007

by Tammy Drennan

I’ve spent the last year reading a lot of education philosophy – mostly stuff written over the past century by many of the movers and shakers of public schools. It’s been depressing, though enlightening — and mind-numbing.

These folks, almost across the board, can expend the most unbelievable number of words to say almost nothing. Someone should have gone after them for wasting trees.

When they do say something, it’s scary – mostly utopian, authoritarian, even outright weird.

Here’s an example from George Sylvester Counts, an education professor at Teachers College, Columbia University from 1927 to 1956, and author of numerous books, including “Dare the School Build a New Social Order?” Read it carefully to get the full impact. 

“If Progressive Education is to be genuinely progressive, it must… face squarely and courageously every social issue, come to grips with life in all its stark reality, establish an organic relation with the community, develop a realistic and comprehensive theory of welfare, fashion a compelling and challenging vision of human destiny, and become less frightened than it is today of the bogies of imposition and indoctrination….

“If we now assume that the child will be imposed upon in some fashion by the various elements in his environment, the real question is not whether the imposition will take place, but rather from what source it will come….

“That teachers should deliberately reach for power and then make the most of their conquest is my firm conviction….

“It is my observation that the men and women who have affected the course of human events are those who have not hesitated to use the power that has come to them.”

The parade continues to this day. The education establishment must define what it means to be a worthwhile human being then force it down the throats of children. If the children or their parents resist, all power available should be used to break that resistance. It puts me in mind of a quote attributed to Rudyard Kipling: “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”

And one by John Taylor Gatto:

“Growth and mastery come only to those who vigorously self-direct. Initiating, creating, doing, reflecting, freely associating, enjoying privacy — these are precisely what the structures of schooling are set up to prevent, on one pretext or another.” (The Underground History of American Education)

To read more on education philosophies that have shaped today’s schooling, get a hold of a copy of Selected Readings in the Philosophy of Education, Edited by Joe Park, Ph.D.

As an antidote, read The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto