Education and the Common Good: A Moral Philosophy of the Curriculum by Philip H. Phenix
Philip H. Phenix was educated at Princeton University, Union Theological Seminary, and Columbia University. He was formerly Dean of Carleton College, and was professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Published by Harper & Brothers, 1961. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 15: Political Organization
We have thus far considered the meaning of democracy as a broad concept having relevance to every field of human interest and endeavor. We now turn to politics, the field in which the idea of democracy had its birth and in which it is still most naturally and commonly applied. Politics has to do with the way in which a society as a whole is organized and operates. It is concerned with the governance of all the people, with the structure of the public realm.
In matters political, democracy means -- in Lincoln’s words -- government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It means self-government of a given body of people, as contrasted with non-democratic political systems in which rule is in the hands of a hereditary monarch, of a dictator, of an aristocracy (noblemen or intellectuals), of a class (rich people, the proletariat, or priests), or of a limited party.
Political democracy is based on the principle of political equality. The contrast between rulers and ruled, between sovereign and subject, is obliterated. The rulers and the ruled are one and the same people. The people are sovereign and subject to no other persons but themselves. In a democracy every man is a king.
But should the people govern themselves? Should not the best people govern, as the advocates of aristocracy propose? Why should the welfare of all the people be endangered by placing their destinies in their own hands, in view of the relative incompetence of the average man in comparison with the most able people? Can the general educational level ever be high enough to make the common people wise enough to rule themselves?
In the abstract it can be granted that the best people should govern. But who are the best people, and in what sense are they best? If "best" refers to high intellectual ability, personal dynamism, rhetorical eloquence, and the like, and if people with such powers are permitted to rule autonomously, they are likely soon to become tyrants. Democracy rests on the insight that no one -- not even the "best" people -- can in the long run and on the whole be entrusted with an unconditional grant of power over other people. Democracy did not come into being as a means of improving the quality of leadership by installing the common man as sovereign in place of the aristocrats. Democratic reformers have been under no illusions that the common man possesses any special wisdom which is superior to that of the exceptional man. Their insistence has rather been on the untrustworthiness of any person -- "common" or exceptional -- to exercise sovereignty over others without limitations and checks.
Popular rule may become as corrupt as autocratic rule. When self-interest dominates a society, the rule of the people becomes the tyranny of the mass, exercised through persons who hold authority in the name of the people. Such popular rule requires the suppression of minorities whom the majority do not consider consistent with their own best interest. Democracies based on the accommodation of competing interests are inherently unstable. As the pressures from dissatisfied elements within build up, and as the dangers of assault from without multiply, such a democracy is subject to weakness, frustration, and loss of morale, and ultimately to disintegration from within or conquest from without. There is widespread suffering due to the loss of social order, and the eventual result is an autocratic regime in which personal liberties are exchanged for the benefits of dependable authority.
Such are the consequences of building a political system on the principle of interest-satisfaction. The theory that human beings in pursuit of their own interests will automatically establish a harmonious society, provided everyone has an equal voice in political affairs, is no more true than the corresponding thesis in economic affairs. Furthermore, raising the educational level of the people offers no sure remedy for the corruption of a mass democracy. Education designed to further individual ambitions in fact intensifies the forces that make for the inefficiency and instability of popular democracy.
Democracy can be firmly established only on moral foundations. The democracy of desire contains the seeds of its own destruction. Only a democracy of worth possesses the resources for permanent growth and regeneration. The proper goal of democratic political life is the discovery and accomplishment of what is right. It is a great error to conceive of democracy in Utilitarian terms, as that form of government that affords "the greatest good to the greatest number," where "good" means pleasure, happiness, and the fulfilling of desires. The original democratic challenge to autocracy was mainly for the increase of freedom in justice and fraternal relations; this is still the proper goal.
Democracy is commonly thought of as a system for making effective the "will of the people." This idea assumes the democracy of desire, in which human autonomy is the governing principle. The proper principle of democratic responsibility is not the "will" of the people, but the fulfilling by them of truth and justice, regardless of what any person or group may will. Virtue is not guaranteed by majority vote. Real excellence is usually perceived and willed by the few rather than by the many. Then, should we abandon the democratic idea? By no means. Civic responsibility belongs to all the people because the people as a whole are the best custodians of the right, the safest guardians against the perversion of justice by the powerful few who would rule over others for their own advantage.
This subordination of the people’s will is symbolized by the official American motto, "In God we trust." This motto is not an expression of an official national theism, for such a view would contradict the well-established principle of state neutrality in matters of religious belief and would imply that people who do not believe in God are not fully citizens. The motto should rather be understood as affirming that the nation stands under a judgment superior to any or all of the people -- namely, that of the right itself. It means that the state is not supreme, nor are the people themselves the final standard by which everything is to be measured. The ultimate criteria are truth, goodness, justice, freedom -- ideals of worth which may be approximated but never fully embodied in actual existence.
The nature of democratic authority is further clarified by considering the place of law in government. One of the cornerstones of democracy is that government is not of men but of law. The rule of law overcomes the anarchy of unbridled freedom and inhibits arbitrary action by persons in power. Political life must be conducted according to established rules and traditions which condition the liberty of all citizens, including government officials, for the sake of the common welfare. Indeed, laws are necessary in any society if the people are to have confidence and security and if public affairs are to be conducted with orderliness and predictability. Autocracies require laws as well as do democracies, and a democracy of desire as well as a democracy of worth. The differences between governments turn on the matter of the sources and sanctions of law. In autocracy, laws are made by the ruler and express his will. He can truthfully say, "I am the law," although for prudential reasons he usually suppresses this boast. In a democracy of desire, laws are made by the people and express their will. The people are then the law. They make laws to establish and conserve order and to maximize the satisfaction of special interests.
Under autocracy and the democracy of desire, government is really of men, not of laws. The laws are only tools through which men govern. In such societies the laws are constantly under challenge by subjected persons and by those who seek to improve their own position relative to others. Laws made by men are respected no more than are the men who make them, and laws that express the will of men will be broken without compunction by other men whose will, in the contest of interests, is opposed to that of the lawmakers. When laws have their source and sanction solely in human beings, therefore, resistance and defiance by those with opposite interests are to be expected. The only guilt is getting caught in the infraction of regulations. In fact, since success is considered the criterion of the good, taking advantage of the law without being apprehended is regarded as a mark of virtue. Thus, a thorough belief that laws are made solely by men engenders disrespect, disorder, and lawlessness.
Government by law rather than by men presupposes a sanction for law rising above human will. To be sure, all law is necessarily formulated by men; it comes through human channels. But if it is to inspire respect and obedience, there must be a belief that the law is an expression (albeit partial and imperfect) of what is good and right.
Respect for law as an approximation to the right must be carefully distinguished from legalistic absolutism. Legalists regard laws as unchanging, unchallengeable rules of conduct, as final, authoritative standards for human life. But nobody knows fully what is right, and no actual pattern of social life is a perfect exemplification of justice. The rule of law, then, does not mean that the people should follow only the established codes, remaining respectfully obedient to them and never criticizing or changing them. For authentic democracy the people must have respect for law, but not a slavish subservience to any existing code of laws. They should be alive to the need for improving existing codes and for making changes in them in the light of altered circumstances and wiser counsels. The young should be taught to obey the rules established by persons in authority and to have a respectful regard for the principles of conscience that those rules are meant to embody. They should at the same time be led to inquire into the justification for rules and instructed in the appropriate ways of bringing about changes in social regulations to make them more just.
In a democracy of worth, then, since law is viewed as an expression of the good, it is not only respected but it is also loved. The citizens do not obey the law only because they must, and they do not try to break it if their own advantage would be served thereby. They rather think of just laws as a source of human well-being, for which every citizen should be grateful. Laws are seen not as restricting life, but as means of promoting the good life for all.
Moreover, the connection between law and objective right is critically important in the adjustment of social conflict. If laws are believed to be entirely man-made, then power is the only criterion of right; differences between persons and groups can be adjusted only by domination and submission or by compromise agreement. It makes no sense to discuss the differences from a moral standpoint, for in theory the differences are solely a result of human will and preference. On the other hand, when laws are linked to the ideal of a universal moral order, a foundation for discussion is provided. Since the right may not be fully or certainly known, there is no assurance that conflicts can he successfully resolved. Nevertheless, cooperative exploration of differences is now a reasonable pursuit. Just as in scientific discussion, which makes no sense without a presupposed truth, moral inquiry has no point apart from a presupposed objective right. Thus, in the democracy of worth the grounds are provided for dealing with differences through a continuing dialogue rather than through contests of power which alienate disputants, instead of uniting them in a common search.
For the United States, the general structure of political life is set forth in the Federal Constitution. All acts of government and all decisions in law are ultimately referable to the Constitution. It is the Constitution that contains the law by which the people rule themselves. This is the instrument that saves the nation from the tyranny of individuals or of the mass. It is the gyroscope of the ship of state. The people do not feel free to assert their autonomous will; they consider first what the Constitution permits, and they make policy accordingly. Thus, the Constitution is the great conservator of civic wisdom, the preserver of the values of democratic polity.
The people may, of course, change the Constitution, and in this sense their will appears to take precedence over the supreme law of the land. But such amendments must be made in accordance with procedures set forth in the Constitution itself. Furthermore, such changes are made only after the most searching public deliberation and for the most weighty reasons.
This reverent regard for the Constitution, this willing submission to its provisions, this extreme caution in modifying it, and then only in obedience to its amendment regulations -- these attitudes are not due to sentimental attachment or to absolutist legalism. A better explanation would be the assumption that the Constitution is a good approximation to the principles of justice to which the will of the people should be subordinate. When the people decide to amend the nation’s charter, they do so because they believe the changes will make their Constitution an even more perfect instrument of the right, rather than because they think it will better serve them and their interests.
The political structure defined in the Constitution has three main components: legislative, executive, and judicial, each with explicitly defined functions. These three branches operate in parallel rather than in hierarchical fashion, according to the basic principle of the separation of powers. This separation makes possible the system of "checks and balances," in which the deliberative decisions of the Congress are checked by the President; the actions of the President and his officers are in turn tested, challenged, and confirmed by the Congress; and the constitutionality of the acts of both the legislative and the executive branches is checked by the judiciary. The legislative branch has a further check-and-balance mechanism of its own, by its separation into independent House of Representatives and Senate, both of which must pass every measure that is to become law.
This system of separation of powers has two purposes: the negative one, through the checks and balances, of preventing the usurpation of power by any person or group of persons; and the positive one of affording independent approaches to what is for the good of all the people. In its negative function it minimizes the consequences of the power play that comes from construing democracy as the pursuit of autonomy. In its positive function it enhances the possibilities for knowing and doing the right. For effective government it is essential that the negative checking activity should not destroy the positive one. This is particularly important with respect to the executive power, which must be free for decisive leadership, without being frustrated at every step by an opposing legislature. A complex modern democracy is at a serious disadvantage in dealing with autocratic states as well as in expeditiously conducting its own internal affairs, unless it possesses strong executive powers which are not hedged about in matters of detailed policy and administration by legislative and judicial agencies. It is imperative that the executive be allowed to lead the people and to act quickly and flexibly in their behalf, within his defined sphere of responsibility, and that he be checked and balanced by the other powers of government mainly through regular review of his accomplishments and through the setting of long-term policy.
Besides the separation of powers, for the sake of freedom and individuality, the Constitution ordains a government with limited powers. In the American commonwealth the government is not omnicompetent. The spheres of political authority are explicitly set forth, and beyond these spheres the citizens are at liberty to decide for themselves. The individual’s life is not to be controlled in all things by the collective power. Government is given sufficient authority only to accomplish necessary matters of public concern, leaving a wide range of decisions for the private sphere.
The most explicit statement of these limitations is in the Constitution’s first ten amendments -- the Bill of Rights -- which guarantee freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition, the right to bear arms, protection against the obligatory quartering of soldiers, security from unwarranted search and seizure, the right to a grand jury, protection against double jeopardy and self-incrimination, the right of due process, just compensation for private property taken for public use, and speedy public trial by jury without excessive fines or bail. Finally, it is explicitly stated that rights and powers not delegated to the Federal Government by the Constitution are reserved to the several states and to the people.
By this limitation of powers a democracy committed to the right -- that is, with a bill of "rights," not "conveniences" or "privileges"-- is distinguished from a "people’s democracy," in which the people rule. In a democracy of worth there is no majority rule, in the sense that the majority completely determine how life will be lived in the society. The majority is subject to the law of right, which includes the rights of minorities and the liberties of individuals.
The definition and limitation of powers also supports a policy of maximum local responsibility. The United States Constitution establishes a federal union, not a single monolithic nation-state. The nation as a whole is compacted of parts which retain their own proper governmental powers. The several states have their constitutions, executives, legislatures, and courts, generally modeled after the Federal system and in any event not inconsistent with the Federal Constitution. The states further delegate authority to local governments, thus keeping the responsibility for civic affairs as fully as possible in the people’s hands. The several levels of government also check and balance one another, as do the separate branches of authority considered horizontally.
The most important constitutional principle for maintaining democratic civic responsibility is that of representation. The great problem for democracy in a complex society is to make the voice of each citizen count in the determination of public policy. The chief mechanism for solving this problem is the popular election of major government officials. These officials represent the people in guiding the affairs of state. In what sense do they "represent" the people? The answer depends upon the nature of the democracy in question. Under a democracy of desire, the elected officers represent the interests of their constituents, and the voters expect their representatives -- whether in the legislative or executive branches -- to help them secure what they want. Government then becomes an arena in which the champions of various interests in the society vie with one another for precedence, and the successful politician is one who can win the greatest benefits for his supporters.
Representation has an entirely different meaning in a democracy of worth. Here the elected official represents the people in the pursuit of civic excellence. He is not a politician whose only thought is to gain and hold political power, but a statesman whose central concern is for the right conduct of public affairs. He is a "representative man," in the sense that in his person he exemplifies some of the ideals toward which mankind aims. He is not a symbol of the average man -- of commonplace mediocrity--but of what the average man in his better moments aspires to be.
In ideal democracy the statesman is a leader of the people, not their lackey. His task is not to get for them what they want, but to help them to do what is right. He is a servant of the people, and responsible to them, not for the satisfaction of their demands, but for guiding them more surely toward the goals that they have glimpsed in their finest hours. Statesmen should, therefore, be chosen from among the best of men and women, as persons of unusual wisdom, integrity, and vision. They should not be the common man writ large or people with whom the mediocre in character and ability feel comfortably equal. They should be persons to look up to, exemplars of the ideals of civility. The representative should be selected more for his difference from his constituents than for his likeness to them. He should be chosen more for his ability to transform the people than for his ability to confirm them, more to elevate them than to please them.
One other feature of American politics -- namely, the party system -- is worthy of mention as part of the mechanism for securing individual responsibility. Political parties provide a concrete basis for individual civic participation and decision on candidates and issues. In a time of de-personalization of life in the large community, they make a place for face-to-face associations between citizens in the discussion of affairs of state. Moreover, the two major American parties are not primarily competitive interest groups, with one, for example, representing capital and the other labor, or one reflecting rural interests and the other the interests of urban people. This contrasts with the multiparty system of many other countries, where the parties represent particular competing geographical, economic, or religious groups within the nation. The two main parties in the United States, on the other hand, constitute alternative coalitions for effective government.
This two-party system is consonant with the democracy of worth, in which both parties aim to serve the welfare of all the people, not to gain special advantage for a segment of the population. From this point of view party politics should be regarded not as a battle between opposing groups for precedence and power, but as a common pursuit, along somewhat different paths, for the common good. Both parties are in principle dedicated to the same goals -- namely, justice in the nation and the welfare of all the people -- but they have somewhat different convictions about what justice and welfare concretely mean and about how these benefits may best be secured. These differences make for deeper understanding and for more certain progress toward the right. They stimulate the continuing dialogue which is the sine qua non of wisdom and vitality in the community of free men. The point for emphasis is that these values may be realized only when the party system is predicated upon the objective reality of the good and loyalty to it, and not when parties are committed to a struggle for their own members’ advantage.
The system of political organization in the United States is, of course, not the embodiment of civic perfection. It is not the only polity consistent with loyalty to the good. Its features are a consequence of the special history and conditions of the American Experiment, and hence cannot be taken uncritically as the ideal for nations with quite different traditions and circumstances. Nevertheless, in its general features the American political system is a marvelous achievement, exemplifying some of the fundamental characteristics of the democratic ideal. The main point in the present analysis is to show how the laws and polity of a society may exemplify the ideals of the democracy of worth, to indicate the dangers of a degraded conception of democracy, and to suggest the basis for the recovery of sound principles of government.
We turn now to a specific consideration of the bearing of political democracy on education. Democracy clearly requires educated citizens if it is to survive and prosper. It is for this reason that the state has, and should have, compulsory education laws. The right to ignorance is not recognized as one of the rights of man in a democracy, because ignorance is a form of slavery. A person cannot be free in his own person, nor can he contribute to the freedom of others, if he is at liberty not to learn what he needs to know to be a responsible and participating member of society. Hence, it is a matter of public law -- not of private choice -- that everyone shall receive education up to a specified age. To insure that this will be done satisfactorily, the state also should and does see to it that schools are provided for everyone, and that no one is deprived of an education for want of money or for any other reason. Free schools are one of the essential instruments of the general welfare which the Constitution aims to promote.
On the other hand, education belongs primarily to the family and not to the state. Public educational services are for the use and welfare of the people but are not obligatory upon them. If parents do not wish to have their children instructed in public schools, they may send them to nonpublic schools. This right was upheld by the United States Supreme Court, on constitutional grounds, in the celebrated "Oregon case" (Pierce v. Society of Sisters) in 1925. The government has no monopoly of education. It must make facilities available to all the children of all the people, and it must make sure that minimum standards are maintained in all schools, public and nonpublic, so that no one uses his freedom irresponsibly. Beyond this the proper authority of government over education does not extend.
The general principles of limited governmental powers and of local responsibility are clearly reflected in the relation of the several levels of government to education in the United States. As education is not among the matters specifically assigned by the Constitution to the Federal Government, it is by implication delegated to the states. While the states are thus officially charged with the public supervision of education, it has been the general pattern in the United States for the states to delegate detailed responsibility for the public schools to the local communities themselves. In this way the control and support of public education have been made an immediate and visible responsibility of all the people. This localism has been preserved in the interests of freedom and variety in a pluralistic society distrustful of high centralization of power, particularly in a field such as education, where individual persuasion is paramount.
Still, the predominance of state and local responsibility for education does not exclude the Federal Government entirely from the sphere of education. Certain phases of education, such as the conduct of programs connected with the military establishment or with diplomatic missions, are a direct Federal responsibility. Furthermore, under the general welfare provision of the Constitution, the Federal Government offers financial assistance to states and local communities for a variety of educational purposes, ranging from subsidies for school lunch programs to salaries for teachers of agriculture and loans for school building construction. The Federal Government by substantial financial aid also can help to counteract the differences in the ability of the states to supply educational facilities for their citizens. In this way the ideal of equality of opportunity may be furthered, the more favored sections of the nation helping to lift the heavier educational burden of the less affluent sections. The same functions of educational equalization are also served by a system of state financial apportionment among the local communities.
Local control of education is always subject to state supervision. School boards are not free to conduct their affairs autonomously; they can act only within the limitations and in accordance with the standards and requirements set forth by the state. In matters of education the states in turn are subject to Federal law in relation to constitutional rights. The most celebrated example of Federal intervention in state and local school affairs is the 1954 racial desegregation decision of the United States Supreme Court. Since the Court found that state and local educational policy were in conflict with fundamental democratic rights as expressed in the Constitution, it ruled that local self-determination in respect to segregated schools must be overruled by national policy.
The school desegregation story illustrates the general principle that to the degree that control of education is not exercised with a sense of responsibility for justice, Federal control will be introduced. Local autonomy is not an absolute right. It is a grant of freedom which may be enjoyed only so long as it is not abused. On the other hand, the Federal Government is not necessarily just either; we may not assume that centralization of educational control would make school policy right in all respects. The genius of a balanced system of limited, reserved, and delegated governmental powers and of defined civil rights is that the connection between freedom and responsibility is kept constantly in view. Furthermore, in the continuing tension between levels and branches of political authority, the distrust of unrestricted autonomy is expressed, and the need for common loyalty based on objective principles of justice is made plain.
Freedom is important in a democracy so that in the long run the citizens may more nearly approach what is right. For the perfecting of freedom, government must as far as possible be persuasive rather than coercive. But persuasion is the work of education. From this it follows that education is the foundation of democratic freedom. Because the institutions of education are the prime agencies of persuasion in society, they should as far as possible be separate and independent of the ordinary channels of political power. If the schools, colleges, and universities are to serve as the mind and conscience of society, if they are to be sources of criticism, creativity, and guidance, it is imperative that they not be embedded in the regular administrative structure of government. Politics is the realm of collective action; it is the art of the practicable; and the practicable is never the ideal. Education is the realm of individual exploration and creation; it is the transformation of practicality in the light of ideal possibilities. Accordingly, academic freedom, supported by a high degree of administrative and fiscal independence, helps to sustain democratic liberty.
One useful method of separating the educative function from the other administrative functions of government is to have special school districts organized without direct reference to other political subdivisions, separate special elections for school boards, and provision for raising capital funds and operating expenses by special school bond issues and earmarked tax revenues, so that educational statesmanship may not be compromised by direct involvement in the struggle for political power. Furthermore, when appropriations for education are made directly from the public treasury, they should be granted to politically independent agencies so that government financial support does not become a means for political domination of education.
The ultimate safeguard for the integrity and freedom of education is in the conscientious assumption of responsibility by professional educators. If they prove themselves worthy of public confidence by maintaining high standards of competence, if through professional associations and voluntary accrediting agencies they discipline themselves in matters of knowledge, skill, and character, independence of political control can be assured, and unwarranted interference and coercion can be successfully resisted.
The grant of a high degree of freedom in education is, of course, for the sake of political democracy itself. Teachers are not at liberty to teach in a manner that undermines the very foundations of the free society. It is for this reason that teachers and other school officials who actively oppose the principles of free democracy as expressed in the Constitution (especially the Bill of Rights) should be excluded from positions in education. This is not to say that a loyalty oath should be required of all educators; such a procedure does not in fact separate the loyal from the disloyal and has the effect of driving some sensitive and conscientious persons out of teaching. There are other ways of detecting people who openly promote and labor for the subversion of the free society, and these people should be excluded by action of the teaching profession itself from work in education.
In a closed society, typified by communist and fascist countries and by states in which the agencies of government are in the hands of absolutist ecclesiastical authorities, the preservation of the social order requires that the schools be under political control, in order that the official dogmas may be taught and the will of the controlling parties may be implanted in the minds of the young. In a free society, on the other hand, the ideal of education is persuasion through dialogue -- through open and continuing discussion of issues -- on the assumption that there is truth to be known and right to be done, but that since no one can claim full and final possession of these objects, inquiry must go on. In any kind of society, only those persons can be accepted as teachers who abide by the fundamental premises of the society. In the closed society the authorities will see to it that only persons loyal to the official doctrine may teach. In a free society the same is true, but the official doctrine is one of responsible freedom rather than of unquestioning compliance to fixed orders. Only persons who adhere to that doctrine, of the duty to seek truth and do justice through unrestricted disciplined investigation of the same, are fit to teach in an authentic democracy.
Democratic political values may be taught in many ways. The academic study of government is one approach. Every American student, by reading, discussion, and observation, should be thoroughly acquainted with the fundamentals of the political system of his country. Through a study of the history of our political institutions he should become aware of the price at which liberty has been bought, and gain insight into the continuing faithfulness and vigilance required to preserve it. Some knowledge of the history and forms of political organization of other nations is also desirable, as a source of suggestions for improving American governmental processes and of warnings about tendencies to be avoided, and as a basis for understanding the different ways of people with other traditions, resources, and problems. Of special importance in democratic education is thorough and fair-minded instruction in the politics of nondemocratic nations, including the communist autocracies ( for example, the U.S.S.R.) and the fascist dictatorships (such as Spain).
But far more effective than such academic civics teaching are the political lessons learned by actual participation in the life of the home, school, and community. Verbal instruction in democracy is not convincing within a social context that contradicts the principles taught. Home, school, and community life should be organized democratically, with respect for every person and with a grant of freedom in proportion to social maturity. Regulations in family and classroom can be used as a basis for developing a high concept of law, when they are presented as approximations to right -- not as arbitrary impositions, not as expressions of superior power, not as absolute rules which can never be questioned or modified. Parents and teachers can teach the democratic principle of the limitation of powers by carefully defining the areas of adult responsibility for the young and by making plain the widening dimensions of liberty for those who learn to accept the disciplines of responsible freedom.
School life affords excellent opportunities for gaining practical executive, legislative, and judicial experience through student government organizations. Students can learn the meaning of leadership by seeing that the proper criteria for selecting their representatives are not popularity, eloquence, social status, or influential connections, but ability to serve the common good and to embody the common aspiration for the ideal. Special care should be taken to discourage young people, who in their search for personal identity tend to be conformists, from interpreting and practicing democracy as majority rule, in disregard of individual and minority rights and careless of the proper subordination of the will of the group to the principles of justice. To this end, the regular practice of minority criticism should be encouraged, and constructive, thoughtful nonconformity should be welcomed.
Teachers and parents can reinforce the lessons of democracy by their own example of civic responsibility. The principles of academic freedom and of relative independence for education within the political structure do not exclude or excuse those who teach from active participation in political life. If their elders remain aloof from civic affairs, at most engaging in detached observation and criticism of the politicians, it is hardly cause for wonder that the young should learn to leave the decisions of state to others and thus prepare the way for the loss of their liberties. Educators are often repelled from politics because compromise and concession are necessary; the neat perfection of contemplated ideals cannot be achieved, and so the teacher may seek refuge in ideas and feel he is doing his duty by decrying the greed, corruption, and ignorance of the politicians.
A democratic teacher’s calling is rather to seek to bring the ideal into vital relation to the actualities of political life, by encouraging young people to consider the high and honorable vocation of statesmanship and by faithfully and visibly engaging himself in civic affairs. In a democracy politics is everybody’s business, and from this assignment the educator especially is not exempt.
Finally, the organization and the administration of the schools have an influence on what pupils learn about democracy. Talk about freedom does not carry much conviction when school personnel have to work within an autocratic system. The rule of law, rather than of men, ought to hold good for schools as well as for communities and nations. School boards, superintendents, principals, and teachers ought also to be related to one another in a scheme of authority and subordination with carefully articulated limitation and separation of powers, checks and balances, means of representation, individual and minority rights, and maximum delegation of responsibility. The principles of true political democracy do not only belong to governmental organizations. They are principles of universal human relevance, applicable to all social institutions, including homes and schools. In short, effective teaching of democratic values requires the practice of democracy by those who teach and a democratic structure in the institutions of education.
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