** NOTE: The plain-text version of this article, below, has been corrected by the author to remove typographical errors generated by an OCR (optical character reader). Page breaks have been indicated in [square brackets]. Footnotes originally indicated by half-sized superscripts have been entered in [square brackets].
Kenneth R. Conklin, "What's Wrong With Humanistic Education?" FOCUS ON LEARNING, X, 2 (Fall, 1984), pp. 58-68.
What's wrong with humanistic education?
Anyone familiar with the new humanism will quickly recognize that the subject matter of this essay is not humanistic education. The subject
matter is the feelings of Kenneth Conklin. I will be reporting how I feel about some of the doctrines, methods, and people that belong to the humanistic education movement. Therefore, I write in the first person singular, with apologies to those who prefer the style of the omniscient observer and the editorial "we." Of course, one of the doctrines of the new humanism is that nobody has the absolute Truth, and each person is entitled to his own feelings and ideas based on his individual perceptions. All I am doing by writing in this unusual personal way is to reflect that doctrine in practice. Thus, I can feel I am already "one up" on many of the humanist writers: they generally persist in using more formal styles, lending an aura of
authoritativeness to pronouncements which must, according to those very
pronouncements, represent only their own feelings and fallible personal
Since this essay represents only my own feelings, why should you read it?
Unless you know me and want to be friends with me, why should you care
how I feel? Well, for one thing, you might enjoy diagnosing the peculiar
pathology of my dislike for some of the doctrines, methods, and people in the
humanistic education movement. (After all, someone who isn't turned on by these things must have interesting personal problems, and it would be a
professional challenge to devise some process to help such a misfit.) But
perhaps more to the point: I will provide philosophical and psychological
arguments against some of the doctrines and methods that bother me the most. Perhaps you think that philosophical and psychological arguments are
merely a form of rationalization in which we cloak our naked feelings for the sake of public exhibition. But I hope you will find my arguments intellectually stimulating and I hope you will have the good grace to attack me through my arguments instead of attacking me directly. Thus I can save face, and we can diminish the intensity of our conflict. (It's like fighting with puppets instead of with fists.)
I wish you would read more slowly and carefully, because I have already
begun to identify (and by sarcasm to criticize) some humanistic doctrines
and methods. At least, I think so. But I can't be sure. Part of my problem with
humanistic education is its vagueness and incoherence. "Humanistic" is
generally taken to mean "good, decent, humane, responsive to feelings and
needs, etc." How could anyone be against humanistic education thus
conceived? Disputes concerning how to translate these euphemisms into
concrete programs make it dificult to understand what is included and
excluded under the banner of humanistic education. Aside from a perfectly normal amount of infighting characteristic of any large-scale movement, there is confusion caused by the failure of individual advocates to provide clear and comprehensive statements of fundamental principles, and there seem to be many hidden assumptions. Perhaps this is because of
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an anti-stodginess factor. Humanists seem to value flexibility, compromise,
and innovation. They seem willing to make commitments to firm our fixed
doctrines. The best I can do in the face of such slipperiness is to identify those themes of the movement which disturb me the most, recognizing that I will be criticized for unfairly or inadequately representing certain views.
I have already identified some of these themes. Here they are, stated in the perhaps disagreeable form of doctrines, in the same order as I introduced them so far in this essay:
1. Subjectiveness: It is best to make statements about yourself and how you
feel, rather than statements about other people or about the world. This is
because we cannot be sure about the accuracy of our perceptions, and we
tend to imagine that our internal conditions reflect reality (as the psychologists say, we project). For example, instead of saying "you are
confused and incoherent," I should say "I am confused and have trouble
understanding what you mean."
2. Relativism: There is no absolute Truth. Or at least nobody knows what is true (which allegedly works out the same in practice).
3. Narcism: If someone dislikes the humanistic approach, it can only be
because either he doesn't understand it correctly or else he must have hangups that are making him unhappy (even though he may not be aware of being unhappy). Such hangups could be understood and dissolved through
appropriate therapeutic processes. For example: anger, sarcasm, or bitter
accusation are symptoms of distress that indicate we are getting close to
some important hangup.
4. Anti-Intellectualism: Intellectualization at best falls short of honesty and
at worst is the enemy of honesty. I use words and logic to serve as surrogates for genuine encounter, and may use them to disguise my real feelings. Fearing loss of self esteem or personal rejection if I expose my naked self, I offer a safely remote image, or perhaps an inaccurate or faded image of myself, so that the worst that can happen is to have that image rejected (which I know is not a rejection of the real me).
5. Flexibility: It is important to remain open to change and compromise in the face of changing circumstances and in the face of new discoveries about
ourselves. (This is related to doctrine number two.) Personal rigidity is
caused by hangups such as insecurity or unmet needs for love and esteem; and the quest for intellectual rigor is a symptom of such hangups (note
I do not claim that these five doctrines are the most impotant ones in humanistic education, nor that they characterize the entire movement. They
are merely the ones I happen to have referred to in my opening remarks. In addition to mentioning these five doctrines, I also hinted at why I dislike
some of the people who belong to the movement. These people can be
excessively patronizing, deceitfully autocratic, and unwilling to acknowledge seriously the possibility that objections to their procedures and doctrines might be valid. Pardon me. Perhaps I have said these things improperly. Rather, in keeping with doctrine number one, I should instead say the following: I feel uncomfortable when some of these people treat me in the midst of a serious argument as though I were a client in therapy (patronizing); I feel angry when some of these people use manipulative procedures and euphemistic language to coerce me to conform to their values and wishes (deceitfully autocratic); and I wish some of these people would be open to my views.
I should quickly point out that few if any of the humanistic educators I know
personally are describable in the harsh terms of the previous paragraph. Thus,
my data base may be skewed; furthermore, I have not done any
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statistical analyses or controlled experiments. But on the whole the humanistic educators I know personally seem like nice people. None of them
individually is blatantly and simultaneously closed-minded with regard to the humanistic doctrines, patronizing, and deceitfully autocratic. The characterization in the previous paragraph is a composite: a kind of
Every humanistic educator who takes his work seriously will have those
characteristics to some extent, while a perfect one would exhibit them strongly and consistently. The reason is that the five doctrines enumerated earlier, together with the personality characteristics described here, are
logically interconnected. For example: If a humanistic educator believes that
dislike for the humanistic viewpoint is a symptom of some personal hangup
which could be resolved through therapy (doctrine three), then it follows
that the humanistic educator will regard his opponents as candidates for therapy and will use the opportunity afforded by meetings and discussions to conduct such therapy (patronizing). Intellectual arguments against humanistic education would provide additional material for the therapeutic process (doctrine four). An opponent who persists simply needs extra therapy (doctrine five).
Humanistic educators often deal with people who come begging for help with
personal problems. Humanists thus can become accustomed to dominance and control. Some of them worry about this (humanistic educators seem to have power hangups). In addition to fear of dominating others, humanists are
aware that their clients' problems often involve subtle, complex, delicate
factors. To escape the guilt of dominance and to cope with the subtlety of client problems, the humanist may resort to so-called non-directive therapy. He may style himself as a facilitator. Of course the therapist is still in charge and is manipulating situations for his clients' benefit (otherwise the therapist would be no different than anyone else who lets people cry on his shoulder, gives encouragement, and asks leading questions). But the subtlety of the
manipulation, together with the fact that it is indeed manipulation, explain why humanistic educators may become accustomed to the role of deceitful
autocrat and may continue playing that role even in "real" relationships.
I just stated that humanists are often "guilty" of allowing professional modes
of conduct to slip over to direct personal relationships which are not intended to be therapeutic. Now I am going to say that humanists are also often "guilty" of bracketing or segregating their feelings and modes of behavior. This is not a self-contradiction. Bracketing is itself a professional mode of conduct which slips into non-professional relationships. What I observe is that humanists often play roles deliberately, consciously changing roles according to changing circumstances. For example, a humanist may go away for a weekend marathon sensitivity session with a group of total strangers who end up becoming totally intimate, sharing deep feelings, laughing and crying together. But when it's over, it's over. Each participant keeps his increased self-awareness and his understanding of how others respond to him, but the
participants might never see each other again and there may even be a more or less explicit agreement to retain anonymity from each other in "real
"Bracketing" is my word for the deliberate segregating of experience so that what happens in one situation is consciously disconnected from what
happens in other situations. In the absence of bracketing there are
fundamental personality characteristics which remain constant throughout a
period of time, and which may change gradually as a result of significant life
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experiences. With bracketing, the same person seems to take on a markedly
different personality from one situation to the next: for example, a humanist
may be quite basically different as a group leader than as a member of a
sensitivity session, and is radically different again as a friend or colleague.
While it is perfectly normal for anyone to change behavior in adapting
spontaneously to changing situations, the shifts of personality style I refer to
here are excessive and resemble deliberate acting or role playing. Such shifts make me wonder who this person really is. When bracketing is practiced
habitually, I have trouble distinguishing what is spontaneous or sincere from
what is deliberately planned or deceitfully manipulative. Humanists
sometimes state their opposition to bracketing, since it violates honesty and
wholeness of character. They might be surprised to discover themselves doing it; yet I observe some humanists doing it more systematically than ordinary people who do not claim to be humanists.
A strange consequence of the bracketing phenomenon is the difficulty
some humanistic educators have in functioning humanistically in "real
life." Someone acknowledged to be an expert of humanistic education, or even someone who merely claims to be humanistic, might not want to confess his personal hangups or his feelings of guilt or inadequacy. To confess such shortcomings and be open in a relationship is the essence of the
humanistic process; yet, it would simultaneously demonstrate that that
process has not succeeded in helping this acknowledged or self-proclaimed
expert on humanism or rid himself of such problems. A humanistic educator
who is humanistically open with his students would suffer the same
credibility gap as a psychiatrist who tells his own problems to his patients.
Therefore, the humanistic educator might not reveal himself to his students,
yet requires them to reveal themselves to each other and to him.
Professors who teach humanistic education courses for teachers are doubly plagued by the bracketing phenomenon. Since they are acknowledged by their students to be expert humanists, some of these professors might decline to be personally open with their students for the same reasons (discussed above) that any humanistic teacher of any subject might bracket off his personal feelings. But in this case the subject matter of the course is humanistic education. This gives rise to a special kind of bracketing. The professor might want his class to operate humanistically, as a sample of the
classroom style he advocates. Therefore, he might decline to lecture about what he knows, and probably will not require the reading of complex
scholarly literature. Surely his own scholarly research, and the research of
his colleagues, is important to him. By insisting upon running his class
humanistically, he brackets off his scholarly accomplishments, thereby
violating the humanist principle that a person should be open with others by
sharing what is important to him (especially when asked to share it).
Despite student complaints that, "We're not learning anything," such a
professor continued to operate his courses as group process activities
without required readings, lectures, or tests. Perhaps he believes the
complaining students are merely hung up on the traditional educational
system, and their complaints are good signs of restlessness, showing that they will soon confront their tradition-encrusted attitudes. But the professor's
refusal to acknowledge the objective validity of student complaints, and his
ascription of such complaints to a therapeutic process, demonstrates the
operation of doctrines three and five. Humanists are exceedingly closed
minded on the importance of being
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open! A structured inquiry into the theoretical bases of open or humanistic
education might be the best way to teach important ideas and practices, but
the professor refuses to serve his students this way even when they request it. In the interest of operating his class humanistically he has bracketed off both his "real life" personal feelings and his "real life" scholarly activity. The autocracy of the humanist teacher or professor can be measured by the pressure felt among his students to "get with it" and "grove with the group." A less than enthusiastic student -- one who wants a structured course with rigorous intellectual content, or personal privacy, or who objects to some of the process techniques -- is committing heresy against this autocratic rule.
The inconsistencies in humanistic education, and the elements I dislike, come to a focus in the "open classroom." Just as "humanistic education" itself is hard to define because different advocates mean different things by it, so also the "open classroom" is hard to define. Some advocates emphasize the importance of physical spaces that are open: several classes may assemble in various pats of a single large room; movable walls can easily be changed; movable desks allow flexible seating arrangements (but the circle is often inflexibly prescribed); and the children themselves are movable on their own authority. Some advocates of the open classroom say that regardless of physical design, the most important thing is for the classroom to be open to
its environment: there must be trips into the community, nature hikes, guest
speakers, and close cooperation among parents, teachers, students, and
My own impression is that open physical spaces and open interaction with surrounding environment are the least important aspects of the open
classroom. There is nothing intrinsically valuable about moving desks and field trips. Rather, the essence of the open classroom lies in the manner in which students, teachers, and curriculum interact. The classroom is "open" in the sense that everyone is honest, direct, "up front" with each other; the curriculum is "open" in the sense that it will change to accommodate changing student interests, with each student proceeding at his own pace and selecting the things he wants to study. There is little simultaneous group instruction, few lectures, no rigid schedule for covering material. The teacher is facilitator rather than taskmaster.
All the doctrines and criticisms of humanistic education discussed earlier
apply to the open classroom. However, the open classroom operates according to some additional doctrines which I want to criticize. Continuing the previous list of five doctrines, we have
6. Individualization: If all the students in a class regularly do the same thing at the same time, their individual needs are not being met (and this would be bad).
7. Anti-Pre-Planned-Ground-Covering: Rigorous pre-planning of the curriculum according to definite sequences of material and definite time allocations violates the student's right to pursue his own interests, and leads him to become submissive to authority.
8. Meet the Needs of the Child: The teacher should place primary emphasis
upon identifying and satisfying the student's expressed wishes and felt
9. Students Responsible for Their Own Learning: The student should choose what, how, and when he wants to study (note also doctrine seven).
10. Democracy: The school, or at least the individual class, should operate democratically.
These doctrines are so closely related that it may appear I have stretched them out for the sake of generating "ten commandments." Actually, they
identify important and distinct
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principles upon which the open classroom is based.
The individualization of the open classroom (doctrine six) goes with the
relativism (doctrine two) and subjectivism (doctrine one) described earlier. The slogan that captures the spirit of all three doctrines is, "Let each
person do his own thing."
Although individualized education blends harmoniously with relativism and subjectivism, it does not depend upon them for justification. Even if there is absolute Truth, it might well be that the best way to help someone get
knowledge is to assess his abilities and current situation to develop an
instructional program especially made for him. I actively endorse the principle
of individualized education. But I object to the claim that whole group
instruction violates that principle. If students are grouped according to their
needs, it is quite possible that all who belong to a given group could be doing
the same thing at the same time while all are meeting their individual needs. On a school-wide basis this could be done through the use of short modules of instruction with frequent diagnostic testing and individualized programming to ensure that each student takes precisely the correct combination and
sequence of modules to meet his individual needs. A classroom could appear to function quite traditionally (even with children seated in straight rows, all reading from the same book) while still meeting individual needs.
The buzzing confusion which enthusiasts of the open classroom find so comforting is only partly caused by implementing the notion that different
students should be doing different things at any given time (doctrine six). It
is also caused by implementing the conviction that rigorous pre-planning to cover specified amounts of material is stifling (doctrine seven). The opposition
to rigorous pre-planning is in turn derived from the humanist commitment to flexibility (doctrine five). It is related to the belief that spontaneity is likely to
signify authenticity or honesty or "up-frontness."
The most important commitment underlying all of the open classroom
doctrines is characterized by the slogan, "We teach children, not subjects."
Because each child is a unique, infinitely valuable person, we must
individualize (doctrine six). Each child has the unalienable right to pursue his
own interests, and this right is violated when teachers require him to submit to whatever the teacher has planned in advance -- especially if such planning is done without consulting the child (doctrine seven).
The more responsible advocates of the open classroom acknowledge that
children are immature and therefore may not be aware of their own needs or
of the available resources that would interest them. Hence, the teacher has
authority to study developmental psychology in general, and each child's
personal development in particular, in order to set up curriculum modules which are likely to meet those needs and from which the child may choose on the basis of interest (doctrine eight).
The more radical advocates of the open classroom oppose even the pre¬planning involved in the development of curriculum modules. They insist that children should make choices constantly in the process of organizing
their own inquiries, not just the single choice of which pre-planned module
seems most interesting. They say that the child's only protection against the
autocratic control of adults and the imposition of irrelevant curriculum is to
make the child totally responsible for his own learning, to the extent of
choosing what, when, and how to investigate (doctrine nine). The school (or at least the individual class) should operate democratically, with individual
teachers and administrators being not very much "more equal" than individual
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children (doctrine ten). Democratic functioning is recommended both
because it prepares the child for adult participation in a democratic society
and because it guarantees the responsibility negotiated exercises of each child's freedom to choose what, when, and how to investigate.
The doctrine that students should choose and direct their own activities
according to personal interest is the focus of my objectives to the open
classroom. Without this doctrine it is possible to strike a balance between
each of the other doctrines and a more traditional style of teaching. For
example, I have mentioned that the more conservative advocates of the
open classroom would allow a teacher to pre-plan short modules of
instruction, These modules could be selected by students according to
interest (thus avoiding totally rigid pre-planning in accord with doctrine seven), or the sequence of modules could be programmed for each student
individually (doctrine six) in accord with his diagnosed needs (doctrine eight). Students grouped in a module by interest or need could all do the same thing at the same time without conflict, making democratic control (doctrine ten) a moot issue within the modules. But if we accept the doctrine requiring that students choose and direct all their own learning activities according to
personal interest, the pre-planning of short modules becomes prohibited and
we must move to the radically-open classroom.
Why should students choose and direct their own learning activities according to personal interest? The oddness of the question, and the difficulty in getting a coherent answer to it, suggest that many advocates of the open classroom regard this doctrine as basic. It is like a revealed truth: Who would dare to challenge it? I think the humanists believe it is important for people to take responsibility for their own lives; hence, the open classroom advocates believe students should take personal responsibility for their own learning. It is assumed that students cannot be personally responsible for their learning unless they choose and direct their own learning activities according to personal interest.
But this last assumption is mistaken, as I have tried to show elsewhere. A learner is always personally responsible for his own learning as well as the uses he makes of it, even when the most tradition-encrusted or autocratically-controlled teaching methods are used. Knowledge is always personal because the most a teacher or environment can do is to display the separated basic elements of a thing while the student himself must make sense out of those elements as a whole. A teacher breaks a whole (concept, skill, or attitude) into parts for delivery to the student, who must master the parts separately and then integrate them into a coherent whole. The integration of parts into a whole is a private act which is personal to the integrator and cannot be observed or controlled by outsiders. Even the best teacher cannot possibly supply all the parts of a whole. The student is responsible for inferring whatever is not delivered, for the decision to assemble, and for the manner in which he assembles the delivered and inferred parts into a whole. Teaching and learning have unavoidable aesthetic qualities which magnify their characteristic of being personal acts. Even the most rigorous abstract knowledge, such as mathematics, has an aesthetic dimension. Proof does not force a learner to acknowledge that something is true; rather, proof is a teaching technique in which truth is set out on display in a pedagogically heuristic manner so as to lead a learner to see for himself what is true.
Since a knower is always personally responsible for the possession and use
of what he knows, it is not necessary to guarantee that responsibility by having
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the student choose and direct his own learning activities. I think the doctrine
that students should choose and direct their own activities is nothing more than the personal preference of the teachers who impose it upon their students. Why the teachers prefer this style is unclear. Perhaps they are still rebelling against the authoritarian rule of their own parents and teachers. Perhaps they fear their own power. It's a matter for deep therapy, which the patient is likely to resist on the grounds that his behavior is not only normal but even more healthy than normal.
Instead of the open classroom, I endorse a more traditional approach. The teacher should be a taskmaster; i.e., an organizer of tasks for the student,
because of the personal, aesthetic nature of teaching and learning, I think
the teacher is very much like the performing artist: both arouse audience
awareness through deliberate choreography. A series of experiences is
preplanned with the purpose of arousing specified thoughts, feelings, or
The taskmaster's authority for imposing a preplanned sequence of experiences upon his students is derived from the existence of universal
hierarchies of subject matter and of personal growth stages. It is generally
acknowledged that subject matter can be organized according to a logical
sequence: some concepts are more basic than others and must therefore be
mastered first. In a sense, the structure of the subject matter imposes its
authority on both teacher and student, so the teacher's authority to organize a student's learning tasks is derived from the higher authority of the subject
The learner's personal growth needs are even more important than the subject matter as a source of pedagogical authority. There are a number of hierarchies of needs in which both the group needs and the sequence in which
they must be met are the same for all human beings. The most obvious
hierarchy is the biological needs (air, water, food in that order). There are
also universal and invariant sequences of stages in psychomotor development
and language acquisition. The theories of Freud, Maslow, Piaget, and Kohlberg (substantiated by considerable amounts of data) describe hierarchies of developmental stages in affect, cognition, and moral reasoning.
The existence of universal and invariant sequences of developmental stages enables educators to plan universal and invariant sequences of curriculum topics and teaching methods. Some children progress more rapidly than others, and each child has individual needs in addition to the universal ones. But with proper diagnosis to place each child correctly into the curriculum stream and to take account of individual needs, it is possible for teachers to pre-plan the curriculum rigorously with assurance that the needs of each child are being met. Thus the teacher as taskmaster has authority to choreograph and impose curriculum because he knows it is what the student needs.
Chances are that a student is aware of his low-level needs and will actively seek to satisfy them; if not, they are simple enough that the teacher can deal with them directly by using performance-based instruction or, under certain circumstances, behavior modification. But higher-level needs are too complex to be dealt with directly, and may not be consciously felt by even the brightest student. Thus the teacher has authority to use the student's lower-level interests as bait to seduce him into activities which the teacher knows will lead the student toward recognizing and meeting his higher-level needs. I call this the "bait and switch" technique because of its similarity to that well-known unethical style of salesmanship. What makes that style ethically proper in teaching is the fact that it is used benevolently to lead a student toward
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personal growth which he would not achieve rapidly (or perhaps ever) without such help.
I realize that if a teacher functions as taskmaster, and especially if he uses the bait-and-switch technique, his style can justifiably be called patronizing and deceitfully autocratic. Earlier in this essay I harshly criticized the humanistic educators for those very qualities. But it is not the qualities themselves which I dislike; rather, it is the sense of queerness that results when humanists display them. That sense of queerness is due to the fact that those characteristics contradict in practice what the humanistic doctrines prescribe; yet are predictable consequences of adhering to
the doctrines. The sense of queerness is magnified when some humanists are
either deceitful or blind in denying that they are patronizing and deceitfully
autocratic, and denying that they manifest the bracketing phenomenon.
By contrast to the humanists, I welcome and publicly acknowledge the
patronizing and deceitfully autocratic characteristics consistent with the style
of the teacher as taskmaster and with use of the bait-and-switch technique. I
endorse this style for all those developmental hierarchies which can be
empirically verified, and for all curriculum content that deals with what
Plato would call the World of Appearances or what Kant would call the phenomenal realm. In these areas teachers are mainly concerned with
transmitting cultural and vocational folkways. Students pursue such
education mainly to become enculturated and learn marketable
skills; hence, teachers have the authority to require students to pretend
successfully to conform with commonly accepted standards.
The approach I endorse will not receive support from the neo-humanists; but then neither would the style of Erasmus, a founder of Renaissance humanism several centuries ago. Among the historically famous educators, perhaps Pestalozzi's style provides an ideal blending of humanism and taskmasterly control. Pestalozzi formed a "family" group comprised largely of impoverished children of various ages. He lived with them, and they learned how to run a household as well as how to think. Anyone who reads his books will marvel at the gentle humaneness with which Pestalozzi fostered the growth of these children. The town of Yverdun in Switzerland, where he had his school, continues to pay him homage by supporting a small museum containing his few personal belongings and some of his books, together with a large statue in the main square showing Pestalozzi embracing two of his students (I had the good fortune to see the museum in Summer, 1974). But Pestalozzi used his personal humanism to keep the children working hard on a pre-planned curriculum. He broke down the study of language, form, and number into well-ordered sequences of small-step components, and invented the "object lesson" as a technique for promoting interdisciplinary work. "Papa" Pestalozzi was patronizing and deceitfully autocratic in the special way I advocate, yet everyone loved him.
In contrast to the new humanism, my approach derives from a much older branch of humanism. It is chiefly characterized by the belief that humans
are born with pre-determined potentialities whose actualization can be facilitated by appropriately choreographed experiences. The empirical verification of developmental hierarchies lends support to this model
of man. But this model of man is metaphysical: it goes beyond what can
be empirically verified.
I believe there are hierarchies of developmental stages pertaining to a
transcendental or spiritual realm. Hints of these transcendent stages can be found in Maslow's theory of self-actualization, and in Kohlberg's upper
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stages of moral reasoning. The transcendent hierarchies belong to Plato's World of Forms, or Kant's noumenal realm. At this level the role of the teacher as taskmaster, and use of the bait-and-switch technique, are no
longer predominant. Education operates on faith, inspiration, charisma,
Socratic midwifery and platonic recollection. Instead of transmitting the
culture, education facilitates transcendent self-realization. Each person comes to know how he is an individualized manifestation of the great Cosmic Unity.
Among the famous educators of the last few centuries, perhaps Froebel had
the style that best exemplifies the application of such techniques to small
children. Froebel devised a sequence of play activities (the "gifts") which he thought would lead children to an intuitive awareness of how opposites
are synthesized into higher unities. He thought children should stand in a circle holding hands, to arouse awareness of the unity of mankind. His theories strongly influenced the early history of the kindergarten in America.
Interestingly enough. Froebel as an adult heard about the famous Pestalozzi and journeyed to his school at Yverdun, playing along with the children at the feet of Pestalozzi while developing a metaphysical theory congenial to Pestalozzi's techniques.
The nature of transcendent self-realization, and the educational techniques for facilitating it, cannot be described in the space available for this essay (indeed, no satisfactory descriptions can ever be made). I simply want to record my conviction that there is a deeper wisdom than the empirically
verifiable developmental hierarchies, and a different kind of education than a
taskmaster can provide.
Yet I offer the mundane style of taskmaster and the bait-and-switch technique as antidotes to neo-humanistic education for a purpose. My basic
objection to the new humanism and the open classroom is that they fail to
harness the distinctively human power of reason. Perhaps because of eagerness for wisdom, compassion, or human intimacy, they lay aside reason too soon. I think we should use all our powers of reason and pre-planning to
help lead us to the brink of things that lie beyond reason. If we fail to use
intellect as a tool in the pursuit of self-realization, others (e.g., the behaviorists) will use it in pursuit of brute control or subtle manipulation for non-
benevolent purposes. We must run swiftly in hard pursuit of gentle wisdom -- it is too elusive for a laissez-faire approach.
1. This assumption is defended in Ronald Swartz, "Education as Entertainment and Irresponsibility in the Classroom," Science Education, LVIII, 1 (January-
March, 1974), pp. 119-125.
2. Kenneth R. Conklin, "A Defense of the Teacher as Taskmaster," Science Education, LIX, 1 (January-March, 1975), pp. 107-111.
3. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958). See also Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1966).
4. Kenneth R. Conklin, "Wholes and Parts in Teaching," The Elementary School Journal, LXXIV, 3 (December, 1973), pp. 165-171.
5. Conklin, "The Aesthetics of Knowing and Teaching," Teachers College Record, LXXII, 2 (December, 1970), pp. 257-265.
6. Conklin, "The Aesthetic Dimension of Education in the Abstract Disciplines," Journal of Aesthetic Education, IV, 3 (July, 1970), pp. 21-36. Article also appears in Ralph A. Smith, ed., Aesthetics and Problems
of Education (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971), pp. 537-554.
7. Conklin, "Knowledge, Proof, and Ineffability in Teaching," Educational Theory, XXIV, 1 (Winter, 1974), pp. 61-67.
8. Conklin, "A Defense of the Teacher as Taskmaster," op. cit.
9. Kenneth D. Benne, A Conception of Authority (New York: Russell and Russell, 1971). An excellent review of Benne's work on authority, and some other literature which that work inspired, may be found in Laszlo J. Hetenyi, "On Authority: The Thoughts of Kenneth D. Benne," Educational Theory, XXIII, 2 (Spring, 1973), pp. 177-184.
10. Conklin, Developmental Psychology vs. The Open Classroom," Educational Forum, XXXIX, 1 (November, 1974), pp. 43-47.
11. In fact, the use of performance objectives and behavior modification not only will not work but may be detrimental at higher levels, as I partly showed in "Wholes and Parts," op. cit.
12. Conklin, "Due Process in Grading Bias and Authority," School Review, LXXXI, 1 (November, 1972), pp. 85-95.
13. For example, see Johann Heinich Pestalozzi, Wie Gertrude Hire Kinder Lehrt; various translations. For his theory, see Pestalozzi, The Education of Man (Intro, W.H. Kilpatrick; trans. Heinz and Ruth Norden; New York: Philosophical Library. 1951). For a good overview, see Michael R Heafford; Pestalozzi: His Thought and Its Relevance Today (London: Methuen
and Co., 1967.).
14. Friedrich W A FroebeL The Education of Man (trans. W.N. Hailmann. New York: Appleton-Century Co., 1885).
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