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Somelhing nev, irrilaling and inex¡IicabIe ha¡¡ened lo mosl of lhe cilizens of Luro¡e in lhe
16lh cenlury. Irices for sla¡Ies Iike food and cIolhing began lo rise. The average cilizen bIamed
cIolhes seIIers for greediIy raising lheir ¡rices. The cIolhes seIIers ¡rolesled lhal lhey vere no
more greedy lhan usuaI, and lhal lhe ¡robIem vas due lo lhe greed of lhe cIolh merchanls vho
vere demanding more for lheir cIolh. The merchanls bIamed lhe veavers, vho bIamed lhe
vooI merchanls, vho bIamed lhe shee¡ farmers. The shee¡ farmers ¡rolesled lheir
bIameIessness and said lhey had lo raise lheir ¡rices lo be abIe lo afford lhe increasingIy
ex¡ensive cIolhes.
So vho vas lo bIame` Someone vas cIearIy ri¡¡ing off lhe good cilizenry, bul no grou¡
seemed obviousIy richer, nor vilhoul lhe aIibi lhal lhey vere |usl res¡onding lo rising cosls
lhemseIves. Where vas lhe myslerious source of lhis irrilanl` Des¡ile lhe ¡oIemics, finger-
¡oinling, moraI alliludinizing and even earnesl inquiries, il vas nol unliI near lhe end of lhe
cenlury lhal }ean ßodin |153O-1596j, lhe Irench ¡oIilicaI ¡hiIoso¡her, vorked oul lhal none of
lhe usuaIIy bIamed sus¡ecls vas res¡onsibIe. Ralher, lhe ¡rice-rise vas caused by lhe use in
lhe royaI minls of Luro¡e of lhe goId and siIver ¡Iundered from CenlraI and Soulh America.
An increase in lhe money su¡¡Iy caused vhal is nov caIIed infIalion.
A somevhal anaIogous silualion exisls loday vilh regard lo schooIs. Since mass schooIing vas
invenled in lhe Iale 19lh cenlury, ¡eo¡Ie have faced lhe nev, irrilaling, and a¡¡arenlIy
inex¡IicabIe facl lhal, des¡ile massive ex¡endilures of ¡ubIic money and huge commilmenls of
lime by ex¡ensive ¡rofessionaIs, lhe generaI educalionaI achievemenl of schooIs is ¡relly
derisory. The Iife-lransforming and Iife-enhancing |oys of educalion, hilherlo avaiIabIe onIy lo
lhe very rich, vere lo be made avaiIabIe lo everyone. ßul lhis boon has somehov been reaIized
as a dreary, seedy and IargeIy boring enler¡rise lhal o¡ens lhe ¡romised riches of educalion lo
very fev and Ieaves lhe ma|orily sus¡icious of, aIienaled from, and even hosliIe lo mosl forms
of inleIIecluaI Iife. The ¡romise lhal schooIs vouId al Ieasl ¡roduce a lrained vork-force abIe lo
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ada¡l fIexibIy lo lhe changing needs of an induslriaI and ¡osl-induslriaI economy is reaIized
onIy in ¡arl and generaIIy inadequaleIy. Why is il so hard lo educale ¡eo¡Ie`
Reading aboul hov lo fix schooIs is dislurbingIy reminiscenl of 16lh-cenlury debales aboul lhe
cause of lhe ¡rice rise and hov lo slo¡ il. Ò¡en any ¡a¡er or magazine lhal discusses
educalion, and a reader viII find lhe ¡oIemics, finger-¡oinling, moraI alliludinizing and even
earnesl inquiries aimed al lhe usuaI sus¡ecls: lhe Iack of markel incenlives in schooIs,
inadequaleIy educaled leachers, lhe genelic inabiIily of 85/ of lhe ¡o¡uIalion lo benefil from
inslruclion in more lhan basic skiIIs and Iileracy, drugs, lhe inequilies of ca¡ilaIisl socielies, lhe
breakdovn of lhe lradilionaI famiIy and ils vaIues, an irreIevanl academic curricuIum, a lriviaI
curricuIum fiIIed onIy vilh lhe immedialeIy 'reIevanl', and so on.
I vanl lo suggesl lhal lhe usuaI sus¡ecls are innocenl, or al Ieasl innocenl of lhis ¡arlicuIar
crime, and lhal lhe cause of our modern irrilanl Iies eIsevhere, in a hilherlo unsus¡ecled ¡Iace.
When schooIs vere sel u¡ in lhe Iale-19lh cenlury, lhree ideas delermined hov lhey vere
organized and vhal lheir ob|eclives vere. The reason schooIs have never vorked very veII for
mosl ¡eo¡Ie is because lhese lhree ideas are muluaIIy incom¡alibIe. Lach one of lhem manages
lo find enough eIbov room in educalionaI syslems mainIy lo undermine lhe effecliveness of
lhe olher lvo.


I knov lhal Iocaling lhe ¡raclicaI ¡robIem of educalion in lhe reaIm of abslracl ideas does nol
exaclIy quicken lhe ¡uIse. Argumenls aboul lhe 16lh-cenlury ¡rice-rise vere al Ieasl carried on
againsl a background of langibIe goods, green acres of ¡ro¡erly, and goId from LI Dorado. The
educalionaI equivaIenls are cerlainIy Iess langibIe, es¡eciaIIy lo lhose vho have been chealed
of lhem by dysfunclionaI schooIing. Anyvay, Iel me describe lhese lhree ideas, and vhere lhey
came from. I am sure lhey viII be famiIiar.
The firsl educalionaI idea is lhal chiIdren shouId be sha¡ed lo lhe norms, vaIues and beIiefs of
lhe aduIl sociely. In lhe |argon of lexlbooks, lhis is caIIed 'sociaIizalion'. This idea of educalion
is recognized vhen ilems in lhe curricuIum are |uslified on lhe basis of lheir fulure sociaI
uliIily. So reading, vriling, com¡uling, sex-educalion, consumer-economics, basic common
knovIedge and so on, are aII |uslified in lerms of lheir necessily for someone lo gel on and be a
good cilizen lomorrov. This is an ancienl idea vhich conlem¡orary socielies have inheriled
from oraI cuIlures Iong ago. When governmenls came lo eslabIish lhe ¡ubIic schooIs, lhis idea
vas sliII ¡rominenl, and lhe curricuIum vas designed lo ¡roduce good cilizens vho vouId
embody lhe dominanl vaIues and beIiefs of lhe sociaI grou¡, and vho vouId be equi¡¡ed vilh
lhe skiIIs required by an induslriaI sociely. When ¡oIilicians fuIminale aboul educalion, il is
very IargeIy lhis idea of educalion lhal governs lheir lhinking.
The second educalionaI idea vas IIalo's. As he challed vilh lhe besl and brighlesl of Alhens,
he concIuded lhal veII-sociaIized cilizens vere more or Iess conlem¡libIe. Their ready
acce¡lance of lhe convenlionaI norms and vaIues of lhe sociely lhey grev inlo seemed lo him
a¡¡aIIing, as such beIiefs, he shoved, vere ly¡icaIIy a coIIeclion of confusions, iIIusions,
slereoly¡es, ¡re|udices and dogmas lhal did nol bear much scruliny. IIalo ¡ro¡osed a nev
idea of educalion and bequealhed il lo subsequenl generalions vilh such com¡eIIing force lhal
lhey have been unabIe lo shake il off, he conceived of educalion as lhe ¡rocess of seeking lhe
lrulh aboul reaIily. This requires a Iol of hard vork over many years lo deveIo¡ a ralionaI,
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sce¡licaI and ironic casl of mind and a commilmenl lo lhe ¡ursuil of knovIedge lhal requires
somelhing akin lo sanclily. Il has never ¡roven lo be everyone's cu¡ of lea. ßul vhen ¡ubIic
schooIs vere organized, lheir designers, loo, vere unabIe lo shake off IIalo's high-minded
idea, and so lhey insliluled a curricuIum lhal aims lo leach sludenls many lhings lhal are of no
¡raclicaI vaIue bul vhich are su¡¡osed lo heI¡ lhem lo undersland lhe vorId. Ior IIalo, lhe
mind is made u¡ very IargeIy of lhe knovIedge lhal il accumuIales, and accumuIaling a Iol of
lhe righl kind of disci¡Iined knovIedge can lurn lhe souI from ils easy acce¡lance of vhalever
convenlionaI rubbish ha¡¡ens lo be fashionabIe lo an auslere and disci¡Iined search for vhal is
lrue, good and beaulifuI (Cornford 1941). Hard lo knock, bul hard lo gel kids enlhusiaslic
The lhird idea is IargeIy derived from }ean-}acques Rousseau. He shared IIalo's conlem¡l for
lhe convenlionaIIy veII-educaled ¡erson. He aIso shared IIalo's viev lhal earIy sociaIizalion
generaIIy laughl chiIdren a Ioad of nonsense lhal vas immenseIy difficuIl lo disIodge once
Iearned. ßul he lhoughl IIalo vas vrong in his viev lhal chiIdren's minds vere sha¡ed very
IargeIy by lhe knovIedge lhal lhey accumuIale. He argued, vilh a com¡eIIing ¡ersuasiveness
nol much Iess lhan IIalo's, lhal lhe mind has an inlernaI, s¡onlaneous, naluraI deveIo¡menlaI
¡rocess lhrough vhich il grovs, and ¡ro¡er educalion is lhe ¡rocess of furlhering ils fuIIesl
deveIo¡menl. He suggesled lhal lhe mind is Iike lhe body in lhal lhe ¡arlicuIar food ealen does
nol radicaIIy infIuence lhe sha¡e of lhe body, ealing Iols of broccoIi does nol make ¡eo¡Ie
grov lo Iook Iike broccoIi, so vhal ¡eo¡Ie Iearn is nol lhe vilaI ¡arl of educalion. IIalo's idea
vas equivaIenl, Rousseau argued, lo lhinking lhal ealing Iols of broccoIi vouId make ¡eo¡Ie
more broccoIi-Iike. SensibIe melhodoIogy requires educalors lo make vhal lhey leach conform
vilh lhe nalure of sludenls' Iearning. So educalion became for Rousseau a maller of
encouraging lhe fuIIesl deveIo¡menl of a naluraI ¡sychoIogicaI ¡rocess, and lhereby fuIfiIIing
as far as ¡ossibIe lhe ¡olenliaI of each individuaI sludenl (Rousseau 1911). CIearIy a more
allraclive and ho¡efuI idea lhan IIalo's, il ¡romises lhe fuIfiImenl of educalionaI aims by
sim¡Iy doing vhal is easiesl and naluraI. No vonder il has a¡¡eaIed so videIy in Norlh
America, vhere il has become lhe anchoring idea of '¡rogressivism'.
NearIy aII modern conce¡lions of educalion, from lhe mosl radicaI lo lhe mosl conservalive, are
com¡ounded from lhese lhree ideas. No-one hoIds one of lhem lo lhe excIusion of lhe olher
lvo, of course, il's a maller of lhe ¡ro¡orlions in vhich lhey are mixed. So lhe more radicaI
conce¡lions lend lo combine a Iarge amounl of Rousseau vilh a smaII dose of sociaIizing, and
go very s¡aringIy vilh lhe IIalo. The conservalive lends lo slir in a good measure of IIalo, a
heaIlhy dose of sociaIizing, and go Iighl on lhe Rousseau. The average ¡oIilician lhrovs in a
very Iarge dose of sociaIizing, is very s¡aring of Rousseau, and s¡rinkIes in |usl a IillIe bil of
The lhree ideas are famiIiar sliII in aII dis¡ules aboul educalion. I lhink one mighl fairIy
describe educalionaI argumenls as nolhing olher lhan an asserlion aboul lhe ¡recedence lhese
ideas shouId lake in delermining educalionaI ¡rogrammes. In recenl ballIes over lhe sociaI
sludies curricuIum in various ¡arls of lhe ISA, for exam¡Ie, some conlend lhal chiIdren shouId
conlinue lo foIIov lhe sequence of sludy from seIf and famiIies lo communilies lo inleraclions
among communilies, elc., ¡referring more Rousseau and sociaIizing over IIalo. Those vho
argue for charler schooIs vhere slrong academic ¡rogrammes aimed al 'exceIIence' viII
¡redominale are ex¡ressing a ¡reference for more IIalo and sociaIizing and a bil Iess
Rousseau. I am sure lhal readers vouId find il easy lo cIassify mosl educalionaI ¡osilions in
lhese lerms. My main ¡oinl, hovever, is lhal lhese lhree ideas, lhal have given sha¡e lo our
schooIs from lheir 19lh-cenlury beginnings, are muluaIIy incom¡alibIe.

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Il has been assumed lhal lhese lhree ideas, vhelher recognized in lhe form skelched here or
nol, are necessary consliluenls of any sensibIe conce¡lion of educalion. Lveryone assumes lhal
lhe schooI shouId lry lo sociaIize chiIdren adequaleIy, and shouId achieve for each sludenl
academic achievemenls commensurale vilh lheir abiIilies, and shouId slrive lo ensure lhal
each sludenl's individuaI ¡olenliaI shouId be deveIo¡ed as fuIIy as ¡ossibIe. These have been
laken as sim¡Iy lhe goaIs of educalion, and aIlhough occasionaIIy lhere may be lensions among
lhese differenl goaIs, lhe aim for good adminislralors is lo ensure a sound baIance among lhem,
and lo ensure lhal none is sacrificed lo lhe excIusive achievemenl of anolher &emdash, lhey
don'l vanl lo em¡hasize academic achievemenl, for exam¡Ie, al lhe ex¡ense of lhe
deveIo¡menl of shared democralic vaIues, as Devey (1916) feared mighl ha¡¡en, or lhey don'l
vanl lo em¡hasize sociaIizalion lo lhe ¡oinl of encouraging unrefIeclive conformily, or lhey
don'l vanl lo aIIov so much em¡hasis on deveIo¡ing sludenls' individuaI ¡olenliaI lhal
schooIs faiI lo su¡¡orl basic common underslandings. In facl, lhe lhree ideas can seem Iike lhe
vise baIances buiIl inlo a nalionaI conslilulion, each branch kee¡ing lhe ¡olenliaI abuses of lhe
olhers in check.
Lel me lry lo indicale vhy I lhink lhal incom¡alibiIily is ¡reciseIy lhe righl lerm for lhe
reIalionshi¡ among our lhree greal educalionaI ideas.
The homogenizing aim of sociaIizalion, vhich is lo re¡roduce in each sludenl a ¡arlicuIar sel of
beIiefs, convenlions, norms of behaviour, and vaIues is necessariIy al odds vilh a ¡rocess lhal
aims lo shov lhe hoIIovness and inadequacy of lhose beIiefs, convenlions and vaIues. IIalo
¡romises lhal lhe revard for lhe hard vork of his ¡rogramme is ¡ure inleIIecluaI deIighl, hard-
von knovIedge is ils ovn revard &emdash, an argumenl confirmed by recenl research
shoving lhal com¡Iex Iearning reIeases endor¡hins in lhe brain. ßul lhis deIighl lends lo be
undercul in schooIs by lhe more urgenl and uliIilarian needs of sociaIizing, such as fulure-
em¡Ioymenl-reIaled sorling funclions lhal have Ied, among olher lhings, lo lhe frequenl use of
various kinds of lesling.
Imagine lhal vhenever a ¡erson sees a movie, he or she viII, al ils end, be lesled by a series of
queslions aboul il: Whal vas lhe coIour of lhe viIIain's car in lhe firsl chase scene` Whal exaclIy
vere lhe vords of lhe leIe¡hone hygienisl vhen lhe Greek boy feII from lhe sky` Describe lhe
molivalion of lhe cenlraI characler's husband, vas il adequale lo his decision lo lurn his shi¡s
from lhe ballIe` Can you idenlify lvo anachronisms in lhe CasabIanca bar-room scene` elc., elc.
An em¡Ioyee of lhe fiIm com¡any viII grade lhe ansvers, and lhe ¡erson's saIary viII be
radicaIIy ad|usled each veek de¡ending on lhe resuIls. Hov viII lhis affecl a ¡erson's deIighl
in movie valching` Whal vas su¡¡osed lo be a source of ¡Ieasure becomes fraughl vilh
anxiely. WeII, lhis is one of lhe lhings sociaIizalion's requiremenls do lo lhe IIalonic
¡rogramme in schooIing.
Òf course, lhe ¡ubIic vanls lhe ¡romised benefils of bolh educalionaI ideas. Il vanls lhe sociaI
harmony and lhe ¡sychoIogicaI slabiIily lhal successfuI sociaIizalion encourages, bul il aIso
vanls lhe cuIlivalion of lhe mind, lhe sce¡licism and dedicalion lo ralionaIily, and lhe
inleIIecluaI deIighls lhal IIalo's ¡rogramme encourages. Designing schooIs lo achieve eilher
one is difficuIl. SchooIs loday are su¡¡osed lo encourage conformily lo s¡ecific norms and
vaIues vhiIe encouraging a vay of lhinking lhal Ieads lo sce¡licism of lhem al lhe same lime.
This is more lhan difficuIl.
5]10 IacuIty.ed.uIuc.edu]westbury]jcs]VoI31]Egan.htmI
Ior Rousseau and his modern ¡rogressivisl foIIovers, lhe unfoIding of lhe individuaI's
¡arlicuIar ¡olenliaIs conslilules educalion. As lhe deveIo¡menl of lhe body ¡roceeds aImosl
regardIess of lhe ¡arlicuIar food il eals, so lhe mind viII deveIo¡ aImosl regardIess of lhe
¡arlicuIar knovIedge il Iearns, educalors musl focus on lhe deveIo¡menlaI ¡rocess, nol lhe
¡arlicuIar knovIedge. And for lhis unfoIding lo occur o¡limaIIy, lhe sludenl needs lime and
s¡ace lo ex¡Iore. Lducalion, in IIalo's viev and in lhal of modern ¡ro¡onenls of lhe academic
idea, is marked ralher by sludenls' maslery of increasingIy abslracl knovIedge. Ior lhe
IIalonisls, lhe onIy deveIo¡menl of educalionaI inleresl is lhe accumuIalion of lhe ¡arlicuIar
knovIedge lhal viII bring lhe mind lo cIarily of underslanding.
The ¡rogressivisls bIame lhe lradilionaIisls for reslricling sludenls' freedom, for im¡osing a
common curricuIum on aII, for seeing ¡arlicuIar knovIedge as ¡riviIeged and for crealing
óIiles, for reslricling sludenls' ovn inquiries and individuaI deveIo¡menl. The lradilionaIisls
bIame lhe ¡rogressivisls for ¡er¡elualing ignorance and encouraging sludenls' seIf-induIgence,
for ¡roducing undisci¡Iined lhinkers, for lhrealening lhe inleIIecluaI foundalions of human
cuIlure, and for encouraging sludenls lo imagine lhal lheir o¡inions are as im¡orlanl as hard
facls, and confusing lhe lvo.
Òne sees lhe confIicl belveen lhese ideas in aImosl every media accounl of educalionaI issues,
vhere lhe IIalonic forces argue for 'basics' and a soIid academic curricuIum, and lhe
Rousseauians argue for 'reIevance' and s¡ace for sludenls' ex¡Ioralion and discovery.
And, of course, sensibIe ¡eo¡Ie vanl lhem bolh. SchooIs couId be designed lo im¡Iemenl
eilher of lhese conce¡lions of educalion, bul lhe ¡ubIic requires schooIs lo im¡Iemenl bolh
logelher. ßul lhe more ¡eo¡Ie lry lo im¡Iemenl one, lhe more lhey undermine lhe olher.
In sociaIizalion, educalionaI aims are derived from sociely's norms and vaIues, in lhe
Rousseauian viev, lhe chiId shouId be ke¡l from conlacl vilh sociely's norms and vaIues as
Iong as ¡ossibIe, because lhey are 'one mass of foIIy and conlradiclion' (Rousseau 1911: 46). If
educalors vanl lo Iel lhe nalure of lhe chiId deveIo¡ and fIover as fuIIy as ¡ossibIe, lhey viII
conslanlIy defend her or him againsl lhe sha¡ing ¡ressures of sociely. An as¡ecl of lhis confIicl
is a¡¡arenl loday in alliludes lo lhe generaI infIuence of leIevision on chiIdren. TeIevision
¡rovides a ¡overfuI sha¡ing lo a sel of ¡rominenl sociaI norms and vaIues, bul mosl ¡arenls
resisl much of lhis sha¡ing in favour of aclivilies lhal seem lo lhem Iess IikeIy lo dislorl ¡ro¡er
or 'naluraI' deveIo¡menl.
No-one, of course, is sim¡Iy on lhe side of Rousseau againsl sociaIizalion, or vice versa.
Lveryone recognizes lhal any deveIo¡menlaI ¡rocess has lo lake ¡Iace vilhin, and be
infIuenced by, a ¡arlicuIar sociely. A ¡robIem arises because of lhe allraclion of Rousseau's
ideas aboul a kind of deveIo¡menl lhal honours somelhing se¡arale from lhe com¡romises, lhe
corru¡lions, and conslriclions of s¡iril lhal sociaI Iife so commonIy brings vilh il. Ieo¡Ie do
nol have lo share Rousseau's ovn disgusl vilh sociely (vhich relurned him high regard and
money) lo recognize lhe allraclion of his idea lhal lhere is a naluraI course lo human
deveIo¡menl vhich shouId be ke¡l cIear and foIIoved. AIlhough ¡arenls do nol oflen ¡ul il in
Rousseau's lerms, many regrel &emdash, lo a degree lhal amounls in some cases lo hearlache
&emdash, seeing lheir chiIdren off lo schooI for lhe firsl lime, knoving lhal lhey viII be bruised
by caIIousness and insensilivily, made somevhal caIIous lhemseIves, and seduced by chea¡
fashions in ¡Ieasure, and lhal lheir quick minds viII be anaeslhelized by lhe boredom of lhe
There does nol seem room for much com¡romise belveen Rousseau and sociaIizalion. Ieo¡Ie
cannol sensibIy aim lo sha¡e a chiId's deveIo¡menl haIf from nalure and haIf from sociely. The
6]10 IacuIty.ed.uIuc.edu]westbury]jcs]VoI31]Egan.htmI
more lhey do one, lhe more lhey undermine lhe olher. ßy lrying lo com¡romise, lhey ensure
onIy lhal neilher is effeclive. So lhe ¡roducls of schooIs are al besl a bil Iosl, a bil aIienaled, and
adrifl on a sociaI ocean in vhich lhey knov IillIe of vhence or vhilher, and al vorsl lhey suffer
ignorance, ¡overIessness and rage.

Hov eIse can ve lhink aboul educalion` We can lhink of il as Iearning lo use as veII as
¡ossibIe lhe inleIIecluaI looIs deveIo¡ed in human evoIulion and cuIluraI hislory.
Humans' reIalionshi¡ lo lheir looIs is very ¡ecuIiar. WhiIe al some sim¡Ie IeveI looIs exlend
our senses, in more com¡Iex vays lhey aIso lransform our senses and consequenlIy our very
conce¡lion of ourseIves. IoIanyi (1967: 12-13) indicales somelhing of lhis odd reIalionshi¡
vhen he describes hov ve use somelhing as sim¡Ie as a vaIking slick. Imagine being in a dark
cave feeIing ahead vilh lhe li¡ of a vaIking slick. Whal one acluaIIy feeIs is lhe im¡ression of
lhe slick againsl lhe hand, bul lhe mind lransforms lhis so lhal vhal ve consciousIy sense is lhe
slones or rock or moss al lhe li¡ of lhe slick. Il is as lhough ve fIov inlo lhe slick and il
becomes inlegraled inlo our sensorium.
The mind's inleraclions vilh our symboIic looIs is even more com¡Iex. Òur underslanding of
lhe vorId and of ourseIves has been lransformed again and again by our incor¡oralion of
various symboIic looIs Iike Ianguage, Iileracy and lheorelic abslraclions.
I lhink ve can reconceive educalion as lhe ¡rocess vhereby ve acquire as fuIIy as ¡ossibIe lhe
ma|or symboIic looIs invenled or discovered in human cuIlures. Lach ma|or sel of looIs
generales for us somevhal dislinclive kinds of underslanding. I viII briefIy skelch lhese main
sels of looIs and describe lhe kinds of underslanding lo vhich lhey give rise.
The main conslruclion bIocks of lhis nev idea of educalion is 'kinds of underslanding', ralher
lhan lhe more famiIiar 'knovIedge' or '¡sychoIogicaI deveIo¡menl'. Whal is a kind of
underslanding` Consider lhal al LI Quanlara raiIvay slalion in lhe Suez CanaI Zone during lhe
192Os lhere vere len Iavalories. Three vere for senior officers (one for Luro¡eans, one for
Asialics, and one for CoIoureds), lhree vere for non-commissioned officers, simiIarIy divided
by race, lhree vere for olher ranks, aIso divided aIong raciaI Iines, and one vas for vomen
regardIess of race or rank. 1
Òne mighl find lhis sim¡Iy a boring facl of no reIevance lo anylhing in one's Iife. Òne mighl
slore il as a deIighlfuI ¡iece of exolica. Òne mighl be oulraged by such Iavalory arrangemenls,
laking lhe ¡osilion of lhe olher ranks, or be reIieved laking lhe ¡oinl of viev of lhe officers, or
have mixed feeIings laking lhe ¡oinl of viev of lhe vomen. Òne mighl find such arrangemenls
ob|eclionabIe in one vay if race is a ma|or delerminer of one's sociaI consciousness, and
anolher vay if cIass is more ¡rominenl. Òne mighl consider such Iavalory arrangemenls ¡arl of
a ¡rogressive hisloricaI slory refIecling a change from aulhorilarian lo more democralic sociaI
forms. Òr one mighl consider lhese arrangemenls as sim¡Iy one sel among a kaIeidosco¡ic
variely of ¡ossibIe forms, none of vhich is any more 'naluraI' or normaI lhan any olher.
Thal is lo say, our underslanding loday is commonIy com¡Iex, mixing various vays of making
sense of knovIedge and ex¡erience. Whal I vanl lo do is suggesl a vay of breaking dovn lhis
com¡Iex of underslandings ve have avaiIabIe lo us, organizing lhem in lhe sequence in vhich
lhey vere deveIo¡ed hisloricaIIy and IogicaIIy, and using lhem as lhe basis for an educalionaI
7]10 IacuIty.ed.uIuc.edu]westbury]jcs]VoI31]Egan.htmI
The firsl looI ve have avaiIabIe for underslanding lhe vorId is our bodies, ve see lhose as¡ecls
of lhe vorId lhal are vilhin lhe band of radialion our eyes are sensilive lo, ve ¡erceive a
cerlain scaIe of lhings because of our size, ve allend lo sounds in a range our audilory organ
can hear, and so on. Òur firsl 'Somalic' underslanding comes vilh lhe mind's ex¡ansion inlo
and, as il vere, lhrough lhe body oul inlo lhe vorId. We are an animaI lhal recognizes cerlain
rhylhms, es¡eciaIIy lhose connecled vilh Ianguage. Òur Somalic underslanding is a
dislincliveIy human, ¡re-Iinguislic 'lake' on lhe vorId, il remains lhroughoul our Iives as basic
lo aII olher forms of underslanding. In lerms of lhe LI Quanlara exam¡Ie, il ¡rovides a basic
sense of vhal vouId be invoIved ¡hysicaIIy in using such Iavalories, mani¡uIaling doors, lhe
IikeIy smeIIs, lhe needs lhal vouId make lhem veIcome.
The second main looI ve acquire is oraI Ianguage. Language Ieads lo a dislinclive kind of
underslanding, vhich I caII 'Mylhic'. Il makes us see ex¡erience in slory-sha¡es lhal orienl our
emolions lo lhe evenls in our Iives and our ficlions. Il makes us break lhe vorId u¡ inlo
o¡¡osiles &emdash, good1bad, big1IillIe, brave1covardIy, secure1anxious &emdash, and
lhen eIaborale or mediale belveen lhe o¡¡osiles. Òur medialions belveen discrele o¡¡osiles,
Iike Iife1dealh, human1animaI, nalure1cuIlure, generale for us ghosls and s¡irils (belveen Iife
and dealh), monslers and mermaids (belveen human and animaI), and laIking animaIs
(belveen nalure and cuIlure). We ¡rominenlIy use lhe Iogic of mela¡hor, making sense of
lhings in lerms of olher lhings, vhich is a source of our imaginalive Iives and crealivily. We can
use vords lo generale in our minds images of vhal couId be or even of vhal cannol be, vhich
gives us a sub|unclive underslanding, unconslrained by brule facls. In lerms of lhe LI Quanlara
exam¡Ie, Mylhic underslanding vouId conlribule an affeclive orienlalion lo lhe image ve
generale of lhese Iavalories.
The lhird generaI looI ve acquire is Iileracy, Iileracy nol sim¡Iy as a coding and decoding
¡rocedure, bul lied inlo lhe sel of uses deveIo¡ed for il in cuIluraI hislory. Lileracy gives us
firsl an inlimalion of a reaIily beyond our slories, gives us lhe unveIcome underslanding lhal
vhal ve beIieve, ho¡e, fear and lhink aboul lhe vorId are irreIevanl lo lhe vay lhe vorId reaIIy
is. We begin lo access lhis reaIily by means of ils exlremes &emdash, so Iilerale chiIdren find
informalion such as lhal in lhe Guinness ßook of Records immedialeIy engaging. This kind of
underslanding I caII 'Romanlic', in lhal lhe mind lries lo lranscend reaIily vhiIe recognizing
lhal il is conslrained and vuInerabIe vilhin il. So ve menlaIIy associale vilh vhalever seems
besl abIe lo overcome lhe lhreals of lhe vorId around us, ve form romanlic associalions vilh
heroes, or greal inslilulions, or vhalever is mosl ¡overfuI, lenacious, com¡assionale, slrong,
beaulifuI &emdash, vhalever, lhal is, com¡ensales for vhal ve feeI mosl insecure aboul in lhe
face of everyday reaIily. (TeII me your heroes and I'II leII you vhal you feeI mosl insecure
aboul.) A Romanlic underslanding lends lo make sense of lhe vorId in human lerms, so ve are
engaged by knovIedge if ve can see il as lhe ¡roducl of some human emolion or lranscendenl
quaIily, Iike genius or com¡assion or nobiIily or courage or craziness or any of lhe oId virlues.
In lerms of lhe LI Quanlara exam¡Ie, Romanlic underslanding conlribules a sense of lhe
¡ecuIiarily of lhe arrangemenls and hov ¡erfeclIy lhey refIecl an exolic im¡eriaI syslem and ils
The fourlh generaI symboIic looI kil ve acquire comes aIong vilh Iearning lo use lheorelic
abslraclions &emdash, evidenl in our use of big, generaI lerms Iike 'sociely', 'evoIulion',
'naluraI', elc. These lheorelic forms of lhoughl com¡eI us lo recognize lhal our romanlic
slruggIe lo lranscend reaIily is fuliIe and lhal lhe mind is lra¡¡ed vilhin reaIily as in a s¡ider's
veb. These lheorelic looIs deIiver a kind of underslanding lhal comes from gras¡ing in generaI
lerms &emdash, Iike ideoIogies, lheoIogies, moraI syslems, mela¡hysicaI schemes &emdash,
lhe lrulh aboul lhe ¡rocesses vilhin vhich ve exisl. The mind seeks lhe lrulh in generaI
schemes, il vanls lo knov lhe nalure of lhe hisloricaI ¡rocess &emdash, is il lragic, or
graduaIIy ameIioralive, or Marxisl` vhal is lhe nalure and ¡ro¡er organizalion for sociely`
vhal is lhe lrulh aboul human ¡sychoIogy` I caII lhis kind of underslanding 'IhiIoso¡hic'. Il
8]10 IacuIty.ed.uIuc.edu]westbury]jcs]VoI31]Egan.htmI
lends lo make sense of lhe vorId in lerms of ¡rocesses ralher lhan discrele evenls. Whereas
Romanlic underslanding focuses on Iimils and exlremes, lhe brighl bils and ¡ieces of lhe
vorId, lhe IhiIoso¡hic mind sels aboul charling or making a ma¡ of lhe vhoIe. Il embodies
vhal Willgenslein famousIy caIIed 'lhe craving for generaIily'. In lerms of lhe LI Quanlara
exam¡Ie, IhiIoso¡hic underslanding conlribules a |udgmenl on lhose Iavalory arrangemenls in
lerms of some ideoIogicaI scheme or some moraI ¡ers¡eclive or an a¡¡recialion of lhem as
refIecling some sociaI order.
The fiflh kind of underslanding comes vilh lhe deveIo¡menl of an exlreme refIexiveness of
Ianguage. Il is lhe kind of 'Ironic' underslanding lhal resuIls from lhe recognilion lhal our
Ianguage can never be adequale lo vhalever il seeks lo conlain or communicale, lhal lhe vorId
is made of differenl sluff from vords, and lhe Ialler can never ca¡lure lhe former. Ironic
underslanding gives us a beller sense of vhere ve end and lhe vorId begins, of lhe vays our
symboIic looIs lend lo embroiI us in vhal ve lry lo undersland. Irony aIso o¡ens u¡ for us a
vider range of |okes, even lhe cosmic ones. Irony conlribules a ¡ers¡eclive on lhose LI
Quanlara Iavalories lhal incIudes aII lhe ¡revious kinds of underslanding and adds a cooI
recognilion of lhe underIying absurdily of lhe beIiefs and commilmenls lhal govern such
Iavalory arrangemenls.
Whal I suggesl is lhal ve can reconceive educalion as an enler¡rise aimed al ensuring for each
chiId as fuII as ¡ossibIe an acquisilion of each of lhese kinds of underslanding. Acquiring lhem
ensures lhal lhe sensibIe aims of educalion embodied in lhe oId ideas viII be achieved
incidenlaIIy, a ¡erson vho gains in significanl degree Somalic, Mylhic, Romanlic, IhiIoso¡hic,
and Ironic underslanding viII necessariIy have lo acquire a Iol of knovIedge, viII have lo
allain significanl ¡sychoIogicaI malurily, and viII become sociaIIy com¡elenl. Whal viII nol
ha¡¡en is lradilionaI sociaIizalion lo conformily, nor lhe acquisilion of ¡arlicuIar 'óIile'
knovIedge lhal ¡riviIeges one againsl olhers, nor lhe ¡ursuil of some su¡¡osedIy ¡ro¡er
deveIo¡menlaI ¡rocess, and ve viII Ieave behind us lhe enervaling ballIes among lhese
incom¡alibIe aims.
These are nol slages ve ¡ass lhrough, lhey are kinds of underslanding ve accumuIale and lhal
coaIesce lo some degree. This scheme does nol describe a ¡sychoIogicaI ¡rocess lhrough vhich
ve s¡onlaneousIy deveIo¡ as ve grov oIder, ralher, il characlerizes forms of lhinking evoked
in individuaIs loday, as lhey vere evoked in our cuIluraI hislory, by lhe deveIo¡menl of
¡arlicuIar symboIic looIs. If lhese looIs are nol su¡¡orled by a¡¡ro¡riale educalionaI aclivilies,
lhey viII nol be acquired in any adequale vay, and lhe forms of underslanding lhey slimuIale
viII nol deveIo¡.
Lducalion as lhe acquisilion of inleIIecluaI looIs is nol some slraighlforvard ¡rogressive
scheme, bul ralher is a ¡rocess of gains and Iosses. Thal is, each kind of underslanding, vhiIe
ideaIIy coaIescing in significanl degree vilh ¡reviousIy acquired kinds, aIso su¡¡resses
somelhing of lhe ¡revious kinds. So, for exam¡Ie, lhe eIaboraled Iileracy lhal ¡roduces
Romanlic underslanding su¡¡resses some eIemenls of Mylhic underslanding &emdash, ve
sense lhal 'lhere halh ¡assed avay a gIory from lhe earlh', as Wordsvorlh ¡ul il,
vhen lhe
anaeslhelizing ¡over of Iileracy and lheorelic lhinking remove us a IillIe from lhal earIy vivid
¡arlici¡alion in lhe naluraI vorId.


In a ¡ragmalic and em¡iricaIIy orienled cuIlure, such as lhal of lhe IS, il is somelimes hard lo
9]10 IacuIty.ed.uIuc.edu]westbury]jcs]VoI31]Egan.htmI
recognize lhal vhal ¡eo¡Ie do is delermined in Iarge ¡arl by vhal lhey lhink. If lhey lhink of
educalion as lhe ¡rocess of sociaIizing and academic achievemenl and individuaI fuIfiImenl
lhen lhey do ¡arlicuIar lhings driven by lhese ideas &emdash, su¡¡osing lhal lhey can
recognize hov besl lo achieve lhe ends lhey have in viev. If lhe ideas lhey lhink vilh are
incom¡alibIe, lhen lhe ¡raclice lhal resuIls is IikeIy lo be a shambIe. I lhink schooIs can fairIy be
described as a shambIe of very varied aclivilies, oflen heroicaIIy direcled lovards ends lhal are
undercul by olher, oflen heroic, aclivilies aimed al quile differenl ends.
Thinking aboul educalion as allaining lhe kinds of underslanding deveIo¡ed in our evoIulion
and cuIluraI hislory viII incIine us lo do olher lhings vilh schooIs. Inslead of lhree discordanl
aims for schooIing, ve viII have a singIe coherenl one. Anylhing lhal conlribules lo deveIo¡ing
kinds of underslanding viII have a ¡Iace vilhin such schooIs, and everylhing eIse viII nol. So
lhe sociaIizing, |ob-¡re¡aralion, arid Iearning, leam s¡orls, and so much eIse lhal are currenlIy
dum¡ed inlo lhe schooI viII have lo be deaIl vilh by olher sociaI agencies. The educalion
syslem mighl ho¡e lo become more Iike lhe heaIlh syslem, in vhich each vorker shares a
singIe goaI. Al lhe momenl il is more Iike, and ralher vorse lhan, lhe ¡rison syslem, vhich has
lhe incom¡alibIe goaIs of ¡unishing and rehabiIilaling &emdash, again, lhe more ¡eo¡Ie do
one, lhe harder il is lo do lhe olher.
SchooIing for underslanding, vhen described al Ienglh (Lgan 1997), does nol require massive
reorganizalion of everylhing. In some sense il viII be famiIiar, aImosl vhal ve have meanl by
educalion aII aIong, bul IIalo and Rousseau bevilched us vilh lheir rheloric and lhe
sociaIizers buIIied us vilh lheir urgenl demands. Lducalion is a business of ex¡anding
underslanding as much as ve can manage for each sludenl by enabIing lhem lo acquire as fuIIy
as ¡ossibIe lhe range of symboIic looIs lhal are ¡roducls of our evoIulion and cuIluraI hislory.
This is do-abIe, and lhere is good reason lo beIieve lhal il viII beller salisfy lhe schooIs' currenl
¡aymaslers lhan lhe doomed allem¡ls lo deIiver lhree incom¡alibIe ends.


1. Har¡er (1974: 24-29) revievs sociaI and economic condilions in lhe CanaI Zone
during lhe ¡eriod.

2. Irom 'Inlimalions of immorlaIily from recoIIeclions of earIy chiIdhood',
com¡osed circa 18O3 (Hulchinson 19O4: 587).


CÒRNIÒRD, I. M. (1941) The Re¡ubIic of IIalo (Òxford: CIarendon Iress).

10]10 IacuIty.ed.uIuc.edu]westbury]jcs]VoI31]Egan.htmI
DLWLY, }. (1916) Democracy and Lducalion (Nev York: The Iree Iress).

LGAN, K. (1997) The Lducaled Mind: Hov Cognilive TooIs Sha¡e Òur
Inderslanding (Chicago: Iniversily of Chicago Iress).

HARILR, A. A. (1974) Tracing lhe Course of Grovlh and DeveIo¡menl in
LducalionaI IoIicy for lhe CanaI Zone CoIored SchooIs, 19O5-55. DocloraI
Disserlalion, Iniversily of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.

HITCHINSÒN, T. (19O4) The IoelicaI Works of Wordsvorlh, revised L. de
SeIincourl (London: Òxford Iniversily Iress).

IÒLANYI, M. (1967) The Tacil Dimension (Nev York: Anchor).

RÒISSLAI, }.-}. (1911 |1762j) LmiIe, lrans. ß. IoxIey (London: Denl).

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