Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Promoting "Good Citizenship" Over Political Ideology, Religion & Social Class

The key consideration for the conduct of interpersonal affairs is that the activities of people can harmonize without their ideas about ends and means being in agreement – Nicholas Rescher Pluralism p.180

"Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations...entangling alliances with none." ― Thomas Jefferson
The (Assumed) Basic Agenda of the U. S. Public Schools has long been baptized "promoting good citizenship." The fundamental mission of the public schools in the multicultural, putatively democratic society of the United States of America is to forestall or ameliorate conflict between different cultural and social subgroups, quite independently of whether such conflict is morally justifiable.

Clearly, "good citizenship" is seen as the fundamental, if not sole, goal of public schooling; especially when one considers that very few people would be willing to disregard conflict among groups in order to pursue any of the other vaunted aims of public education, e.g. acculturation and skills development.

Indeed, the very possibility of the public school structure serving its functions presumes such conflicts are under control. Consider the present proliferation of posters in public schools that declare, "No Place for Hatred." (Effective? Perhaps; disregarding student and public behavior at pre-game sports rallies.)

This subordination of many of the "obvious" goals of schooling to those of "stifling conflict," "getting along" or "respect for authority" is anything but a sign of irrationality, irresoluteness, ignorance or perversity, even though honored intellectual and social goals might suffer from emphasis on good citizenship.

In a society that imposes some form of primary education on all, "public" education by default, the rock-bottom demands for order and for the recognition of easily recognized value commitments, e.g. obedience, manners, timeliness, patriotism, etc., become the only foundations for functional mass education. This is particularly the case where great variations in family income or religious commitment are prevalent and likely to be persistent.

Also, this mission of pacification has supported commercial interests to exploit the vast territorial expanses and abundant natural resources of North and South America (and the world) resulting in the development of industries and patterns of settlement that tend to stabilize expanding local and national governance systems.

Persistent warfare, in the long run, dissipates wealth and threatens the stability of governing groups. War can be fatal to commerce. Conversely, commerce has played a substantial part, historically world-wide, in restraining military ambition, whether fed for the sake of domination, ideology, wealth, or religion. (But this perspective is greatly complicated by many other factors. See Berman in references.) In time, of course, commerce itself, since it minimizes the often substantial collateral damage caused by military action, may become a preferred means of pursuing domination, ideology, wealth, or religion. (See Downs in references.)

The preceding comments, I take it, are relatively common knowledge, discussed by many, many others in far more detail and exactitude than I have taken to present here. Those comments are not intended to identify heroes or villains, or to judge either militarism or commerce to be morally better than the other. Clearly, they fail to include mention, much less detail, of the millions of human beings who have fallen victim over the centuries of human history to their processes.

Our interest here is to understand how the public schools in the United States of America have fit in with the governance and social control processes of our society by pursuing their main goal of promoting good citizenship, even to the extent of often giving little more than lip service to other worthy pursuits.

Public education has been promoted and controlled to domesticate the populations who are be compelled, either by law, custom or poverty to accept its ministrations. The standard curricula of public education reflect the mission of producing "good citizens."
a. this mission is served by policies which promote "passive valuing", i.e. some kind of esteeming which does not involve the pursuit of that which is esteemed -- typical of so-called "appreciation" courses or of values clarification classes, smatterings of much, little of depth;

b. this mission is also served by policies which gainsay any of the conditions necessary to connecting action with value, i.e. the conditions of rationality, knowledge, ability, opportunity and consistency.
Since it is active valuing, the pursuit of values, which might cause conflict where values are not shared, certain policy directions can be drawn immediately from the above formulations. (See Constricting Social Ideals: breaking the values-action link to ensure "stability.".}

Thus, a rational school policy serving the social goal of reduced conflict could well promote -- with studied disregard:
a. irrationality, by letting evanescent preferences - whether of governance, organizational or student bodies - determine study options, rather than bias toward longer term considerations. (Universities and private schools, also, do this in favoring religious, social, or disciplinary traditions over scholarship);

b. ignorance, by granting certificates of completion without adequate testing for knowledge;

c. incompetence, by giving credit for "life experience" without clear definitions of skill obtained;

d. unequal opportunity, by tracking students by family background, or inadequate funding of educational programs; or

e. inconsistency of conduct, passing grades for "effort" or to satisfy school board demands for "higher achievement: -- read "higher recorded grades."

Hardly anyone would think such aims educational. Our considerations are suggestive, however, as to the persistence of these ills despite continued exhortation to eradicate them.

Final misgivings (from the political dimension of schooling): who decides what "operable" criteria of "good citizenship" are to be? Might they not come biased by political ideology, religion & social class?

To examine these issues further, see The Desired Ideal: a Docile Citizen? Or...?

--- EGR


Harold J.Berman, Law and Revolution. The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983 (See "citizenship", throughout.)

Jacques M. Downs "American Merchants and the China Opium Trade, 1800-1840" The Business History Review, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Winter, 1968), pp. 418-442