The Proposed Monopoly in Education


The thing which the world needs most is a proper spiritual conception of human relationships. — PRESIDENT COOLIDGE.

DEMOCRACY has fallen on evil days. A war which was fought to make the world safe for democracy has brought in its train the overthrow of almost every working democracy. Continental Europe to-day is governed by dictators; parliaments no longer convene; the press is shackled, or it vociferously applauds the usurpations of its political masters; the people do not care a whit who rules. Russia, Germany, Italy, Spain — to mention but the large nations — have repudiated before the world their democratic faith. Not liberty, but a strong-armed authority, is what these peoples appear to want; and a Lenin, a Mussolini, and a Rivera are endeavoring to give them what they want.

In England and the United States, democracy has fared somewhat better. In spite of its defects, we still maintain unbroken our faith in the workability of those principles which have come down to us from the fathers. Acute observers, however, are beginning to express doubts as to our ability to organize successfully for this experiment in government, to which the English-speaking peoples are committed, the heterogeneous and clashing elements which make up our vast populations. Political progressives are demanding a radical change in government policies. Communists would overthrow everything and begin anew. Enlightened liberals shake their heads, and see nothing but misfortune before us. Some have already prophesied disaster. The gloomy forebodings of such far-seeing thinkers as Hilaire Belloc have had at least this good effect — they have called attention to the fact that we are living in a fool’s paradise if we imagine for a moment that democracy can run itself, that it can be successful if we are afraid to think straight, and to act according to convictions arrived at after the severest kind of straight thinking.

There are two principal forces which make for the ultimate success of democratic endeavor. One is legislation, and the other education. In the process of its actualization, democracy must look to these two activities, more than to any others, for aid and comfort. If law observance breaks down; if public officials become corrupt or negligent; if the making of laws falls under the control of any one group, thinking only of the advantages which will accrue to it from a domination of this function of government; if the people themselves fail to take an intelligent interest in the working of their government or become actively hostile to it, then we can with safety predict the near-collapse of democratic institutions. If, on the other hand, education fails to measure up to the requirements of the democratic state, if its administration is bad, its upkeep too expensive, its curriculum not fashioned to meet the growing demands made upon it, we have reached a situation fraught with the direst possible consequences. Correct thinking, and nothing but correct thinking, about both legislation and education, will bring us salvation.

Unfortunately, on no other two subjects has there been so much loose thinking as on these. Education, in particular, has been most severely criticized. Daily the conviction is growing on many that all is not well with American education. Some critics have gone so far as to question its value in the task of preserving and developing our democratic ideals.

The immediate imperative seems to be to restate our philosophy of education in terms of present-day democracy. If either our ideas of democracy are wrong, or our philosophy of education is false, wisdom dictates a correction of these views so as to meet the exigencies of logic and of fact. No argument should be required to convince every right-thinking person that such an examination is necessary. And we can look forward to a series of plans capable of meeting the situation only if we succeed in making a just, acceptable, and logical restatement of what the objectives and functions of education should be in a democracy such as ours.

Like religion, education is a topic about which every man feels himself well qualified to give expert advice. It has touched his life at so many points that he is quite sure he knows all about a subject which the profoundest philosophers have dared to approach only in fear and trembling. On few other subjects, therefore, will one hear expressed and defended such arrant nonsense, snap judgments, and visionary plans, as on that of education.

The plain man does know something of education, and he rightly conceives of it as the surest means which has been developed to make certain the preservation of himself and his children. Now, both philosophers and statesmen must never lose sight of this point of view, lowly as it seems to be. Education is for the welfare, first of the individual, and then of the species of which each individual is a personal representative. Government may be of many kinds, for it too is a human institution. But government for its own purposes, however lofty or praiseworthy these may be, must not attempt to change or distort the underlying principle of all education, which is to equip the child for the duties and obligations that lie before him.

A lip-service to democracy will not save us from the consequences of a false reading of the principles underlying democratic government. If our philosophy of the individual is wrong, it is foolish to expect right conceptions of government, law, and education. This is particularly true in the field of education, which must, if it is to be at all adequate, endeavor to meet the demands that democracy makes upon it. Now, a true democracy seeks, as its primary objective, the education of the individual, first and foremost for his own welfare and for the development of his inherent powers and faculties, and secondly, for the welfare of the body social. It is quite true that no individual lives to himself alone in a democracy; that he must also live with people and for people. But this he cannot do if education minimizes, or fails to recognize, the fact that what it must do primarily is to train the individual not only as a political, but as a religious and social, unit as well.

A democracy is supposed to be peculiarly sensitive to the needs of the individual. It is so essentially a personal process that, if it fails to recognize the sanctity inherent in the possession of a personality, as well as the rights which follow from the same, it becomes eo ipso tyrannical, an oppressor rather than a protector of individual rights. A democracy, to fulfill its mission, must never drift away from the moorings to which it is tied — the individual man. Moreover, it can go forward only as the individual goes forward. Laws imposed from without may make a people industrious, happy, perhaps moral. But in this case, as is evident, it is not the people who have grown into a better social state. In a democracy, the people must create by individual devotion to high ideals a better and universal social condition of living. Nothing but education can effect such an outcome. And it must be, first, last, and all the time, an education of the individual; otherwise government ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ becomes a meaningless phrase.


There are political theorists among us who subscribe to the belief that the State is a sort of super-individual, possessing a life of its own, and in search of a good other than that of the individuals who compose it. It is a philosophical fallacy pure and simple to envisage the State as a species of super-organism, with a life all its own, to which we owe other responsibilities than those we owe to ourselves, and to our neighbors. Hegel, the most undemocratic thinker who ever lived, is responsible for what has been called the ‘organic’ conception of the State. This view cannot be defended from the standpoint either of logic, or of practical consequences. For although it is true that the State possesses a certain unity, and that the good of the whole quite universally reacts to the good of the individuals who make up the whole, yet this unity is purely mechanical. It has no resemblance at all to the unity possessed by a living organism, since it does not exist divorced from the units which go to make it up.

Practically, to subordinate the real and certain good of the individual to the so-called good of the State would be to introduce an aristocratic element into democracy, which, in a short time, would do away with all initiative, unselfishness, and progress. For what meaning can the phrase ‘the good of the State’ have? In practice it most often means the good of statesmen, not in the sense of graft, but in the results which these statesmen think should be obtained by the society over which for the moment they have control. Now, the ordinary statesman quite naturally is convinced that the more elaborate the machinery of government, the more assured are the results which he thinks should be obtained. Unfortunately, there is no way to disillusion him. But in the mechanical process of making citizens, spontaneity, initiative, individual responsibility, freedom of thought and act become completely submerged. The products are wholesale samples of human beings, all modeled after the ideal of citizenship which the statesman of the hour thinks best. Germany tried out, and with characteristic German thoroughness, the Hegelian philosophy. For a half-century and more it subordinated the individual to the State, the good of Germans to the good of Germany. The example is not so far away that we should readily forget the results of the experiment.

The State, even at its best, is mechanical, wooden, soulless, and the education which it supplies is so tinged and colored by mechanical ideals that it would be little short of miraculous if it succeeded, as a general rule, in producing anything superior and individual. Only the enthusiast for a State-controlled system of education can close his eyes to this fact. The history of education, since the days when Sparta tried the experiment of a Government-controlled system, bears out only too well this contention. Quite recently that searching philosopher, Bertrand Russell, summed up his view of a nationalized system of education in the following words: ‘Our modern State education is mainly designed to produce convenient citizens, and therefore dares not encourage spontaneity, since all spontaneity interferes with system. There is a tendency to uniformity, to the suppression of private judgment, to the production of populations which are tame toward their rulers and ferocious toward the “ enemy.” Even if our centralization escapes destruction in great wars, this tendency of State education to produce mental slavery will, if it is not checked, kill out everything of value in the way of art and thought, and even, ultimately, of human affection. And it eventually kills the joy of life, which cannot exist where spontaneity is dead.’


Democracy is essentially a religious ideal. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. One would have to go a great distance in search of a better expression of our democratic faith. Love spells democracy, and love, at bottom, is freedom. No nation needs to ponder this truth more than America. We possess freedom to-day — it is our proud boast. But how long shall we have it, if democracy becomes recreant to its trust by conceiving its task as one of suppressing individual freedom in the supposed interests of a phantom individual, called the State?

Some ninety years ago, the State formed a school system of its own, distinct and separate from that which had been built up by private initiative. In this process of dissociation, the private elementary schools, and later the colleges, were paralleled by State institutions. The latter have had the advantage of public authority and legislation. Large amounts of money have been expended upon them. They have educated the vast majority of our citizens. They have called forth an enormous literature on all phases of education. The avowed purpose of their promoters was to develop the right sort of citizenship. In that aim all Americans agreed.

These facts explain the enthusiasm for the State school. They do not explain the criticism to which, of recent times especially, the school has been subjected. It is hard to see, for instance, why so much notice has been taken of the illiteracy shown by examination of army recruits. It is even more difficult to understand the complaints about the violation of certain enactments intended to promote sobriety. It is surprising to see educators and other prominent citizens forming a nation-wide vigilance society to secure legislation against mob violence and to develop respect for authority and obedience to law.

Possibly these critics and reformers are prejudiced. Or, again, they may forget that State education for democracy does not include moral training. Or, finally, they may imagine that people educated at public expense should have some consideration for public institutions. Which of these explanations is the true one need not be decided now. The plain fact is that many intelligent persons are dissatisfied with the sort of democracy that prevails among a very large number of public-school-made Americans.

But what will puzzle the critics is the proposal to mend the situation by driving all our children into the very same educational boiling-pot. One is reminded of the teacher who gave as an excuse for the disorder among the forty children in her room the fact that one small boy out in the street could not be brought into the school.

No one questions the right of the State to educate, or its duty to provide equal educational opportunity for all. But that is quite a different thing from looking to the State as the final source and sanction of all educational objective. We are witnessing to-day, in the name of patriotism, a gradual turning of the public school into an instrument for the fostering of the narrowest nationalism. In the minds of many well-meaning people, the sole function of education is to turn out citizens like Fords, so many every minute of the working day. It would seem that the policy of Germany before the war, which prostituted the school to such base national aims, would be sufficient proof of the falsity of this philosophy.

The State undoubtedly has the right to determine the objectives which it wishes attained by its own schools. But without the circle of these aims and purposes there must remain secure for individual initiative and experiment, whether religious or not, a field which outsiders may freely cultivate. And what is this field? That of the individual soul. If the State fails to recognize, for any reason whatsoever, the claims of the individual for moral and spiritual development, then it should not put obstacles in the way of those whose sole purpose is to supply this deficiency, and in the interests of the State itself.

No one, at least in the United States, would deny that a democracy without morality is soulless. It is so essentially a spiritual process that in the absence of those moral qualities, like selfreliance, self-control, bravery, justice, and generosity, which alone make an individual upright and strong, it becomes unthinkable. In the philosophy of those who hold for religious training, religion and morality are not thought of as in contrast to democracy; on the contrary, they are considered the life blood of democracy, the stuff out of which any lasting democracy must be fashioned. No less an American than George Washington saw this truth most clearly. He openly favored religious training, for he understood that religious values must be regarded as fundamental in every scheme of government built upon democratic principles.

Nor can there be any question of the possibility of a religious education becoming narrowly sectarian and, as a result, a menace to the maintenance of democratic thought. But we are not dealing with theories or possibilities now. The testimony of American history is that the religious school, no less than the public, was established to train citizens, not sectarian groups. And the only safe criterion for judging whether the religious school has measured up to its profession of faith in democracy, and to the purposes of its founders, is the lives of those who have gone from its doors. That these men have been Americans, in the highest sense of the word, no one can deny without questioning the loyalty of the leading scientists, writers, ministers, and statesmen whom our country has produced. Many of these men belonged, if you wish, to sects; they were trained under sectarian influences; but they were not less worthy Americans because they happened to be professing Christians.

And, in particular, I resent with all my soul the unjust imputation of disloyalty hurled at one particular religious school — the Catholic school. Not only is it unfair, it is both unjust and immoral, to stamp as disloyal the products of a system of education the very foundation of which is authority and respect for authority, especially as embodied in the Constitution of the United States. No one has a right to cast unjust suspicions on the democracy or patriotism of a Cardinal Gibbons or a Chief Justice White. To do so without the evidence necessary to justify such a charge, is to show one’s self both a prejudiced and a false American.

The uniformitarians demand a system of schools in which the State alone shall say what may be taught and how it shall be taught, and which every child must attend. But if the philosophy of extreme nationalism is right, why stop with the elementary school ? Logic demands that our whole system of education, from grammar school to university, be put under State control. There is no valid reason why the State must educate all children in public schools which is not equally valid for high schools and colleges. As a matter of fact, since from the colleges go forth the leaders of the nation, it is much more important for Government to control college education, than it is to nationalize the lower schools.

It might be well for us to consider for a moment the possible consequences of such action. Five sixths of our colleges are religious schools, and three fourths of the students who attend college are now being educated under religious auspices. Few have questioned the democratic character of the training given by the religious college. And no one in his sane mind would advocate the forceful taking out of our national life the valuable contributions to democracy which these institutions are making yearly. A policy which would close the doors of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, because they are private schools, condemns itself by the weight of its own unreasonableness.

Nothing could be more dangerous to the continuance of our democracy than a national system of schools. Outside of the consideration, held firmly by many educators, that it would spell standardization, and consequent degeneration, for the public school itself, such policy would engender bitter prejudices, distrust, and even hatred among the important groups who go to make up our country. Not only Catholics, but Protestants and Jews as well, would resent the nationalization of education. Catholics, in particular, would feel that they have a real grievance against the State, if it should outlaw their schools. In their minds such laws would be regarded much in the light of religious persecution.

Class or religious prejudices should have no place in determining our educational objectives. Catholic and Protestant, believer and nonbeliever, have lived in peace so far. Is this the time for any one class, with its particular loyalties, to impose on the nation its own conception of what American education must be, even though it claims to be actuated by motives of patriotism and national well-being?


It is very difficult to behold in the tendency toward State control of education, represented by the recent enactment in Oregon, which closes all schools except the public, a healthy expression of our democracy, or one that reflects the best public thought on the education question. Such laws are so foreign to American ideals, so contrary to the past dealings of the State as represented by the history of the aid given to private educational initiative, so destructive of the spirit of fair play and tolerance which has always characterized us as a people, that it is with chagrin, mixed with fear for the future of democracy itself, that we view this invasion of a domain always thought of as peculiarly free from attacks or interference on the part of the State.

Few, if any, interpreters of the relations of democracy to education are more qualified to express in this context the genuine American tradition than Professor Dewey. He looks upon the Oregon law as a manifestation of social intolerance, comparable with other manifestations of that spirit known to all of us, such as the Lusk laws, and the many laws recently enacted regulating the teaching of American history. ‘To some of us who thought we were good Americans,’ writes Doctor Dewey, ‘the Oregon law seems to strike at the root of American toleration and trust and good faith between various elements of the population in each other.’

The closing up of a few private schools may not affect to an appreciable degree the course of democratic education in one State, or the course of democratic thought in the nation. But once grant the principle that the child is a ward of the State, and the gates are opened to a flood of undemocratic legislation which must sweep away the very basis of all good-will, confidence, and trust, upon which the different groups that make up our Republic found the possibility of united action.

The United States has no need for, and should not have, a national system of schools, not even of public elementary schools. For to nationalize education is to centralize it, and, to that, extent, undemocratize it. What education needs to-day is not more, but less, centralization. Educational salvation is not to be found in the office of a secretary in the President’s Cabinet, nor will it ever be purchased by subsidies granted from Washington. Democratic education, both in its administration and in its aims, is a local matter. If it is ever to accomplish its purpose, namely, to draw together the people of our country so that they will both understand and accomplish the obligations of a democratic citizenship, the local character of the school must never be relinquished. Each community must see its duty and must be willing to embrace the obligations consequent thereon, must jealously guard its right to train its own children according to standards which it can understand and accept, and not according to standards imposed by a benevolent bureaucracy situated a thousand miles away.

All this must appear very elementary to most of us, to whom local control of the schools has been as the breath of our nostrils. Yet this principle is being challenged by a determined minority, both in and outside the teaching profession, who, for the pottage of Federal aid, would gladly relinquish their inheritance of local control and initiative. Education, no one can question, presents a national aspect and entails a national obligation. So do legislation, industry, business, religion, art, and all the other factors making for democratic outcomes. But while in these latter fields the processes of centralization have either been tried and found wanting, or been acknowledged beforehand as harmful from the point of view of the welfare of the whole, in public education its loaders are demanding, from a Government only too prone to lay a heavy hand upon local initiative, the golden chains which spell slavery, and eventually the death, of educational freedom.

It has often been remarked that the best sign of the possession of wisdom is to profit by the mistakes of the past. The history of Government-controlled education in some of the European countries teaches a lesson the significance of which needs no emphasis for our American democracy. Herbert Spencer, in his essay on education, quotes Richter to the effect that ‘the best rule in politics is said to be "pas trop gouverner”; it is also true in education.’ Hard experience confirms this belief. The less of Government we have in education, at least for the present, the better off education will be.

In California there exists an organization, interested in the public school, whose slogan is, ‘It is the school that is public, not the child.’ That motto might well be made the guiding star for every writer on the relations of the State to education.

The child belongs to the parent. He is not ‘a national child.’ Neither must his education be ‘first national and after that personal.’ If our democracy is to endure, it must respect, especially in its schools, the qualities which alone can save it — individualism, variety, personal initiative. These things demand freedom — not only freedom for the individual to work out his life in the way the individual thinks it must be worked out, but also freedom to accept the educational objectives which he deems vital to his own development.

The making of this world a better place to live in is the task of education. To that end all forces must coöperate, each one bringing its specific contribution to the attainment of human welfare. A democratic Government, to be successful, must rely on private initiative, on individuals, on religious groups to supplement what it is doing. But to suppress the endeavors of all nonState groups, in the supposed interests of a higher loyalty, will always be regarded by right-thinking men as an act of the grossest tyranny, the final result of which can be nothing short of the destruction of the social organism itself.