The Next Development in Education

By James Boggs

Michigan Citizen, June 6-12, 2010

Excerpted from a 1977 speech by James Boggs (1919-1993) at the University of Adult Education in Detroit. --GLB

For most Americans education is for the sake of getting a good job. They don't realize that the concept of education has gone through many changes in the past few thousand years,. The Greeks, Romans and Chinese used education to prepare a few people to govern. During the feudal period in Europe training was mainly in swordsmanship and horsemanship. With the Reformation in the 16th Century, ordinary people learned to read and write so they would not be dependent on priests to interpret the Bible.

The greatest leap in the concept of education came with the American Revolution which proclaimed self-government for ordinary people. Making self-government possible became the purpose of Education.

Education did not become tied to economic goals in the United States until the late 19th Century with the speed-up of the industrial revolution and the huge surge in immigration. For the first time the purpose of education became preparing the illiterate masses to work in factories.

In the 1930s people still believed that a high school education was enough to get a decent job. However, with the introduction into factories of the HiTech developed during World War II, young people were persuaded that you needed a college education.

Today, with millions coming out of college every year, even teachers find themselves looking for work.

Yet few people are ready to recognize that unemployment in the United States is not due to lack of schooling but is rooted in a system which, giving priority to economic development over human development, installs automation to replace human beings.

So long have we continued to believe that education is the road to economic success that we have not even begun to evaluate what happens to a people who treasure economic development over human development.

Today we need to change our concept of education from Education for Earning to Education for Governing. By governing I mean the continuing exercise of our distinctively human capacity to choose between policies that will benefit our communities and posterity, and those that serve only our immediate self-interest.

To develop Education to Govern, we have to recognize that the foundation of good government is the moral development of young people. This must begin in the home or family where the child learns in practice certain values, such as the importance of telling the truth and doing one's share of work around the house. These are the basis of trust and cooperation, without which no family and no community can long survive.

Next comes the development in the child of the skills necessary to make a productive contribution to the whole society. Particularly in a highly technical society, it is necessary that from an early age young people, female and male, do some productive work that will contribute to the overall society, both because this is the best way to learn and because it is impossible to keep young people as parasites in school for 15-20 years and then expect them to be responsible citizens.

These are just some of the questions that we must now begin to ask ourselves to initiate the next development in education. We haven't asked them before because we thought our minds were like cameras, only reflecting theories, facts, information created by others. Now we must recognize that knowledge is something that human beings create through our reflections and our practice.
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