Characters in the Dialogue
Jean Jacques Rousseau
Alfred N. Whitehead
Prologue: A Scene in the Garden of the Mind
The class had ended in a stalemate. Though the topic under discussion had been the purpose of the school for the future, the past kept coming up as a means of looking to the future. As with most discussions, talk was fragmented. Reference had been made to the timeless philosophies, but only superficially. When the class ended, one student commented, “I’ll just leave the problem to you philosophers to solve.” The rejoining laughter expressed a seeming futility of any thought convergence on the subject.
The professor had been notably silent during the discussion and mildly amused at the struggle. “You may now appreciate to some extent the struggle that education has had for over 2,500 years. Perhaps now you feel the same need I did many years ago—to read widely and deeply to attempt to understand the assumptions that underlie some of the educational issues of today. For any educational philosophy is merely an extension of our personal assumptions. Well, we’ll see you next meeting.”
Several followed him out.
“What did you mean,” asked a student, “when you said that any educational philosophy is but an extension of one’s own personal assumptions?”
“Take yourself,” replied the professor. “Why was your experience today so frustrating? Was it not because you have not come to grips with the issues? Put another way, don’t you feel the need to examine some of your personal assumptions about education?”
“If there is one thing my generation has discovered,” replied the student, “it is that the present is a refutation of the past. Why dwell on it?”
“Precisely my point,” rejoined the professor. “Your answer reveals the dilemma of your generation. You want to deal with ‘the now’ and ‘build your own future’ but refute the cumulation of all that man has learned for thousands of years. As your past is the prologue to your future, humanity’s past is its prologue.”
“But,” protested the student, “whose interpretation of the past am I to accept? The voices are so many and varied!”
“True, but your reply says in effect that truth has escaped the ages—that it is not to be found!”
“Not necessarily,” the student replied. “What may have been valid for them is not valid for us. Truth is only relative to its age.”
“And that, my young friend, is at the heart of the issue at hand. It is the dispute of the ages. If what you say is true, then each new generation stands to forfeit its predecessors. May I remind you that youth is never moderate with its modifications. Its idealism begs for immediate and sometimes radical change. This produces cleavage in family, community, and society. And society does not long endure such tension. If, on the other hand, instead of repudiating our past we attempt to glean those truths that have been found valid through the ages of man, we can build a better future.”
“It seems to me that your alternative is such a prolonged process when the times demand solutions now.”
“You see,” smiled the professor, “your impatience is coming through again. Whether they be artifacts or ideas, that which had endured has taken time in the making. Excellence knows no shortcuts.”
“I suppose the frustration I feel is that my understanding of any ‘whole picture’ is so fragmented.”
“Yes,” smiled the professor, “we all see through that proverbial ‘dark glass.’ Our attempt to see the whole is, however, to acquire wisdom, to obtain perspective.”
“You’re quite fond of that word perspective, aren’t you?”
“It is like viewing a painting from the impressionist school. If one stands too close, his perspective of the whole is distorted. Such is the story of mankind.”
“Wouldn’t it be marvelous,” said the student, “if each new generation could see the past for itself and talk to those who have lived before?”
“Spoken like a true conservative!” laughed the professor. By this time their walk had taken them to University Square, an area of marble benches secluded by trees and foliage. Low voices were heard from the area as they approached. Coming into the enclosure, they saw a group of men dressed in anachronistic garb of bygone ages, some seated on the ground, some on the benches. The first impulse of the mentor and his pupil was to retreat since they had probably intruded on a theatrical rehearsal, but faces that were too familiar attracted their curiosity.
“Doesn’t that man look like Aristotle?” whispered the student.
“Yes, and look!—there’s that reformed libertine Augustine!”
“Who’s the short one with the tunic?”
“Why, that’s Plato. He’s much shorter than I imagined. And there’s our own John Dewey.”
“Who are those other men?” the student inquired.
They scrutinized one after another, recognizing some. One with long robes and a portly carriage they identified as Erasmus, the great humanist. A tall, angular, beardless man was immediately recognized as Horace Mann, and sitting by him was Herbert Spencer. Another was mistaken for the German philosopher Goethe.
“No, he is Jacques Rousseau, the French iconoclast! Good heavens,” exclaimed the professor, “there is one of my old professors, ‘Old Hutch.’“
The men continued in conversation. Unobserved in the background, the professor and the student found seats within hearing distance and eavesdropped in silence. Robert Hutchins was speaking.
Intellectualism as the Chief Aim of Education
Hutchins: Gentlemen, you were asked to come to this gathering to explore whether some reconciliation is possible concerning the diversity in educational philosophy and aims. I appreciate your response to my invitation. To commence our discussion, permit me to suggest this proposition: The educational issues that divided the ancients were simpler and less divergent than the issues that divide modern educators after 2,500 years. Gentlemen, is there any hope for accord?
Plato: You, of course, would recognize as well as any that divergent philosophies are the result of divergent aims. We too had our rival forms. But our aims—even those of the Sophists—seemed less enamored by the satisfaction of so-called needs. We valued more lofty ideals: beauty, truth, morality, and wisdom. We saw education as developing the intellect to the end that man could make better judgments and determine the right order of life. You modernists seem dedicated to more pragmatic purposes, perhaps because it is easier to teach reading, writing, and computation than to educate toward moral virtue.
Aristotle: You made that aim, dear Plato, the zenith of your educational philosophy. “Education,” you asserted, “makes good men. . . . Good men act nobly, and conquer their enemies in battle, because they are good.”1 I don’t believe there has been stated a more comprehensive or noble aim for education. Would you want to modify that “end” with the passage of time?
Plato: No. The statement, I believe, is one of the universal truths of all time. But the statement cannot be taken by itself as an accurate reflection of education. You will recall the idea in the dialogue between Socrates and Theaetetus. There are two patterns set before men: the one blessed and divine, the other godless and wretched. The ultimate idea of good is God. Our true happiness can only be found when man frees himself from the vices and passions of the body and acquires that wisdom which will lead him to a life like God.2 This must be considered the ultimate purpose of education, however idealistic.
Rousseau: My opposition to your philosophy, Plato, was your point that evil is associated with the lower element of man’s dual nature, namely, his body. My position is still that “everything is good as it comes from the hands of the Maker of the world but degenerates once it gets into the hands of men.”3
Plato: Yes, you and I would differ on this matter, Rousseau. You proposed that there is a natural unfolding of this goodness if man can be left in an uncontaminated state. I say that this goodness is residual in man’s soul and manifest to us through his highest faculty, reason.4 Education, therefore, in the truest sense ought to be the concern of man’s higher nature, his soul. “This is the only education which . . . deserves the name; that other sort of training, which aims at the acquisition of wealth or bodily strength, or mere cleverness apart from intelligence and justice is mean and illiberal, and is not worthy to be called education at all.”5
Bestor: You also postulated, Plato, a distinction among intellectual classes. Only the gifted should be afforded the benefits of higher education. How often in the name of democracy we have proposed an egalitarian philosophy to accommodate the so-called “average student”!6
Plato: Yes, and of course you recognize that proposition as the fundamental thesis of the Republic wherein I argued for the distinct classes. The highest classes are those who possess the highest degree of reasoning power; the lowest are those who have the lowest degree. The philosopher-kings are those few who possess superior intellectual powers that enable them to acquire a comprehensive knowledge of supreme good. Thus, they are those who would rule beneficiently.7 It is a pity that the Academy failed to save Athens. If the gods had favored us with one good philosopher-king to banish injustice and establish good government on earth, perhaps this end would have changed the course of humanity.8
Hutchins: You must not lament over the Academy, Plato. What appears to be failure to one man is a success to civilization. You must be consoled with the knowledge that the Academy became the rational foundation for the Medieval universities in Europe and has been the basis of conservative thought since your time.9
Aristotle: Also, Plato, you do me an injustice. Who can doubt your influence upon me as your former pupil of the Academy? How often have I defended your view of the indestructibility of the soul. You looked with suspicion upon knowledge derived through our senses, but I found it necessarily useful in describing science. It was less subjective. I attribute our difference in viewpoint to our different temperaments. You taught me to believe in God, but never proved his reality to me. I had to do so. You contemplated him; I had to demonstrate him. To you he was a mysterious Entity. I found him to be the rational center of an orderly universe. My love was for facts; yours for contemplation. But who can say how much influence we left behind in each other’s life? You yourself declared in the Laws that you had moved more toward the practicable. And after you had gone and I became old, I had to admit, “The more lonely and alone I am the more I have come to love myths.”10
Plato: I did not mean to offend, dear pupil! You must forgive an old man’s nostalgia. No man has equaled your effect on the intellectual mentality since our time.
Hutchins: May it be observed, gentlemen, that historical Christianity only became an intellectually respectable religion when it was blessed with your influence.
Augustine: Yes, Plato, were it not for your influence in my education, Christianity never would have been palatable to me.11 The early Christian idea that God was bounded by the figure of a human body was so revolting to me, that I wrote, “I thought not of thee, O God, under the figure of an human body; since I began to hear aught of wisdom, I always avoided this.”12 But being partially convinced that Christianity was true by that noble scholar Ambrose, I sought a reconciliation. Couldn’t Ambrose tell me? Couldn’t the church? I finally found my answer among the Platonists. For fifteen years I had labored at the thesis on the Trinity without “ever reaching a satisfactory conclusion.”13 I finally found that if I could accept the platonic notion of the reality of an immaterial being as God, then I could accept him and the doctrine of the Trinity.14
Whitehead: Could you also accept the absolute quality of Plato’s “truth”?
Augustine: Not fully. I wrote, you recall, “The only thing I cannot doubt is that I doubt. But if I doubt it must be because I have implanted within me a concern for truth. Were it not for this I could not doubt. My doubting then is a very act of faith—faith in the goodness and the beauty of truth, in the reality and unity of truth.”15
Thomas Aquinas: Yes, Augustine, but it was Aristotle’s methodology which provided the means to arrive at a unity of truth.16 Using his methodology, I was able to prove the truth about God, man, and his universe. This gave rise to scholasticism and the educational institutions of the Middle Ages.17
Horace Mann: I am troubled about one point, gentlemen. I, with other scholars, had assumed that historic Christianity was representative of the original Christian philosophy. Yet you assert that historic Christianity is a synthesis with Greek philosophy. Doesn’t that demonstrate an exclusive dependence on rational thinking? Wasn’t the emphasis of the original Christians different? Would that we might summon Paul or one of Jesus’ disciples to be with us, for we had long assumed that their aims and what you and Augustine described were synonymous.
George Counts: The Christians had little to do with us then; we have little to do with them still!
Martin Luther: Permit me to respond. After all, this very question became the basis for my dissent against Rome. Early Christianity was a nonspeculative doctrine in the midst of speculative philosophies. The early church fathers spent most of their effort admonishing the body of the church to refrain from philosophy. Tertullian lamented the day you taught the Christians dialectic, the art of proving and disproving.18 The church was not concerned about philosophy till some of its members asked, “What shall we do with Plato?” Irenaeus, in reference to the philosophers, said, “Now either all these men . . . knew the truth or else they did not. . . . If they did, then the Savior’s descent to the earth was superfluous; . . . if they did not, why do you . . . go to them for supernatural knowledge, since they do not know God?”19 The chief difference between original Christianity and the secular philosophers lay in the fact that whatever merit philosophy had in its search for God, according to Christian doctrine it was superseded by revelation. Thus, Christianity’s aim and the aim of you philosophers were divergent rather than compatible.
Aquinas: I believe we would have to argue that point, my dear Martin. Were not Origen and Clement great apologists for the church, and did they not afford it intellectual respectability?
Luther: We must both remember that the Apostles had been taken and revelation ceased. Like myself later, neither Origen nor Clement claimed revelation or authority. Both were thoroughgoing Hellenists. We can deduce this from their writings. Clement wrote: “Philosophy prepares the work that Christ completes.”20 And Origen introduced logic and dialectic into the church, the two obsessions from which the early church had prided itself on being free.21
Aquinas: Your indictment is harsh on the philosophers, Martin. The language was but their vehicle to carry the Christian faith. One does not question the proposition of revelation as the major characteristic of the original church.22 The principles were laid down supernaturally. Man, imbued with the power of reason, could then be independent and autonomous in his intellectual functions. His reason is his only basis for interpreting the supernatural laws of God.23 Happiness results from being in accord with these laws. Thus, happiness, the purpose of a Christian’s education, consists of the cultivation of the moral and intellectual virtues.24
Christian Humanism as an Aim of Education
Erasmus: I trust that you recognize the implication of what you are saying, Thomas. Your adoption of the Hellenistic world is a remarkable example of syncretism. Such a humanistic reconciliation implies that before one becomes a Christian, one must first become a man, mature enough on the human level to be able to perform an act of faith and acts of morality. For the sake of argument: If classical education has developed its own admirable technique for producing a perfectly developed human being, why should we look elsewhere for some other kind of education?25 As for me, I find it more comfortable to stay with the joys of this world rather than the “other world” philosophy that preoccupies you saints. So I am comfortable with the first purpose of education being “that the tender spirit may drink in the seeds of piety, the next that he may love and learn thoroughly the liberal studies, the third . . . that he may be informed concerning the duties of life, the fourth . . . that from the earliest childhood he may be habituated in courteous manners.”26
Aquinas: Even you, Martin, advocated a humanistic purpose of education for the good of the state!
Luther: Yes, “even if there were no soul . . . and men did not need schools and languages for the sake of Christianity and the Scriptures, still for the establishment of the best schools everywhere, both for boys and girls, this consideration is of itself sufficient, namely, that society, for the maintenance of civil order and the proper regulation of the households, needs accomplished and well-trained men and women.”27
Whitehead: John Milton similarly defined education in his famous Tractate of Education as “that which gets a man to perform justly, skillfully, and magnanimously all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war.”28 This was a similar position to your own, Plato. But Milton also wedded this humanistic purpose to Christian doctrine when he wrote, “The end of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright.”29
Mann: That theological idea had an unquestionable influence upon colonial school policy in America. The Ordinance of 1787, for example, stipulated that “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged.”30
Knowledge as the Chief Aim of Education
Thorndike: Gentlemen, you seem to forget that scientific rationalism has been discarded as a basis for truth for centuries. I agree that we owe an immeasurable debt to our friend Aristotle, but others also deserve mention: Comenius, Newton, and Bacon. It is unfortunate that they could not be with us. They were responsible for infusing a scientific spirit into education. Bacon’s Novum Organum gave us inductive logic. Comenius improvised this to the educational setting, though I think he was exaggerating when he acclaimed the process as being as “free from failure as are . . . mechanical contrivances, when skillfully made.”31 What this contribution did for education was, in my opinion, to take the whole of knowledge and make it the province of the educator. Aristotle, you made a valiant contribution. It took the contribution of many others to rival your own.
Aristotle: Were I alive in his time, I would have been one of the first to embrace Bacon’s scientific methodology.
Self-Actualization as an Aim—The Rejection of the Old Way
Rousseau: You recall, Edward, that I resisted then such a broad comprehensive aim. Who can attain it? “My object [was] not to furnish [the student’s] mind with knowledge, but to teach him the method of acquiring it when necessary.”32
Dewey: It was you, Jacques, that gave impetus to the so-called liberal movement in education. You, Pestalozzi, and Froebel. Your recommended curriculum was oriented toward the total life adjustment. Pestalozzi paid tribute to your genius when he said, “The ultimate end of education is not perfection in the accomplishments of the school, but fitness for life.”33
Luther: Superficially, one might be impressed with that thought. But I must point out that it was a frontal assault upon the Original Sin doctrine of the holy scriptures. Your rhetoric would have it that man is innately good, that his instincts should be allowed free expression without rule or restraint. “Let nature and experience be your guide,” you decreed! Your “new morality” doctrine, whether deliberate or not, undermined the whole fabric of Christian morality.34
Rousseau: My concern was not theological, Martin. It was for the individual. I chose to leave theology to you theologians. If man’s potential is unlimited, unbounded, is he not “perfectible” in the full sense of being capable of achieving perfection? As for the problem of choosing good over evil, that too is quite simple. Man being innately good, his decisions will likewise follow his innate nature.35
Perfection as an Aim of Education
Mann: We confronted this issue early in American education. The Calvinists believed the sectarian notion of Original Sin, and this idea was pervasive within our early school system. I myself subscribed to Rousseau’s philosophy of the “perfectibility of man” and his view on man’s nature. It is true that we are born with natural appetites and passions that have no relation to God or his laws. This is the “carnal mind” that your esteemed Paul refers to so often, Martin. But once our rational and moral powers are developed and we learn something of what God is through home, church, and school, we see and feel that we ought to love and obey God. But now comes the struggle. On the one hand we have our animal and worldly desires; on the other, reason and conscience. If we seek to obey God and subdue and control our natural impulses that lead to sin, we may come “unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”36 My attempt to imbue the educational system of our society with this idea and rid it of sectarianism stirred a great controversy.
Luther: Your notion is still controversial, Horace. Its sophistry lies not in its end—the perfection of man—but in the means by which you believe man can accomplish that end. It implies that we perfect ourselves through our own effort and native intelligence. There is no room for the grace of our beloved Savior, Jesus Christ!
Mann: On the contrary, Martin, the most comprehensive charge of the Savior was “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). To keep this charge I must aim at perfecting every part of the nature which God has given me—my body, that it might enjoy the good He offers me and be a fit residence for the indwelling soul; my powers of mind, that I may perceive and comprehend the wisdom which surrounds me in the creation and understand his laws; my soul, that I may do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with my God. In aiming at this perfection, those books will aid me which teach me how wonderfully and fearfully I am made or which enlarge my knowledge of the laws of God’s providence.37
Aquinas: Horace, your view contains an implicit interpretation of Christianity quite apart from its historical character. That is what Martin is attempting to tell you. Your view deliberately opposes a theocentric interpretation.
Bestor: Your Tenth Annual Report, Horace, declared your belief in natural law, the same conception held by Rousseau, Pestalozzi, and others. This is essential to your educational philosophy and the point that we conservatives have so resisted. Your view of natural rights is that it is an absolute right for every human being to receive an education and it is the state’s duty to see this is done. This concept of natural rights will ultimately destroy man’s freedom since it makes the state an instrument of coercion. As you state in your report, this doctrine ultimately gives property to the “commonwealth” or the state in the hope that all will be educated and thus saved from “poverty and vice.”38 Cubberly correctly observed that it was your efforts that changed education from a religious orientation to an emphasis on “social efficiency, civic virtue, and character, and that you were successful in transferring the control of community schools into state hands.”39
Mann: I still believe that “the common school is the greatest discovery ever made by man. . . . Other social organizations are curative and remedial; [the schools are] preventive and an antidote; they come to heal diseases and wounds; this to make the physical and moral frame invulnerable to them. [If] the common school [were] expanded to its capabilities . . . nine-tenths of the crimes in the penal code would become obsolete; the long catalogue of human ills would be abridged; men would walk more safely by day; every pillow would be inviolable by night; property, life and character held by a stronger tenure; all rational hopes reflecting the future brightened.”40
Spencer: Eloquently articulated, Horace! I similarly advocated, a generation before your time, a totally comprehensive program inclusive of the home, the school, and the church. I maintained that the school should assume responsibility for healthful living, vocational training, preparation for family, worthy citizenship, and worthy use of leisure time.41
Dewey: Your recommendations, Herbert, did not go unnoticed. They became the basis for the Seven Cardinal Principles of secondary education in the United States in the early twentieth century.
Social Efficiency as an Aim for Education
Spencer: You’re very gracious, John, but it was really you who synthesized our previous thought and gave it rational coherence as a philosophy. In a remarkably consistent and thorough manner, you rewrote American educational practice in light of Darwin’s evolutionary philosophy and the ideas of Rousseau, Pestalozzi, and Froebel. This was in accord with my “composition of all things” theory, placing the mind and the body as aspects of the same evolving organism. This theory made it unnecessary to postulate a supernatural origin to the soul or mind, or to speculate an eternal destiny.42
Dewey: I argued this question, Herbert, in Democracy and Education and claimed that the dualist philosophy of mind and body as posited by the conservatives was responsible for the unnatural cleavages in society and education, such as labor-leisure, practical-intellectual, man-nature, and so forth. Of course, if the mind is not different from the body, this means there is a unity in all things. This naturally led to the conclusion that education and life should be united.43
Brameld: By rejecting the traditional notion that man is born with a ready-made mind that absorbs stimuli and knowledge, you insisted that people react to situations because of their social environment. You argued that the individual derives his mental powers from society.44 This, of course, places primary importance upon education for making man what he is. As you know, it was this idea that caused me to place the total burden for the reconstruction of society itself upon the educational institution.45
Plato: Do you modernists not see that such an argument robs man of his divine character? If man is merely an evolving creature devoid of a soul, his whole destiny consists of this world. There is no room for evil, no room for good! How can realities so evident be denied?
Brameld: You speak, Plato, about “good” and “evil.” How can such values be considered apart from humanity? The only way to validate moral choices is by social consensus.46 If the people involved in the moral issue do not agree that the consequences are good for them, there is not much sense in introducing the notion of social consequences at all.
Plato: And therein lies your whole justification of the democratic ethic, those patterns of behavior that supposedly produce the greatest good for the human nature. It presumes that a society will always make laws and rules in its own best interest. History discredits this hypothesis completely.
Aristotle: Protagoras had a similar idea when he said, “Man is the measure of all things.”
Aquinas: And if man be the measure, God is not! The past is canceled, and man becomes the law and the society in terms of his own wants. Rather than the revealed truth being man’s infallible source, his wants become the infallible source.
Luther: No absolute truth! Moral choices decided by social consensus rather than the revealed word of God! There can be no reconciliation of this view with the truth. It is Rousseau’s “new morality” in the extreme. Its pervasive agnosticism has corrupted society since it left them without a moral foundation based on the holy scriptures. It argues that “authoritarian consensus” is good whereas God’s authoritarianism is the defect of organized religion. Man is safe with powers God dare not be trusted with!
Aristotle: It is safe to say, Martin, that the later philosophers found God an unnecessary assumption to either their philosophy or methodology.
Thorndike: Gentlemen, the question is not whether God is a necessary assumption, but the methodology by which all of us derive our assumptions. Comte, Herbert, and Spencer, to name a few, have gone over this same ground and have come to the conclusion that reason and revelation are not valid sources of truth. Must we revive their arguments again? To his credit, Dewey developed a scientific methodology. Who can doubt that his problem-solving methodology led to the advancement of the twentieth century? And is not education really a scientific matter rather than a metaphysical matter? The chief aim of education, as I see it, is for each individual to “secure the fullest satisfaction of his human wants.” Education must therefore change human nature and wants that “are futile or antagonistic to the satisfaction of other wants and . . . cultivate those wants which do not reduce or actually increase the satisfaction of others.” Education, then, “is not preparation for life; it is life.”47
Dewey: I heartily agree! “The school must represent life—life as real and vital to the child as that which he carried on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground. . . . Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.”48 This is the reason I could never see listing a group of aims for education. The process is its own end.49
The Great Society as the Chief Aim for Education
Counts: Your philosophy, John, led me to argue for construction of a “new social order” built by schools. I believe it is the schools’ responsibility to provide the great vision of social democracy and through the means at their disposal set about to reconstruct the social order. If young people are given this as a goal while in school and commit themselves to it, then a new order may be realized.50 “The great purpose of the public school therefore should be to prepare the coming generation to participate actively and courageously in building a democratic industrial society that will cooperate with other nations in the exchange of goods, in the cultivation of the arts, in the advancement of knowledge and thought, and in maintaining the peace of the world. A less catholic purpose would be certain, sooner or later, to lead the country to disaster.”51
Aquinas: Since your morality is completely nonsupernatural and man-centered, it must serve, not the individual, but the state. How can your own educator, whom you designate “a servant of the state,” hope for a liberty that the state denies to all other orders? How will democracy, in eliminating differences, escape destroying the liberty which creates differences?
Counts: The masses will have to be organized, and “the people must capture the state.” Then we must hope that eternal vigilance will prevent the eventuality of the government assuming “a complete monopoly of the police and military power.”52
Hutchins: Such a prospect can also be prevented by a “universal dialogue.” If our hope for democracy is to be realized, every citizen must be educated to the limit of his capacity. There must be absolute freedom of opinion in the classroom whereby every student has a right to give his point of view. If both dialogue and democracy continue, “if they can be expanded, freedom, justice, equality, and peace will ultimately be achieved.”53
Plato: If man’s hope for democracy rests, as you say, on every citizen being educated to the limit of his capacity, mankind’s hope for democracy will never be realized because every citizen is not going to be educated to that limit. Your argument is greatly exaggerated.
Dewey: But the survival of democracy, as you say, Robert, rests on proper communication. “Without . . . communication, the public will remain shadowy and formless. . . . Till the Great Society is converted into a Great Community, the Public will remain in eclipse. Communication can alone create a great community. Our Babel is not one of the tongues but one of signs and symbols without which shared experience is impossible.”54
Attempts Toward a Unifying Aim of Education
Feigl: Our experience today in attempting to reconcile our views illustrates the futility of dialogue as an end of itself. We have talked in terms of abstractions and slogans. If we can learn to apply operational definitions to our language, we may eliminate most of our misunderstandings. This means we must discount the methods of faith, revelation, mysticism, and pure reason. If we achieve this, we shall be able to “do” science rather than just talk in scientific language.55 This seems our only hope for reconciliation.
Whitehead: But there is a better and more logical alternative, Herbert. Much of the gap between the so-called liberal and conservative camps might be bridged if we accept all the ways of knowing truth, recognizing the validity of both reason and experience. There is also a third method—the aesthetic or artistic. We must recognize that man “is employing the artistic mode when he relies upon feelings, sensations, emotions, and intuition rather than upon abstract reasoning or the scientific method.”56 Why can’t we recognize, with the conservatives, that one of the primary aims of education is intellectual in nature? With the liberals, why can’t we agree that the schools’ activities mustn’t be limited to purely academic ideas?57
Aquinas: Such a compromise could never satisfy those of us who regard the dual nature of man as an imperative. It is wholly illogical to argue, as you modern thinkers do, for a pluralistic society when advocating a monistic philosophy. Or is it, gentlemen, that while you are espousing cultural pluralism, you are really seeking an agnostic universalism that will become the doctrine of your “New Society”?58
Hutchins: Gentlemen, gentlemen, let us not resort to accusation! We are no better off than when we commenced. It is growing late. Perhaps in generations to come a great synthesizing philosophy will capture the attention and hearts of all men. May we not be so arrogant as to suppose that we have the only reasoned alternatives. Perhaps through the process of time man, in spite of cultural diversity, will arrive at similar ends.
Aristotle: Let us hope such a prospect is not too far away—for the good of humanity.
Erasmus: As Hutchins said, “It is growing late.” Let us leave the problem to the mortals.
The professor and student sat in subdued silence for some time. An ethereal quality remained. Finally, the student spoke. “Any educational philosophy is but the extension of the personal assumptions of one man. It’s beginning to make sense!”
“Yes,” replied the professor, elated with the pupil’s insight, “you saw some very prominent men, but men necessarily confined to a perspective as broad or as narrow as their assumptions. We’ve caught just a glimpse of their ideas over 2,500 years.”
“I can see,” said the student, “that the outlook of each man led him to a particular educational aim. I didn’t realize there was such a diversity in their views. This explains to me why there has been such a difficult time arriving at a consensus on educational philosophy. I think Hutchins’s question—‘Is there hope for agreement?’—is the real issue today.”
“You’re quite perceptive,” smiled the professor. “Any other insights?”
“Well—I’m not quite sure I know how to articulate all I heard. It seems,” said the student hesitantly, “that for centuries God was regarded as man’s ultimate authority. That belief provided man with an absolute guide to live by and affected his philosophy about life. Our modern age seems to have overthrown—or outgrown—this necessity to look to a supernatural being for authority. There doesn’t seem to be any ultimate authority—unless, of course, one looks to the government—but that’s not my generation. We see no one or no being as an ultimate, infallible guide. Maybe that explains why we have such a difficult time with traditional values, why social problems almost defy solution, and why education today—particularly higher education—is so aimless.”
“I think you have summarized very well the fundamental issue of your age. Modern society has undergone a serious social transformation over the last several hundred years which has brought us to an almost totally secular society today59—and our educational institutions reflect this.60 But it was not always this way. Harvard and other notable American colleges began as institutions specifically for the purpose of inculcating the religious and cultural heritage into a prospective clergy so that they in turn could impart those spiritual values to society. Religious education was a preeminent concern. Lamentably, a university education today from a public institution too frequently leads to agnosticism.”61
“Do you think we should return to ‘Christianizing’ education as it was practiced in the early history of our nation?”
“That’s hardly possible,” replied the professor, “nor is it realistic. I personally would like to see teachers help students to recognize, within guidelines, that we live today in a world of competing values. One set of values affirms a God-centered universe that makes us accountable to moral imperatives and the other set of values denies it. But the likelihood of that happening, I admit, is remote because teachers are neither prepared to do it, nor do they have the inclination to do it. They’re content to teach the facts of their discipline and ignore spiritual considerations. The end results will be that we continue to serve students an educational menu that caters to their rational and material appetite, but ignores their spiritual hunger.”62
“So what do you see as an answer to the problem?”
“Aren’t there some clues from what you heard and saw today? Good education begins with a coherent philosophy, and that cannot be separated from a teacher who imparts that philosophy. In other words, if you want to improve society and affect students in a moral sense, it begins with a teacher who exemplifies a well-ordered life, strength of moral character, and a superior personality. In my estimation, one cannot become a truly effective teacher, regardless of academic credentials, unless one has a clear sense of moral judgment, a clear understanding of right and wrong and good and evil. Choosing good over evil is the crowning achievement of life, and this is not done without educating toward that end. Education in its truest sense must lead a student to good choices.”
“In other words, if we are to ever get at the root of our problems, it must be done by educators who have a sense of moral purpose,” summarized the student.
“Surely that’s a part of it. Of course, the best place for effective discipline and moral education to occur is in the home. But the paradox is this: educators have little confidence that the family will do the job, but for their part they are so committed to pluralism with regard to teaching moral values that they end up being ethically neutral—so nothing really gets done through the school system.”
“You don’t hold out much hope then for the public school system to teach moral values.”
“No,” said the professor, shaking his head, “the answer must come from the home and a few privately funded universities that are unfettered from the control of government benefactions at the federal, state, or local levels and whose administrations regard it as their primary mission to educate students toward intellectual, moral, and spiritual ends. A private university has a constitutional privilege not permitted a state school: it can make religion a vital part of its academic curriculum. Someday a modern Academy will arise that has a clear purpose of transmitting its religious values and heritage to future generations, and of training future teachers to take their place in society with that end in view. But this will . . .”
“How do you think,” interrupted the student, “the prevailing academic community will look on such an endeavor?”
“Many will not notice. But those who champion academic freedom to mean a forum for all competing ideas can be expected to react somewhat hysterically to such a venture. But therein lies another paradox of the modern university educator—many who are too timid to mention God in the curricula unhesitantly advance the theories of social Darwinism. They contend they’re teaching subject matter, but I suggest that they’re indoctrinating students toward skepticism and a totally secular perspective to life.”
“But, on the other hand, wouldn’t such an effort by a university to teach moral values be considered religious indoctrination?”
“This is where a private university administration must carefully assess their aims and ask: What values and aims do we want to persistently emphasize? On what moral imperatives do we justify the teachings of such values? Are the values we currently espouse congruent with principles that will bring students to greater moral and spiritual progress? Once these questions are decided upon, there must be a vigorous effort toward teaching these values in all phases of the university curriculum.”
“I’m curious to hear how your ideal university would differ from all others.”
“Fortunately, there are a few universities already moving toward that ideal in this nation. They are religiously based and authoritarian in character with a clear sense of their educational mission. So we’re talking about a situation that has already taken root. But since we’re talking about a ‘most ideal’ situation, I believe three vital elements would characterize such a university. First would be a clear sense of mission, one to which all administration and faculty were agreed and committed. The university would have clearly articulated aims that would include a search for ultimate truth with a recognition that God is its ultimate source.63 The university faculty would see themselves as partners in promulgating a common philosophy—not an amalgam of past failed theories, but one that clearly reflects an intellectual and spiritual commitment to the future. A core curriculum of requirements would be developed to achieve those aims, the assumption being that certain intellectual, spiritual, moral, and scientific truths are cumulative and that educated persons ought to understand and embrace these truths. Excellence and innovation, therefore, would not be regarded as ends in themselves but as the by-product of a commitment to timeless values.
“But it is not only sufficient,” continued the professor, “for a university to state its aims in terms of a written philosophy. Too often these aims are perfunctorily repeated by administrators at faculty workshops and are then forgotten as each instructor pursues his own interest. Each faculty member must be committed to these aims, which leads me to a second vital element—a reconceived idea of teaching. A teacher is looked on today as a purveyor of information whose task it is to sharpen the skills of the mind. But a teacher is more than this. He or she must be conceived as a guide to worthy living, as one who helps a student interpret life, and who, to use John Henry Newman’s phrase, can ‘arouse the right curiosity.’ A teacher then is an individual who is intellectually and morally qualified to guide others on a course to worthy goals in this life and to focus their goals toward eternity.”
“But you’ve left no allowance for academic freedom in your ideal university!” protested the student.
“On the contrary. A teacher committed to aims based on transcendental values has actually more freedom for the pursuit of ultimate truth. If he is firm in his convictions on ultimate truths and values, such as the reality of God and truths that emanated from him to guide mankind, then he doesn’t have to constantly reassess those values and revise his assumptions because of changing social theories. He is actually free to pursue knowledge based on ultimate truth.”64
“You mentioned training teachers. How would the university do that?”
“Yes, I was coming to that. Teachers are traditionally prepared to teach in the school system by being trained in two areas. First, they receive training in subject matter such as math, biology, or English. Second, they are trained in the methodology of teaching subject matter. But where is the curriculum that prepares them for perspective and for teaching moral values? This is practically nonexistent. A curriculum therefore would be devised to accomplish this. It would minimally consist of courses of study that would help students examine the root philosophies of current methods and innovations and help them understand the moral implications of these philosophies. Few teachers, for example, understand that certain learning models are based on the theory that men, like animals, may be selectively reinforced toward desirable or undesirable behavior. Such a philosophy is incompatible with the Christian doctrine of free will.
“You would also find, in the college of education, textbooks, monographs, and articles written by the faculty that reflect the intellectual and spiritual aims of the university with regard to its educational philosophy.65 The philosophy of secularism took root in our school system when educational philosophers, committed to the notion that there are no absolutes and consequently no permanent values, wrote the textbooks that have influenced teachers for over fifty years. To counter their influence it will take a comparable spiritual commitment and skill at writing and teaching. We have got to produce teachers who are equipped to philosophically cope with the specious philosophy of relativism. To do that requires a faculty in the college of education to train future teachers toward that end. A parallel kind of training, of course, would be required in the other colleges within the university.
“A third element would be a course of study in teaching moral and spiritual values and how these can be taught within the framework of constitutional law and school policy. Such a course would demonstrate to a potential teacher how to expose students to the reality that we live in a world of two competing value systems. You saw that contrast today where certain educators believed man to be God’s creation. The consequence of that belief is that man inherits certain fundamental rights respecting his life, property, and moral choices. The other view, represented by modern philosophers, holds to the assumption that the ‘animals are [man’s] elder brothers,’66 that the fittest survive, and that man creates a better society through his own wants and genius. The essential difference between the two philosophies is how we regard the worth and value of each individual.”
“Do you really believe that such a university could arise in our modern era, given the present emphasis on secularism?”
“I’m absolutely convinced it will because of the vision and commitment of certain educators. Imagine the impact of a university that bases its aims on moral truths and trains potential teachers to take their place in society to leaven the loaf of secularism! I believe such an Academy would succeed where Plato’s did not. And when such a university fully matures, it will become the proverbial ‘city on a hill’—a virtual lighthouse that will help prevent others from wrecking on the shoals of misguided philosophies.”
“Well I hope,” sighed the student, “your optimism is soon rewarded.”
“Perhaps in your lifetime.”