To say that American education is at a point of extreme self-consciousness does not seem to require extensive justification. Just being awake and reading the newspapers will suffice to avail us of this fact.
There are probably more things the matter with education in America today than anyone could discuss in a short essay. An understanding of our educational problems, even if we grant that it is in principle possible, would take extensive and very careful hard work. I shall confine myself to some more or less basic points.
To start off I will have to propose a definition of education that can be defended without extensive philosophical argumentation about definitions, knowledge, and the nature of truth. That itself is difficult. It may seem like wanting to escape the burden of dealing with the really difficult issues. But things are not always what they seem, so I will proceed.
Education will be taken to be, in the present context, an endeavor of human cooperation for purposes of assisting individuals to develop their intellectual capacities to cope with their world so that they may lead their lives well. This, I think, is broad enough to be noncontroversial. The acceptance of this definition will, however, commit one to certain propositions which may not be obvious at first.
Although education in America is something that occurs at many different levels of complexity, appropriate to age and circumstance, in an investigation which aims to treat fundamentals it is not advisable to ponder over the variations of education.
There are a few points which must be developed before we can discuss the place of education within a culture. These have to do with some of the basic principles which all levels of education must observe in order for them to be education. For example, if we take the concept "cooperation" as central to education, it will be clear that those involved in the endeavor of education must be active parties. Those who assist and those who seek assistance need to play active parts. Once one party to the cooperative enterprise defaults on his active role, the element of cooperation has been lost and education itself may falter to a corresponding extent.
On the level of everyday educational activities, John Holt illustrates well, in his work How Children Fail, just what happens when either pupil or teacher fails to play an active role. We may summarize his conclusion to the effect that instead of becoming facilitated in the particular field of learning and teaching, both pupil and teacher will resort to evasiveness in order to hide disinterest and lack of participation. Children from their earliest years tend to respond to educational ventures which they do not want, or, therefore, enjoy, with distaste and with clever methods whereby their unwillingness to cooperate is hidden from teachers and other observers.
The practice of lying and "psyching out" the teacher starts way before a student's undergraduate or even high school years. In colleges this practice emerges through the answering of questions on tests with reams of nonsense so as to present the impression that learning has taken place. Here, as in earlier schooling experiences, the aim is not to perform well but to avoid pain, punishment, or a bad image. (Personally I have always tried to induce in myself and others the habit of admitting ignorance both in test and classroom situations. I would recommend showing appreciation for such admissions, even when accompanied by advice for improvement.)
What, beside the fact that those partaking in educational endeavors must play an active role, is basic to all educational ventures? The possibility of actually learning something, of attaining knowledge, and of attaining knowledge that relates to some area of a pupil's values has to obtain in all educational ventures. Education is the development of capacities, the "bringing out" of ignorance into knowledge for someone—presumably the pupil. If either teacher or student is basically convinced that we cannot have knowledge of things, that all we may achieve is subjective beliefs, and that other than perhaps direct experience (so called) there simply is no road toward learning something—if these convictions or feelings prevail, education cannot take place.
We may have indoctrination: we might pump some beliefs into our pupils' minds, or we may have certain beliefs pumped into our own; but that is not education. It is something that we do with horses, dogs, and perhaps computers; but if we presume that that is what we are doing in engaging in the educational endeavor, we violate the first principle, namely the recognition that education requires active participation. Pumping is a one-sided venture, and so are programming, indoctrinating, and training. A total skeptic, one who believes that knowledge is impossible for human beings, cannot have a viable approach to education. His conviction contradicts one of education's basic requirements—in effect, if there is no knowledge, there is no way to assist the pupil out of his ignorance.
In addition to the above, education must presume some form of free will on the part of all those engaging in educational activities. If a pupil is not free to attend to the subject being taught, if his activity in the learning process is simply reactive, prodded out of him by clever stimulation of his brain cells or expected of him by virtue of some inherent instincts, then we are not talking, again, of an active pupil (nor, of course, of an active teacher). If we are determined to do what we do, either through prodding or through our inherited or early acquired drives, then it is not really we who engage in the activity of learning. We are, like complex biochemical organisms without the power of self-generated action, simply moving through behavior patterns. One may have this view of human nature and believe in indoctrination, training, programming; one cannot, however, think that a man could be party to an educational endeavor.
Arguments against free will abound, of course, and one would do them injustice to treat them as briefly as this discussion permits. My grounds for believing that they all fail is that without the element of human freedom in at least one area of human activity, namely in the assessment of the truth or falsity of judgment, there would be no way in which to assess the truth or falsity of the view that "free will does not exist." If we are entirely determined, then, of course, so are our judgments of whether something is or is not the case. Since all judgments would have to be products of determined behavior, including judgments about whether this or that view of free will is right or wrong, then one's view of human nature would be neither correct or incorrect but simply there. Which would make nonsense of the contention that "free will does not exist" in the face of any denial of that judgment. Both judgments, though contradictory, have equal merit—which is to give way to blatant contradictions and cannot govern thinking. No doubt more could be said, but I simply want to make clear where I stand on this matter, should it arise in later discussion.
Finally, in order to have a viable conception of education, one which is distinguishable from indoctrination, training, etc., we must admit of the distinction between the knower and the known. The pupil must be viewed as a being capable of gaining knowledge but not identical to that which is to be learned. In other words, we cannot accept solipsism (or idealism) as our model for the human mind. If our mind creates what is known, then we cannot learn about something; nor could we learn about something from someone else. Information would be part of the pupil's mind to begin with, and it would make little sense to speculate on what meanings we could attach to our terms—e.g., learning, ignorance, discovery, inattention, research, etc.—within educational theory and practice if we denied the distinction between the knower and the known. (Of course, the nature of that distinction is not at issue here. Once again, that issue is a complex one which would take us far into other matters than education.
It seems then that we are left with some basic components of education: it must be achievable; those engaged in learning must enjoy some kind of freedom to learn, to achieve or not to achieve what they are after; and those taking part in education as knowers must be distinguishable from what they are to learn or to come to know. These basic elements support our initial definition in the following manner: cooperative endeavors require free and active participants or it is not cooperation that we have at all; the development of capacities to cope with the world requires that such capacities can be developed, which in this context means that knowledge can be achieved, in principle.
(You may notice that I have assumed that coping with the world for human beings requires knowledge. And this is true; but to call it an assumption is to speak loosely. It is such a fundamental point that debate about it would be irrational, in most cases. Surely even minimal success by a child, say in building a sand castle, requires that this child know something about building such a castle. "Human vegetables" would not be said to be incapacitated if knowledge were not so essential a part of being able to cope with the world. Of course, knowledge alone may not do the job; still, it is a necessary element of it.)
Education also presumes that those being educated, the knowers, are different from what they are to be educated about, what they are to learn or to come to know; they cannot be the creators of what they know in the drastic sense, at least, in which solipsism would have it. Education without something to be educated about that is distinct from the one being educated would simply be something other than education (though I could not tell you what it would be, inasmuch as such a view is simply beyond comprehension, even if seriously proposed by some thinkers).
The question arises now whether the American educational system is consonant with some or all of these features of education; if it is, at least in most cases, then our troubles may have to do with matters other than education itself. If it is not, then improvements must be made within education itself in order to improve matters.
Most likely, however, troubles abound on many sides and contribute heavily to the overall picture we get of education in general. There is one area where education American style is certainly not consistent with the features which I have claimed were essential for any educational endeavor. From the earliest stages, American students attend school independently of their choice. Elementary school students must attend schools and as things go, they must attend schools which have been built with the support of people who must build schools. Which is to say, elementary education is compulsory and schools are financed by taxes, Even so-called private education in America has become a tax burden, for those financing it can abstain, to some extent from having to help finance other matters and as a result these other matters fall upon the rest of us for financial support. It is, I think, fair to say that education in America has become a public enterprise, like the police, the military, the building of highways, and the delivery of mail. Except that if one does not want to write letters or receive them, one needn't, and if one wants to refrain from becoming a cop, one may. It is a bit different with the military, but even in this there are avenues of escape. With going to school there is no escape—you must.
You probably know what I am going to say next. It has been said by others and it is being said by more people every day. To presume that one can conduct educational endeavors when parties to the action are forced to join the action flied in the face of what education must be. It makes little difference whether we conduct educational endeavors in pink houses, in fields of grass, or in barn yards. It makes no difference if we use books or take notes or write on blackboards; all these and similar matters are incidental and depend much on the particular context of a given educational undertaking. But it makes all the difference to whether someone is really receiving an education and participating in the educational enterprise whether he is forced or comes because he wants to.
Now it may be replied that children really have nothing to do with when they start their educational processes; it is the parents who would be forcing kids to enter school if the law refrained from doing so. This may be right, in some cases; but it is at least safe to say that without compulsory education some parents would be able to determine more accurately just when it is more appropriate to send their children to school than they are now able—since there is no question about the issue for parental decision. The issue may be put at least as follows: should the State or should the parents determine when a child should go to school? In terms of what I said earlier, the answer would depend on which method would ensure the least amount of compulsion within the various educational institutions available to children today.
Before we can consider the question raised above, it will be necessary to look at the other feature of American education which appears, at least, to violate the requirements of education proper previously established. This feature is the public or State supported character of U.S. education. I have already acknowledged that not all educational institutions are actually run and directly funded by governments. I have also noted that even private, elementary, secondary, and higher education, e.g., church and secular schools, receive special considerations from the State in the way of exemptions, deductions, etc. Thus when I include all American education in my characterization of them as public, I do so with good reason.
How do these two elements of our educational system pertain to the basic features I have argued education proper must involve? First, is there a connection between the need for free choice on students' part and the fact of compulsion in public education? Second, is there a connection between the possibility of exercising free choice and the publicly financed character of American education?
Compulsion in education amounts to the following: if a parent does not send his child to a State accredited educational facility (or obtain credentials to provide State approved educational procedures in his home to his children) at a prescribed age limit, the parent is liable to the punitive measures of the laws of the state. Fines, jail terms, suits of child neglect, and similar measures will be administered upon parents who refuse to comply with the compulsory provisions of education.
The fact that education is financed through taxation amounts to the following: all wage earners and property holders must finance American education on all levels such that the refusal to do so results in punitive measures against non-payers.
The question now arises, what if anything, does this result in for the education of children and the ability of parents to secure the education their children require? The compulsory feature of education has the consequence that a child must be sent to school at an age prescribed by law; the law in a democratic political system, assuming at least some approximation to the principle of majority rule (via "taxation with representation" which entails avenues of taxpayer control on all features of that area of education which is financed by taxpayers), decides for each parent (and child) the correct age for school entry and attendance. The State decides, at least semi-democratically, what is good for children and parents—for, of course, the latter must also be considered when the family as a unit is being dealt with; the students are children, and children of some parents in most cases, one may surmise. At least one thing is clear: parents are forced to comply with the State's conception of what is right for their children, not regardful primarily of the individual characteristics, talents, needs, aspirations, interests, qualifications, etc. of any given child. Beyond this we will have to consider whether there need be any relationship between our educational crisis and the coercion of parents to live by the educational theories of the State (not to mention the factors of politics, bureaucracy, and majority decisions). For the time being, however, all that need be shown is that compulsory education limits the judgment and choice of individual parents in the matter of selecting the education or non-education of their children. (I am not, of course, arguing that outside the legal provisions no other harmful factors may influence a child's education).
When we combine the compulsory character of education with its public character, that is to say, with the fact that education is funded through the mechanism of taxation, with its corresponding features of politicalized administration as described above, additional matters arise. First of all, a parent has no choice but to finance public education. This entails that he may have to support a system of which he disapproves; and he will have less of an opportunity to finance his children's education through avenues which escape the State system. The chances for supplying alternative means of education by educators who wish to offer such means will also decrease. When the public is forced to support one system, the possibility for supporting another will be seriously limited. Thus non-State supported education is not only made less available to the customer but, correspondingly, the producers of such education will have their entry into the market place of education restricted through the provisions of the legal system for tax financed education.
More important, perhaps, than the above is the State-funded education as accompanied by State-established standards for qualification as an educational institution proper. The case of the Amish people being physically forced into public schools bears this out most vividly, but, of course, there are less obvious examples than the Amish case we must take into consideration. Here we must remember that the evidence is not easily obtained, simply because much of what might be the case, were it possible and economical to provide private education, simply is not the case. Yet we can speculate intelligently about what might be and might have been the case without state education, with its compulsory and public character as it presently exists. An example of how things might be can be produced if we permit an analogy that is quite real.
Nursery schools, unlike all others, are still not under State supervision—though that is not entirely true either. Licensing provisions have been established even in this area. Yet nursery schools have the opportunity to experiment, to work on providing the best service, and to work on suiting special needs of special types of children without having to account for their actions to political bodies. In other words, the "taxpayers at large"—i.e., the State—need not be consulted.
One more factor to be considered is that with taxation as the source of finances for education, many pay for something from which they do not benefit in the way those benefit who have children in school. Thus also, many have a say in education without the kind of stake those who have school aged children have in it. This itself indicates that the connection between education and those who are funding it is different from the connection between those who buy the services of non-tax supported producers and the product itself. The barber I pay to cut my hair works for me alone in our relationship; he is not committed to listen to and follow the rules others set for his job when he cuts my hair, even if my haircut is a concern to others. My psychiatrist or doctor (unless I am involved in some State financed medical care program) also treats me without having to answer to people who do not receive his services (though my health may indeed benefit others, just as education may have consequences for others than those who receive it).
Now the important question arises. Do all these features of American education aid or hinder the furtherance of those conditions which must accompany education proper?
We have already admitted that both parents and the State can use force to send children to schools. The former can do so, if he is allowed to, wisely or unwisely; he may consult the child, examine his needs, base his decision on this examination, and change his mind in the light of improved knowledge; he may also default on this. If education were merely public but not compulsory, parents could keep their children out of schools as long as they choose, take them out when they choose, and so forth. Clearly if no compulsion existed and yet school would be provided for everyone at everyone's expense there would still exist financial pressures to utilize the public school system; the burden of supporting a private school would still be an addition to what has already been paid into the public system. Still, variations and experimentation to improve would increase. Also, it is unlikely that such a system could survive long: it would probably be considered unjust to tax everyone when many could legally keep children at home or send them to private schools. Under the compulsory system there is at least the double edged sword: kids must attend schools and schools must be provided for them to attend. This has the air of "justice" about it. If, on the other hand, education would be totally private and yet compulsory, a different problem would exist: in order to force everyone into schools it would be necessary to provide the schools; and there is no guarantee that the kind of education prescribed for everyone would be what private schools would choose to provide.
But what does this have to do with the relationship between State compulsion and education proper? If parents and State both coerce kids, why choose one over the other? This question can only be dealt with within the context of the total picture, namely compulsory, public financed educational practices.
If we accept compulsion without public education, we are still left with coercion and the distinction between State education and total private education cannot be discerned. If we abolish compulsion but retain public education, we are still allowing a great deal of legal pressure favoring public education, namely the economic security provided by a guaranteed supply of funding.
First I want to establish the manner in which compulsion—either directly or via the existence of economic pressures established by law in favor of public education (though without necessarily involving outright compulsion)—affects education. The choice of schools must necessarily be limited when public education prevails; the choice of timing and circumstances must be limited when compulsion itself exists. Without either, a parent has the option to send the child to a school or instructor or tutor of his choice, not to send the child to school at all, or to send him for a time period the parent himself chooses. This would be the case even though different income groups would find themselves limited by different economic and other circumstances. Obviously, no one can argue that a free, privately provided educational system would guarantee the satisfaction of everyone's wishes. As an example, probably no one could provide the equivalent of an aristocratic tutorial education to those who cannot pay for it and even, sometime, for those who could: such a service would cost a great deal and may not even exist. But this is no argument against a free, private system—clearly there is far less of a chance for such quality education within the context of the present system. With the State, most of the parents have essentially one option open to them: to send the child to a public school within the context of the laws governing such matters as age, neighborhood, curriculum, physical facilities, space, etc. And within the American political system these conditions generally reflect the more-or-less-well-considered unhappy medium of judgments of voters, their representatives, and their appointees. There are, of course, variations from school to school, district to district, and state to state. But in all cases the resulting conditions are reflective of the collective decision of the politically active majority of voters (no doubt, with variations which can only be identified in retrospect in most cases).
Is there any important difference between the result of such State directed and supervised compulsion and the non-legal compulsion or direction parents carry out (or would have to carry out) in a free, private system? This difference would have to be more than simply the earlier established mere greater diversity of possibilities. For, one might ask, is there any special value of increasing opportunities for parents with respect to the education of their children? For instance, one may wonder if the option of not sending a child to school may not itself pose enough of a disadvantage for children in general to warrant opposition to a free, private educational system. Clearly in a free, private educational system this option would exist. (Not all educators are frightened of this. At the White House Conference on Children ninety experts suggested that being kept out of school may be better for some children educationally).
If it were a matter of what adults could do with their own lives perhaps no great problem would exist—though, of course, even with respect to adults the idea of freedom is often rejected in favor of "protecting people from themselves" (as, e.g., in drug laws, social security and unemployment compensation measures, and restrictions on the sale of pornographic entertainment). With this issue, however, we are talking about whether parents or the State should dictate the means by which a child is provided for in his need to become intellectually equipped to live his life well. So the question really amounts to whether in general the State or individual parents (or guardians) can best supply what children need.
We have already seen that a child, as pupil, needs to have his interests, talents, and circumstances consulted in order that the educational endeavor in which he may be involved should have the greatest chance for success. The freedom to attend to what is being taught him cannot be divorced from the conditions under which the child enters the educational endeavor. If he is forced into something that he would rather not be part of, the attitude with which he will approach this will differ from what it would have been had his interests and values been paid attention to in the first place. Granted that it is not always possible to discover what children want—they may not know it; they may even want something that is bad for them. So there will, undoubtedly, be some degree of compulsion in most children's education. The questions are: what kind is better for them; how can we determine this; and will parents not forced to send their children to public schools (a more or less universal type of educational program) pay more attention to these matters than the State does and can?
Here, I think, we have reached an important question: will people in freedom bring up their children better or worse than people whose lives are controlled by the educational system of the democratic process? The former will, to a great extent, be left to their own resources, individually, through voluntary cooperation. The latter will be freed from having to think too much about this matter except in so far as the relationship between their children and the political process makes possible. (There is absolutely no guarantee that taxpayers will demand what they want from their representatives, whether in education or something else. In fact, because of the relatively small significance of their own individual desires and decisions, alienation from the political process which leads to adverse results in publicly financed education or anything else is more likely. In that case the politically astute have the most to say about everything, whether they are qualified to say what is right or not—just so long as politics has something to do with the matter.)
Remembering, then, that in a free, private system, there is no guarantee that each child will receive what is good for him, and also that under the present system every child receives a uniform education whether or not it is good for him, the probability of better overall results for children under the free educational system seems to be clear. It is, after all, the parents of this or that child who will make the decision for the welfare of the child. These may not be excellent or even responsible at all times; but the relationship between parent and child, characterized at least by affection and some sense or a feeling of responsibility on the parents' part, has a good chance of resulting in maximum personal concern over education. Since no public education would be available and, therefore, no guarantee of at least some, however misconceived, education would exist, the decision about having children would also be checked. If a couple knows that it must take care of its offspring through its own efforts, the habit of bringing children into the world without caring what will happen to them would decrease considerably. Schools would improve, also, since they would need to gear their practice to the judgment of an ever critical clientele; the parent could take his child out of a school simply on the grounds that the child is not improving his life by attending it or because he judges the school to be bad. The child's needs, in terms of various conceptions of life-styles, morality, intellectual capacity, degree of knowledge and skills required for the many areas of the prevailing social, cultural, and economic circumstances, would play an important part in the minds of many parents—there would, after all, be no one to dictate by law how children must be educated. The conception of education advanced at the outset of this essay would have a chance to gain prevalence; those who, accordingly, would prefer an educational experience in which the interests, talents, and values of children are considered as priorities would have the chance to look for and build schools which shared this concern. Such schools would arise (as a matter of mere need) to supply what concerned parents demand. Not unlike the nursery school system we have, an appeal would be made to the public on the basis of the various conceptions of education which educators and administrators have. Communication between parent, child, and teacher would improve. And while all this would presume some degree of rationality on the parts of all concerned, including parents, children, and educators, the element of free choice on all sides would enable rational thought to become more and more pervasive.
Last, though certainly not least, there would be greater diversity of scholarship and ideology. Education, contrary to what some think, cannot be divorced from values. When the State runs education, values have to be suppressed in view of certain obvious fears all democracies have about using State run institutions for purposes of indoctrination. Since, however, one cannot separate fact from value, especially in such fields as history, literature, civics, law, economics, etc., such attempts at suppression must fail and result in deception. Explicit indoctrination is eschewed, though the implicit favoring of certain views of life, morality, religion, politics, law, sexual behavior, etc. is evidenced throughout public education. The hypocrisy which overshadows the system adds to its other flaws and provokes resentment.
Free, (not financially, but politically) private education would make such hypocrisy unnecessary and, therefore, less prevalent. Schools, colleges, and universities could freely admit their commitment to certain views, be they controversial or not. Unlike governmentally run projects, which must refrain from violating the First Amendment, private institutions cannot be prevented by law from voicing their moral, religious, political, or other preferences. And while other sorts of pressures may exist, no doubt, they will be quite different from pressures which are backed by threats of legal punishment. (In a private system no problem about "prayer in school" could exist. Since uniformity is not enforced, changing from one school to another may solve the problem of clashes of values between family and school.) Here again the present nursery school system comes to mind. Such schools openly proclaim their adherence to certain moral, political, and educational values and advise parents of different persuasions to take their children elsewhere.
Ultimately the matter becomes, of course, an issue of one's view of human nature, morality, and the relationship between a citizen and his government. In America it would seem that the suggestion that freedom is better for people than coercion would be well received. Unfortunately, again, things don't always seem as they are.
In order to do full justice to the effects of government financing, running, and assisting of American education, we have to conduct some economic analysis. I am not an economist and will, therefore, like most of us, pick my favorite economists to testify in my behalf. One such economist/political scientist/philosopher is E.G. West of Kent University, England. His book Education and the State and his article "The Political Economy of American Public School Legislation" (in The Journal of Law and Economics, October 1967) give evidence for the contention that neither was private education economically unfeasible, given the goal of providing the educational needs of Americans, when public education first became an established institution in the early 1800s, nor is it the case that private education could not accomplish the task of satisfying education needs today if public education were phased out. Needless to say, authority is not argument, so I would simply wish to claim that there is solid support for the above contention throughout the intellectual community. (Those interested in examining this issue with a view to making fundamental changes in the educational practices found in this country may find the best source The Center for Independent Education, 9115 East 13th, Wichita, Kansas 67206.) Incidentally, the idea that education should be severed from the state entirely was endorsed not only by such radical political philosophers as Ayn Rand, F.A. Harper, E.G. West, Henry M. Levin, Murray N. Rothbard, Herbert Spencer, Albert J. Nock, et al, all of them proponents of laissez-faire capitalism; but Oliver LaFarge (who openly challenged Ex-Harvard President Conant's denunciation of private schooling in The Atlantic Monthly, lvan Illich (who argued in the New York Review of Books for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would prohibit governmental interference with education), Professors Arman Alchian and James Buchanan (who argue again on economic grounds, that private education is better for us) and others, from various sides of the political spectrum, have held that governmental schooling is harmful. Though these individuals may not all be concerned with the overall violation of the principle of individual rights and object to public education incidentally, only, they are concerned, as are libertarians, about the consequences of public education. And these consequences must be measured against the definition of education offered at the outset of this article. What is important, then, ultimately, is whether pupils are being educated; whether schools, colleges, universities, and other educational institutions can provide what people need when they seek education. Ultimately it is the pupil who must be the concern of those interested in education. And by all counts (e.g., at the White House Conference on Children) it is the pupils who are complaining the most. They complain explicitly, though admittedly inarticulately; they complain implicitly, by acting so that one can observe that they have no love for education as it exists today.
I will not attempt to list all the symptoms of the disease. We hardly associate all things with matters I have been discussing; but in the classroom one cannot escape the fact that students are not excited about learning; they consider it a chore; they are in school mostly out of habit or duty or whatever, but rarely because they have developed a love for learning, a desire to cope with various subjects, an anticipation for the challenge of tackling assignments which require intellectual effort. I think the experiences of most educators will bear this out. By the time students reach colleges and universities, the matter becomes almost irreversible. It is often embarrassing for a teacher to do his job because so much time must be spent on "turning people on." The atmosphere of give and take is virtually absent. This is not confined to such schools as junior and teachers' colleges, those, that is, which are traditionally thought to absorb students who are less facilitated in intellectual respects. The major universities are finding this problem to be all pervasive, too. Those who have analyzed the recent upheavals on our campuses do not, I think, do justice to the problems when they blame them on agitators, communists, extremists, extremists, administrators, or any single group. They will do justice to the problems only when they examine the total context of the American student's educational experience.
From the point of view of philosophy, there are a few additional remarks which should be made. First, we must examine our methodology of education. Here advances will depend on our conception of the relationship between pupil and the school. Here the conception of knowledge as a static picture, pieces of information or data, can only work against the task of bringing pupils out of ignorance, though for indoctrination such a conception is appropriate. Knowledge is possible; but it is not something stale and fixed. To acquire knowledge it is necessary that the student's mind be active; it is, perhaps, more important to cultivate the intellectually active feature of the educational process than what it results in, namely the knowledge of facts. Here again removal of politics would work for the good.
Those who argue about whether pure intellectual effort or experience fosters learning are only obscuring the very important fact that neither of these alone can produce anything educationally worthwhile: experience without intellectual participation may produce a mind which works like a camera—it records uninterpreted pictures: at the same time, thinking without paying attention to material about which thinking is to be done produces theoretical machines which cannot be employed in practice. Man needs both his mind and the world in order to know.
It is impossible to end this story, of course. Much work has to be done in order to produce something that will lead to progress in the field of education. At the base of it all, however, must lie concern for the most prominent parts of education, namely pupils capable of learning and teachers bent on teaching. It is these which lie at the center of any fruitful investigation of educational theory. Questions about techniques to be used to promote knowledge of mathematics or about the methods to be pursued to provide any kind of educational services must not lose sight of the purpose of education, namely assisting a young person to become able to lead a fruitful human life.
My views on this matter have been called naive. I appreciate the fears of pragmatists and realists in dealing with hypotheses which are not likely to gain immediate popular support. And no one will argue that the suggestion of freeing education from the State is going to get wide reception among our politicians, academicians, or humanists. The first like to have some control over the population by way of education, though I am sure many believe they are doing noble things forcing kids into schools indiscriminately and forcing people to pay for any or all kinds of schooling equally indiscriminately. The second have really never considered the plausibility of free education—just as some people never even thought of abolishing slavery: were not at least some of the slaves very happy? Humanists—and there are many among politicians and educators—feel that they will hurt the poor by abolishing public education. It is only the latter who, I think, deserve an answer.
Will the poor suffer most from making education private? From what we know about what education does for poor children, taking into account the kind of teachers who teach at poor neighborhood schools, the monies available to such schools, the political football-playing done with such schools, and the time consuming attention the parents at such schools would have to pay to the political maneuverings necessary to be informed about their children's education—in all this and more there is no ground for the contention that privatizing education will hurt the education of poor students, Quite the contrary; it has been argued convincingly that poor children are badly hurt by what compulsory education does for (to) them, on the whole. They are the ones who get most "turned off" to intellectual matters. They become anti-intellectual and hostile toward matters of the mind. One need only consult the books Holt, Silberman, Dennison, and others have written recently to become convinced of this. Actually one need only look at the students of his local elementary and high schools: the poor gain very little, if anything at all. Just ask them.
Furthermore, when we come to colleges, it has been shown that the poor are in fact financing the education of the rich. TransAction magazine—not a right or left wing radical journal—investigated who is funding whose college education, and in California the "superrich" have to pay least, proportionately, while the "superpoor" pay the most when their tax rates and educational costs are tabulated. (See the TRENDS column in this issue). So the humanists may rest assured that no one here is forgetting the poor child; it is, in fact, because of what is happening to him and to all other children and young people that the proposals and suggestions of this article are made.
Perhaps eventually they will be considered seriously and something may even happen that will foster real education in America. As of now, it seems, that many have only learned about the disease—hardly anyone in educational theory expresses satisfaction with the present system. But the political and economic sophistication of educational theorists and administrators is minimal, unfortunately. Instead of urging the freeing of education, many are simply demanding more money and more State intervention. The question is, will they ever seriously examine a truly radical proposal, such as that offered by free market economists and libertarian educational theorists? Or will they simply talk up their dissatisfactions, thereby affecting serious concern without paying serious attention to, the problem?
Tibor R. Machan is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Bakersfield campus of California State College. His articles have appeared in BARRON'S, THE FREEMAN, THE NEW GUARD, and other popular periodicals, as well as in philosophical journals. He co-authored a chapter in THE UNIVERSITY UNDER SIEGE (Los Angeles: Nash Publishing Co., 1971) and has contributed to a book on social and political problems to be published by Harper & Row. He is also editor of REASON.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline ""The Schools Ain't What They Used to Be and Never Was"".