Education and the Formation of the State

Week 2

Education and the Formation of the State

Plato, excerpt from The Republic

Writings by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Rush, and Noah Webster

These readings focus on the proper training of the populous and the rulers in an ideal state. Both Plato and the American Founding Fathers ponder how best to promote social and political harmony in a healthy nation-state.

The excerpt from Plato’s Republic, the most famous of his writings, is a fictional dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon (Socrates had been Plato’s teacher, and Glaucon was Plato’s brother; the “I” in the dialogue is Socrates, the “he” is Glaucon). Born during a time of political upheaval in Athens, Greece, Plato used the dialogue to demonstrate his enmity for the current state of politics and his ideas on how to create a good and just state. It is modeled on the Socratic method in which Socrates peppers his audience with seemingly simple questions only to prod them further into recognizing the complicated nature of reality and truth. The Allegory of the Cave is about the effect of education on the soul and the proper training and attitude of the philosopher-kings who should rule in the ideal state. (the italicized part of the chapter is an editor’s comments; you can read or ignore it)

Jefferson, Rush, and Webster ponder the proper education of the political leaders and the general populous in the new United States of America. At this point in American history, formal education was reserved for a select few elite white men. But, as you can see, these writers were interested in expanding public education to the general white population, particularly since they linked the health and prosperity of the new country to education.

(You can stop reading Jefferson in Part 1 at the end of the paragraph stating: “than that the happiness of all should be confided to the weak or wicked” and begin reading again at the start of his “Notes on the State of Virginia.”)

When you are doing the reading, ask yourself:

What do you think about Plato’s implication that a lack of knowledge is like a sickness (Plato mentions the “healing of their unwisdom” in the piece)?

What do you think about Plato’s discussion regarding the “pace” of enlightenment? Is it possible to be too quick? On the other hand, what are the implications for moving too slowly? And, what do you make of his rendering the path to enlightenment as painful?

Do you see agreements between Plato and the American writers? Tensions?

In all the pieces for today, the authors link happiness, good government, and education. What do you make of that assumption? Some of the authors link morals with religion; do you believe they go hand-in-hand or can they be taught separately?

Week 3

Morals, Indoctrination, and Education

Counts, Dare Schools Build a New Social Order

Morrison, “How Can Values be Taught in the University?”

These readings focus on the teaching of morals in schools and classrooms. Though written in totally different time periods, both authors discuss what occurs when morals are taught properly, taught badly, or (pretended to be) not taught at all.

The George Counts reading includes three papers he gave to three different organizations in the early 1930s. In the speeches, he reflects on the Progressive Era (1890-1920), a time of immense political, social, economic, and educational change in the United States. We will discuss the era in depth during class, but most generally, progressive education assumed that 1) the traditional classical curriculum (including languages, high levels of mathematics, science, history) should be replaced with a varied curriculum based on the interests of the student (in other words, pick what is in the best interest of the child or let the child choose his/her own interests); 2) learning should be based on activities rather than rote; 3) school aims, content, and processes should reflect social conditions; and 4) the primary aim of schooling is to help solve society’s problems. In his provocative speeches, Counts says that we look to education to solve all of our problems but that education is not built to perform that duty. He has hope for the progressive education movement but critiques it as direction-less, says it does not elaborate on a theory of social welfare, and calls it upper class in its tone and aim.

The Toni Morrison reading is a speech she gave at Princeton University in 2000 (she was on the faculty there at the time). A celebrated and Nobel Prize-winning author, editor, and professor, she ruminates on the role of universities and professors with regard to the teaching of morals and values. She argues that values have always been a part of the university and that such institutions have always been “value-ridden and value-seeking.” She also argues that teachers are powerful decision-makers with regard to the values that become a part of the classroom.

When you are doing the reading, ask yourself:

Are you persuaded by Counts’ characterization of indoctrination? What is his vision of the good society and do you agree with it? Do you see Counts’ discussion of indoctrination as reminiscent of Morrison’s discussion of the secular pulpit? Morrison mentions that the modern research university assumes that knowledge is good and that the rightly trained mind would turn toward virtue. What do you make of this statement in light of our previous discussion of Plato and his ideas on enlightenment and goodness?

With regard to both readings, how do we choose which morals to teach in schools? Reflect on your own education, can you see examples where ‘moral’ teaching made its way into the classroom in a productive way? In a nonproductive way? What was the difference?

Week 4

What’s Wrong with Being Colorblind?: Liberalism and Racism

Paley, White Teacher (entire book)

Video: A Class Divided

This reading adds race to our discussion on morals and education.

Paley’s book is written like a journal of her years as a kindergarten teacher in a variety of settings. She examines her own prejudices and discusses the strategies—some successful, some unsuccessful—in dealing with them and creating a productive learning environment for her students. Although the work is focused on a kindergarten classroom, the issues she deals with reach far beyond those four walls and are applicable for those of you working in a variety of educational arenas. In particular, Paley reflects on the consequences color blindness. As she demonstrates, we do, in fact, see color/race/ethnicity but refuse to talk about it or feel very uncomfortable talking about it.

When you are doing the reading, ask yourself:

Do you see yourself in any of the situations Paley describes?

How does the reading relate to some of the other pieces you have read?

How do you find a balance between highlighting difference and highlighting similarities or sameness?

When should you, as an authority figure, step in to certain situations where race enters the equation?

Week 5

“I Saw it in Forrest Gump”: Textbooks, History, and “Truth”

Schlesinger, “E Pluribus Unum?”

Williamson, “A Tale of Two Movements”

Excerpts from Textbooks

Video: Forrest Gump

These readings examine the political nature of textbooks and historical interpretation. Neither sources view textbook content/historical interpretation as neutral but instead identify it as a way to create a particular type of society and a particular type of citizen.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., a historian, uses the current debates regarding multicultural education and Afrocentric education as a way to advance a particular notion of the purpose of education. He critiques curriculum reforms that he feels are particularistic, undemocratic, and damaging to American civil society and the American persona.

The Williamson chapter takes a more narrow focus by examining textbook treatment of the black freedom struggle in particular. The chapter begins by referencing a different chapter in the book from which it is taken, one written by James Anderson, in which Anderson discusses the two tales of the Brown decision: one of triumph in that it extended constitutional protections to all American citizens, and one of sadness in that school boards, agencies, government entities, and others have actively thwarted the drive for equality and equity in education. The Williamson chapter starts where Anderson left off, namely by taking on the task of answering the question, why do we celebrate Brown if its mandates have yet to be realized?

The textbook excerpts are from the McGuffey Readers, textbooks popular in the early to middle 19th century; Harold Rugg’s textbooks (which were heavily attacked as too progressive); and a 21st century textbook co-authored by a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian.

When you are doing the reading, ask yourself:

What do you remember learning from your textbooks? What other sources did you use to cobble together your understanding of the world or history in particular? Were you critical of your textbooks while a student? Were your teachers? What should we teach primary and secondary school students and how should it be taught? How should patriotism be a part of the curriculum, and what form should it take? How do we create Americans? How do we create the unum out of the pluribus?

Week 6

Education as a Radical Venture: In Theory

Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

hooks, Teaching to Transgress, chapter 1

These readings discuss the possibilities of education as an overtly liberatory act. The authors critique the curriculum, the manner of teaching, the manner of learning, and the grand purpose of education as it exists.

Freire (1921-1997) lived in Brazil and worked in adult literacy in rural areas. In 1946, he began working with a social service agency responsible for educational programs for rural poor and industrial workers. In 1954, he resigned his position and began teaching history and philosophy of education at the University of Recife (where he got his doctorate). He later began working with the Movement for Popular Culture, an adult education program financed by the government, and supported the active exercise of democracy. In 1962, he became the head of the cultural extension service established for popular education in the region of Recife, and the following year he became the head of the National Literacy Program of the Brazilian Ministry of Education and Culture. In June 1964, a military coup toppled the Brazilian government. Freire was imprisoned for 70 days as a traitor and then forced into exile. In 1979, after fifteen years of exile, Freire was allowed to return to Brazil and did so in 1980. He joined the Workers’ Party in São Paulo and, from 1980 to 1986, supervised its adult literacy project. This short biography is to give you a grounding for how to understand both his critique of education and his proposals to turn it into a radical and liberatory venture.

bell hooks, who was influenced heavily by Toni Morrison (hooks actually wrote her dissertation on Morrison) and Freire, is a black woman intellectual, feminist, and social activist who writes on the interconnectivity of race, class, and gender and their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and domination. Her critique of education, like Freire’s, identifies it as inherently political in nature and focuses on the role the teacher plays in undermining personal/communal liberation in the classroom.

When you are doing the reading, ask yourself:

What do particular pedagogies tell us about what is expected of students in the classroom? How do you remember your own educational experience whether in primary, secondary, or college classrooms? What does “education as the practice of freedom” mean to you? What do you make of the concept of self-actualization as a part of the educative process?

Week 8

Education as a Radical Venture: In Practice

SNCC materials from Radical Teacher

Perlstein, “Teaching Freedom”

These readings translate the theory of “education for liberation” in to a reality. The first set are primary sources created by SNCC members. The Perlstein reading is a secondary source to help fill out our discussion and your understanding of the primary sources.

In February 1960, four students from North Carolina A&T conducted a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter. Students from other historically Black colleges and universities followed their example and the “sit-in movement” spread across the Southern states. In April 1960, students sponsored a conference to help organize the sit-ins, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was born. SNCC became an autonomous organization with a racially mixed group of participants working toward the desegregation of public facilities. When facilities began to acquiesce, SNCC changed its focus to voter registration efforts in the South and Mississippi in particular. Summer 1964 became known as Freedom Summer because SNCC spearheaded a campaign to bring college students from all over the nation to Mississippi for voter registration and to staff freedom schools (an organization called COFO-Coalition of Federated Organizations-also participated; it was made up of volunteers from SNCC and the Congress of Racial Equality, and other interested individuals). The freedom schools were supplement summer schools in which SNCC tried to scaffold Black youth with the tools necessary to critique and change society.

SNCC was not instituting a Freirian educational prescription though the organization’s proposals should sound familiar to you based on yesterday’s reading. Their schools developed out of an organic understanding of how best to educate students and an analysis of what the students needed to become full participants in American society. You may read the pieces as a set, but be careful about using one to measure the success of the other.

When you are doing the reading, ask yourself:

Is working inside the system or outside the system better (Freire worked within the system while SNCC worked outside the system)? What does this mean for the possibilities of education for liberation (assuming that Freirian/SNCC ideas on education are liberatory)? What would happen if these types of education became routine in schools? Would that be possible or desirable? Good? Bad? Right? Wrong? Why?

Week 9

Speak American!: Language Issues and American Schools

Various writings in Language Loyalties

Sekhon, “A Birthright Rearticulated,”

California Proposition 227 (at the back of the Sekhon article)

Video: Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary

These readings are from a variety of time periods and include primary sources and one secondary source. Read them as a chronology of different eras and ideas on what language means to the American identity. You will move from the Revolutionary Era (Webster), to the 1880s (Atkins and Spanish language rights), to the early 20th century (Roosevelt), to the English Only and bilingual education debate in the 1990s (Hayakawa, Skehon, and California Proposition 227).

You will be reading about attitudes toward different language communities by English speakers and different ideas on the worth of an official language. Read the pieces with an eye toward constancy and change. During class, we will talk a bit about the histories of different groups in the United States so you can have a frame of reference for understanding the language debates (in the short run, remember that white missionaries sought to ‘civilize’ the Indian with Christianity and education to save the ‘savage soul;’ California was part of the country of Mexico until the end of the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo in 1848; and the United States went to war with Germany in World War I).

When you are doing the reading, ask yourself:

How has the justification for/against bilingual education changed/stayed the same?

How does immigrant status (or country of origin) influence bilingual policy?

Reflect on the purpose of education as we’ve defined it-how does bilingual educational policy fit? How do language and identity fit with the concept of ‘American?”