Joseph Kinmont Hart.

Democracy in education; online

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world-wide experiments into the hidden reaches of human
nature. Many elements that must enter into the ultimate
solution of the problem of education have been discovered,
and these we have as the permanent gain from history.
We have many false elements, also, and not a few blind
alleys which claim to be thoroughfares.

But the most important element in the whole problem
still remains obscure the element of method. Materials
we have in plenty, even in confusion. But we do not know
what to do with them. Educational research is now in the
field of method. Psychology is the chief tool of this re-
search ; but psychology is of so many sorts that we seem to
be getting only more confusion from its work. On the
other hand, the problem of education is of many sorts.


The community, the individual child, the child in the group,
the varied materials that have come to us out of the past
these are all involved in the psychology of the case. The
task of psychology looms so large, and it is so important
that we get something of a right perspective of it out of this
historical review, that it seems necessary to devote a whole
chapter to the discussion. Accordingly we turn to the spe-
cific statement of the present situation and the task of


WE have seen the constant tendency of the human mind
to surrender all its achievements to the control of habit,
custom, and tradition the folkways of the group and the
protection of fixed institutions. There is no denying this
fact. Educational effort must recognize it, accept it, and
make use of it. But correlative to this tendency there is
another, though really a part of the same general mental
movement the tendency to turn every new discovery in
the direction of method into some sort of educational mate-
rial, i.e., to identify this new method with some special
subject-matter and to block the doorway of escape from
old materials with some new material, until it seems that
the human mind must be essentially afraid of freedom
and that it can only be happy when it has wrapped its
powers round about with some sort of institutionalism, or
buried them in some phase of materialism.

The Meaning of this Fact. Now, while there is no
denying the fact that all living tends to establish itself in
the forms of habit and custom, there are two things to be
noted about this fact. First, this tendency does conserve
what is developed, at least, the mechanical aspects of the
development, so that whatever intelligence is possessed by
individual or community may be freed for the task of con-
tinuous production of larger values. And second, this
tendency toward habit and custom does offer its own means
of escape from itself. For there is involved in this tend-
ency toward habit another fact of equal importance, viz.,



the conflict of habits. For habits, customs, traditions,
folkways, and institutions are not exclusive of each other.
They overlap ; they compete ; they mutually contradict ; and
they come into inevitable conflict. This is just as certain
to happen as that they should exist at all. These conflicts
offer the chance to escape. They are the crises, as we
called them in an earlier section, out of which innovation
arises; they stimulate inventiveness; they call out initia-
tive. Out of these crises in tradition and custom science
has arisen. Indeed, science has become the avowed pro-
gram of this departure from custom and tradition. Science
is the intellectual statement of the break from tradition and
the growing results of that break as it endlessly renews it-
self. On the social side, democracy is the avowed program
of the break from custom and tradition.

But even science tends to become materialistic and to
set up completed results, classified materials, as its goal,
just as democracy continually slips from its high purpose
and takes refuge in traditionalisms. It would seem that if
science is to escape from this materialism, it must keep to
the spirit the endless, the lastingly active search for
truth. This keeping of the spirit of the search becomes
more and more difficult as the results of the search, the
materials of science, pile up, and pride of accomplishment
comes in. Some scientists feel, even now, that science has
come into a rather decadent condition. "The acceptance of
the results of scientific work as constituting science is
surely one of our grievous faults. For science is not clas-
sified knowledge, a complete thing; but rather classifica-
tion or organization of knowledge, an active process. If,
therefore, we wish to rescue science from its present de-
cadent condition, one of the first steps seems to be the
recognition of this distinction. ' ' x That is to say, the cure

i Mann : "Science in Civilization and Science in Education," "School
Rev.," Vol. XIV, p. 667.


for this almost universally recognized evil is the replacing
of the materialistic conception of science by the active,
creative conception. In exactly the same manner our social
processes tend to become consummated, to be finished.
Democracy tends to become materialistic, i.e., to assume
that certain historic institutions are essentially democratic,
and that certain documents assure us our democracy,
whether we take thought for it or not. Thus, among
thoughtful people there is fear for both science and democ-
racy. With reference to the latter, Jane Addams wrote
some years ago, "The ideal of democracy, 'a people rul-
ing,' the very name of which the Greeks considered so
beautiful, no longer stirs the blood of the American youth,
and . . . real enthusiasm for self-government must be
found among the groups of young immigrants who bring
over with every ship a new cargo?' of democratic aspira-
tions. ' ' x And it has been pointed out by thoughtful
scholars that the very successes of science in piling up great
masses of assured facts will tend toward dogmatisms.

Now the cure for these decadent tendencies in our democ-
racy is assumed to lie in the redirection of our whole in-
tellectual attitude toward political institutions. Criticism
must take the place of docility, and reconstructive action
the place of mere obedience. Eternal vigilance is not
merely the price of liberty in the first place ; it is a part of
the fixed cost of maintaining liberty forevermore. It is to
be doubted whether there is any place for mere obedience in
a democracy since democracy is grown out of the active
cooperations of all its constituent members. But American
democracy has cultivated, perhaps not unnaturally, a type
of unthinking obedience and acceptance not unlike that
expected of the subjects of old monarchies. De Tocque-
ville more than sixty years ago called attention to this f ac-

i Cf. "The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets."


tor in American life in his "Democracy in America."
Professor Dewey has recently pointed out that the "Ameri-
can conception of freedom is fundamentally incompatible
with the doctrine of duty as that has developed in" cer-
tain militaristic countries of Europe. The cure for de-
cadent democracy must be more democracy, i.e., more in-
telligence in the expression of our civic life. In like
fashion the cure for decadent science must be more of the
spirit of science, i.e., more active and creative intelligence
at work in the world of knowledge, with less of the merely
imitative, the merely repetitive, and the bookish. And this
means that science must cut loose from the sciences and be-
come the instrument of all aspects of human interest.

What Does History Say of These Things? Human na-
ture does tend to commit all its accomplishments to the
care of habit, custon^ and institution. Moreover, it has
been the tendency of history to identify accomplisher with
accomplishment and to commit human nature itself to the
care of the selfsame habit and finality of expression. Out of
this has grown the doctrine that "human nature is essen-
tially unmodifiable, " since its characteristics were fixed in
the long ages of primitive unintelligence. But this doctrine
seems to be just the fallacy which both science and democ-
racy seek to avoid. Science and democracy both assume that
life can become intelligent; that is to say, men can really
learn to live on the general level of intelligent analysis and
organization of life, and they are not condemned to live for-
ever in the control of some old structure of habit. This
does not mean, of course, that life can dispense with its
great understructures of habit; but it does mean that the
habitual element in human life shall be understTucture, and
not the main accomplishment. Certainly, it means that it
shall not be the final statement of life itself. But how is
this element of habit to be made and kept wnderstructure ?


Does not history show that habit and institution always
conquer innovation, invention, and initiative ? What of all
the protests that we have come upon ? Are they not all lost
in the structures of institutionalism that now stand where
once the protestant raised his rebellious voice? Yes, in
part; no, in great measure. Institutions have been made
over, renovated, renewed, and turned to new purposes and

But more than this, history simply shows how such proc-
esses have gone on in the past, and what must be avoided if
the future is to take other lines of development. History
does not necessarily repeat itself. In fact, in recent dec-
ades history has not been repeating itself. The Panama
Canal was dug, completed, and turned to successful opera-
tion because history was kept from repeating itself, the
history of an earlier, prescientific day. The discoveries in
medicine, hygiene, and sanitation are making possible a new
distribution of the forces of civilization and the reclaiming
of vast areas of useless earth. But this is possible in other
than the material and external aspects of our living; it is
possible with reference to the internal, the mental, and the
social. Psychology will sometime certainly be able to do
for these mental and social aspects of our living what sani-
tation and hygiene are doing for the external and physical.
Indeed, in some presentations hygiene includes both mental
and physical aspects. And just as hygiene and sanitation
showed us how the mistakes of the old days at Panama
could be avoided, so psychology will tend to show us how
the old mistakes in education can be avoided. But just as
the task of the sanitary expert was a lasting one, or will be
a lasting one, as long as work goes on in regions where dis-
ease is possible, so the task of the psychological expert will
be a lasting one as long as education goes on where igno-
rance and mere habit are possible. The old disease-factors


and conditions stood out before the Americans at Panama
when they went there to work; but the great aim an
Isthmian waterway also stood out before them. Hygiene
and sanitation cleared away one and made the other pos-
sible; or, at any rate, these showed the relationships be-
tween the two. In education to-day the old habit and in-
stitutional-conditions stand out before us as seemingly im-
possible obstructions; but the great aim of democracy an
intelligent people ruling themselves and organizing a
really human life for every member of the national life
also stands out before us. Psychology must do for us
here what hygiene and sanitation did for us at Panama.
Psychology must show us the relationships between this old
world of habit, the folkways of our history, and this
larger world of intelligence, the protests of our history
and the science of our own times. Let us see more defi-
nitely just what that problem is.

The Problem of Education. Habit is the essential
mechanism of our living, and to habit all recurrent activi-
ties are committed, so that intelligence may be freed for
other new and more important tasks. Habit does not exist
for the sake of controlling the intelligence, nor to supplant
the intelligence, but wholly to do the mechanical work of
life, so that the intelligence may be free. But on the other
hand, psychology is telling us that the intelligence is not a
structure of the mind which will continue to exist unused.
This complicates the problem. The intelligence seems to be
a function of the mind which appears in times of crisis to
help in the readjustment that the crisis demands; intelli-
gence seems to be a valuable instrument for certain func-
tional aspects of experience. When any particular process
of adjustment is completed, the whole matter is turned over
to habit for its more effective control. Intelligence retires
from the scene. If this new adjustment has been devel-


oped out of an important phase of experience, it may con-
tribute to science. New tools may be invented, new knowl-
edges uncovered and organized, and science may be thus
enriched. But when the intelligence retires from the scene,
turning full control of the new mechanisms over to habit,
the spirit of science also retires, leaving behind only some
new knowledge which will probably in course of time be-
come material for some curriculum. Now if this adjust-
ment has had to do with actual social and civic concerns,
the moment of reconstruction has probably involved a gen-
uinely scientific consideration of social factors in which all
old institutional prejudices have slipped away and social
relationships have stood forth in something like naked real-
ity. At such a time the spirit of democracy is present ; and
if such an attitude of inquiry into social problems could be
maintained, democracy would probably be the ultimate out-
come. But when intelligence retires from the scene, sci-
ence, the spirit of inquiry, retires also, and with these goes
democracy, the hope of a natural, human life. In its place
there is left only some new bit of social mechanism which is
not unlikely to become in good time a further obstacle to
the real establishment of democracy. There are individuals
who have been scientists all their lives ; that is to say, they
have kept alive the spirit of inquiry. Their spirit has
known the religious quality expressed by a writer of old:
* ' I count not myself yet to have attained : but one thing I
do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching
forward to the things which are before, I press on toward
the goal." But this outcome was possible because life had
come to be a problem in itself. That is to say, life was
not merely made up of problems big and little ; life was it-
self a continuous problem demanding continuous thought-
fulness. May it not be said that the one hope of making
an intelligent life on earth, a life whose social order shall


be democracy and whose intellectual nature shall be science,
depends upon so using our educational agencies that in-
stead of making education an answer, or a series of an-
swers, to problems, we should make it the means of pressing
home upon all people the sense of life's problems? This
will mean that the whole great complex of habit, custom,
institution, organization, and stimulation which surrounds
us shall come to us as a real world-problem (which it is to
serious minds) of such lasting complications and uncer-
tainties as to impose upon all our experiences the lasting
problematic quality which is necessary to the production of
thought; and out of this it will come to pass that the
adaptive aspect of experience and the inventive function of
thinking will be continuously in evidence, and hence over all
of life will linger the fine glow of lasting, intelligent con-
sideration. This is, when warmed to its task, science !

But is this the problem of education ? This must be the
result that our educational processes seek to secure, if we are
to make sure of our democracy and our science. But this
is a result that can never be secured by any program of edu-
cation that bases itself upon materials of any sort whatso-
ever. Science cannot secure the scientific attitude by feed-
ing up youthful minds on the achieved results of science,
i.e., classified knowledge. Democracy can find no more ef-
fective way of destroying the active intelligence that is
promised in the normal child, and that is essential to the
continuity of genuine self-government, than by insisting
that the prime material of civic education is civics of the
bookish sort. This is not a quibble; it is the statement of
a tragic fact. It is the fundamental problem of education
in a democracy; and its solution lies in the psychology of
the intellectual processes as those processes appear in the
active experiences of life. The problem of learning is very
much less important, since it is a much later item in a nor-


mal mental life. The stupid, tragic fact is that all too
often the problem of intelligence is identified with the prob-
lem of learning; hence the problem of intelligence remains
obscured and unsolved, and the deadly process of cram-
ming takes the place of a real process of education, while
the teacher abdicates his function and becomes a mere pur-
veyor of materials.

Relations of this Problem to the History of Education.
We have seen the significance of these facts all through
the long story of the world's education. The innovations,
i.e., the reforms, in the history of education are almost
pathetically numerous; and the educational parties of to-
day seem to represent all these innovations of the past,
keeping them alive and clamorous as particular schemes.
For the fact is that practically all past innovations, though
they may have begun with the intention of working intelli-
gently, i.e., of attacking the problem of education, soon
found themselves involved in the defense of some particular
material; that is to say, they soon reached a finality, a
solution, and in self-defense were compelled to stand by it.
This means, of course, that for them the problem no longer
existed, since they had found the solution. But it means
much more. It means that their own intelligence had re-
tired from the field, since, as we have seen, intelligence re-
tires when the problem is solved. Thus another brave ef-
fort fails, and the world once more sinks to the level of
custom and habit. One of the most obvious illustrations
of this tendency is seen in the gradual degradation of
humanism into Ciceronianism. But practically all other
materials have suffered the same fate. Even the psychologi-
cal doctrines, which promised to open the way for the cre-
ative activities of mind, have not escaped. Pestalozzi,
Herbart, and Froebel each and all became lost in the
elaboration of certain materials which particularly illus-


trated the application of their particular doctrines. So
psychology, which should have been working out the con-
ditions under which mind functions freely and creatively,
becomes lost under the accretions of habit and surrenders to
the demands of a fixed material. Not infrequently it ac-
cepts the position of chief defender of the doctrines of the
materialists by showing how adequately the chosen mate-
rials serve the needs of mental development.

To be sure, external pressures are sometimes brought to
bear to secure these results. For example, Froebel 's earlier
efforts to foster self -activity in the children of his kinder-
garten were all too obviously democratic and were prophetic
of possible disaster to existent institutions in autocratic
Germany ; therefore the heavy hand of government soon put
an end to all such nonsense. At other times the church
has been overzealous in the same direction. At present
conservative political forces in America seem to feel the
dangers that lurk in an education that is too intelligent.
Hence, for example, these forces are working for the estab-
lishment of a type of industrial education that shall head
off and prevent the establishment of a thorough system of
vocational education which should include all the educa-
tional agencies now at work. The great problems of states-
manship in the future will largely revolve around the na-
ture of our public education and its control. That is now
clearly seen in England and it will soon be seen here. The
fate of democracy is involved in the direction which our
education takes.

The Task of Psychology. The clue to the educational
problem of the present lies in psychology. To be sure,
materials must be considered, and any educational process
will involve materials; but the question of materials is not
the dominant one, nor the important one. The problem is
not even that which was stated by Pestalozzi as the "psy-


chologizing of the materials of education." From another
point of view the structure of social order seems the most
important aspect of education, and this is an important re-
sult to be worked for. Herbart thought this ''becoming
gradually conscious of the moral order of the world" was
the real goal of the process. But he conceived this moral
order as being already in existence in a Platonic sense;
hence his psychology has become formal and lifeless.

Education involves the conception of an active process
of creating experience and developing selfhood in each in-
dividual member of the community. In this process the
particular child is to be regarded not as the object of the
process, as being worked upon by teachers, but as the sub-
ject of the process, as gradually coming to "power on his
own life and on the world. ' ' Democracy, as a social order,
knows no fixed goals ; the tasks of democracy stretch before
us endlessly. Science, as the method of the intellectual life,
knows no final limits. The universe seems infinite, and the
reaches of man 's experience are beyond present comprehen-
sion. Education in a democracy must conceive itself as the
process by which the immature members of the community
become ready to live in this democratic and scientific uni-
verse, where freedom from old superstitions is being as-
sured. They must be made ready to live socially, morally,
creatively, constructively, and responsibly. Such an edu-
cation differs from the education with which we began this
study as democracy differs from autocracy. Such an edu-
cation must be true to the ideal democracy; and it must
use the means science. And science here means psychol-
ogy as the constant interpreter and guide, over and above
all materials of whatsoever sort.

Democracy sets forth an ideal of a social order in which
there shall be no purely artificial barriers to the contacts
of its members ; in which there shall be broadest toleration


and continuous attention to the possibilities of cooperative
neighborliness and public-spirited citizenship. To be sure,
many persons of the present social order, who have been
trained in old, exclusive atmospheres and who find the
ideal of democracy disturbing, will not welcome the exten-
sion of that ideal to the full region of education ; but on the
whole, the world seems determined to achieve such an aim,
if only for experimental purposes. Now the question be-
comes: "Is this democratic ideal tenable from the stand-
point of psychology? Does psychology hold out any hope
of its possible realization?" The answer must be "No,"
if the older psychology, which underlay older social orders,
be still accepted. Old aristocratic and autocratic political
systems were based on an implicit psychology which as-
serted that human beings (with the exception of those be-
longing to the ruling classes) were passive in their vir-
tues, but active in their viciousness; hence order must be
imposed from above, the world must be carefully policed,
and education must not go too far, lest vicious traits become
intelligently vicious. Old economic doctrines were based
on the same general psychology. It was held that man is
naturally lazy and that he will work only when he is in
danger of starvation. On such foundations, of course, the
effort to build a democracy would be absurdly futile.

But all such foundations have been discredited by the
psychology that has grown out of the doctrines of evolu-
tion. Man is just as active by nature as the rest of the
universe; children are overflowing with activities. The
task of education or of politics or of industry is not to get
the individual to act, but rather to help him organize these

Online LibraryJoseph Kinmont HartDemocracy in education; → online text (page 29 of 31)