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Joseph Kinmont Hart.

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with the enlarging understandings of experience, with the
increased powers and controls that go with these larger
worlds. Intelligence develops; knowledge grows and ac-
cumulates; resources, physical, moral, and spiritual, are
discovered and explored. Life is enriched, refined, and
defined. Abuses appear, become sacred through custom,
are criticised by the liberated, and are eliminated peace-
fully or through the shocks of war. But out of it all a
larger life emerges and human nature takes on new quali-
ties and finds its higher good in new directions.

The Crisis in Athens. This first developed in the actual
experiences of the world in the life of the Athenian Greeks.
Athens in the days preceding the Persian conflicts was a
world grown very complete through long development,
while at the same time there existed an undercurrent of



BREAKDOWN OF ATHENIAN FOLKWAYS 55

unrest, foretelling the possibility of some decisive social
crisis. The long struggles in Athens for the development
of democratic government had largely undermined the re-
spect for old customs and traditions that still held Sparta
bound fast to the past. The rise of such expressions of the
national life as lyric poetry, as against the epic, showed
the stirrings deep within of the individual spirit. The
growth of a critical philosophy of the physical universe,
while it had not yet directly touched the problems of the
social life, had undermined the older traditional founda-
tions of the universe, the mythical stories of creations, etc.,
and had laid the basis for the eventual undermining of the
social world as well. The growth of knowledge of nature
and society had reached the explosion-point; all that was
needed was the fire, or the shock, to set it off.

Then came the tremendous impact of the two great
world-orders of that time: Persia against Greece, the
Oriental civilization against the Occidental; the East
against the new West. After two thousand years of con-
flict such impacts are still in our own day profoundly in-
fluential of change. What must this first great conflict
have meant to Greece? It actually meant the complete
breakdown of her primitive folkways. This was the climax
of several hundred years of general tendency. It came
to its inevitable conclusion in Athens. It liberated the
minds of the people from the lingering controls of old cus-
toms and traditions; it brought on the first great disillu-
sionment of the human mind. "Our folkways are not the
way of living; they are simply a way, and who can tell
whether they are better than some other way?"

The breakdown of folkway institutions means the break-
down of personal and individual habit, the release of ener-
gies that may run riot, even to destruction, the loosening
of all the common bonds of established social order, and



66

the emergence of the feeling of individual freedom, even
license. "This is now a free country and I can do as I
please." This is especially the way in which such an ex-
perience is likely to come to the young. On the part of the
older members of the group, especially the civic and moral
leaders, such a breakdown brings the fear of social disin-
tegration, of anarchy and decay. That is to say, such an
experience releases emotions, feelings, attitudes of mind,
hopes and fears and the like, most or all of which are new
in the group life.

But this means that such crises bring about conditions
under which the mind actually grows. Under fixed habit
and custom mental life does not properly exist. As we
have seen, the folkway is a mechanism. But in the social
crisis the social mechanism has broken down, and intelli-
gence must appear if the group is to be saved from destruc-
tion. Old traditions still persist, but they are denied by
new conditions or ignored by the newly released individual
energies. Problems are everywhere. What shall the out-
come be ? Shall it be actual destruction of the group, dis-
integration of the group into so many atoms of unre-
strained individualism, the recapture of the group by some
old folkway resurgent, or the swinging of the group,
through the emergence of intelligence, up to some new
level of organized living? The future must answer these
questions. Athenian intelligence faced them squarely.

The Crisis as an Educational Problem. Plato repre-
sents this critical social and educational situation very
clearly in the dialogue called ' ' Euthydemus. " In the old
days fathers had little or no difficulty about the careers of
their sons; such questions were settled by the customs of
the folkways. But in the troublous times of the crisis
Crito voices the insistent difficulty. Old types of educa-
tion have broken down. In their places have come ''those



BREAKDOWN OF ATHENIAN FOLKWAYS 57

who pretend to teach others," but these new teachers all
seem to be "such outrageous beings" that in despair Crito
comes to Socrates. His question is the most fundamental
question of the age: "I have often told you, Socrates,
that I am in constant difficulty about my two sons. What
am I to do with them?"

This is more than the question of one father in his deal-
ing with two sons. It is the question of one generation
dealing with the future of the nation. "I am in constant
uncertainty about the whole future of Athens. What shall
we do about it?" And the question is fundamental.
The folkways are gone; the individual stands forth unre-
strained, undisciplined, ignorant of life, contemptuous of
old controls. This is a new power in human life, this in-
dividual, the most precious power ever uncovered. But it
is likewise a new danger. Will he destroy the works of
the centuries? If so, will he at the same time destroy
himself? The world's hope may rest in him; but has the
past no value? And is his own value in his undisciplined
strength, or will he find a truer value when he shall have
learned how to use the past in making his own energies
more accurate, more definite, more sure? These are the
questions of the future. Humanity finds itself rather sud-
denly released from the traditional and customary bondage
of the centuries. It must try itself out in this new free-
dom. What is human nature ? That must be investigated,
its remote characteristics explored, its larger significance
determined. What is physical nature? This, too, must
be searched out. It will take years, ages. Indeed, after
two thousand years we are just getting fairly started on
this mighty adventure.

But in the meantime actual problems confront the citi-
zen of Athens. The world is in chaos. What shall the citi-
zen, the lover of his city, do? All sorts of men will appear



58 DEMOCRACY IN EDUCATION

in the course of this larger history, including men who
will be able to live in the midst of social chaos without much
awareness of the events transpiring about them. But this
experience of Athens is new in the history of the race.
The ages to come may work out many answers for just
such problems, many suggestions for periods of unrest.
But in this first period of confusion an immediate answer
of some sort is needed. Who can supply it ?

Even at this early date not one answer alone, but five at
least were offered, not all at once, but within the next cen-
tury. Two of them came immediately, the other three in
later years. These five proposed solutions of this crucial
situation in the life of Athens represent a wide range of
responses, from that of the unprogressive habit that would
have the world turn back to old practices to the most
fundamental intelligence that would urge the race on to-
ward undreamed-of things. We must take up these five
proposed answers in regular order. In our grasp of them
we shall find the fundamental clues to the whole interpreta-
tion of history. We shall not all agree in our valuation of
these answers. In fact these answers will classify us as to
our own social outlooks and our educational programs.
Perhaps that will be their real value. At any rate, history
is to be for us a teacher as well as a subject of study. We
turn to these answers given in Athens.



CHAPTER VI

THE FIRST ANSWER: THE ATTITUDE OF THE
CONSERVATIVES

WE have seen how Athens, rising up through many cen-
turies of folkway development, found herself in the latter
part of the fifth century in the midst of an all but com-
plete breakdown of these old folkway controls. Confu-
sion, disillusionment, and anarchy seemed to be her des-
tiny. 1 If, underneath all this confusion, the common life of
daily activity still went on in the grip of habit too strong
to be lightly broken, yet, on the surface at least, customs
of centuries fell away. Individuals found themselves freed
from the usual restraints, and old social controls in family,
industry, and civic authority failed to meet the situation
completely. Athens found herself, as Carlyle might say,
"socially naked," the protecting clothes of social custom
gone. There was, of course, no escape from this experi-
ence if civilization were ever to rise above the level of the
folkways. None the less, such an experience must produce,
whether in society or in the individual, profound shock.

What shall be done about it? How shall society be re-
constituted? How shall the rising generations be edu-
cated? How shall the dangerous energies released in this
experience be organized for larger social tasks and pur-
poses? How shall rampant individuals be restrained?
How shall the future be made secure? But, also, how
shall the constructive energies released in this experience
be organized into the social life? How shall the tremen-

i Cf. "Story of Alcibiades."

59



60 DEMOCRACY IN EDUCATION

dous possibilities of individual freedom and individual con-
tribution be realized? What shall society become? But,
most of all, what shall education become under these
strange new conditions? As stated above, at least five
answers were offered to this problem.

The Answer of the Conservatives. In Athens, as al-
ways, there existed a great body of conservative people to
whom this age of confusion brought profound dismay.
These were of the older social tradition, opponents of the
long democratic movement, essential aristocrats. They
were naturally timid of mind. They had privileges which
seemed to be threatened by these changes. They were set
in their ways and change was utterly unwelcome to them.

Shocked by the disrespect for old customs, the ' ' immorali-
ties" of the times which seem to them nothing short of
insanity, they seriously proposed that Athens must under-
take to get rid of the disturbers (among whom was Socra-
tes), and then return and rebuild the folkways that were
gone. This is the first solution of the problem. Perhaps
the most graphic account of the state of mind of this party
is to be found in "The Clouds" of Aristophanes. In this
play the age of confusion is represented as being steeped
in all sorts of destructive immoralities. Morality and re-
ligion are both subverted and made to pander to the bauble
reputations and financial gains of the Sophists. Ancient
moral ideas having real social significance are replaced by
modern selfish ideals. Intelligence has become completely
superficial, easily developed, easily changed; anything can
be taught to anybody for an adequate consideration. Over
against this Aristophanes sets the values of the old educa-
tion : 1 Justice, temperance, hardiness of body and mind,

i The student should read these contrasts of the "new" and the
"old" educations. See Monroe, "Source Book of the Hist, of Ed.,"
pp. 82-4.



THE ATTITUDE OF THE CONSERVATIVES 61

respect for age, "the education which nurtured the men
who fought at Marathon." Is it possible to return and
rebuild the old social system and the old education? To
the conservative man this seems the only sane solution of a
problem that ought never to have arisen in the first place.
Impossibility of the Conservative Program. Desirable
as such a program may seem from many points of view,
a very little thought convinces us of its utter impossibility.
Socially, the old structure of society is gone. The old in-
stitutions are either left far behind or are regarded in
utterly new ways, and the most energetic members of the
community have escaped from this old respect for custom.
There is no likelihood that they will ever be recaptured or
that they will voluntarily return. Indeed, they cannot re-
turn. Psychologically, it is impossible to forget these new
and profoundly convincing experiences of freedom and to
reinstate the old habits of bondage to custom. Men have
tried that and they have failed. What has been done must
be- met, not by going backward, but by going forward.
There is danger, of course, in going forward. Much that
has lasting social worth is likely to be ignored and left be-
hind in the forward movement ; much was ignored and left
behind. Yet society must be saved in some way ; and since
the aristocrats and conservatives of the times could do
little but wail about the "good old times" and ridicule the
new movements, they are quite as much to blame for the
excesses of the later times as are the undisciplined expo-
nents of those later times. The new age, the new institu-
tions, the new social order, the new education, must come
to Athens. These ought to be developed through the co-
operation of the conservative elements and the radical ele-
ments. The wisdom of the past and the impulse and initia-
tive of the present ought to collaborate in the construction
of the new social and educational world, consciously, inten-



62 DEMOCRACY IN EDUCATION

tionally, intelligently. This must happen; it does really
happen; but neither side of the argument either admits it
or even knows it. Each seems to go its own way.

The Conservation of Old Social Custom and Habit.
Despite the profound shock to Greek life caused by this
crisis of the fifth and fourth centuries, despite the fact
that society cannot go backward, if it is to go on to higher
levels of civilization, despite the fears of the conservatives
who saw only ruin ahead for their city, despite the con-
tempt which, as we shall see, the Sophists felt for old cus-
toms and habits, much of that old habit and custom still
persisted. The work of the world went on. Men ate,
slept, toiled, or idled; they married; children were born
and grew up in some sort of family and community life;
some sort of religious rituals continued; social order in
some measure existed. Deep under all the waves on the
surface of the social sea the quiet tides of custom and habit
roll onward. These social tides are not meaningless, they
do not merely repeat the old. They conserve the old, even
when we think that older element has been entirely left be-
hind. Out from these struggles of the Greek world emerges
the substantial structure of a common life which persists
through the Roman period, through the Middle Ages, and
on into our own times. It is true that changes on the sur-
face of the social world have always gradually effected
changes in the deeper currents of social life. And occa-
sionally some profound revolution has shaken through and
through the whole body of society, until even the common
mass has thrown off the customs of centuries and taken on
the new organization of life. But usually there has been
a gradual reaccommodation afterwards. The old has re-
asserted itself somewhat, the new has yielded a little of its
arrogance, and some degree of historical continuity actually
obtains.



THE ATTITUDE OF THE CONSERVATIVES 63

No social or educational program can succeed, as we shall
see, that ignores this substratum of age-old habit in the
common life. The answers that we have yet to discuss
give promise of being successful or of failing just to the
extent that they recognize this most fundamental social and
educational factor. Habit is one of the two most profound
characteristics of human nature. Its significance for social
order, for social progress, for educational stagnation and
development, must not be forgotten. The conservative
party in Athens made impossible proposals when they sug-
gested that Athens should return to the times and manners
of the old folkways. But in that proposal there was
wrapped up this other profound and not impossible, but
very necessary, fact : that society lives and moves in a great
world of habit, and that however profoundly that world of
habit may be shaken by critical experiences, the substan-
tial progress of the world is conserved thereby, even though
at times it is also hindered thereby.

The other profound characteristic of human nature ap-
pears in the next answer that was made to the Greek ques-
tion, and to that we must now turn.



CHAPTER VII

THE SECOND ANSWER: THE PROPOSALS OP THE
SOPHISTS

WE have seen that in a time of crisis society cannot go
back to conditions as they existed before the crisis ; broken
worlds of habit cannot be put back together again and
treated as if the break were not there. The broken world
must be accepted, and the ultimate outcome must develop
out of facing the facts, not out of ignoring them.

Characteristics of the Critical Social Situation. The
breakdown of custom released the individual, with many
undisciplined impulses and energies, with an inner world
of feelings, emotions, and opinions which had escaped the
complete control of old habit and custom. The individual
stands out not the striking individual merely, but the
common individual. He seems so full of energy, of inno-
vations, of new and untried possibilities that, over against
the drab monotony of the old customary life, the world
takes on wonderful, new, strange, beautiful colorings and
contrasts. These new, even undreamed, developments are
surely worth preserving; they are worth more complete
realization. As against mere conformity they are infi-
nitely worth while. Folkway society suppresses all these
individual contributions and possibilities. Society is an
ancient evil to be escaped; the individual alone has lasting
worth. Thus does the first articulate voice of the new
order answer the wailing of the old order.

The Sophist Analysis of the Situation. The first medi-
ators of a world of broken habits and customs are always

64



THE PROPOSALS OF THE SOPHISTS 65

"sophists." They are as extreme on the radical side as are
the reactionaries on the other side. But they perform
certain great and lasting services to the world. They take
account of the fact that old habits are broken down and
that old customs do not any longer sway the consciences
and activities of men. They seize upon the energies and
impulses released in the crisis and by emphasis, even by
exaggeration, they make these new resources of the human
spirit stand out until intelligence can grasp them and
bring them into use. Thus they commit the race to a defi-
nite movement out of custom, out of the longing for cus-
tom, into the acceptance of a point of view from which
there is absolutely no escape save through the development
of new levels of intelligence.

The Sophists said : ' ' Let the individual have free play ;
that is his right and his proper function. The old customs
are gone, and well may they be forgotten. Society is a
crime against the individual. Each man should be the
judge of his own good; each individual should be the meas-
ure of his own world. One man's opinion is just as good
as another's, if he can sustain that opinion in an argument.
Society is a fallacy; the world is made up of individuals.
We do not want systems; we want to get as far from old
group-controls as possible. Education is a matter of in-
dividual development. Old types of education destroyed
individuality. The new education will ignore customary
aims. It will make each individual an aim in himself, and
it will make of him whatever he may choose to become, for
education can do anything with anyone." This is, as is
easily seen, practically the complete denial of everything
held valuable in the old folkway education and the accept-
ance of much there held immoral.

The Sophists had no system, unless it was the systematic
denial of systems. Theirs was the logic of individualism.



66 DEMOCRACY IN EDUCATION

They represent the absolutely necessary, yet socially appal-
ling, task of ploughing up old social soils for the purpose
of laying the foundations of the new social order. That
new social order did not appear in their own considera-
tion of the future, save perhaps in the vision of a few of
the very best, like Protagoras. Their task was the tearing
up of the old soils ; it was left to other forces to build the
new order.

The Psychology of the Sophist Attitude. But though
they had no system, a rather definite tendency runs through
all their proposals and activities, and we must see what this
tendency is. Customs are universal social bonds holding
together in one social unity all those who have been accus-
tomed to them; habit is the individual expression of these
social customs. This is the psychology of the folkways.
Now habit and custom suppress the originality of the in-
dividual. That originality finds chance and room for ex-
pression when the folkways break down for a time; and
that originality expresses itself in individual impulses,
feelings, emotions, energies, and initiatives. These seem to
the Sophists the valuable elements in life, and these are
possible only when the folkways have been broken down.

But the Greek Sophists were still too close to their folk-
way ancestry to realize that habits and customs cannot be
thrown off so easily and so completely. Habitual attitudes
and feelings still persist under the surface of assumed
"originality." Especially opinion, which seems individual
and which the Sophists valued so highly, is really only
the expression of old habit-attitudes, or no less unintelli-
gent contradictions of those attitudes. Hence their "opin-
ions," instead of being surely original contributions, were
frequently nothing but the reassertion of old customary
commonplaces. They were all the more valuable, perhaps,
for that fact, but still that fact shows us how much the



THE PROPOSALS OF THE SOPHISTS 67

Sophists were deceived in their belief that they had
reached the summation of wisdom. Their "opinions"
were, as Socrates later pointed out, half-thoughts, some-
thing more than mere vague feelings about the world, some-
thing less than clear ideas or complete understanding.
These "opinions" intentionally break with old attitudes.
In that way they make for the progress of the world, but
they do not critically arrive at reliable and substantial new
attitudes. Hence they are subject to the biting criticisms
of later thinkers, and they have turned the term "sophist"
into a common reproach.

The Social Significance of the Sophists. The Sophists
professed to teach in all the social fields : morality, religion,
politics, industry, education, etc. In each of these fields
they declared that a social unity of opinion was of no value,
but only individual capacity; that since society did not
exist, or did not rightly exist, it could make no difference
which side of an argument the student chose. Not the
outcome but the method of argument was the ideal, and
that therefore each student should be taught only those
things which he should need in his future career. This
program completely ignores the demands of tradition in
education, and it marks the beginning of the world's great-
est movement after the folkways are left, the movement
in the direction of theory. Life thus far, as we have seen,
has been lived without critical thinking, simply under the
control of habit and custom. Habit and custom break
down; a new order must arise. Shall it be another "rule
of thumb" sort of social order? Or shall it find place
within itself for the organization of intelligent living, i.e.,
living based in some genuine degree upon critical investiga-
tion of conditions, intelligent organization of the results of
those critical investigations, and actual construction of a
world of life and action along the lines laid down in this



68 DEMOCRACY IN EDUCATION

intelligence? The Sophists did not go far in working out
the implications of their movement; but by raising the
question, "What does this individual really need?" they
opened the way to the only true answer, "That depends
upon your theory of the universe, the world, life, educa-
tion, social order" an answer that must eventually be-
come the basis of a complete reconstruction of the condi-
tions of existence. However partial or faulty the Sophist
philosophy may seem to have been, it was an actual contri-



Online LibraryJoseph Kinmont HartDemocracy in education; → online text (page 5 of 31)