robertogreco + leostrauss   1

Leon Botstein for Democracy Journal: Are We Still Making Citizens?
[via: http://willrichardson.com/post/115896934920/on-secret-keeping-and-forgetting ]

"Democracy requires a commitment to the public good. But for a long time now, our citizens have been taught to see themselves as only private actors."



"What the European émigrés discovered was a reality that partially resembled these principles. They saw from the outside, as it were, how vital the connection is between how we structure our schools and our capacity to maintain a functioning pluralist democracy. John Dewey, America’s greatest thinker on education since Mann, guided the ideology of public education. For Dewey, the justification for the proper pedagogy was not primarily political; his conception of teaching and learning derived largely from an epistemological conceit within Pragmatism. But for the European émigrés, the contrast between the school systems from which they came and the school system in the country in which they arrived—the virtue and attraction of American educational practice—was significant in terms of its political consequences.

In those years, the defining factor in the American system was the idea of a single, unitary public school system in which everybody enrolled. All citizens went to the same sort of schools through to the end of secondary school. Private schools were an elite phenomenon and relatively insignificant. Most European public systems, by contrast, were intentionally segregated by ability, creating distinct groups beginning at age 11. The state, using examinations, divided the school population into varying categories, each of which maintained a different track. The majority of citizens never completed school beyond elementary school. Some percentage went on to vocational schooling. A very small segment of the population went, as adolescents, either to a humanistic academic high school (Gymnasium) or to a less prestigious practical and science-oriented high school (Realschule) and received a secondary-school diploma. A Matura or Abitur, the diploma from these two types of secondary schools, permitted an elite student to enroll in the university.

Consequently, the unitary public school system that kept all children together until college and that built citizens of character, devoted to democratic values, was viewed by the émigré generation as a marvel. American education appeared to fit the idea that the nation and democracy were tied to a homogeneity of rights, and that diverse constituencies could not only obtain equal legal status but through education achieve the means to realize it in economic and social terms. Citizenship via a nominally nondiscriminatory and standard process accessible to all irrespective of birth, religion, ethnicity, or even language was unheard of in Europe, but it—and the concrete advantages education added—seemed possible in America.

Higher education was no less eye-opening. Undergraduates delayed specialization and studied more than one subject. They were, from the start, asked to do far more writing that called for the expression of their own arguments and judgments. What was equally shocking to a European was the way in which the American university system seemed immensely flexible and open to new ideas. There was not a rigid hierarchy with one professor running each “faculty.” Young scholars did not have to wait for their elders to retire or die. The university was able to create new fields and new positions. Not only was there less hierarchy and formality, but in graduate education there was even less deference to authority than in the public school system. The dissenter, rebel, and ambitious entrepreneur were prized more than in Europe. In terms of graduate education and academic career advancement, American university practice still stands in contrast to that of Europe.

That was the good news. The bad news was that the academic standards by which the American common school system operated seemed horrifically low. The price paid by the democratic culture of the American school system, the émigré observers concluded, was the low level of shared culture achieved at the end of secondary public education. Freshmen could not read or write properly, and they possessed little understanding of literature, art, philosophy, or history. The thinly veiled (at best) snobbery of the mid-century émigré scholars simply exploded when their members (such as Werner Jaeger, Leo Strauss, and Kurt Wolff) came to teach American college students."



"I distrust private languages and the tendency to rely on one’s personal narrative as the basis for talking about politics and, in particular, education, understood as a political good. The personal narrative is always contingent on those outside of it. What a child has to learn in school is not only to formulate a personal narrative but also to set it aside; children need to listen, to observe others, and thereby to distinguish their personal narrative from those of others as each individual constructs a role as a citizen. However, the two imperatives—personal growth and citizenship—don’t appear naturally to overlap. A child needs to learn things that allow him or her to function in a democratic context, to learn to consciously ignore personal self-interest and contemplate the public good. What a common public school ought to teach, therefore, is the capacity for disagreement, contest, and compromise. But if I think public goods are irrelevant, that we can do without government, I automatically subscribe to a kind of illusion of individualism against which criticism is hard, since the point of having a discussion or debate—the creation of the public space of a shared participatory politics—is rejected."



"The project of public education is fundamental to the notion of public goods in America. The restoration of public education seems a precondition for making the public sphere operate properly. Education must be about something more than personal happiness and benefit, economically defined; it has to map out the idea that there is more to the public good than the belief that through some free-market-style calculus of aggregate self-interests, the greatest good for the greatest number will emerge. In other words, public education is about educating the future citizen to consider a common ground in politics that can and will secure a more rewarding notion of personal security and tranquility for all.

But in the context of today’s disenchantment with the public sphere, what can a school-trained citizen do? Merely compete in the marketplace? Work for Google? What actually defines the public sphere today is not the government and Congress, but Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Conspiracy theorists when I was young pointed to the presence of socialists and communists who were said to undermine our system of values. Fear seemed reasonable in the Cold War and under the threat of nuclear war. The line between fear and paranoia was thin indeed. Fear was plausible.

But the people who frighten me and undermine the public sphere today are not terrorists and ideologues interested in overthrowing the government; they are not even those who work for the U.S. government within the NSA or the CIA. Rather, I’m afraid of the very large corporate giants that control our access to information, regulate our private lives by providing social networks—a platform for deceptive intimacy—and monitor every move we make in life and preserve a record of every message, thereby rendering secret-keeping and forgetting—two essential human experiences—impossible."



"So where does this bring us with regard to education? As a practitioner of education, I still hold to the idea that the most difficult and yet most vital thing to do is to construct and sustain a language of public conversation. And that language of public conversation will inevitably be different from our several private languages. We cannot expect it to be the same. The conversation on matters that affect us all has to take place in real space and time. School is one source of that essential opportunity.

One of the depressing aspects of our politics today is the extent to which our candidates think it is enough to be a personality and to rely on a private language in order to get elected. We are more interested in the personalities of our politicians, as if they were our neighbors or private friends, than we are in what they think. Today’s politicians cannot speak a comprehensible language of ideas in public conversation about public goods, the matters at stake in politics. We have lost the taste for a sustained debate about ideas.

To confront this lack of public discourse based on ideas—ideas bolstered by claims and evidence subject to open scrutiny—public education needs to work. It needs to create a community of very diverse citizens who are able to occupy a public space in which they can negotiate matters of shared concern, from foreign affairs to domestic policy, using a shared language. The Internet does not offer such a platform, nor does the virtual space or Facebook or any other social media.

I therefore think that we need to redouble the defense of a single system of public education to which our citizens have free access. We need to resist the privatization of schooling. That does not mean that every school should look alike. But since we will continue to be (I hope) an immigrant nation, we will have to champion a public school system if we are to reconcile increasing differences, inequalities of wealth, and class distinctions into a functioning, dynamic democracy made up of citizens.

I share the émigré generation’s quite romantic optimism for the potential of a democratic school system, one marked by excellence and equity. I think such a system is worth fighting for. There are lots of reasons to be optimistic. There is evidence that we can improve schools. A welcome first step would be to instill in the best of our current college students and future … [more]
leonbostein  democracy  publicschools  civics  citizenship  2015  individualism  collectivism  publicgood  education  society  us  privatization  government  disagreement  debate  participation  capitalism  hannaharendt  hansweil  christianmackauer  progressive  progressivism  freedom  interdependence  independence  politics  learning  johndewey  egalitarianism  americandream  equality  inequality  generalists  specialization  hierarchy  informality  formality  horizontality  standards  standardization  competition  universities  colleges  highered  highereducation  criticalthinking  accessibility  europe  history  leostrauss  kurtwolff  wernerjaeger  jacobklein  robertmaynardhutchins  stringfellowbarr  heinrichblücher  elitism  privateschools  content  process  methodology  pedagogy  howweteach  howwelearn  purpose  sputnik  truth  canon  discourse  isolation  technology  internet  schooling  schooliness  science  wikipedia  communication  language  eliascanetti  teaching  information  research 
april 2015 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:



description:


tags: