Front Page Titles (by Subject) II: Education, Politics, and Values - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1980, vol. 3, No. 2
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II: Education, Politics, and Values - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1980, vol. 3, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Education, Politics, and Values
Since Plato's Republic, Philosophers, educators, and politicians have understood the importance of education to the “political socialization process,” that is, to the formation of new generations of citizens schooled or indoctrinated in the beliefs of the politically dominant class. The following summaries deal with the interaction of educational policies with political power and ideology. In addition, we see in Boller's and Vandenberg's summaries the relationship between individualism and different educational philosophies.
Schools and Political Socialization
“The American School in the Political Socialization Process.” Review of Educational Research 50(Spring 1980) 99–119.
The most recent assessment of the political knowledge, attitudes and participation rates of American students found significant declines in each of these areas compared to previous studies. Since one of the major arguments for public education is that it is necessary to provide the educated citizenry supposedly required for the survival of a democratic society, these declines pose the question of what impact schools have on political knowledge and attitudes.
Available research studies support the following conclusions:
Schooling for Imperialism
“The ABC's of Imperial Unity.” Canadian Journal of History 14(April 1979):49–64.
Historians of early twentieth century efforts at unifying the British Empire, have focused their attention on constitutional issues. This emphasis is misplaced, since imperial unity was never universally equated with formal political ties. With government encouragement, extensive private programs were undertaken to stimulate emotional and ideological cohesion between Great Britain and her colonies. Prof. Greenlee's article chronicles the work of one of the pioneering organizations in this field: the League of Empire, which sought to promote imperial solidarity through school programs.
In 1901, when the charter members of the League first met at Caxton Hall (London), wrangling over constitutional, economic, and political federation had largely frustrated the movement for greater unity between Great Britain and her self-governing colonies. The Colonial Conferences had faltered, tariff reform roused bitter controversy, while the war in South Africa stirred dissension throughout the Empire. In this atmosphere, the League of Empire was at pains to avoid injuring the sensibilities of colonial nationalists—emphasizing the private nature of the organization and shunning controversy at all costs.
The early leaders of the League concluded that any future unity of the Empire would be linked directly to education, particularly to the study of imperial history. “The only sound and permanent basis for an Empire lies in an instructed people,” declared A.F. Pollard, chairman of the League's history section.
In 1903, Joseph Chamberlain, Colonial Secretary, dispatched a letter to school boards throughout the Empire, warmly recommending the goals of the League. This support encouraged the group to develop a spate of programs aimed at fostering imperial unity and pride: the Comrades' Correspondence Club (a pen pal organization); Empire Day celebrations; patriotic plays for drama clubs; song sheets featuring melodies such as “The Maple Leaf Forever” and “Song of Australia”; Union Jack postcards; patriotic badges and shoulder insignia, etc.
Branches of the League soon sprang up throughout the Empire, and these far-flung bodies quickly organized to compose a reference book on imperial history: The British Empire: Its Past, Present, and Future. Evidently, joint action was proving both possible and popular when tactfully approached.
Early successes, however, emboldened the League to invite colonial school boards throughout the Empire to attend a Federal Conference on Education. The conference was obviously intended to promote the cause of educational federation. The move proved too direct. At the 1907 convention, the plan for forging an educational union met rejection from both British and colonial school boards. The boards would brook no infringement of their autonomy or the individuality of their systems.
It was agreed to continue holding these meetings every four years under the new title of the Imperial Educational Conference. Nonetheless, the drive toward educational federation quickly dissipated. At the time of the 1927 conference, all discussion of union was formally excluded. The meeting dwelt primarily on educational methods and theory.
Despite its seeming failure, Prof. Greenlee concludes, the League did, in fact, do much to stimulate imperial sentiment, even going so far as to produce patriotic films widely distributed in the Empire. Without the League and similar organizations, the splendid dominion response to Britain's call to arms against Hitler would have been, in Greenlee's view, simply inconceivable.
The Political Economy of Public Schooling
“The Political Economy of Education in Metropolitan Areas: Dilemmas of Reform and Public Choice.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 2 (January-February 1980): 53–60.
The reformers of the early twentieth century believed that the “public interest” should override that of individuals. They argued that individualist fragmentation produced chaos, whereas political centralization would produce substantial economies of scale and government should provide relatively uniform services to large areas. Subsequent experience has shown that although government service rarely exhibits major economies of scale, diseconomies of scale are quite common. The public interest has largely come to mean what is efficient in some narrow, technical sense for a bureaucracy to administer within the constraints of the bureaucracy's need to maximize its budget.
A competing point of view has grown up derived from the work of the public choice school of economists. This polycentric approach looks for benefits from relatively small governmental units. They postulate that the ability of residents to vote with their feet can introduce an important element of competition into the system. This competition can result in more effective responsive governments. A serious problem with this point of view is the ability of elite groups to gain control of their local communities. Having control they can prevent outsiders, especially those of different social and racial groups from gaining entry. These non-market approaches pose a serious trade-off. Polycentric approaches can achieve a certain responsiveness to local constituencies at the expense of injustice. Reformist centrist approaches have equality with inefficiency and arrogance.
The existing mixture of localism and centralism has produced some curious consequences combining the worst features of both systems. A so-called “lazy monopoly” system exists in many metropolitan areas. The most discontented parents tend to leave, either for non-public schools or the suburbs. While this has a long-term negative impact on the viability of the metropolitan area, it provides, in the short-term a measure of peace to the urban school bureaucracy. Recent aid programs for these same metropolitan areas have the effect of rewarding the bureaucrats for this behavior and further insulating them from the consequences of their actions. Empirical studies have shown that educational bureaucracies in areas with growing populations and tax bases tend to be relatively responsive to local political interests. In the districts where stagnation or decline is the rule, district staffs orient to federal and state aid programs. The problems are most evident at lower levels. While board members and superintendents may evidence some concern, lower level staff and building level personnel have almost no incentive to do so.
In the end the author returns to the market, in the form of vouchers, for a solution.
Federal Education Policy
“The Educational Arena.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (January-February 1980): 27–36.
The American public education system is characterized by numerous participants, decentralized decision-making and factionalism, fragmentation, and conflict. Public education is difficult to improve and lacks a national policy. This lack of a national educational policy opens up the question of the federal role in educational policy.
Federal educational policy has a number of characteristics.
The federal role has shifted often during the last twenty years. The most notable shift has been toward an activist role. All branches have engaged in this shift, prodded by outside interest groups. These initiatives are generally short-sighted with little consideration of the total educational picture. Frequent changes in policy makers aggravate this situation and tend to transfer power to those, especially in the middle management ranks who retain their positions. Education has not been the focus of partisan controversy although the Democrats have tended to be more activist and reliant on the middle ranks of the bureaucracy, while the Republicans have tended to adopt a top-down approach to policy initiatives. Research and evaluation inputs have been very limited as policy discussions are primarily financially oriented and revolved around expanding various programs.
The Problems of Federal Education
“Improving the Federal Administration of Educational Programs.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 2(January-February 1980):61–70.
The administration of federal educational programs is a challenging problem. The program objectives tend to focus on objectives about which little is known. Frequent conflicts erupt between the personnel of the federal agencies and the multitudinous groups with which they work. The federal agencies themselves are plagued by significant internal problems, specifically with their staff-line relations. The federal programs are characterized by a pervasive distrust of the people and agencies, with which they deal. Finally the federal agencies tend to be insufficiently aware of how their acts affect people.
The author is generally aware in his discussion of the problems of the incentive structure under which these problems have developed, but suggests only isolated remedies.
William James as Individualist
“William James as an Educator: Individualism and Democracy.” Teachers College Record 80(February 1979):587–601.
In his portrait of William James as both theoretical and practical educator, Prof. Boller depicts the American psychologist and philosopher as a “confirmed individualist” whose outlook reflected both aristocratic and democratic ideals. Four basic elements comprise the essence of James' teaching: pluralism, radical empiricism, indeterminism, and pragmatism. All four provided a basic foundation for the individual autonomy and creativity that James cherished and regarded as the aim of the educational process.
First of all, as a pluralist, James rejected a closed, deterministic “block universe” in favor of an “open universe”—an evolutionary world that is continually changing, growing, and developing and whose future is to a large extent unpredictable. For James, therefore, the world was constantly producing novelty and surprise.
Adopting a radical empiricist stance, James held that we must view reality as identical with our experience rather than allowing ourselves to be guided by neat, abstract categories which, while often useful, may mislead us into seeing much more order in the universe than there actually is. In his view, there may be sufficient connection among things to allow for useful generalizations, yet there is also enough looseness to allow for individual freedom.
As a result of his empiricism, James opposed the universal determinism espoused by many scientific scholars of his day. As an indeterminist, James viewed free will as a special effort of attention which an individual gives to one concern rather than to another. That focusing of attention results in an unpredictable and individually shaped choice. In this respect, free will is identical with the act of creation by which an individual generates unforeseen novelties in himself, objectifies them, and thus contributes to intellectual and social change.
Finally, James the pragmatist held that ideas were useful only in so far as they reflected the stream of experience and made a positive contribution to it. Here, as elsewhere, his emphasis was individualistic, stressing “the right to believe,” that is, the right to adopt any idea or belief that had fruitful consequences for one's own life, so long as it did not clash with other vital pragmatic beliefs or produce social harm.
Observing American education, William James deplored the growing emphasis upon degrees, which he felt transferred “accredited value from essential manhood to an outward badge.” While holding that education provided America with a vital elite, he believed with Emerson that each individual knows some part of the world which others fail to see and has some “single specialized vocation of his own.” Education was involved in developing a sensitivity to this “depth of worth that lies around you, hid in alien lives,” which may be found in the blacksmith, as well as in the philosopher.
In the final analysis, James felt that no individual has a final truth or unassailable insight. It is only by sharing our individual experiences and pooling our knowledge that is possible to gain a better grasp of things, devise better ways of living, and move toward a more democratic, tolerant, and humane world.
Existential and Phenomenological Education
“Existential and Phenomenological Influences in Educational Philosophy.” Teachers College Record 81(winter 1979):166–191.
Existentialism and phenomenology have both exercised a potent influence over the development of American educational philosophy in the latter half of the twentieth century. Prof. Vandenberg outlines the relevance of these philosophical positions to the educational process.
The essence of existentialism has been concisely captured in Kierkegaard's 1846 dictum: “Subjectivity is truth.” The existentialists have repeatedly stressed the cultivation of inwardness—the individual's awareness of his authentic feelings, thoughts, moods, desires, and goals. Self-conscious awareness is never given, but must be achieved by an often heroic effort. Existentialism's relevance to education is obvious, since education attempts to facilitate the unfolding of an authentic personality.
While phenomenology also concerns itself with the task and process of self-awareness, it differs from existentialism in its objective rigor and outward emphasis. Phenomenology has striven to develop public methods to describe the elements of awareness, removing from its description as many idiosyncratic elements as possible. Its analysis of consciousness thus yields intersubjectively valid results.
The complementary subjective and objective approaches to awareness developed by existentialists and phenomenologists provide effective techniques for understanding the complex personal and more broadly human factors involved in education. Some theorists object, however, that the existentialist view of the world unduly stresses negativity—forever dwelling on homelessness, powerlessness, facelessness, and even nothingness. For Prof. Vandenberg, this is but half the story. In his view, existentialists explore the negative aspects of life in order to transcend them. Thus, they examine homelessness to prepare for homecoming, meaninglessness to discover personal significance. This balance of optimism and pessimism provides a much needed corrective to the almost unquestioned faith in progress which pervaded American educational theory until the end of the 1950s.
Vandenberg goes on to discuss several of phenomenology's specific contributions to educational understanding. For example, he examines phenomenological insights into the conditions required for a student's free acceptance of teacher authority. He also explores “codisclosure” into the possibilities of being, education's promotion of a child's “fuller presence in the world,” methods for fostering wide-awakeness as a student's characteristic cognitive state, as well as the notion of landscape as a formative environmental matrix.
Prof. Vandenberg couples his analysis with an encyclopedic review of relevant scholarly literature. Four pages of bibliography complement this detailed overview.
Recognizing the value of existentialist and phenomenological contributions to educational theory, Vandenberg nonetheless warns against the dangers of falling into entrenched ideological positions which could hinder understanding as much as facilitate it. He advises future educational theorists to assert their autonomy from other disciplines as well as from pseudophilosophical prejudices in order better to formulate a theory which would clarify the phenomena of education.
Early Federal Educational Policy
“The Missing Link: New England Influence on Early National Educational Policies.” The New England Quarterly 52(June 1979):219–233.
On July 13, 1787, the Continental Congress in New York City passed the North-west Ordinance. Two months later the Federal Convention in Philadelphia adopted a draft of the United States Constitution. The texts of the documents they drafted seem to reflect discrepant attitudes concerning the importance of education. While the Northwest Ordinance contains a ground-breaking clause on the establishment of public schools, the Constitution makes absolutely no mention of the subject of education. What were the reasons for this radical difference between two such fundamental documents of the Republic?
The background of the Northwest Ordinance was that the federal government under the Articles of Confederation possessed millions of acres of unsettled territory resulting from the colonies' cession of their western lands and from the settlement of Indian claims. How was this land to be allocated and what governmental structures and policies should be created? A major source of conflict involved the method to be used in surveying and distributing the land. Historian Edmund Burnett characterized the dispute as a choice between “a New England system of compact settlements or sale by townships and a Southern system of indiscriminate or individual locations.” The township system won out in the 1787 ordinance, largely because of a strong New England lobby and the Congress' desperate need for money.
During the winter of 1785–1786, the Rev. Cutler and a group of New England Revolutionary War veterans formed the “Ohio Company of Associates” to secure large holdings of western territory. One year later, Cutler made overtures to Congress to purchase land, while promoting the adoption of a New England form of governmental structure for the whole area. Anxious to please its prospective New England buyers, Congress in 1787 divided the territory into townships and appointed “lot number 16” in each township for the establishment of public schools. A fundamental precedent in the history of American education had been set.
By contrast, the Federal Constitution's silence on education seems to reflect the Founding Fathers' conviction that schools were properly the function of churches or local and state governments. Beyond this commitment to local autonomy, it seems quite possible that the question of schools was shelved to avoid fueling already inflammatory sectional animosities.
The Northwest Ordinance, however, was sufficient to have a determining impact on future educational development in the United States. As a result of its salutary influence, the settlers of the Northwest Territory established better schools at a faster rate than the inhabitants of any other new region in the history of the country.
Education, Labor Markets, & Controlled Youth
“Education and Labor Markets at the Turn of the Century.” Politics and Society 9, no. 1(1979):103–122.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, what accounts for the interrelationships between an expanding, industrial economy and the establishment of the modern state educational structure, especially the high school? Prior to 1900, most youth left school to enter the labor market before their mid-teens. From 1900 to 1930, however, child labor sharply declined and the years of school attendance rose. Much of the move to the school system was not voluntary and the compulsory attendance laws provoked much discussion. Two factors explain the decline in child labor. (1) Technological innovation reduced the demand for unskilled and young labor. (2) The shift of labor from the farms and immigration during this time also reduced demand for youth labor, although it increased the supply of unskilled labor available for other jobs.
Young people did not choose to stay in school because the labor market was drying up; this is suggested by the need for a coercive school attendance law. Advocates of compulsory schooling and opponents of child labor had their greatest triumph during this period because business withdrew its previous opposition to these measures. An exception to this was the South where immigrant labor was still scarce and firms desired child labor.
Why did business prefer immigrants to children? Several reasons for the preference were: the immigrants were more mobile (mostly young adult single males); they would accept lower wages; new technologies made complex, sophisticated machinery more common and children were unsuitable for handling such machinery; and finally, immigrants were more docile and uncomplaining.
We can speculate why reformers pushed for a change. Besides simple good intentions, an economic inducement was the fact that high schools taught skills for white collar occupations. Many reformers were from the middle class and the parents may have wanted their children in these positions. The middle class, feeling threatened from “below” (with the influx of immigrants) and from “above” (with the rise of the corporation and the decline of self-employment opportunities), may have used the schools as a mechanism for creating jobs within the modern economy.
This explanation for the economic and educational changes during the period seems an improvement over the “Human Capital” and Marxian explanations. The “Human Capital” theory argues that the increased years in school was a rational response to changing economic conditions; but this does not explain why so much coercion was needed. The Marxian explanations argue that monopoly capitalism required new modes of control—within the work process (job hierarchies) and outside of it (the schools). This theory operates on too grand a level by ignoring local changes, and it also ignores the motivation of reformers who were mostly middle class, not capitalists.
Government Control of Universities
“Universities and Government: The Comparative Politics of Higher Education.” Comparative Politics 12(October 1979):99–121.
This review article discusses the extent and determinants of government control over the universities. Levy draws on material from six recent books: John H. Van de Graff et. al., Academic Power: Patterns of Authority in Seven National Systems of Higher Education (1978); Jerry Harr, The Politics of Higher Education in Brazil (1977); L.E. Gladieux and T.R. Wolanin, Congress and The Colleges: The National Politics of Higher Education (1976); Galo Gómez O., Chile de hoy: educación, cultura y ciencia (1976).
There are three determinants of increased government control: systemwide, intrauniversity, and extrauniversity. As to the systemwide determinants, expanding enrollment, and a declining private sector were key factors. (Shrinking or stagnating enrollments were also used as an argument for greater government control.) Expanding enrollments led to institutional proliferation which also increased governmental control, both because newer institutions lacked the entrenched power to resist control and because of the call for government coordination.
Systemwide expansion also affected intrauniversity structures. Expansion promoted demands for democratization, which helped to break down old power centers, creating a vacuum which government helped to fill. Also, government control increased because of student disorders.
Extrauniversity factors included the growing belief that university performance should be judged by how well it achieved political, economic ends. Unfortunately we lack a cross-national determinant of increased governmental control.
As for the extent of increased governmental control, it would help if one had a measurement of degrees of university autonomy. Still, the following results seem clear. The more decentralized political systems have less control over the universities. It also seems that government control over universities has been increasing due to the growing power of coordinating boards, which are supposed to help coordinate university policies with government programs in mind. Academic freedom and institutional autonomy over academic policy seem correlated positively.
Finally, four cross-national hypotheses can be drawn from the books under review. First, government exerts stronger control over important administrative appointments than over ongoing academic policy. Second, governments insist on direct control over appointment or ongoing governance. Third, strong university administrations were inversely related to strong ministerial rule. Fourth, government funding has dramatically increased, and while funding does imply control, there is not a one-to-one correlation.
Levy ends his survey by suggesting that the next step is to examine limits to the growth of governmental power and control over universities.