The State and Education

So far we’ve looked at the ‘why’ and some of the ‘what’ about education, from both collectivist and individualist perspectives.  Both groups view education as one of the most important responsibilities within a society, as it is the means of perpetuating society, but for very different reasons.  It is important to understand these differences as they shape the content of the education provided, how it is provided, and who receives it.  Within collectivism this amounts to the state perpetuating itself and the societal status quo.  According to both Plato and Aristotle, the state is the lowest level within a society which matters.  While their writings are ancient, their ideas are still relevant as ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’  The state’s purpose is to bring people into harmony by either persuasion or compulsion (Republic VII), as the legislator’s job is not only to write law but to blend into them the explanations as to what is respectable and what is not in regards to the perfect citizen – and bound them by standards backed with legal sanctions (Laws VII).  The state is to decide what is best and to compel other teachers to learn this material (Laws VII).  This material should include and be based upon imitations of occupations, and includes control of words and the determination of what is good and bad (Politics VII).  These teachers are to be public instructors and they are to be supported with public funds (Laws VII and Politics VIII).  Finally, the children will be given over to officials appointed for the purpose of educating them (Republic V), for the citizens do not belong to themselves, they belong to the state (Politics VIII).


In short, the state is to determine what is good and bad, require teachers to learn this material, and use this material to educate all children who receive an education.  It is also the state’s role to enforce compliance with its standards of good and bad through the laws it sanctions and the penalties it enforces.  This later is not much different from the views of the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians in our own early history.  The Hamiltonians believed that the state should rig the game so that only good (from the state’s view) behaviors would be rewarded.  The Jeffersonians, on the other hand, believed it was the state’s role to prevent bad behavior, again from the state’s view of what was bad.  Both men and both views were wrong.  It is disappointing that in the end even Jefferson could not place his faith in a paper constitution, or the people it represented.  However, this does not mean that either men were collectivists – they were both very far from it, but in the end they were still just men.  It is the collectivists since who have perverted their ideas, words, and contexts.


So let’s look at the other side, the individualists.  Clement, Augustine, and Thomas said very little about the state and education directly, only that education was vital and must include both the languages of reason and faith.  Understanding both was necessary, neither alone was sufficient, as pointed out last time.  This education included history in order to understand the past, and derive what were good and bad models of behavior.  In addition, education also needed to develop critical thinking skills in order for the student to develop the means of individually making good decisions going forward.  This included the teaching of philosophy, rhetoric, math, and logic.  That addressed the reason aspect of education.  They also coupled history and the New Testament to teach about morality.  Man alone is fallible.  The inclusion of ideas based upon Divine and Natural Law is necessary in order to preserve society, as it is only within the context of our Creator that we have a basis for:  (1) existence, (2) morality, and (3) knowledge.  Further, this education was necessary if man was to fulfill his primary purpose – as an individual – of becoming good.  That purpose can only be accomplished by individuals themselves, with the drive they have from within.  Morality imposed from the outside by another, including the state, ceases to be moral.  This primary purpose has little to do directly with the state.


But there is also a second purpose we are to fulfill within individualism – that of being a people.  This purpose does touch upon the state, and I think that we can infer a few things about education and being a people from this perspective.  First, that to be a people required two things, both a mutual recognition of rights and the mutual co-operation for the common good.  The state’s role is merely to administer justice when these rights are not observed or the common good is not upheld.  These mutual rights would normally be defined within a constitution.  Second, that morality and virtue needed to be present within any society if justice was to be present.   After all, justice itself is a virtue.  Both morality and virtue must be taught; we are not born with either of them.  For morality and virtue to be present, either:  (1) those given to rule must be well educated, or (2) all the people should receive an education so that they are capable of participating in this second purpose.  It is here that we will pick up next time.

Posted in: Education


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About Dan Wolf

Dan WolfMy goal is that my writing will help you to get started on your own journey of discovery, or help you along the way on a journey you may have already begun. Our Founders considered education, religion, morality, and virtue to be the cornerstones for any successful society. Being successful requires understanding both the languages of reason and faith; reason alone is insufficient.