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C. The political history of education - Attempts at liberation Print E-mail
Education
3.RousseauThe first attempt at liberation of education did not take place so much in the era of the Renaissance or the Reformation as in the age of the Enlightenment, particularly with Rousseau, who was the forerunner of all subsequent movements and revolutions for the liberation of man, though he is much misunderstood by many who have not seen the deeper dimension of his work.

There are features in the work of Rousseau which make him the forerunner of both Marx and the Ecologists, as well as of many enlightened bourgeois and reforming politicians, and, above all, of enlightened educationists, beginning with Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi.

Renewals of educational systems, down to the present, have had Rousseau as their forerunner, but his vision for education has never been realised. If it had been realised en masse, we would not have had a society threatened by civilised barbarism, by nuclear weapons and poverty, in the midst of plenty, and by oppression and the degenerative distortion of man.

However, before the Enlightenment, in order for us to appreciate how power made the higher education of the age, when Europe was the Stuarts, the Louis, and the Hapsburgs, its instrument, we have only to look at a passage by Ottaviano Maggi in his book De Legato.[i]

The passage is specifically about diplomats, but it throws light on our subject, without, however, being as markedly revelatory as Machiavelli's Prince: "he must be a trained theologian, he must know Aristotle and Plato well, and must, within a few moments, solve the most obscure problems in a correct dialectic manner. He should also be a specialist in mathematics, architecture, music, physics, and even civil and canon law. He should speak and write Latin with ease and also be master of Greek, Spanish, French, German, and Turkish, while he will be an educated student of classical literature, a historian, a geographer, and a specialist in military science. He should also have a cultivated taste in poetry. And, above all, he should be from a distinguished family, wealthy, and endowed with a fine physical appearance." That is to say, all human knowledge of the time subjugated to that "above all".

Was it this that Voltaire meant when he came into conflict with Rousseau over whether this education changes man? If yes, then we should not go on holding him in high regard, as we have been taught to do. Pierre-Paul Grasse, in his book You, the Little God, is right when he remarks that education of this kind means nothing substantive for the advancement of human nature.

We see here what unworthy ends education serves. Apart from anything else, the author of the passage is naive in thinking that all this information could be concentrated in diplomats and people in power. Kissinger is clearly more explicit in speaking of the qualifications of a leader; in reality, he is close to Machiavelli's Prince.[ii]

What importance education had for the establishment and power at any time was shown by the Catholic Jesuit Order, and, later, by certain modern Protestant demagogues who, causing so many problems, predominate politically in the New World, with all the contemporary industry of advertising effects.

We shall not go into the subtle interdependences between education and politics from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution. Towards the end of this period, educational movements developed, with Locke, Rousseau, and the Encyclopédistes, which sought the organisation of education with a right of participation of the people in it. The French Revolution established this right - though not in its full range.

In spite of this, education became a privilege, chiefly, of the bourgeois class, while workers and farmers remained excluded. Nevertheless, the students usually supported them in their struggles, at certain times going beyond these classes in militant consciousness-raising and with all the spuriousness of transience, as was the case in May '68 in France, in 1973 in Greece, in the Prague Spring, and in a number of other instances.

With the exception of Rousseau, the issue of the method of education was examined only after the Revolution, and this led to the formation of various schools of pedagogics. A number of pioneers of the liberation of knowledge and of man, from Pestalozzi and Montessori to Piaget and Ivan Illich thought alike.

These endeavours have, however, remained - to a greater or lesser extent - fruitless because there has not been an emancipation of the media of information from political power and vested interests.

Thus, for example, Nazi Germany plunged its education into its political primitivism. In the Führer's book Mein Kampf we can find the following typical passage on the educational policy which was followed for 12 years in that country.

"A state which is founded upon racial discrimination must start out from the principle that a man whose scientific education is rudimentary but who is physically healthy, honest, and of stable character, who likes to take decisions, who is endowed with will power is a much more useful member in the national community than a cripple, whatever his intellectual graces; a gangrened body in no way becomes finer by the radiance of the spirit, and, moreover, it would be wrong to give the fullest intellectual training to deformed or mutilated people whose lack of energy and character will render them indecisive and cowardly individuals"; or: "the cultural and creative capabilities of the Aryan do not stem from his intellectual gifts. Otherwise, he would be able to act only as a destroyer, never as an organiser. Because the basic condition of any organisation is that the individual waives putting his personal opinion and his personal interests first and sacrifices them to the benefit of the community." Hitler considered the spirit disastrous, and indeed so it was for materialism and totalitarianism. Here we have a perversion of the truth, a vulgar materialism, which, nevertheless, finds the pulse of a community which is a vampire, a black hole for its members, of a community of the Moloch type.

Typical of this account is the fact that it has within it contradictions which do not stand up to true dialectic; for example, the first sentence calls for power of will and the taking of decisions, the second speaks of the sacrificing of this power to a community which has no dimensions of freedom. On the one hand, it approves of the power of desire which shows its worth effectively only on terms of the freedom of the will; on the other, it kills it - it divides in order to rule in the mind of all those who do not take notice of the logical non sequiturs. This is our education even today.

The most basic characteristic of these views is that they attempt an approach of least resistance to reality, with allocation to the lowest stage, which minimises dialectical synthesis. It always takes the sediment in order to represent it as the only possible reality, as in the case of the community, and from there fights against abstract truth and thought with mercenary ideology and religion, with mercenary ideological obsession, with gross viewpoints and prejudice.

The same thing also happened with the reinforcement of the view that art is for all the people, not seen from the point of view of an art education of the people but in the sense of a vulgar sub-art. This view, unfortunately, was also accepted in the USSR, and not only in Nazi Germany from the lips of Baldur von Schirach, the Nazi Youth leader - with a different motive, of course, and a different form - and we should recognise this from the very beginning.

There were liquidations of artists and intellectuals in both these countries, to the point, moreover, of views of such a quality as in this article in Pravda (17 February 1950) finding favour: "If you encounter difficulties and suddenly begin to have doubts about your powers, think of Stalin and you will find the necessary conviction. If you feel fatigue when you shouldn't, think of Stalin and your fatigue will leave you. If you have thought of something great, think of Stalin, and your work will go ahead marvellously. If you want to find the right answer, think of Stalin and you'll come up with that answer."!

The consequences of these views also became apparent in science with the case of Darwin, in the USA, of Copernicus and Galileo at the time of the Renaissance, the case of Einstein in Nazi Germany, and that of Lysenko in the Stalinist period in the USSR.

Typical of the dependence of education is the fascist indoctrination of the people with ideals such of 'country - religion - family', or 'everything from the state, everything for the state, nothing against', as was the case under Metaxas and Mussolini, respectively. In our own time, this propaganda about ideals - as had been provided for - has taken on the form of consumerism and the society of spectacle.

We cite all this in order to show that education up to now has been a source of our incorporation into the system of hegemony and that we have been grafted on to a compulsory sub-education. It is obvious that a true education is incompatible with the present situation, the present international political, economic, ecological, and cultural abyss.

This has been and is, up to the present, in broad outline, the political, and not the theoretical, history of education. Its pivotal feature has been incorporation into the instrumental paternalism of power, into its totalitarianism, and the dominance of the place and time of our birth, and of the economic compulsion over us, whereas it should be the opposite.

The thinking of intellectuals such as Wilhelm Reich, in Listen, Little Man, Krishnamurti, and Jaspers, or even the humanist theoretician of government Norbert Wiener, and Louis Mumford is even more opportune today for a liberating experiential culture which will give balance, without anachronistic scholasticisms, to present-day man, who is oppressed by externalities and is dangerously tied down both to fundamentalisms and to a mercenary consumer, technological, and communications identity.

New trends in institutional organisation of education, as well as cultural and methodological trends which were associated with support missions of international organisations such as the UNO and UNESCO, or with thinkers and 'missionaries' of the liberation culture did great good after the [Second] World War in inaugurating good will, and education in correct human relations and in non-dogmatic thought.

Their work was necessary, and had limited, though substantive, success. Today, we now know that such a task must be intensified and set in motion a new cycle which will counterbalance the setting of crisis and the trends of totalitarianism under a variety of names.

At the same time, we are all summoned to a deep experiential culture and initiation into freedom and co-operative thinking through substantive and creative self-education, through an on-going inner life-long learning which liberates our self on the horizon of the 'Planetary Village', on terms of inspiration, collectivity, and service, on terms of spiritual and mutual-aid sustainability.

The issues of an alternative approach to global development and education set out by Oliver L. Reiser and their prophetic nature were unmistakably catalytic. What remains now is for us to work doggedly to eliminate the final development of those hazards which he foresaw.

Our world, above all else, needs spiritual security through freedom and substantive thinking.


Ioannis Zisis, Writer


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A. THE POLITICAL HISTORY OF EDUCATION 

B. THE POLITICAL HISTORY OF EDUCATION - BASIC HISTORICAL POINTS

 



[i] An Introduction to International Relations, Power, and Justice [in Greek], by Th.A. Couloumbis and J.H.Wolfe, in the Political Science Library, pub. Papazisis.

[ii] Ibid.

 
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