Philosophy of Education, History of
Philosophy of Education, History of
PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION, HISTORY OF
There was probably a time when human culture was transmitted spontaneously from one generation to another. The young of the species cannot survive to maturity unless they assimilate some beliefs about the world, some attitudes toward it, and some skill in solving the practical problems it presents; and the only source from which they can derive this minimal wisdom is the culture of their elders. The tendency to imitate offers a ready-made mechanism for inheritance, and in primitive communities, where benign surroundings allowed a leisurely and spontaneous association with children or where a harsh environment spared no time from the effort to keep soul and body together, the education of the young must have proceeded without much thought or care. In societies that were a little more advanced, the need for instruction in tribal ceremonies and the apprenticeship of sons to fathers and of daughters to mothers may have covered spontaneous education with a thin veil of deliberateness. Still, in uncivilized communities generally, culture must have been passed on without the agency of persons especially devoted to that purpose.
Through time, beliefs accumulate, attitudes grow more diversified, skills become more numerous and more complex. This increase in the volume of culture must have rendered obsolete the deliberate spontaneity of its transmission. Mastering what there was to know required special and enduring effort; teaching others to master it demanded more than a casual supervision of their lives. A culture thus enhanced could find lodgment only in a special class of persons—those who were able to encompass it. And this class—seers, priests, and scholars—must have become its chief dispenser to succeeding generations.
Beginnings in Greece
There are two important consequences of the concentration of culture in the hands of a specialized class. Conscious of their possession, scholars naturally came to ask how it might be improved and purified; and this question led to the beginning of research. Second, because they were held responsible for instruction, both scholars and laymen came to expect that some good purpose should be served by their teaching—that it not only should preserve and extend culture but that teaching should serve some other purpose as well.
The earliest records show that the first of these effects, the beginning of research, began to appear in Europe near the beginning of the sixth century BCE. For a long time, no doubt, the learned had looked upon the things of sensory experience as irreducible constituents of the world and, relying upon ancient religious belief, had explained the origin and changes of those things by reference to the gods who presided over them. Now, however, a torrent of speculation deprived sensory things of their irreducible reality and the gods of their explanatory force. Water, pure matter, air, fire—each was advanced as the ultimate stuff of things by some. Other thinkers preferred a substance which possessed all the qualities of sensory things and that was broken into many small bits. Some regarded sensory things as nothing but atoms moving in the void; others resolved their hitherto independent reality into numbers or mathematical structures. And others, still, saw their independence disappear into the absolute unity that was the only reality. Almost all saw the things of ordinary sensory experience as resulting from natural forces working upon the elements or somehow breaking up the unity. The more ancient wisdom was improved by pointing out that the world was really something different from what it seemed to the senses and by disallowing any explanatory value to myth.
The second effect of the concentration of culture, the desire to serve a higher purpose, began to appear about the middle of the fifth century BCE. The diversity of opinions concerning the nature of things, their origin and change, and related topics, led in some minds to a profound skepticism. Gorgias (c. 480–380 BCE) argued that nothing exists; that if something did, no one could know it; and that if one could know it, he could communicate his knowledge to no one else. Protagoras (c. 490–c. 421 BCE) held that man is the measure of all things. Each concluded that belief is properly an individual concern and that what is good and right is similarly dependent upon individual interests. They did not draw the conclusion that one might do as he pleased, however; they urged, rather, that conformity to custom and convention furthers the interest of the individual person more than flouting does. They and their fellow Sophists moved through the cities of Hellas, giving instruction in the practical arts, in the humane and literary subjects, in rhetoric, in law and politics, and in the more theoretical considerations out of which their natural and egoistic principles grew. They asked a fee for their instruction, and that procedure was an innovation. But an even greater novelty was their view of their own function as teachers—a view of the transmission of culture not for its own sake merely, or for ad hoc purposes, but in order to help their pupils achieve the comprehensive goal of a practically successful life at home, in the court, or in the legislative assembly.
Socrates (c. 470–399 BCE), to judge from Plato's presentation of him, was even more conscious of his mission as a teacher than were the Sophists. He shared their skepticism toward physical and cosmological theories, but unlike them he refused to leave unchallenged any dogmatic trust in conventional morality. In his hands rhetoric became dialectic; and in his teaching the purpose to which the pupils of the Sophists put the former—the persuasion of others to whatever view the speaker finds most useful—became the discovery of truth, in the dialectical search for which all barriers of personal prejudice and social dogma must give way. He was convinced that the human mind could discover the truth about the physical world and about the life of man in it, although he was equally certain that no one had yet achieved this knowledge. His mission as a teacher, he thought, was to free his pupil's mind from confusion and dogma in order that it should be able to find and recognize the truth—especially the truth about the good or virtue. Confusion and dogma would disappear upon examination of the unclear and unfounded ideas that constituted them. Thus, although Socrates' purpose was positive, his teaching often shows a primarily negative aspect. The skepticism and conventionality of the Sophists brought an objective of prudence to their education; but the skepticism and rationality of Socrates gave to his instruction the purpose of a life of virtue whose discovery required a clarification of the ideas involved in ordinary discourse.
Plato (427–347 BCE), influenced by the Sophists as well as by the speculative scientists and metaphysicians and inspired by the instruction of Socrates, gave us the first fully developed philosophy of education—that is, the first explicit, philosophical justification of a theory of education. In his Republic, on the basis of observation, he ascribed to all human beings, but in varying degrees, three distinct abilities: the ability to reason, which seeks the good life, the ability for appetition, which is connected with the body and is somewhat wayward, and the ability to enforce the decisions of reason about what is good against the inclination of appetites. He ascribed to all states, on a similar basis, three functions: that of legislation, that of economic production and distribution, and that of armed enforcement of law and foreign policy.
Plato recommended that education be employed as the chief method of reforming both the individual's character and the state. In a just character each of the three abilities is exercised to the height of its power: Reason recognizes what is good, the appetites freely conform, and the ability to enforce the decisions of reason assures that conformity. In a just state each adult citizen performs that function for which he is best fitted: The highly rational engage in legislation, the predominantly spirited (Plato's name for the ability to enforce reason's decisions about the good) enforce it, and the chiefly appetitive operate the economy. Justice consists in a harmony that results when each part of a thing performs the function proper to it and refrains from interfering with the function of any other part. Reform in individual character and in the state is movement toward personal and social justice.
A system of universal, compulsory, public education from birth to maturity ought to be instituted to bring about this individual and social improvement. All should be taught to read, to write, to count, to appreciate the traditional poetry and drama (highly censored for the young), and to engage in gymnastic exercise. Some should learn the military art, and others should study the sciences and dialectic—the search for the fundamental principle that explains all reality and value. Each student should be tested to discover which ability dominates his soul and should be sent into the state to perform the function appropriate to it when he reaches the limit of his development, which the testing reveals. Thus, each class in the state would be recruited from those best fitted to perform its function. Such a system of education would produce individuals whose souls are as just as their abilities allow and a state whose parts or classes are similarly harmonious.
Plato's philosophical justification of his theory of education consists of three parts. First, he shows that the just state or republic and the just individual are good. For every class of things, there is a Form, or Idea, existing in a supernatural realm, resemblance to which determines the class. The resemblance between a member of the class and its Form is its goodness. The Form for the class of states is that pattern into which the three constituent classes fall when each performs its proper function. The Form for the class of human beings is that pattern into which the parts of the soul fall when each is properly developed. Thus, insofar as a person is just, he is also good, for he resembles the Form of humanity. And insofar as the state is just, it is also good, for it resembles the Form of states. The goodness of a just character and of a just state warrants Plato's recommending them to our efforts.
Besides this ethical support for his recommendations Plato provides a metaphysical explanation for the facts upon which he rests them—the facts of human nature and of society. Every particular falls into some class, and the class is made what it is by virtue of the Form copied by all the members of that class. If we ask, then, why every human being should possess the three abilities (reason, appetite, and spirit) and why every state should perform the three functions (legislation, economic production and distribution, and law enforcement), the answer is that they cannot fail to possess and perform them since exactly that is required by their Forms.
Plato's epistemology gives a third support to his theory of education. First, his contention that we can know only the Forms in their logical connections, coupled with the view that the entire realm of becoming is a copy of that of the Forms, leads to the conclusion that even though knowledge is not an infallible guide to the course of nature it is more useful than mere opinion. In this way he argues that knowledge is useful in the pursuit of justice. He holds, second, that the only method appropriate to acquiring knowledge is that of purely rational inference. Assuming that the method of learning is identical with that of discovering truth, he argues that instruction should follow the path of deduction wherever that is possible.
Plato's philosophy of education resembles in some respects the thought of the metaphysicians and physicists of the fifth and sixth centuries; with them it shares the faith that the human mind can achieve knowledge of what exists. It resembles the thought of the Sophists in its insistence that the world of ordinary sensory experience cannot be known. But of their reliance on conventional morality, it shows no trace at all. Rather, Plato shares with Socrates the conviction that virtue can be known and that it is the business of education to reform conventional morality in its direction.
definition of "philosophy of education."
Plato's work, especially in the Republic, serves as a paradigm of a definition of the phrase "philosophy of education." He sets forth an educational theory—that is, a view about the facts of human nature and society on which are based recommendations about the curriculum, the methods, and the administration of education, regarded as means to the ultimate goal of just and good citizens living in a just and good society. His ethical theory justifies this goal; his metaphysical theory supports the recommendations ancillary to the goal; and his epistemology explains the effectiveness of some of the teaching methods he advocates as well as our capacity to perceive truth generally. "Philosophy of education" means any body of thought like this one—any body of thought that includes a theory of education, an ethics that justifies the goal that the theory adopts, a metaphysics that explains the psychological and sociological parts of the theory of education, and an epistemology that explains why certain methods of teaching and learning are effective and demonstrates our ability to know the truth of any thought whatsoever.
Many philosophies of education do not contain reference to all the subjects with which Plato was concerned. Nonetheless, his reflections on education fix the meaning of the phrase by constituting a model, resemblance to which (at least to some degree and in some respect) allows any body of thought to be called philosophy of education.
After Plato's work, nothing very novel was added to philosophy of education for some seven centuries. There is extant some work of Aristotle's (384–322 BCE), but it is fragmentary and a part of a theory of education rather than a philosophical treatment of such a theory. Epicurus (341–270 BCE) and his followers Zeno of Citium (336?–265? BCE) and the Stoics advocated a tranquility in life—the Epicureans through cultivation of quiet pleasures easily obtained, the Stoics through willing acceptance of the lot for which one is necessarily determined and (among the later members of the school) through a love for all humankind viewed as a brotherhood. But Epicureans and Stoics, as far as we know, themselves developed neither a theory nor a philosophy of education. In the first century CE, Quintilian (c. 35–c. 95) published his Institutio Oratoria (The Training of an Orator ). Quintilian recommends that in his training an orator be given appropriate objectives toward which he can direct his native but unformed impulses. The life of the orator, he dimly suggests, is good because it meets the Stoic requirements of indifference to external circumstance and utility to fellow citizens. His book harks back to the humanistic curriculum of the educator and orator Isocrates (436–338 BCE) and to the Sophists. It was of much influence in later antiquity and again, after its rediscovery, on humanistic education in the Renaissance, but it embodies a theory of education rather than philosophical reflection upon education. Other authors, for example, Plutarch (c. 46–120 CE) and Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullian (c. 160–c. 220), comment on education, but not in a philosophical way.
Although the literature of the Hellenistic age shows little that is new in philosophy of education, two ideas of great importance for change in that philosophy were, nonetheless, gradually coming to dominate men's minds. One is the idea that a chief factor in the good life is obedience to law; the other, that a necessary ingredient in that same life is the happiness of a love that unites all those who obey the law as well as each of them to the lawgiver himself. The Christian ideal of the brotherhood of men under God, their creator, is the expression these ideas assumed, and the movement of Christianity, although influenced by Plato, not to mention Plotinus (205–270), produced a new philosophy of education.
The new philosophy is the work of St. Augustine (354–430). Human nature, according to his view, must be described in terms of substance and faculties influenced by historical forces. Every human being is a combination of body and soul; the soul possesses the faculties of knowing, feeling, and willing. The first enables us to know whatever we sense and remember to have sensed, certain abstract principles which the mind carries within itself, and the world of sensible things as they are ordered by those principles. The faculty of feeling enables us to desire and to feel emotions which center on desires. The faculty of willing enables us to choose from among differing desires those we want to realize—an ability which exercises itself freely and which, when exercised correctly, employs rules of choice that flow from divine commands.
Human nature cannot be accounted for in terms of substance and faculties alone, however. A historical force always determines how these faculties operate. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve used their faculties in the right way—especially their faculty of desire, directing its operation upon what they ought to desire, centering their love on God and on one another in communion with him, and choosing freely to obey his commands whenever the clamor of bodily appetite opposed itself to the right. But from their original sin, of which the Fall was a natural consequence, flows the force which determines their descendants to act as sinfully as they—to choose freely to disobey God's command by selecting egoistic and carnal desires for realization. Human nature must be painted in terms of substance and faculties corrupted by early events in human history.
Human society is constituted by the direction of the activities of its members toward a single goal, but, like the human soul, it cannot be understood merely in terms of this abstract function. The unity of purpose that in principle constitutes the family, the city, the empire, and the community of humans and angels is disrupted by inherited self-seeking. Another historical force determines two other communities—the city of earth and the city of God—each of which is reflected in the four just mentioned. The advent of Christ signifies God's wish to enable men, despite their sinfulness, to merit salvation. The city of earth is made up of those who refuse to believe in Christ's mission and to repent; its members will not be saved. The city of God is composed of those who believe in that mission and feel genuine repentance; its members will enter upon eternal communion with God after the day of judgment.
The ultimate objective of education grows out of the corruption of human nature and God's concern over it. Like the ultimate objective of the church, that of education is conversion and repentance. On the elementary level the curriculum should be the seven liberal arts—a program of studies prefigured by Plato's curriculum; on the advanced level it should consist in philosophy and theology. The method appropriate to the lower level involves censorship and the prevention of idleness in order to stifle sinful desires. The liberal arts should be taught in an authoritative manner because not all who seek elementary instruction are sufficiently rational to know the truth and since no more than belief is required for salvation. On the higher level, authority gives way to proof since those who advance thus far are able to achieve knowledge. The liberal arts, coupled with religious worship and instruction, ensure correct belief about the nature and order of the universe and about God's relation to man; philosophy and theology show the more able—those destined for the hierarchy of the church—why those beliefs are true.
Augustine's philosophical reflections upon his theory of education stem from his conception of God. He advances, first, a theory of language according to which every word means what it names, and every sentence, the combination of things named by its component words. He concludes that since on this theory no one can tell someone else what he does not already know, each man must learn for himself by consulting things as they are illuminated in a light of divine origin. Teaching is not informing; it is reminding others or ourselves of the knowledge supplied by God.
Second, from the concept of God flows the justification of the objective of education. The goodness of each created thing consists in its resemblance to the idea held before God's mind as the pattern for its creation; this idea is its exemplar. The exemplar for men is the obedience to God's commands and love for him and for one another in him that gave perfection to life before the Fall. To be happy is to possess what one wants at the time of wanting it; since God is the only eternal thing, he is the only dependable object of desire. To be happy is to illustrate the exemplar for man, and conversion, the objective for education, consists in achieving that condition.
Augustine finds in God, also, a metaphysical explanation of human nature and society. In the first moment God created everything either in actuality or in potentiality. All history—each person's repentance or failure to repent, each society's deeds, both good and bad—is the unfolding of what was first merely potential; what happens is what must happen because of the initial creation and God's all-comprehending providence. Human nature and society must be corrupt; hence, conversion must be the ultimate purpose of education.
Later medieval thought
During the centuries that followed the death of Augustine the interest in another world became so dominant that education diminished in importance, and reflection upon it very nearly ceased. Attention was centered on the otherworldly results of repentance or its failure at the expense of training for terrestrial existence; and so dogmatic was the assurance of the need for conversion that any effort to justify this objective appeared useless if not impious. The clergy, then Europe's teacher, offered a meager training to those working toward holy orders and some understanding of religious ritual to the laity. But the transmission of culture diminished greatly. The widespread acceptance of the otherworldly objective of education stifled philosophical reflection upon it. Comment on education is found in the writings of the Venerable Bede (673?–735), of Alcuin (735–804), and of Hrabanus Maurus in the early ninth century; but they are at most casual and at least unphilosophical. Thomas Aquinas (1224?–1274) devoted some systematic attention to the philosophy of education, but his chief contribution to it concerns not the objective of training but the nature of teaching—a discussion which continues the thought of Augustine on that subject.
With the Renaissance came a revival of interest in ancient learning and a recognition of value in terrestrial life. In accord with this change of outlook some writers assigned to education an egoistic and prudential purpose like that of the Sophists. Reformationist thought—at least in Martin Luther's case—demanded universal, compulsory, state-controlled education in order that religion should be national and God's word available directly to all. Ignatius Loyola (1491–1556), through the Society of Jesus, established a widespread system of schools and universities; and in 1599 the society established a plan of education for them (ratio studiorum ) that exercised much influence on Catholic education. But Reformationist and Counter-Reformationist literature reveals much more polemic and dogma than philosophical reflection upon education.
In the seventeenth century, philosophical reflection upon education began anew, and its history from that time to the present is that of the gradual secularization and naturalization of the Christian objective assigned to education by Augustine. The work of John Amos Comenius (1592–1670) begins this process. (In particular, see his The Great Didactic and The Way of Light. )
Like Augustine, Comenius holds that human nature is corrupted by inherited sin, but he also asserts that it is capable of absolute perfection. The soul contains the possibilities of erudition (perfect knowledge), of virtue (adherence to the rules of right conduct), and of piety (love of God, the author of humankind). Like Augustine, Comenius viewed history as a decline from innocence, but he held, nonetheless, that there is a zigzag pattern in history, leading to an age of perfect terrestrial existence before the last judgment devoid of international strife and ruled over by Christ. In this last age the possibilities in the human soul realize themselves in perfect knowledge, virtue, and piety, and all societies unite in a single international brotherhood. The reward for striving after this perfection is immortal blessedness. Comenius held that a system of public, universal, state-supported schools, from childhood to maturity, should further the full actualization of the soul's possibilities and assist history toward its goal. The curriculum should constitute a cyclical development from the simple and abstract elements of science, art, language, literature, and religion to their complex and concrete forms. The methods of instruction should consist in the uniform application to the young of the human species of principles observed in the development of the young of other species, both plant and animal.
Comenius's philosophical reflection on his theory of education centers, like Augustine's, around the notion of God. God made humankind in his own image, and, because God is perfect, humans may become so as well. To achieve perfect knowledge is to make perfectly clear to ourselves the things our sensations reveal and to order them according to innate principles which reason brings to light. To perfect conduct is to identify the rule of one's will with a command of God, and to perfect piety is to love God in one's obedience to him. Human nature and human history find a metaphysical explanation in divine providence, which manifests itself through the opposed forces of light and darkness. The business of education is to perfect individuals in the three ways mentioned. It also makes the personal life of each human being perfectly Christian and aids history in its progress toward final social perfection.
Late in the seventeenth century, not long after Comenius, John Locke (1632–1704) published Some Thoughts concerning Education. In this book, in An Essay concerning Human Understanding, and in Second Treatise of Civil Government, he carried further the secularization of the objective of education started by Comenius. With Augustine and Comenius, Locke held that man is free, but in opposition to them he denied that man is inherently sinful by virtue of his racial history. Each person is a mental substance joined to a bodily substance, as Augustine asserted; mental activity, however, can be described wholly without reference to substance, in terms of two faculties, understanding and will. The faculty of understanding enables man both to know and to desire, but what man knows is determined by the ideas his environment allows to enter his mind, and what he desires is determined by the objectives his environment supplies to a few native instincts. The second faculty is the will, and its exercise consists in choosing desires for realization where they conflict.
Society in the state of nature is based on a natural division of labor and on the need to care for offspring. In that state the original "common" of the world was largely transformed into private property, and the function of primitive society was to enforce natural law, or the law of God according to which private property ought to be respected. Disputes inevitably arose, and, since everyone possessed the power to enforce the law of nature, they often could not be settled amicably. Political society came into existence as a guarantee against such disputes. It is based upon a contract or agreement between the community and others according to which each member of the community agrees not to exercise his power to enforce natural law provided that the others who constitute the government will exercise it for him. It follows that the exercise of governmental power is legitimate only where it protects private-property rights. A government of the kind instituted after the Glorious Revolution, having popular representation, Parliamentary determination of the sovereign, majority rule, and separation of legislative from executive power, Locke held, is best suited for achieving this objective because it can most efficiently check unnecessary governmental activity.
The purpose of education is to produce people who will advance the happiness of the community. They must be of good character and properly disposed toward learning. Good character consists in the habits of acting virtuously, prudently, and with good breeding. The proper disposition toward learning is not possession of it but an esteem for it and the habit of acquiring it when the need arises. These habits and dispositions can best be acquired by a tutorial education at home, by a method of pitting one instinctual desire against another in order to establish them, and by presentation of clear and distinct ideas to the pupil in the order and connection possessed by their objects. In both moral and intellectual training one should appeal to the interests of the child, bring him to learn for himself, and give public approbation to his success. The child who will benefit from such instruction and who will contribute to the happiness of the community is the son of landed gentry, who can look forward to a place in government. The poor should be given sufficient education to make them religious and self-supporting.
The production and maintenance of a good society is the chief objective of Locke's theory of education. Such a society is one in which men find pleasure or happiness in the performance of duty, and Locke's ethical reflection endeavors to justify this conception of the good life. Duty is obedience to natural law as embodied in civil law concerning the protection of private property. Like all moral principles, it can be known with certainty to be valid; it can be demonstrated from the ideas of God, of his creature man, and of the relation between them. The moral and intellectual training of the gentleman will cause him to find his pleasure in doing his duty; the exercise of this duty through government as well as through more informal social controls will spread a similar happiness throughout all levels of society.
Locke's theory of knowledge led him to conclude that we can be perfectly certain of any proposition whose truth we can intuit, demonstrate, or perceive through our senses or through our memory of such perception. Since the validity of duty can be demonstrated, we can know that it is right to perform it; and in this way, his emphasis on moral education is justified. Since the theory holds that we can know very little of the sensible world—only what we remember having perceived through our senses or are now perceiving through them—the de-emphasis of intellectual pursuits is also justified. We must accept many propositions about nature on faith or as merely probable; hence, we do not need to busy the heads of the young with any detailed consideration of them.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) advanced three distinct philosophies of education; in the most influential of the three he varied the social theme found in Locke's thought. In his discussion of a new constitution for Poland he advocated a highly nationalistic program on the ground that where a nation's institutions are in good health, education should support and renew them. In Émile, he set forth a program appropriate to women, holding that their education should give them charm, ability for household management, and thorough-going dependence on their husbands in matters not pertaining to the home. But the major part of Émile deals with the education of gentlemen, embodies a theory of education that has exerted much influence upon educational practice, and assigns to education a social ideal quite as secular and political as Locke's but applied in an altogether different way.
Rousseau described human nature, as did Locke, as independent of historical influences and as initially perfectly innocent. A human being is a substance with faculties—those of pleasure and pain, of sense, of reason, of desire and emotion, and of will. These faculties emerge clearly at different stages in the life of the individual according to a general pattern, and the personality is more or less stable according as the newly emerged faculty is made to harmonize with the exercise of others already established. Despite the general pattern, each individual differs from others and must achieve stability through a procedure adapted to his own case.
In the early history of humankind there was no society. Men were independent and therefore equal. With improvement in techniques of hunting, fishing, and farming, they acquired property; with property, they acquired families, differentiation of economic function, interdependence, and inequality. As society became more complex, greed, ambition, and deliberate selfishness entered the soul; in time, men developed government and law in order to protect the property of the wealthy against one another's greed and against the greed of the poor. Inequality is fixed in the structure of eighteenth-century society and is due for removal by revolutionary action.
Rousseau presented detailed recommendations for educating gentlemen to live happily in these circumstances. They differ for each stage of development, but he urged that in all the child must learn for himself through personal observation of and active participation in the world of nature and society. A tutor who devotes his entire career to one pupil should attend to the pupil's individual interests and instruct him by rousing those interests into activity. The young man who completed this education would have enjoyed to the full each of the stages in his development and would be possessed of a strong body and stable mind. This stability would consist in his possessing no desire for whose realization he did not also possess the requisite power. It would make him neither learned nor urbane, but it would lead him to adopt a rural life in which he could survive the social storm Rousseau anticipated.
Rousseau advanced three criteria for knowledge: sensory experience of the consequences of action, the dictates of the heart, and practical utility. The first he transformed into a method of instruction—the method of letting the child experience for himself the consequences of acting upon his ideas in order to learn what is true about nature and society. The second he employed to warrant his inclusion in education of a considerable amount of simple religious doctrine. The third he relied upon to exclude from education a great deal of philosophy and other literature that he found devoid of practical consequence.
Rousseau's metaphysical reflection led him to hold that all of nature, including men's bodies and their actions, is governed by law but that since duty often requires one to act in ways other than those determined by this law, there is a supernatural realm in which duty presides. To act according to duty is to use the right rule for selecting one desire from among many as a basis for action, and since this selection and realization runs counter to nature, we must be exercising free will when we act rightly.
Rousseau's thought about morality concluded with the view that the good life is one in which there is neither the shallowness of desires that have been multiplied to match excess in power nor the discontent of an excess of power over desires but the happiness which occurs when power to fulfill desires equals the desires one harbors and is exercised to realize only those which are in accord with duty—a view not unlike Locke's. Duty Rousseau understood in terms of the general will. This is the welfare of the nation as opposed to the corporate will, or the welfare of a smaller group, and to the particular will, or the welfare of the individual.
It is our duty to act for the general will where that is possible. But in the major nations of Europe all institutions have been subverted to the service of corporate and particular wills. The social contract (which is, whatever the historical account of it may be, the agreement to act in accord with duty rather than for some lesser goal) has been betrayed by those in authority. Consequently, the ideal of duty cannot serve as the purpose of education generally. The realization or preservation of one's own will must be put in its place. In this way Rousseau justified the individualistic effort at internal peace that informs the theory of education with which he was most concerned.
The educational proposals of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746–1827), unlike those of Rousseau, whom he greatly admired, bear no trace of direct revolutionary inclinations. But he had a warm sympathy for the downtrodden, and he advocated education for all as a condition of social reform. By his example and his books he contributed greatly to the common-school movement in Europe and America. The influence of Rousseau on his thought is evident chiefly in Pestalozzi's insistence on treating children in ways appropriate to the process of development through which they all must pass.
This process exhibits three stages. The contents of the child's mind are at first blurred and indistinct. Next, objects stand out in consciousness characterized by explicit forms and qualities. Last, these objects are understood as examples of general concepts; they are, to use Pestalozzi's word, defined. Throughout the process the person is himself active in securing and clarifying images and in transforming them into ideas that contain knowledge. Each child should be dealt with in accord with the place he occupies in this threefold process, and a major part of teaching consists in enabling him to work out for himself his own knowledge or definition of things.
Knowledge always contains three elements: the number of things known, the form they exhibit, and the language that embodies them. Pestalozzi concluded that learning must start with the elements into which each of these may be analyzed. The elements of number are units, and arithmetic (operations with units) must be mastered in order to understand number. Form Pestalozzi seems to have thought of as visual and tactual; its elements, consequently, are lines, angles, curves, etc. The student must understand these elements before he can understand form. The elements of language are ultimately letters, and the mastery of language depends on mastering their spoken and written forms.
Pestalozzi set forth detailed methods for teaching the elements of number, form, and language. They grew out of those he thought natural to a mother's dealings with her children. In the family situation a mother can know in what stage of development each of her children finds himself; she can teach him to count, to draw, and so on, through use and observation of ordinary materials in the context of the economic employment, such as spinning and weaving, in which the family engages; and she can assure herself that he comes to perceive objects clearly and to define them for himself according as his stage of growth permits. These methods, directed toward enabling each child to acquire knowledge based on his own perception (Anschauung ) of things, Pestalozzi thought could be employed in a school situation. The schools he operated in Switzerland, taking the Swiss village family as their model, attracted imitators from many parts of Europe and America.
Besides knowledge of things, teaching should bring children to a knowledge of skills which exhibit their physical or motor capacities as knowing does their intellectual abilities; and Pestalozzi thought that the performance of deeds could be analyzed into elements just as knowledge could. He was convinced that learning how to do things required the mastery of elementary motions, just as coming to know required the mastery of the elements of number, form, and language. The teaching of morality and religion—more important than that of knowledge and skill—involved transferring the child's feelings of dependence on the mother to other persons in society and to God. But Pestalozzi's treatment of the development of the motor and moral capacities is not so detailed and clear as his discussion of the education of the intellect although he insisted upon the inseparable unity of the three capacities.
The direct influence of Pestalozzi on philosophy of education is negligible. He was not interested in it. Still, his schools and his writings on the theory of education strongly influenced some who were.
Pestalozzi's younger contemporary Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852) spent several years working in one of Pestalozzi's schools. Froebel was also much given to philosophical reflection, upon which, he thought, the theory and practice of schools depended—especially that of the kindergarten, which he invented almost single-handed.
Froebel's speculations found the goal of education in the full and integrated development of all the powers of the individual and in the internal harmony, as well as the harmonious relations with society, nature, and God, that this development assures. This goal cannot be imposed upon the student; he must achieve it for himself through activities expressive of the powers he harbors. One who has accomplished the goal exhibits a steadiness and solidity of character that gives him integrity in all situations and the intellectual habits (not a store of remembered facts) that enable him to acquire knowledge when necessary.
The process by which this goal may be reached, the process of education, consists in the unfolding of what is present in infancy. Each person is like a plant, and as a plant develops toward a given stage of maturity, so the life of each human being consists in the filling out, through increase of varied detail, of a pattern present from the start. This process is also one of increasing clarity of self-expression and culminates in a clear consciousness of the self. The development of the individual is altogether continuous, and the stages of infancy, childhood, boyhood, youth, and maturity into which it is divided are characterized not by the emergence of novelties, as Rousseau had suggested, but by an increase of clarity in consciousness of the tendencies present in all.
Froebel worked out methods of education in accord with this view of individual development. The methods applicable in the earlier stages should merely enable spontaneous expression of the pupil's self; methods applicable to the later stages should supervise and direct that development. His treatment of the stage of childhood amounts to the nearly single-handed invention of the kindergarten—an institution that spread quickly, especially throughout the United States. His treatment of boyhood involved considerable innovation in the methods, materials, and curriculum of elementary schools.
In the first stage, the infant should be nurtured and cared for. In the second, the senses and language develop, and the child's tendencies toward this development should be permitted free expression. Play is the most important method for this expression. Froebel invented various apparatus (called "gifts") to serve as educative toys; introduced activities (called "occupations"), such as drawing and clay modeling, which, along with the gifts, develop sense perception; emphasized song and spontaneous conversation to develop language and prescribed games, often played in a circle (to which figure he attached cosmic if obscure significance), to develop the sociality inherent in the child.
The stage of boyhood should be developed by instruction. The boy is becoming self-conscious; in order to develop steadiness of character, he should participate in the administration of the school through school government. The study of nature, stories, learning in groups, family work, making things—all these further steadiness of character and habits of intellectual readiness. Froebel insisted that instruction, the direction of development, should not aim at the practically useful but at that self-consciousness of integrated and developed powers which is the proper objective of individual and social evolution. About the stages of youth and maturity Froebel had little comment.
Froebel saw education—the early, spontaneous, and the later, but directed, unfolding of the essential powers of each individual—in a metaphysical setting, tinged with mysticism, obscurantism, and incoherence and indebted heavily to the absolute idealism of his day. The Absolute embraces everything and is continually evolving as force in nature and as mind in man. This cosmic evolution proceeds from action to reaction to equilibrium, from simple to complex, from unconsciousness to self-consciousness. Froebel identifies the Absolute with God and its evolution with his creation. Everything has a purpose that unifies it and that binds it into larger organic wholes, by virtue of evolution or creation. The evolution of the Absolute is reflected in miniature in that of humanity. The human race has developed through five stages, and the life of each individual reflects this racial and cosmic evolution. Education, Froebel thought, ought to enable this process to fulfill itself in each person without hindrance. It ought to be the minister to individuals of a cosmic and racial evolution.
The best life for man is the fullest realization of a consistent will—the consciousness of the best self that he can develop. This self-consciousness is awareness of purposes inherent in him; in becoming aware of them, man becomes free. Evil is the distortion by some external factor of a tendency native to the self; all tendencies are naturally good if allowed to develop into self-conscious, harmonious freedom. Although some education should direct, the fundamental early education is chiefly negative; that is, preventive of external obstruction to the development of natural tendencies.
Froebel's metaphysical and ethical doctrines inspired him to activity that had enormous practical effect upon the schools directly, and while the chief influence on his thought lies in the practical work of Pestalozzi, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) influenced it indirectly, at least through the pervasive effect of his theories on German thought in general.
The impact on educational theory of the work of Pestalozzi and Froebel was an emphasis on developing individuality in the student, and this impact may be traced to the thought of Rousseau. In the work of Kant a greater optimism than Rousseau's gave a less individualistic objective to education.
Kant conceived of human nature in terms of three faculties: cognition, which organizes sensory elements into the orderly world of experience; desire, which exercises itself in an instinctive effort at lawless, egoistic domination over others; and will, which selects desires for realization according to a rule. Human society grows out of the exercise of these faculties. The instinctual desire for domination leads to conflict between individuals; the faculty of cognition yields knowledge about how this conflict can be avoided—by association in republics; and the will leads to actual societies of this kind for mutual protection. But between republics conflict breaks out anew; and in order to avoid it, these states tend to unite in a peaceful international community. This community is the natural result of the unimpeded development of human faculties; and since we must believe that all things develop their capacities fully, we must believe that it stands at the end of historical progress.
It is the ultimate objective of education not to advance the welfare of individual students, but to promote the realization of the peaceful international state as the embodiment of human perfection. Accordingly, teachers should not regard the economic or other success of their charges but should center attention upon the fullest possible development of their faculties. This development can be assured by supplying to the cognitive faculty the general truths it should use to organize sensory elements into nature as we experience it, by rigorously disciplining the faculty of desire in order to eliminate the instinct for lawless behavior, and by enabling the will freely to use the right rules in organizing the remaining desires. The result of such instruction will be a perfected character and intellect, which, through the progress of generations, will assist history to realize the educational ideal.
Kant's ethical theory supplies a criterion for the kind of conduct which makes the international state possible. It is conduct which embodies rules that can be generalized without absurdity—rules which fit into the famous "categorical imperative." "Break your promise when you wish to" is not such a rule; for if instead of applying it to your own desires alone, you try to imagine all persons using it in selecting some for realization, the notion of a promise completely disappears. The rule degenerates into the nonsensical "Break a promise which no one ever takes to be a promise when you wish to." "Always keep your promise" is a necessary moral rule, and like all rules which fit the categorical imperative it is so because we cannot imagine the generalization of its opposite without imagining something rationally absurd. In the international state the character of each person will be so perfected that each will act upon such a rule when it is necessary to make a moral choice. Thus, the state will be both realized and preserved. Kant's philosophy of morals, in this way, clarifies part of the notion of an ideal social order which education should subserve.
Kant's metaphysics makes a great deal of the distinction between two realms—the realm of things we can experience, or phenomena, and the realm of things which transcend experience, or noumena. Following Rousseau, Kant held that human beings dwell in both realms and that in the former their desires and actions are determined by natural laws, whereas in the latter they are governed by right rules or duties. To act rightly requires that a person freely employ a right rule and that he not act in a way determined by a law of nature. Hence, whenever one acts rightly he acts as a free citizen of the noumenal world—he freely applies a rule to his desires to decide which one to act upon. This proposition of Kant's ethical theory illumines his method of training the will; that is, his method of preventing the growth of habit and of requiring that children freely adopt a rule in some hypothetical situation of choice.
Kant's views about history provide a goal for his theory of education, and his ethical and metaphysical theories explain part of that ideal and the method proposed for arriving at it.
Rousseau's despair of achieving the national welfare led him to advocate the cultivation of individual self-sufficiency; and while it was no part of their theories, the effect of the work of Pestalozzi and of Froebel was to further attention to the individual student in the practice of education. Kant's enthusiasm for international well-being led him to advocate a future achievement for the entire race through the fostering of universal faculties rather than through the development of individuality. Enthusiasm for national existence as opposed both to individuality and to internationalism brought Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) to advocate an objective more like the one Rousseau would have recommended if he had been more hopeful about the national institutions of his day.
Addressing the German people during the subjection of Prussia to Napoleon Bonaparte, Fichte urged that education be used to unite all Germans in a state that, through purity of race and character, would lead the world. Education was the only independent action allowed by the French; if all German children were separated from their parents, reared in a partially self-governing community in which each individual might learn directly the responsibilities of citizenship, taught through the energizing force of interest rather than by reward and punishment, and thus prepared for an adult life of wholehearted and unswerving duty, this possibility of independent action could be turned to the advantage of all Germany. It would lead to the creation of a reformed and unified German state, devoted to the right, and worthy (unlike others) of world dominance. This nationalistic objective of his somewhat fanciful proposals Fichte might have supported by his view that the best state is highly authoritarian—one in which the fulfillment of each man's duty to work is made possible by the state's provision of the opportunity and compensation for work and the complete control of the economy required by that guarantee. This socialistic ideal, in turn, he might have supported by his view that the physical world must be understood as the means and medium by use of which and in which duty becomes embodied in fact. This view is consonant with his metaphysical idealism, according to which the ego posits itself and its objects for the purpose of doing what it ought—a position Fichte developed out of his criticism of Kant's doctrine concerning noumena.
Like Fichte, Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776–1841) gave much thought to the doctrine of noumena; but unlike him, he arrived at a kind of realism, to be described later, opposed to the metaphysical idealism Fichte, G. W. F. Hegel, and others made current in the Germany of his day. He relied upon it to advance an objective of education which assigns importance both to individuality and to sociality—both to being a person of the best possible sort and to being a citizen of the best possible society.
There are five criteria, the "moral ideas," all of which must be exhibited by a person with the best possible character and a society of the best possible sort. Applied to a person, the first two of these ideas are relations between his will and other aspects of his character, while the last three are relations between his will and other persons. When one knows what he wills and approves of it, he is "inwardly free," and inward freedom is the only freedom men enjoy. When one's will is strong, directed toward many things, or "many-sided," and constituted by inclinations toward objectives systematically ordered by the teleological relations they bear to one another, he possesses "perfection." When one directs his will toward enabling the wills of others to be realized, for the sake of that realization rather than for his own benefit, he is "benevolent." The remaining two ideas apply not to wills alone but to the embodiment in action of one person's will with respect to others. When several persons deliberately live according to a principle or law, thus preventing conflict, each individual acts "rightly"; and when a person willfully benefits or harms another, the idea of "equity" or "requital" requires that a corresponding benefit or injury be visited upon the doer of the deed.
A society—a political state or group of any kind—to which the five moral ideas apply is one in which law prevails because of the general relinquishment of rights whose exercise leads to conflict; one in which there is a system of rewards which makes requital to each citizen for that relinquishment; one in which an administrative system exhibits benevolence by assuring to all the greatest satisfaction of will; one in which many interests or wills, both individual and collective, find coherent realization or perfection in a cultural system; and one in which the society, being "inwardly free," knows its own will and approves of it—a trait that requires a soul for society not unlike that of the individual person.
Assuming that if the individuals in a group acquire the moral ideas the group will also, Herbart holds that the immediate objective of education is to produce individuals who exhibit them; and the production of such persons consists in the appropriate use of truths of psychology. These truths describe the relations of ideas or representations, and Herbart is distinguished in the history of psychology as having been among the first to have endeavored to state those relations in a rigorous, mathematical way. He regarded the propositions of his psychology as based on introspection and as justified by metaphysical reflection. Released from its technical form, his psychology may be stated, in part, as follows.
Each idea, Herbart held, endeavors to preserve itself and succeeds in that endeavor to some degree, that is, is itself, more or less. The degree of its success depends upon its relations to other ideas, and these are of three kinds: of opposition, of mere dissimilarity, and of similarity. Red and blue (not-red) are opposed to each other, and short of some third idea that combines them, such as the idea of a substance red on one surface and blue on another, they cannot both be present in the same consciousness. Red and circular are merely dissimilar; consequently, they may both present themselves either in combination in a red circle or in simple juxtaposition or may be present separately. A red rose and a red apple are similar ideas; consequently, one may come to be attached to the other. The effort of each idea to preserve itself—an effort which cannot be completely canceled—succeeds insofar as we are conscious of the idea. The greater the success, the greater is the clarity of our awareness of it; the less the success, the dimmer our consciousness of it. But the degree of the success of any idea depends upon the aid and attack it sustains from others; so that the clarity or obscurity of any idea—its place with respect to the threshold that separates conscious from unconscious ideas (a piece of psychological apparatus made current by Herbart)—depends upon the context of other ideas in which it occurs. Where they oppose it and are stronger than it is, it disappears into unconsciousness and becomes an unconscious impulse, striving to emerge into consciousness the moment it is not prevented by the occurrence there of its stronger opposites. Where the context includes merely dissimilar ideas, it may remain in consciousness, but not for long. The flux of experience will soon bring ideas into consciousness that will drive it down into the dark through opposition or keep it in the light by uniting with it through similarity. Where other ideas are similar, they come to its aid, forming a strong union that, so long as it remains, draws to itself its similars, inward from new sensory perceptions and upward from the storehouse of unconscious old sensations. Such a union of ideas is an "apperceptive mass" or "circle of thought"—another piece of psychological apparatus Herbart helped to make current. The psychology upon which Herbart based his educational procedures informs us that new pieces of information can be mastered only insofar as they become united with some apperceptive mass of ideas and that insofar as they are not so united, they are transformed into unconscious strivings, able to present themselves to consciousness only when a lack of their opposites there allows it or the presence of their similars there draws them up into it.
A person consists of ideas that dwell on two levels. On the level of consciousness he is a succession of ideas, each of which originates either in physiological activity or in sensation and quickly unites with some apperceptive mass or is pressed down into unconsciousness by the success of others striving to occupy consciousness. On the level of unconsciousness are all the ideas whose weakness or whose lack of similarity to those in consciousness chains them in that dark domain. On the level of consciousness the succession of ideas is punctuated by acts of attention. These are simply ideas in which we are, more or less, completely "absorbed." Some, like loud sounds, are involuntary; others, like highly discriminated shades of color or purposefully held thoughts, are voluntary. As objects of attention these ideas are isolated, but they either quickly become unconscious or acquire "meaning" and connection by drawing up into consciousness those "circles of thought," or apperceptive masses of similar ideas, in whose context they acquire significance. An idea attended to much or clearly, together with its circle of thought, is an interest—a desire to bring into existence that which it represents in some future time. The apperceptive mass to which the idea belongs, together with the relations of that mass to others, presents a framework for its suppression, its mere entertainment, or its realization and makes it a desire rather than a free-floating fancy—a part of the person rather than a casual caprice. An act of will is a desire together with the intention that what it refers to should occur. The ego is the central point of the person—the present idea from which memories radiate into the past, interests (desires, acts of will, etc.) into the future, and to which entire apperceptive masses are drawn from the domain of the unconscious or forced down into it.
Ideas, thus arranged and centered, exhaust the person as an introspectible entity. They result from the exercise of no faculties (Herbart seems both to have used this concept and to have declared it nonsignificant), for the soul possesses none. To think of something, to desire it, to will it, to have a feeling toward it—all this is nothing but, in different ways, to be conscious of an idea as connected with others.
Herbart's view of the nature of a person provided him with a method of education which became widespread both in theory and in practice. Education, he held, is instruction, and instruction should consist in four steps. (His followers made them five, prefixing "preparation" for it to "presentation" of an idea.) First, the idea or information to be learned must be "presented" to the student's clear attention; second, the idea thus presented must be allowed to draw up from the student's unconsciousness all ideas whatsoever whose similarity attracts them to it; third, through comparison most of these associations should be eliminated in favor of those which give the idea its proper meaningfulness in a circle of thought; last, to strengthen the idea's bonds in that circle, the student should be brought to "apply" the idea to new situations. This procedure, based upon the flux of ideas from the center of attention into the apperceptive mass to which they belong, gives the student mastery over new information; and mastery, or the ability to reproduce ideas, is the purpose of instruction.
To instruct a person is to construct him; since feelings, desires, etc., are all ideas, providing the student with ideas is providing him with all the materials of personality. But the instructor, by arranging the conditions in which the student acquires new ideas, determines not merely the materials out of which he is formed but also the organization or form those materials assume. And a person, as we have seen, is simply ideas organized in a certain way.
But education is not merely the construction of a person; it is also the effort to construct one who exhibits the five moral ideas. Herbart refers to this aim as the production of "character," and he deals chiefly with the production of "perfection," or "many-sidedness." If the child's attention is called to many things in his own experience, and if the store of this experience is supplemented vicariously through communication with other persons—a communication based on sympathy with them—his interests will naturally become numerous, and by control of the natural mechanism of apperception, well organized and strong. Perfection of will or character, tinged with an inevitable individuality, is a necessary ingredient in the objective of education, but it is also essential to sensible choices in adult life.
Herbart advanced a metaphysical view as a ground for his psychology. Reality is neither mental, as the prevalent idealism held, nor physical in the sense of being extended in space and time. Its characteristics are quite unknowable except for those of being independent of our minds and composed of perfectly simple entities (Realen ), not unlike the monads of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. These simple reals conflict with one another from time to time, and on such occasions, there occurs an effort on the part of each to preserve itself from destruction. In a body, this act of self-preservation is its state; in a soul, such an act of self-preservation is an idea that represents, so far as that is possible, the attacking entity. Being simple, the soul cannot engage in more than one act at once; hence the struggle of ideas against one another and the inevitable fall into unconsciousness or into the unity of some apperceptive mass.
The ethical theory by which Herbart justified the five moral ideas as the standard for personal and social existence is one which holds that moral judgments are a species of aesthetic judgments. As such, they neither need nor can be given justification. The human taste prefers persons and societies that live up well to the five ideas, but the validity of the standard by which they are measured is still nothing different in kind from the taste we enjoy for music, painting, and the natural landscape.
j. s. mill
In determining the objective for education, John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) disregarded several distinctions emphasized by his predecessors. He ignored the distinction between national and international well-being, speaking of society without qualification, and he argued that individual and social interests might be identified. But his work resembles that of Herbart in some ways: He endeavored to make use of psychology to achieve his educational objective, and the psychology he employed, although it regarded the elements of the mind in a different way, attributed relations to them—those of association—not altogether unlike those Herbart thought he had found.
Mill conceived of a human being in terms of a body and mind, but although they occur in his thought he scarcely makes use of the ideas of substance and of faculty in understanding human nature. The body, with the help of external things, determines what our sensations are like, and it harbors physiological structures which cause us to find activities and things of certain kinds instinctually pleasant or painful. The mind is a series of sensations and ideas with attendant feelings and emotions, held together by connections of an associative kind. Conscious elements are connected in these ways when they have been associated in past experience in certain circumstances. Under these conditions, when one element recurs in consciousness it brings its associates with it. The conditions of association are never repeated from one person to another; hence, every human being is unique.
In his Utilitarianism Mill holds that the best society is one in which there is the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. He understands happiness as constituted by pleasure properly proportioned between higher and lower activities, individual self-realization, and fulfillment of duty.
The chief purpose of education is to bring individuals closer to this social ideal. Careful attention to the content of the curriculum can develop the proper proportion between higher and lower desires and consequently between higher and lower pleasures. The method of instruction can ensure individual self-realization by making room for free discussion and personal discovery of truth. The most difficult task is so to associate egoistic pleasures with fulfillment of duties as to connect them in all subsequent experience. The success of this effort will be a person who finds pleasure in doing what he ought even though doing so involves personal sacrifice. Compulsory elementary education for all and higher education for those who can benefit from it will go a long way toward a society in which happiness is at its maximum.
Mill supported his theory of education by providing a justification of the utilitarian ideal by a theory of meaning according to which free discussion of the consequences of our ideas is the best way to make their meaning clear and by a theory of knowledge according to which we can, by using his famous canons of empirical inquiry, come to be perfectly certain about the sequences of things in nature whose use enables the development of that type of character which will advance the good society.
Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) advanced as the objective for education a life for the individual suffused with pleasure and as full as possible. Its fullness consists in the satisfaction of five kinds of interests, listed here in order of decreasing importance: those pertaining to one's own preservation directly, to it indirectly as does making one's living to begetting and rearing a family, to political and social affairs, and to aesthetic enjoyments. The only knowledge that enables the adequate satisfaction of these interests is scientific, and education of the intellect should be concerned to propagate it rather than knowledge of the classics. Moral education should consist in allowing the natural consequences of mistakes to strengthen knowledge of how to satisfy these interests, and physical education should provide a body that would further their satisfaction. Each individual is charged with finding his own happiness, and the function of government should be merely that of preventing others from infringing upon his pursuit of it. Consequently, education itself should be privately sought and conducted rather than socially compelled and supported.
Spencer held the metaphysical view that reality is unknowable, that it manifests itself in the individual life as phenomena—some vivid and some faint—and that it is expressed in the cosmic dimension as evolution—as change from homogeneous to heterogeneous conditions through differentiation and integration. In evolution survival goes to the fittest; and the fittest are those who find the phenomenon of vivid pleasure associated with the useful and utility in those actions that bring about or constitute "complete living." Education should assist in realizing this end that, in any case, evolution marks out for man.
In the work of John Dewey (1859–1952), the most influential of the twentieth-century philosophers of education, Mill's ideal for education is somewhat simplified and his doctrine of the meaning of ideas, together with Spencer's emphasis on the utility of knowledge, transformed into a criterion for distinguishing knowledge from belief. As we have seen, Mill thought that happiness consists of three distinct factors—pleasure, duty, and self-realization—and he held that education should promote the greatest amount of happiness for the largest number of people. In the place of pleasure Dewey put activity that is satisfactory to the person acting; in the place of duty, the most satisfactory activity; and in the place of self-realization, the fact that the most satisfactory activity is that which the individual most genuinely prefers. The best life, Dewey held, is one in which the most genuinely satisfactory activity is most widespread throughout society. This view depends on his view of human nature.
Human nature cannot be understood in terms of substance and faculty, for there are no such things. Consequently, there can be no single set of activities that characterize all human life, as traditional philosophers and psychologists have supposed. All human beings begin life as biological organisms, filled with unformed energy or impulse, ready to assume whatever direction experience assigns; and since each environment generates a different experience of the world—a different set of patterns of response to it—human beings vary as much as do their environments. The habits that impulse takes on sometimes cease to provide a satisfactory release for it, and in these situations intelligence enters into life to solve the problems thus created. We form hypotheses as to how impulses can be reorganized, look forward to the consequences in action, select those whose anticipation makes us prefer them, act to secure them, and thus test the hypothesis from which they were inferred. Intelligence is the master habit of readjusting others when they break down, and while it characterizes human beings, it does so in no specific way since its possession brings with it no special knowledge but only the ability to acquire any knowledge whatever by finding it in the consequences of action.
Dewey thought of society in terms of group habits. A nation is composed of political parties, religious institutions, courts, etc., and each of these is a complex habit of acting in which many people take part. A society is a set of group habits or institutions that fit together. A good society is one which, by virtue of the ways in which its subordinate institutions fit together, enables growth in satisfaction for its citizens.
Education, according to Dewey, is the process of imposing on the impulse of infants the society or the set of group habits into which the infants are born; it is the perpetuation of society. But it is also a good deal more. For since one of the habits to be imposed upon impulse is that of acting intelligently, education must also foster the reform of society toward an ever better condition. To perpetuate intelligence is to begin its use, and the schools are thus the basis for social progress.
Since there is no single set of abilities running throughout human nature, there is no single curriculum which all should undergo. Rather, the schools should teach everything that anyone is interested in learning. Since a child can learn nothing without using his intelligence, and since this comes into play only when some habit breaks down, he should be inspired with interest in the subject matter he should learn and then made to feel some problem in not actuating that interest or habit. This method requires individual attention to discover particular interests and capabilities. Since the child learns best when he is working with others, he should be given a certain measure of participation in school affairs. In the light of these strictures on curriculum, method, and administration Dewey hoped to produce a child highly endowed with intelligence and disposed to reform society in the direction of the ideal of continually growing satisfactions.
Dewey's ethical ideal was advanced as a justification for this pedagogical objective. To be morally good is to be a set of consequences, deliberately intended and capable of satisfying impulse better than would any other set to which it is preferred; it is a preferred activity. To say that such activity satisfies impulse better than does some other which is rejected is to say that it makes possible more satisfactions in oneself and others than does the other—that it contains the possibility of greater growth. Democracy is a better society than any other because it permits more satisfaction of impulse on the part of more people than does any other. And the intelligent person leads a better individual life than does one who acts from some other habit, such as superstition, because his life contains the opportunity for more satisfactions than does that of one who is hemmed in by dogma. The criterion of growth shows that the objective of education ought to be the democratic society and the intelligent man.
Dewey's theory of knowledge lends support to the reformist tendency in education. The truth of a proposition is its utility, and to know something is to be aware of how to use the known proposition to secure some desirable consequence. Consequently, any genuine teaching will result, if successful, in someone's knowing how to bring about a better condition of things than existed earlier. Knowledge is knowing how to do what is useful—a view that may have resulted from Dewey's consideration of Spencer and Mill. This theory of knowledge helps to give the pragmatic flavor to Dewey's philosophy of education.
Dewey's metaphysical reflection helps in the same direction. Traditional metaphysics, such as Plato's, has erred in supposing that truth is a passive apprehension of the real and that its object is eternally separated from the vicissitudes of experience. Traditional metaphysical reflection has forgotten that to mean something is to act to secure certain consequences, and it has therefore overlooked the truth that knowing what is real consists in meaning it or in acting in a certain way to bring about certain consequences. What is real is a set of experiences, each of which is meant by some agent and all of which are connected together in one thing or event by his activity. Dewey used this notion of what is real to justify his method of learning by doing, his view of the curriculum as whatever interests of each student enable him to organize into a unity on his own, and of method as the procedure for arousing interest in organizing or reorganizing the elements of a subject matter.
In Plato's philosophy of education the supernatural realm of the Forms, by lending validity to the just person and the just state, supported the program of education. In St. Augustine's work the educational ideal was organized wholly around God and the theological view of his relation to things; a similar description applies to Thomas Aquinas's thought about education. Comenius also centered his philosophy of education around religious and theological doctrines, but his insistence on the future perfection of human life on earth and on the observation of nature in the search for effective teaching methods marks a beginning in the process of naturalizing the wholehearted supernatural Christian ideal of his predecessors.
Locke found a basis for the goal of education in God's will, but the national welfare, which God's law or the law of nature promotes, and the analysis of it partly in terms of pleasure are additional worldly conditions whose emphasis constitutes a different facet of the disintegration of the supernatural ideal. Rousseau held that God exists, but the chief justification of his objective for education—an internally peaceful life apart from society—lies not in God's having ordained it but in the notion of the general will and its absence from national institutions. Froebel, a follower of Pestalozzi and of Rousseau, made much use of religious language, but by identifying God and the Absolute he removed philosophy of education still further than did Rousseau from a religious center.
Kant held that we cannot avoid belief in God, although he also held that the belief can have no experiential content; but this position effects his educational goal in no way. The chief moral component of that goal is the categorical imperative—a notion Kant wished to conceive wholly in logical terms. The peaceful international state is not justified by being God's will but by being the result of a social life which embodies duty and which constitutes the perfect realization of our intellectual and moral powers. Fichte found the ideal for education in a national existence that would assure Germany of a position of world importance, and Herbart held that individuals and societies that are morally worthwhile are those that satisfy the aesthetic demands of human beings. Spencer made no use of religious propositions in his philosophy of education; nor did Mill, although he regarded great religions as great works of the imagination. Dewey's ideal of a society, containing the possibility of most growth in satisfaction, is completely devoid of religious affiliation. He would probably have said that interest in achieving it can become religious—that, indeed, it should—but by "religious" he would have meant little more than enthusiastic.
The history of philosophy of education reflects a movement evident in other phases of thought—a successive contribution on the part of antiquity to the Christian ideal for transmitting culture from one generation to another and then a gradual elimination from that ideal of supernatural and Christian elements. Of course, at no time has there been a wholehearted and single-minded devotion to any ideal, and there are many who do not accept naturalism today. Nonetheless, one way of understanding the history of philosophy of education is to regard the attitude of philosophers toward the justification and explanation of educational theory as having been expressed first in Plato's classic supernaturalism, next in Augustine's Christian supernaturalism, and then as undergoing a gradual alteration into the wholly non-Christian and naturalistic view represented by John Dewey.
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Kingsley Price (1967)