05 December 2021

Lasch—Education and Politics

Christopher Lasch
The Revolt of the Elites (1995)
The great weakness in [Horace] Mann's educational philosophy was the assumption that education takes place only in schools. Perhaps it is unfair to say that Mann bequeathed this fatal assumption to subsequent generations of educators... An inability to see beyond the school after all—a tendency to speak as if schooling and education were synonymous terms—should probably be regarded as an occupational hazard of professional educators, a form of blindness that is built into the job. Still, Mann was one of the first to give it official sanction.
(pp. 151-152)

one begins to see that Mann wanted to keep politics out of the school not only because he was afraid that his system would be torn apart by those who wished to use it for partisan purposes but because he distrusted political activity as such. It produced an "inflammation of the passions." It generated controversy—a necessary part of education, it might be argued, but in Mann's eyes, a waste of time and energy. It divided men instead of bringing them together. For these reasons Mann sought not only to insulate the school from political pressures but to keep political history out of the curriculum.
(p. 153)

History has given way to an infantilized version of sociology, in obedience to the misconceived principle that the quickest way to engage children's attention is to dwell on what is closest to home: their families, their neighborhoods; the local industries; the technologies on which they depend. A more sensible assumption would be that children need to learn about faraway places and olden times before they can make sense of their immediate surroundings.
I feel very much this way as an adult. Unfortunately the issue of engag[ing] children's attention is not so easily dispensed with. Not for lack of trying nor for lack of opportunities to experiment, I certainly have not yet figured out how to do it; and I have not forgotten (I cannot forget) how difficult-to-engage I was as a child.

There is something of the ancient conflict between rationalism and empiricism here, but considered through the lens of development rather than epistemology itself...which is pretty interesting.

Since most children have no opportunity for extended travel, and since travel in our world is not very broadening anyway, the school can provide a substitute—but not if it clings to the notion that the only way to "motivate" them is to expose them to nothing not already familiar, nothing not immediately applicable to themselves.
(p. 159)

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