As early as 1857, Morrill introduced his land-grant bill into Congress, but it was vetoed by Democratic President James Buchanan on the grounds that it violated states' rights and set up dangerous precedents of federal aid to education. Reintroduced in 1861 after the Civil War had started, the Morrill Act was passed by the Republican Congress in 1862. Again, it was vigorously opposed by private college interest groups and others who feared federal control of education. Eventually, the largesse of the Federal Government to the land grant colleges amounted to some 12 million acres distributed to some seventy institutions of higher education, enormously strengthening Jefferson's original idea of a public university.
Who here today would say that the federal government should have had no role to play in higher education? Yes, a little history may reveal how paradoxical and jumbled our present debates may seem. The Morrill Act was bountiful federal aid by protectionist "Big Government" Republicans and opposed by religiously conservative states' rights Democrats. We need to keep our eyes on the future and the historic goals of civic community rather than be buffeted by the rhetoric of political partisanship of the moment.
But, I think we should not only recognize and remember the material and economic benefits flowing from the stimulus given to public higher education by Lincoln's administration and the Republican Congress, but, even more, we should be plotting the role that public education at all levels should be playing to achieve the civic goals of American democracy in the future.
If I may draw upon Lincoln's memorable phrases, it is for us the educators and legislators "to be dedicated here to the unfinished work so nobly advanced" by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, by Madison in the Preamble and the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, and by Lincoln's view of the role of government at Gettysburg. It is for us "to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us" begun by Jefferson's "creed of our political faith" in which he stressed the goal of liberty and the role of education and the people's government in sustaining it, and which Lincoln carried on by underlining the goal of equality as a goal of the people's national government.
We as educators must work more strenuously than ever to achieve equality of educational opportunity for all children and youth in America, especially for the children of poverty and color. We must shoulder "the unfinished work" that Lincoln called upon his generation to do: remove the gap between the ideal of equality and the reality of inequality that still faces American education in the 1990s. This task is especially incumbent upon those of us engaged in teacher education who wish to shape the reform movements for national standards and national assessments so that they will serve both freedom and equality.
In the first sentence of the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln joins liberty and equality as the great civic ideals that link the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution: "...our fathers brought forth...a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." This was Lincoln's reaffirmation of the Declaration's stress on equality that helped to "remake America." As Garry Wills puts it in his scholarly analysis of Lincoln at Gettysburg:
"According to Lincoln...the Declaration of Independence was closer to being the founding document of the United States than was the Constitution." (p. 130)
"....For most people now, the Declaration means what Lincoln told us it means, as a way of correcting the Constitution itself without overthrowing it.... The proponents of states' rights may have arguments, but they have lost their force, in courts as well as in the popular mind. By accepting the Gettysburg Address, its concept of a single people dedicated to a proposition, we have been changed. Because of it, we live in a different America." (pp.146 - 147)The Republican Revolution of 1994 may mean that Wills was a bit premature by writing in 1993 that proponents of states' rights "have lost their force in courts as well as in the popular mind." Rather, it is abundantly clear that "the unfinished work" and "the great task" still remain before us: a rebirth of freedom of individual rights and a rededication to equality in education. Jefferson and Madison put freedom into the Constitution. Lincoln put equality into the Constitution. The clamorous question this election year is, "What today should be the role of government and of education in achieving and protecting freedom and equality?" I say to you, we cannot achieve the long-term tasks of equality in self-government while maintaining "savage inequality" in educational opportunity, and condition for vast numbers of American children.
Another point about the Gettysburg Address has to do with Lincoln's final sentence, perhaps the three most quoted phrases about democratic government ever coined. They are usually intoned as follows: "...that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." But notice that all three of these prepositional phrases modify the same noun "government." So, Lincoln's meaning might well be understood if we emphasize the words and interpret them as follows: "that we here highly resolve that...government of the people, government by the people, and government for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Thus, I take it that Lincoln must have been speaking in favor of an activist government that will seek to promote and maintain the political and economic conditions under which the public good, liberty, and equality can survive and flourish. The persisting problem is how to use government to pursue these ends while we also promote the other core values of our democratic society: those civic values devoted to justice, diversity, truth, and patriotism. I shall speak briefly about each of these core values in a moment.
So, despite possible charges of plagiarism and blasphemy of the words of revered authors of "the creed of our political faith," I suggest we need "A Renewed Declaration of Education for Civitas" that goes something like this:
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for the American people to reform their educational system, these truths are self-evident: that the unalienable purpose of American education is to prepare all youth to become informed and participating citizens committed to the fundamental values and principles of American constitutional democracy; and that to secure the rights and responsibilities of democratic citizenship, the ideal of universal, free, common schooling, leading to a widely available and excellent system of public education, has been instituted in all American states.
Now, we are engaged in a great war of words, testing whether that vision of public education can long endure. We are met at a time when those truths about public education for civitas are being little noted nor long remembered. It is for those of us, the beneficiaries of public education, to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that public education of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this land.
"[T]he greatness of a state does not lie in its area, its commerce, its... accumulated splendor. It lies back of all these in the character of her citizenship....This speech on "The Wisconsin Idea" as of 1901 was reprinted in the Letters and Science Magazine (Spring 1985) as part of the dedication ceremonies for the opening of the Robert M. La Follette Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin with the editor's note that "we found La Follette's thoughts to be as fresh today as when he first spoke them."
I do not know to what extent in this new century the obligation of the student to the state is made part of the daily thought of university life, but I well remember when it found expression in every convocation and was heard from time to time in every classroom....[The student has] an abiding obligation...to pay back in earnest, persistent, conscientious effort for good government, the debt due to the state.
[B]efore all things, the university owes it to the state to give it good citizens....[T]he student should never be permitted to forget while here that he is primarily training for the duties of citizenship....
When this mighty power for the general good is once fully felt throughout the state...the university will not longer come cringing past an impudent and arrogant lobby, as a supplicant to the state....
With the university as a great recruiting station, the ranks of patriotic citizenship shall ever swell with increasing numbers, armed for the state's best service....Not since the days of the sixties have greater issues called for truer men....Strike always for the state and you will strike for the right."
Now, as we contemplate the end of the century which La Follette opened, some of us may note with some impatience that "Old Bob" addressed the Wisconsin alumni as "men;" or we may smile tolerantly or smirk mockingly at his rhetorical flourishes on patriotism; or, we may simply dismiss the idea that liberal education is primarily to prepare citizens for a life of "obligation to the state." But how many governors today are talking this way about their state universities? I can assure you--not in California. How about Wisconsin? Michigan? Minnesota? Are the institutes of public affairs in those institutions as well as those at Harvard, Rutgers, Syracuse, and elsewhere working with the schools of education to improve education for citizenship among prospective and in-service teachers?
And what about college and university students? How are they talking about citizenship? I'm afraid too many of today's college students may think of their high school course in "civics" or "citizenship" (if they took any at all) as the most boring subjects they had to take or sit through, and so they may say in effect, "In college we can skip all that dry stuff about three branches of government, separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism, etc. In college we can study what we want to study--to get a job and all that other good stuff that goes with college life." At a convocation in Madison five years ago, that is exactly what high school students were saying.
Now, 200 years after Jefferson, 130 years after Lincoln, and nearly 100 years after La Follette, we have had more than a decade of political controversy over the educational reform movement launched in 1983 by the Educational Excellence Commission appointed by President Reagan. During this past decade and especially in the midst of the present presidential election year, why have the words and actions of Jefferson, Lincoln, and LaFollette about good government and good citizenship been so little noted nor long remembered?
They have been overshadowed by laments about the lagging economic competitiveness of our work force, weaknesses in science and math, the superiority of decentralized decision-making, and "restructuring of schools." There are recurrent pleas for greater involvement of parents in the school curriculum, and the purported superior values of parental choice in seeking private and religious schooling for their children, paid for by shrinking pools of tax funds. And efforts for school reform have been further complicated by growing fear of drugs, sex, gangs, violence, and crime affecting safety, order, and discipline in the public schools.
So we come to this historic moment of conflict over the role of government and of education in American life, marked by a conflict between the "politics of mistrust" versus the "politics of virtue."
"The American public is in a foul mood. People are frustrated and angry. They are anxious and off balance. They are pessimistic about the future and cynical about all forms of leadership and government....In 1992, the voters, in their frustration, threw out the Republicans. In last November's election, they threw out the Democrats. The worst feature of the mood is that it is likely to last for a long time....the mood has been building for a long time. And it will not lift until its basic causes have been addressed....Yankelovich accounted for the public's foul mood by three trends: the increasingly lopsided character of economic growth in which the majority of Americans are failing to participate; the weakening of shared core values; and a serious disconnect between America's leaders and the citizenry. I wish to call special attention to the core values in a moment.
"My fear is that...the present mood will harden into class warfare, generational warfare, exacerbated racial tensions, polarization and political extremism, demagoguery, and instability as we careen from one oversimplistic solution to another." 1
How does this sound as we approach the election of 1996? Apparently right on the mark. Just two examples: In January 1996, The Washington Post published the results of a poll entitled "The Politics of Mistrust." The poll was conducted by a project team led by Richard Morin, director of polling for the Post, Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Robert J. Blendon of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, aided by a panel of outside experts on political attitudes and public opinion.
The poll documents the growing suspicion and loss of trust in the federal government and many other institutions. This distrust is explained by a number of factors, first of which is the "knowledge gap." People just don't know very much about government or politics, nor do they care. Other causes sound like Yankelovich's: economic insecurity and the decline of trust and increase of cynicism. My concern here is primarily with the assertions that may seem only too obvious to educators: Knowledge is important. "Knowing basic facts about politics does matter." "Without basic facts about the players and the rules of the game, Americans tune out politics and turn off to voting."
Less knowledgeable Americans are not only less likely to vote and participate in public affairs, they are "much more likely to believe that actions by the federal government invariably make every problem worse, a rigid cynicism that the survey found transcends party identification or political ideology." "...[M]any Americans are confused by politics because they simply don't know enough basic facts to follow a substantive political debate." "It's just politics" may be the saddest phrase in America, says Samuel Popkin, political scientist at UC San Diego. And the schools must share some blame. While Americans know about as much about politics as they did in the 1940s, they have gone to school longer now than they did fifty years ago: on average, more than twelve years today as compared with less than nine then.
Not surprisingly, various recent surveys confirm growing cynicism about politics and government among high school and college students as well as among adults. As recently as March 30, 1996 the New York Times reported interviews with dozens of college students and young white-collar as well as blue-collar workers and young people on welfare. They found that "young workers are increasingly dissatisfied, disillusioned, and frustrated with the political system." On March 31, 1996 Gordon Black, a pollster for Ross Perot, reported that voter desire for a third party had risen to a peak of 60 percent in 1992, but after a drop in 1994 the Louis Harris "alienation index," which measures voter dissatisfaction and loss of empowerment has now risen to a record 67 percent.
One of the most wide-ranging of such reports is entitled "Breaking Ranks," sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. The staff writer and former New York Times education editor, Gene Maeroff, summarized the findings in Education Week, Commentary, March 6, 1996. He calling apathy and anonymity the twin scourges of modern post-adolescence.
The study documents the ways the larger society "teeming with cynicism over authority, government, and almost all of life's institutional dimensions" stokes similar feelings among the young, saying in effect "responsibility to community is for chumps."
Nevertheless, Maeroff argues that the schools must struggle "to persuade teenagers of the merits of learning and to inculcate within them an appreciation of civic virtue." Much of the report deals with the needed restructuring of schools, but I emphasize its stress upon relating academic pursuits to the worlds that young people inhabit and connecting the content of the curriculum to real-life applications of knowledge and skills by requiring students to meet performance standards aligned with assessment of what is taught.
The report concludes that schools must do all they can to promote a sense of responsibility and to rebuild community. It advocates that high schools predicate their very existence on the same democratic and civil values to which the country supposedly pays fealty: "The future of the American experiment in democracy depends on the outcome, because nationhood will wither if anonymity and apathy continue to proliferate among the young." Thus, the report recommends that all high schools "advocate and model" a set of core values rebutting the misguided notion that high schools should straddle questions of values by remaining neutral. "There is no neutrality where virtue is at issue" when it comes to weapons, drugs, and violence. So the report recommends "nurturing a feeling for the common good" by requiring students to participate in service learning. 2
There is, of course, scepticism in the educational profession and in the public about such "requirements" on the grounds that schools cannot do much or should not try to counteract the relentless intrusion of social problems into the classroom (Stephen O'Connor in a New York Times OpEd piece on March 26, 1996). Or that government has no business taking sides on matters of values. But I believe that the effort to solve this problem must be made on as many fronts as possible. I shall try to mention just a few. They range from moral philosophy to politics to parenthood.
Many of you will remember the story by Howard Fineman in Newsweek on "The Virtuecrats" (June 13, 1994) with its cover highlighting three not-too-complimentary drawings of William Bennett flanked by Lynn Cheney and Hillary Clinton. Since then, nearly all political candidates in the 1994 election, Democratic, Republican, and Independent, have been celebrating the importance of reasserting the values of moral virtue as a means of combating the social and personal ills that pervade the land. I have several thick file folders with clippings on this theme covering the past decade or so.
The pleas for virtue now ranging across the political and intellectual spectrum of views indicate that there is a great public yearning for answers to the prevailing view that the moral fibre of the nation is weakening. Among the calls for action are strengthening the traditional values associated with family, character, and trust in personal, sexual, economic, and social relationships. I will not venture to categorize the major players or their educational prescriptions for cure in the time I have. But demand for better character education has received great impetus across the country.
You may recall that Fineman rather cavalierly identified three strains of pushing and pulling for more "character education." There are the "Scouts" who put their faith in volunteerism, especially when motivated by religious or charitable sentiment, rather than by government action. These are the modern day Toquevillians who would work primarily through the many voluntary associations of civil society. There are the "McGuffeys" who stress the role of injecting character or moral education into all of the academic subjects and the community life of public schools as well as private. And there are the "Preachers" who insist that character and morality must rest upon religion (usually meaning some variation of Christianity) and that parents must be given the public funds or vouchers to send their children to private and religious schools, or, at the very least, they are entitled to prayer in the public schools. Activists ranging from the Christian Coalition to academics like Stephen Carter deplore the absence of religiously-based morality in schools.
Typical views of political conservatives, irreverently called "virtuemeisters" by Barbara Ehrenreich, include: William Bennett's Book of Virtues which remained on the best seller list for 70 or 80 weeks; Newt Gingrich's plans To Renew America by replacing the welfare state with an opportunity society and teaching Americans about the core values of American civilization; and the political efforts of Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, and the Christian Coalition to require prayer in the public schools.
Meanwhile, a more civically oriented theme on behalf of virtue comes from political centrists and liberals like Hillary Rodham Clinton whose culminating argument in her best selling book It Takes a Village is that "children are citizens too" and should receive better instruction in civics, government, and history as well as what it is that binds this diverse, pluralistic country together. President Bill Clinton argued in his 1996 State of the Union address that "Each of us must hold high the torch of citizenship in our own lives....in our relentless search for common ground." And in other speeches of the past year, he has dwelt on character themes dealing with moral imperatives, access of students to free religious expression in public schools, and a renewed devotion to community service and school uniforms to help develop a sense of the common ground.
In the middle of this continuum of concern for virtue are the Communitarians who have already sponsored two White House Conferences on "Character Education for a Democratic, Civil Society," and who will hold a third conference on the same theme on June 6-8 at the White House and on Capitol Hill. These conferences grew out of Amitai Etzioni's The Spirit of Community. This year the invitation emphasizes the bipartisan character of the event. Meetings will be held on Capitol Hill as well as at the White House with addresses by the President or First Lady as well as by Republican Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum and Democratic Senator Bill Bradley. The goal is to promote character education in the schools by "instilling in our youth the behaviors of self-discipline and empathy that are so critical to a democratic, civil society." Seven task forces will deal with such themes as involving families in schools, better ways of teaching about human relations, intimacy, building character through sports, community relations, and civic education.
Themes emphasizing behavioral approaches to character education have received an increasing amount of public and professional attention in recent years. In my view, they generally tend to subordinate the political aspects of character development in deference to their orientations to sociology, psychology, or religion. To oversimplify the point, their stress is on moral virtue based on religion rather more than on civic virtue based on the values of democratic citizenship. I believe this "moral" approach makes it harder to find a comfortable place in the curriculum and the teaching in public schools. The conference Task Force on Civic Education makes a provocative distinction between "private character" and "public character" as its basis for preferring the goal of civic education in public schools. I shall come back to this point in my concluding remarks. Virtue and character have also appeared in academic volumes ranging across a wide spectrum of political outlooks. 3
Virtue has appeared front and center in much of the recent intellectual, academic, psychological, and philosophical discourse of liberals and "progressives" as well as in populist politics of conservative religious persuasion. I have looked at some of the recent scholarly literature to see what is being said about civic virtue and the role of education for civitas. I confess that I find relatively little about the role public education should play in shaping the values of our common American citizenship. But a great deal is said about the moral education provided by "civil society," those voluntary associations praised by De Tocqueville that lie between government and the individual, stemming from religious, social, economic, or charitable motivations.
I find more rewarding for the study of civitas in the schools the views set forth in the scholarly work in normative political philosophy sponsored by the joint efforts of the American Historical Association and the American Political Science Association during the dozen years leading up to the Bicentennial of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. 4 Much of this scholarship flowed into curriculum materials produced by the law-related education movement of the 1970s and 80s. 5 I tried to summarize some of that scholarship in the chapter on "A Defensible Conception of Citizenship" in my two books, The Morality of Democratic Citizenship: Goals for Civic Education in the Republic's Third Century (1988) and The Civic Mission in Educational Reform: Perspectives for the Public and the Profession (1989).
A quite recent example of this normative approach to political philosophy is Michael Sandel's lead article in the March Atlantic Monthly entitled "America's Search for a New Public Philosophy." adapted from his new book, Democracy's Discontent just published by Harvard Press. Sandel does not deal directly with education in the article, but his revealing history of the "republican" and "liberal" ideas that went into America's original conception of citizenship provides a foundation for dealing with education for civitas that I wish to develop in the final stages of this lecture.
Sandel argues that neither the politics of mistrust of government nor the politics of virtue based solely on the voluntary activities of civil society face the deeper problem concerning "the public philosophy by which we live and the conception of citizenship that informs our political debates. American politics has lost its civic voice. Despite their disagreements, liberals and conservatives share an impoverished vision of citizenship, leaving them unable to address the anxiety and frustration abroad in the land."
America's public philosophy has had two major strands that will be familiar to students of political philosophy: the traditional republican view generated in classical times and the liberal views of the 17th and 18th centuries. "Republican" and "liberal" in their historical senses are difficult for us ordinary citizens to cope with, because in their historical meanings they sometimes sound as if they are just the opposite of the way those terms are often used in political discourse today.
Sandel describes briefly these two major strands in American public philosophy: The "liberal" tradition of the 17th and 18th centuries centers on a procedural politics by which government simply provides a neutral set of procedures for the protection of those rights which enable individuals freely to choose their own values and goals. Neutral procedural government does not try to form the character or cultivate virtue among its citizens.
The "republican" tradition, generated in classical Greece and Rome, requires a formative politics in which citizens are expected to deliberate about the common good on the basis of a knowledge of public affairs and also a sense of belonging, a concern for the whole, a moral bond with the community whose fate is at stake, and thus they are enabled to shape the destiny of the political community:
"To share in self-rule therefore requires that citizens possess, or come to acquire, certain civic virtues. But this means that republican politics cannot be neutral toward the values and ends its citizens espouse. The republican conception of freedom, unlike the liberal conception, requires a formative politics, a politics that cultivates in citizens the qualities of character that self-government requires."These traditions have interacted in American politics in curious ways at different times. Sandel puts it this way:
"Both the liberal and the republican understandings of freedom have been present throughout our political experience, but in shifting measure and relative importance. In recent decades the civic, or formative, aspect of our politics has given way to a procedural republic, concerned less with cultivating virtue than with enabling persons to choose their own values. This shift sheds light on our discontent. For despite its appeal, the [traditional] liberal vision of freedom lacks the civic resources to sustain self-government. The public philosophy by which we live cannot secure the liberty it promises, because it cannot inspire the sense of community and civic engagement that liberty requires."So, as we consider this historic moment in educational reform, shall we be guided by a public philosophy of mistrust of government and thus limit it to the barest minimum of "procedural" affairs? Or shall we be guided by a public philosophy of civic virtue that believes republican government and public schools rightly should have a formative role in developing among citizens the civic virtues of constitutional democracy?
To oversimplify: Many Republicans in Congress and in the states want the federal government to be neutral or "procedural" toward education by removing regulations requiring affirmative action for minorities in order to free the states, localities, and parents to follow their own desires in schooling for their children, but they also want the government to be "formative" by promoting private virtue through prayer or creationism in the public schools and by providing public funds for private and religious schools.
Many Democrats want the government to protect freedom of individuals by being neutral or "procedural" with regard to religion in public schools, but "formative" of good citizenship through affirmative actions to insure equality of opportunity for all children through public education from kindergarten through college years.
I do not pretend to reconcile these differences today. I simply ask you to concentrate on ways that education in the schools can promote a better model of citizenship, teach civic character, and learn the lessons inhering in the icons of civic virtue required by a constitutional democratic republic.
So I ask: At this historic moment of debate over the role of government in American life, shall we be guided by a public philosophy of mistrust of politics and thus limit government to the barest minimum of "procedural" affairs? Or shall we be guided by a public philosophy of civic virtue that believes a republican form of government and public education rightly have "formative" roles to play in developing the civic virtue of citizens in a constitutional democracy?
These questions over the role of government in American life lead to a second set of questions regarding educational reform: Shall we be guided by the politics of the free market in education or the politics of national standards in education? Will a free market in education or will nationwide educational standards lead us to a better education for civitas?
2. Gene I. Maeroff summarizes the report Breaking Ranks in an article entitled "Apathy and Anonymity" in Education Week, March 6, 1996.
3. Seedbeds of Virtue: Sources of Competence, Character, and Citizenship in American Society edited by Mary Ann Glendon and David Blankenhorn; The Content of America's Character: Recovering Civic Virtue, edited by Don Eberly; Trust by Francis Fukuyama; Democracy on Trial by Jean Elshtain; Liberal Purposes: Goods, Virtues, and Diversity in the Liberal State by William Galston; and The Culture of Disbelief and Integrity by Stephen L. Carter [whom Barbara Ehrenreich in a Time book review of March 25 called one of Clinton's candidates for "official moralist of the center left." ].
4. See, e.g., the volumes of Project 87 entitled "This Constitution" edited by Sheilah Mann, and carried on in more recent years by such studies as Amy Gutmann"s Democratic Education, Benjamin Barber's An Aristocracy for Everyone: the Politics of Education and the Future of America; Ralph Ketcham's Individualism and Public Life; and Lorraine Smith Pangle and Thomas L. Pangle's The Learning of Liberty: the Educational Ideas of the American Founders.
5. E.g., the Center for Civic Education, the Constitutional Rights Foundation, the American Bar Association Special Committee on Youth Education for Citizenship, the Social Studies Development Center at Indiana University, the Mershon Center at Ohio Sate University, and other contributors to law-related education.
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