The key ideas are reality of encounter and the continuum of experience. There is no reality of encounter between adults and children in most schoolrooms (or homes, for that matter), becausemost teachers do not feel free, do not dare, either to let the children say or to say themselveswhat they really feel and think. Their concern is that nothing shall be said or done in theclassroom that might get them into trouble--and the trouble they can get into is real enough, as isclearly shown every year by the experience of brave and honest teachers. But what is worse isthat they are neither brave nor honest enough to admit that their primary concern, the overridingreason for everything they make or let happen in class, is staying out of trouble.It is bad enough that thousands of teachers all over the country who in their hearts would like toassign, for example, The
Catcher in the Rye
are afraid to do so. But children might learn a greatdeal about education and society--much more than is in their civics books - if their teacher saidto them, "I know a book that I think you would enjoy and from which you would get a great deal,but I don't dare assign it to you, I don't even dare tell you its name, for fear that some of yourparents, or some people in the community, will kick up such a fuss that I will lose my job--and Ican't afford to lose my job." Here might be the foundation for a real curriculum and a great dealof honest talk and true learning. Our schools pretend, not altogether hypocritically or dishonestly,to be much concerned with morality, but as Dennison says, "an active moral life cannot beevolved except where people are free to express their feelings and
act upon the insights of conscience
" (italics mine) and this freedom hardly exists anywhere in our schools.Of an incident in which a teacher took time, to a degree unthinkable in most schools, to help twochildren settle a bitter quarrel (but they settled it, not she), Dennison writes: ...[The children's] self interest will lead them into positive relations with the natural authority of adults, and this is much to be desired, for natural authority is a far cry From authority that ismerely arbitrary. Its attributes are obvious: adults are larger, are experienced, possess morewords,
have entered into prior agreements among themselves
. [Italics mine]This last is of critical importance. I do not know of a more compact or complete definition or atleast description of what we mean by the elusive word "culture." The children, living in thisculture, sense it all around them, sense that in spite of its bewildering variety it must make somesense, and want more than anything else to End out how it works. What nonsense it is to speak of children living in "unstructured" situations-no one does, every human situation has a structure -or to assume that children are indifferent to the real nature of the world and society around them,and will learn nothing about it unless it is crammed down their throats.Dennison continues:…When all this takes on a positive instead of a merely negative character, the children see theadults as protectors and as sources of certitude, approval, novelty, skills. In the fact that adultshave entered into prior agreements, children intuit seriousness and a web of relations in the lifethat surrounds them. ... These two things, taken together--the natural authority of adults and theneeds of children--are the great reservoir of the organic structuring that comes into being whenarbitrary rules of order are dispensed with.