Page 6


WOULD NOT DO the extremist full credit, however, unless I mentioned the fact that they themselves have an ideology, a creed, something positive to offer. They are not merely negative. They want you to teach their dogma just as any good communist wants the schools to teach the Marxist dogma. The dogma of the extreme right wing is called something like “Americanism” or “Constitutionalism” or “Christian Constitutionalism.” New ideas can be measured against this dogma, the extremist says, and if there is any conflict, we should not allow the new ideas to be taught in our schools. In short, they want to indoctrinate the students, the teachers, and the society with their particular creed. To the scholar and particularly to the student of American history this is a curious line of thought. It seems to be founded on the assumption that America or Americanism can be boiled down to a few basic principles that existed in the beginning and still represent the American experience today. But as I look at American history, it seems to be a study in constant change. America, in fact, seems to have been becoming, changing, evolving since 1607. The American mind of1960 is not the mind of 1690 or even of 1890. American government has changed. The cities have changed. The farms and the businesses have changed. Even the Constitution has changed through amendment and interpretation. In fact, change itself seems to have been the only constant thing in American history. To try to boil all of this down to a few unchanging ideas from the Federalist Papers or a few speeches by Jefferson or Lincoln is to miss the main point ; to teach Americanism as a body of rigid dogma is to do a sad disservice to the vitality, the pragmatism, the enthusiasm that have characterized the American experience. Instead of studying the process by which American ideas and institutions have evolved, the extremist grabs up a few simple ideas and says this is the whole story. His particular approach hides the complexities of the continuing social process which has created modern America. It puts everything on a kindergarten level of social science and tells the research scholar that he can stop researching because we have found the core of the American experience. This is the necessary effect of dogma on the learning process. In the right-wing dogma, the emphasis upon what is called “free enterprise”-seems prise in the business world. The dogma instructs us to keep the federal government from interfering in the operations of private business. Business, according to this idea, should be allowed to compete in the true American way without being hampered by foolish regulations and controls. Oddly enough, however, this line of reasoning is not applied to education. It is not applied to the constant clash between , new ideas and old concepts in the social sciences. Instead of free enterprise in ideas, the extremists want the vital flow of ideas to be rigidly controlled along the lines that they think are right. They do not believe in intellectual competition. They do not believe in a dialogue between different interpretations of the American past, for instance. They are afraid, they say, that the young minds of our students will not be prepared to hear what is called, mysteriously, the. “other side.” Our children, they say, are not mature enough for this. They do not yet have good judgment. Failing to see that the only way one develops good judgment is to exercise judgment, the extremist offers us dogma, not dialogue. Instead of free enterprise in the intellectual marketplace, he offers us a course in American principles or forces us to water down our social science courses until they do not reflect any conclusions at all. Then, since the courses say nothing at all, they are not dangerous. A RELATED ASPECT of the extremist mind is its dedication to strict study plans and schedules. Instead of throwing the classroom into the hands of the teacher, the extremists will want to have a day-by-day routine with prescribed subjects. They do not want individual initiative there. That would be dangerous. How could you tell what the teachers were teaching? Under these conditions the teachers might teach something that contradicts the extremist creed. They might raise questions. They might start the students thinking about important questions such as the implications of impeaching a Supreme Court Justice. They might encourage the students to ask reasonable questions about society and to begin reading some of the books that the extremists condemn without studying. That would be dangerous. As the Russians have recently discovered, curious students and poets can ask some embarrassing questions about a system that is geared to dogma, not dialogue. There is another reason for having a rigidly controlled teaching process, and this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the extremist mind. There is a natural bureaucratic process which abhors the absence of controls. Bureaucrats or administratorswhether they are in Washington, St. Louis, or Houstonhave a quite natural desire to achieve a measure of efficiency by putting everything in order. If you mention to them the possibility of leaving something up to the individual teacher, they will immediately conjure up an image of chaos. This bureaucratic point-of-view seems to be particularly oppressive in Houston, and I am not certain whether it is related to BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND North Dallas Democratic Women’s Club Presents POLITICAL PARANOIA II Starring 100 Gorgeous Housewives May 16 $1.50 8:15 P.M. Hillcrest High EM 1-7450 extremism or not. At any rate, I believe it has roughly the same results. It tends to make the teacher an agent for a central office or school board. Instead of letting teaching be a haphazard series of personal relationships between the teacher and the student, it turns teaching into a kind of intellectual sausage factory which mechanically grinds out neat little students, all in a row. In the sausage factory, I agree that standardization works; it achieves maximum efficiency. All sausages are the same. In the schools, however, it kills the creative process and stifles the personal relationships that are the heart and soul of teaching. This kind of control also insures that the flow of new ideas in the social sciences will be slow and will be regularly interrupted. If every new idea that is going to be introduced has to filter through an imposing administrative barrier, we can not hope to keep up with fast-moving developments on the frontiers of research. RIGHT NOW I am convinced that the Houston schools are not keeping up. In the field with which I am most familiar, economics, the Houston schools appear to be about 30 years behind. Primarily because of extremist activity, it seems to be dangerous to mention the name Keynes, let alone to base your textbooks on Keynesian analysis. This is a sorry situation. Much has happened in economics since Keynes, but you can not expect to keep up with these developments if your economic theory stops with Adam Smith or William Graham Sumnerand stops for essentially political reasons. As long as the extremist mentality prevails, as long as teachers are concerned primarily with fitting themselves to an authoritariam teaching routine, Houston will fall further and further behind the new ideas that are developing in social science. Until Houston and Texas begin to make full use of the inventive minds of the students and the creative minds of the teachers of social science, we will have Stone Age social sciences while other schools in other parts of the country meet the challenge of the space age. May 1, 1964 ‘ 11 SUBSCRIBE OR RENEW THE TEXAS OBSERVER 504 West 24th Street Austin 5, Texas Enclosed is $5.00 for a oneyear subscription to the Observer for : Name Address City, State This is a renewal. This is a new subscription.