MILESTONES OF EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS: HORACE MANN, 1796–1859; JOHN DEWEY, 1859–1952

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  • Educational @ heory - Volume X January, 1960 Number 1

    MILESTONES OF EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS: HORACE MANN, 1796-1859; JOHN DEWEY, 1859-1952

    B Y ARCHIBALD W. ANDERSON

    E V E N THE MOST C A S U A L READER OF P O P U L A R PERIODICALS H A S B E E N MADE ACUTELY

    AWARE THAT THE YEAR 1959 HAS B E E N U N U S U A L L Y RICH IN HUNDREDTH-ANNI- VERSARY OBSERVANCES OF A WIDE VARIETY OF HISTORICAL EVENTS. One is almost tempted to call it the year of other anniversaries because almost everyone writing on the centenary of one event has felt obliged to call attention to the fact that 1959 was also the one-hundredth anniversary of some other event. Dar- wins The Origin of Species was published in 1859. In that year, also, Oregon was admitted to the Union as the 33rd state and Edwin Drake drilled the first oil well in Pennsylvania. It was the year in which John Browns body began to smoulder in the moral conscience of a nation; and i t was the year in which Horace Mann, worn out by a life-time of crusading public service, died as the president of a struggling new college. It was the year which witnessed the births of Henri Bergson and John Dewey, two individuals who were to become the formulators of antithetical philosophies. And it was the year in which Edward Sheldon, Superintendent of Schools at Oswego, New York, traveled to Toronto, Canada, and was so impressed by an exhibition of materials used in the Pestalozzian system of object teaching that he began the process of publicizing which was ultimately to make this one of the dominant methods of instruction in American elementary schools for decades.

    Each of these individuals and events, of course, is representative of some significant strand of development which has had profound impact on American life and thought. From the standpoint of this number of Educational Theory,

    ARCHIBALD W, ANDERSON is a Professor of Education at the Universzty of Illinois, Editor of EJIUCATIONAL THEORY, Associate Editor of the History of Education Journal, and former Editor of Pro- gressive Education. He is a member of the Execntive Board of the John Dewey Society and is current(y serving as Chairman of the Societys Commission on yearbooks. He has contributed as author o r editor t o such books as The Theoretical Foundations of Education, The Teachers Role in American Society, Educational Freedom in an A,re of Anxiety, and The First Freedom.

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  • 2 EUUCA,I,IONAI, THEORY

    however, the two centennials with which we are primarily concerned are those of Horace Maim and John Dewey.

    The fact t ha t John Dewey was born in the year of Horace Manns death probably has not been remarked as frequently as the similar coincidence of the death of Galileo and the birth of Isaac Newton in 1642; nor has it served as fre- quently as a text for homilies on the shifts of intellectual climate which can take place in two human lifetimes. Nevertheless, this chronological juxtaposition of Mann and Dewey does serve to point u p one of the main divides in the history of American education.

    h4anns most influential work was done a t a time when progress in the estab- lishment of public elementary schools was slow and piecemeal, and when progress toward making such schools adequate and efficient instruments of education was even slower and more halting. Mann, as Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, was armed with no direct authority over schools. Such leadership as he was able to wield, and such advancement as he was able to secure, were achieved by publicizing educational deficiencies, by discussion, by moral suasion, and by force of argument. For Mann, even public controversy became an instrumentality for educational progress.

    Whatever the specific problems with which he dealt, Mann was always the reformer, the crusader, who regarded the improvement of education as a means of contributing to social progress. A recent commentator has emphasized the sig- nificance of the fact that to Mann public education was fundamentally a moral enterprise. Lawrence Cremin has written:

    Mann understood well the integral relationship between freedom, popular educa- tion, and republican government. The theme resounds throughout his twelve reports. A nation cannot long remain ignorant and free. No political structure, however art- fully devised, can inherently guarantee the rights and liberties of citizens, for freedom can be secure only as knowledge is widely distributed among the populace. Hence, universal popular education is the only foundation on which republican government can securely rest. These Jeffersonian propositions he accepted as truisms which, by the 1840s, had been voiced so frequently as to be trite. For Mann, however, the problem went much deeper; it was essentially one of moral elevation. Never will wisdom preside in the halls of legislation, he wrote, and its profound utterances be recorded on the pages of the statute book, until Common Schools . . . shall create a more far- seeing intelligence and a purer morality than has ever existed among communities of men. Knowledge was power, to be sure, but a power that could be used for good or evil. The essence of republican education could never be merely intellectual; values inevitably intruded.

    Much credit has been given Mann for his accomplishments in the arena of educational practice and policy. Relatively little attention has been paid to the ideas he attempted to get embodied in policy and practice. T h e emphasis on Manns ideas in Professor Cremins book is noteworthy because of the light i t throws upon Manns role in helping to create the intellectual framework within which later educational theorists, including John Dewey, began their work. I n the present number of Educational Theory, Professor Frank Foster explores the question of Manns contribution to the development of an American philosophy of education.

    Lawrence A. Cremin (Ed.), The Republic and the Schoor: Horact Mann 02 the Education oj Free (New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1957), p. 7. Men. Classics in Education No. 1.

  • h l I I,E S,I 0 h E S 0 F F,D UCATIO NA L P KOGRE S S 3

    John Dewey, whose influence upon that philosophy o f education is an accepted historical fact, began his educational work in a different context. A t the time of Manns death, the goal of universal free public elementary education had not been achieved. There is a very definite sense, nevertheless, in which the struggle to make this goal an accepted part of the American scheme of things had been won. Educators, in succeeding decades, did not need to be so much concerned with the initiation of systems of public education as with the problem of expanding, elaborat- ing, and improving such systems. By 1896, when Dewey began his work with the Laboratory School in Chicago, the public elementary school had been made almost universally available even though the ideal of complete equality o f educational op- portunity had not been attained. The public high school was a firmly established part of the school system and, although still highly selective, was beginning the phenomenal expansion which, by the time of Deweys death, was to make it a common school in fact as well as in intent.

    The fact that Dewey and Mann worked in different educational and social contexts meant that, totally apart from any differences in temperament and out- look, they would be dealing with different specific problems and seeking different specific improvements. These differences constitute a rough index of the changes a century has brought both in education and in the role of the school in American society.

    To call attention to these changes, however, should not obscure the fact there have been continuities as well. Seeming similarities between historical events separated in time can be, and have been, overembellished and exaggerated but they cannot be entirely ignored. In the case of Mann and Dewey, one gets a sense of continuity from the fact that both men were reformers; that is, they were attempting to secure social progress and they were attempting to find the role which education can and should play in securing this progress. The earlier quo- tation from Professor Cremin indicates Manns concern with this goal. Professor Dewey, in a book published in the year of his death, said:

    For the creation of a democratic society we need an educational system where the process of moral-intellectual development is in practice as well as in theory a cooperative transaction of inquiry engaged in by free, independent human beings who treat ideas and the heritage of the past as means and methods for the further enrichment of life, quantitatively and qualitatively, who use the good attained for the discovery and establishment of something better.*

    Horace Mann would not have used this precise language; nor is it likely that he would have immediately understood all of the philosophical implications of Deweys statement. Nevertheless, Mann would have recognized in moral- intellectual development his own conception of the purpose of education, and he would have been fully in accord with the idea of using attained good as the spring- board for the achievement of something better.

    A second point of similarity arises out of the kind of opposition each man encountered. Here, again, the specific environmental differences must be recog- nized but there must also be recognition of the fact that efforts to change things almost always meet a kind of generalized inertial resistance which seems to be a

    ZJohn Dewey Introduction. in Elsie Ripley Clapp. The Use of Resources in Education. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1952), p. xi.

  • 4 F n U C A T l O N A L IHEORY

    constant factor in all historical periods. enon when he said:

    Dewey called attention to this phenor-n-

    To change long-established habits in the individual is a slow, difficult and com- plicated process. To change long-established institutions-which are social habits organized i n the structure of the common life-is a much slower, more difficult and far more complicated process. The drive of established institutions is to assimilate and distort the new into conformity with themselves.3

    The last sentence in the quotation contains the key to the third sense in which there is an element of continuity between Manns time and Deweys. Educational problems are rarely settled finally and conclusively. Like the cultural context in which they arise, problems seem to go through a process of evolution. A com- inonly held view of this process is that the solution of the problem creates a new situation in which new problems inevitably arise. Perhaps a more precise view is that the attempted solution becomes assimilated in the problem situation and contributes to educational advancement but that, in the very process of assimila- tion, some significant elements of the original problem situation are carried forward into the future. Some such view seems to lie back of Lawrence Cremins assess- ment of Manns influence:

    Mann had won his victory, and it only presaged other great victories to come. The public school soon stood as one of the characteristic features of American life-a well- spring of freedom and a ladder of opportunity for millions. Yet, as with the battle for freedom itself, victories are never final, and somehow todays educators find them- selves fighting the very same battles Mann was supposed to have won over a century ago. Public apathy and dissatisfaction, rising private school enrollments, sectarianism, obiections to school taxes, a shortage of qualified teachers, disagreements over what a good teacher is, calls for special attention to the gifted, and cries for harsher discipline- all of these problems of Manns time have been raised anew. The cry is that times have changed, that a different America needs a different kind of school. Yet with all of the just claims of novelty, one cannot help but sense the continued timeliness of Manns discussions. . . . I t is this timeliness, perhaps, more than anything else that establishes the contemporary values of Manns legacy. His writings continue to com- mend themselves to those seeking to penetrate the inextricable relationships between education, freedom and d e n i ~ c r a c y . ~

    The penetrating and searching exploration of these inextricable relationships was, it is hardly necessary to point out, one of John Deweys central concerns throughout his life. To view both Horace Mann and John Dewey as attacking, each in his own way and in his own time, this same hard and knotty problem places them in a perspective which not only relates them to each other but to the whole course of the American experiment in popular government and also to the cen- turies-long struggle for human dignity and human freedom. I t also places them in relationship to the slowly evolving recognition that a free and universal educa- tion is necessary to the ahievement of both of these human aspirations.

    Seen in this perspective, Mann becomes a significant figure who cannot be dismissed in a superficial fashion as merely an early propagandist for public educa- tion. His place in the history of American education assumes a greater magnitude and his influence can be recognized as far-reaching and enduring.

    316id., p . x . ?I.. Cremin. Op. Cdt., pp. 27-28.

  • M I L E STONES 0 F E D UC A TI0 N A L P R O G R E S S 5

    If this perspective is essential for a just and adequate assessment of the work of Mann, it is even more necessary for ajudicial appraisal of the work and influence of John Dewey. The impact of Deweys writings and thought are so self-evident that it would appear to be supererogatory to advance evidence in support of the claim that he had such influence, or to present explanations of why the centennial of his birth deserves commemorative observance.

    I t should be noted that the claim for the importance of Deweys work does not rest on a universality of acceptance of his theories. In discussing the question of whether Dewey should be regarded as a maker of the American tradition, in the sense that Franklin and Jefferson are so regarded, Erwin Edman says, . . . for half a century now, both those who have agreed and those who have disagreed with the major views of John Dewey have recognized in him a force to be dealt with, a leader to follow or to counter, a thinker to affirm or rebut.j

    Dewey was a controversial figure and his ideas were always regarded, most of all by Dewey himself, as propositions subject to critique and debate. I t was neither to have been expected nor desired that the numerous centennial convocations and lecture series held throughout the country would be limited to fulsome eulogy. I t was to have been expected, however, that they would be devoted to scholarly examination and dispassionate appraisal. Undoubtedly many of the memorial exercises achieved this ideal atmosphere. Yet one cann...