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Can Schools Educate?

Trevor Pateman

Abstract: A lecture given, at the invitation of Professor R S Peters, to the Easter School of Philosophy of the University of London Centre for Teachers, 1980. It begins with a review of the book "Fifteen Thousand Hours" by Michael Rutter and others, criticising its statistical approach to social life and its behaviourist social psychology. The concepts of communicative (agent-agent) action and strategic (agent-patient) action are introduced from the work of Jurgen Habermas and in the context of a discussion of relationships of Trust. The concepts of "programme", "technology" and "strategy" are introduced from the work of Michel Foucault and used in a critique of schools. An ideal of an educated person is developed from the liberalism of J S Mill and the difficulties of realising such an ideal in schools is discussed.

All lectures have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order. You already know the end of my story and that to our agenda setting question, Can Schools Educate?, I answer that they cannot. It is possible that some of you have already formulated objections to what you think I might be going to say, and possible that you might think of confronting me with the research recently reported in the book "Fifteen Thousand Hours" by Professor Rutter and his colleagues at the Institute of Psychiatry [1]. Does not Rutter show that, even in inner London, schools can and do educate, and that some schools have more educational success than others because of specific characteristics of the schools themselves - characteristics which are identifiable and imitable by schools hitherto less successful?

Actually, Rutter does not succeed in showing anything like this, and I shall start off by answering the objection I have conjured up, before developing my own line of thinking in the beginning and middle sections at the end of this lecture.

I will not dispute the statistical analyses presented in 'Fifteen Thousand Hours", although they have been criticised (in an article, "Fifteen Taus and Rhos", by P.F.W. Preece, drawn to my attention by my colleague, Michael Eraut [2] ). However, I shall say a bit about the problems of using statistical data in the social sciences, and their relation to the goal of giving causal explanations.

Everyone knows that a statistical correlation between A and B is not sufficient to justify the interference of a causal relationship between A and B or for establishing the direction of causation. Rutter (I say 'Rutter' from now on to mean Professor Rutter and the coauthors of Fifteen Thousand Hours) knows and accepts this for the observational data assembled and correlated in Fifteen Thousand Hours, but does not think it applies in the case of "an experimental investigation in which the effects of a planned change in school practice are systematically assessed" (p. 163 fn.).

But it does. For the experiment still only yields correlations, and these are not identical to causal relationships; neither do they suffice for the inference of causal relationships between the variables (A and B, etc.) which are correlated. For in the social or human sciences, experimental situations are never closed to the operation of interfering variables, even if the interfering variable is nothing more (and nothing less) than the experimental situation itself. You have probably heard of such `Hawthorn effects', where it is the experiment itself which is causally efficacious in producing the effect on B initially, but wrongly, attributed to variable A.

Worse for the statisticians, correlations between A and B are not merely insufficient to establish causal relationships in human affairs; they are unnecessary. For in open systems of relationships, such as characterize the social world, the operation of one causal mechanism may be continually frustrated by the operation of an indefinite number of other causal mechanisms [3]. That means that although the causal mechanism persists as a tendency, it never shows its operation in a correlation. Hence, that Rutter failed to get correlations between such variables as purposebuilt premises, favourable teacher-pupil ratio and severe punishment on the one hand, and good behaviour and attainments on the other, does not rule out, as he thinks it does, the operation of causal mechanisms at those levels. It may just be that those mechanisms were always being overridden by the operation of other mechanisms, which the research design failed to isolate. The consequences of these observations are quite far-reaching. For it follows from what I have said, that "it is impossible to use [the statistical method] for discovering the generative mechanisms at work in social life" [4].

That brings me to the final point on statistical analysis which I want to make, which is that the kinds of variables isolated by Rutter for study, even if they are logically exhaustive (which I do not think they are), cannot be assumed to isolate mechanisms which have distinctive sets of causal powers. It may be that some variables include several mechanisms working in different directions.

To give just one example, on p.156 of Fifteen Thousand Hours Table 8.6 shows a high correlation (0.73) between the percentage of children from immigrant families in a school and the delinquency rates of pupils from that school, as measured by Metropolitan Police Statistics. Well, there are a lot of people who would explain that by saying that police pick on black youths; and, in saying that, they would be saying that the single variable `Delinquency' does not measure uniform aspects of behaviour across the school population.

These few remarks about the relations between correlations and causes are probably familiar to you. I think it worth reminding you of what you already know just because it is a kind of knowledge we all tend to forget whenever some largescale piece of statistical research is launched on the market amid a blaze of publicity.

I now turn to the theories, or semi-theories, which underpin Fifteen Thousand Hours, which are used to eke conclusions out of the statistical data, and which bear directly on our theme today.

Rutter has some kind of picture of homes, neighbourhoods, pupils and schools which could be rendered into a set of interrelated theories, but is not so rendered in Fifteen Thousand Hours. The picture is roughly that of teachers struggling through schools on behalf of pupils against the cycle of disadvantage to which so many of those pupils are subject, and which tends to produce in them absence from school, unacceptable behaviour in school, unacceptable behaviour out of school, academic failure, and (although this part of the research is still to be reported we can guess at its orientation) failure to obtain post-school employment. I doubt that I need to paint that picture in any more detail; I am sure you are familiar with it.

As an account of the tension or conflict between neighbourhood, home and child, on the one hand, and school, on the other, Fifteen Thousand Hours fails, just because it represents only one viewpoint, the viewpoint of those who see themselves as managers of the tensions and conflicts, and who define what counts as good school and pupil outcomes. Now I am not, for the moment, going to quarrel with those managerial conceptions of good outcomes. What I wish to draw attention to at this juncture is the chasm which exists between the policy-oriented research reported in Fifteen Thousand Hours and the mainstream of academic social science and philosophy in the past twenty years. For the whole movement in academic social science as an endeavour aiming at explanations of social phenomena has been towards the view that social phenomena can only be understood in terms of the motives of individual participants (`actors', `agents' or `members' according to your theoretical orientation) and the meanings they give to institutions and events. In such a framework, it is inconceivable that a conflict could be understood from one side of the barricades only. Philosophers working in the post-Wittgensteinian tradition have lent their weight to this shift from behaviourist to hermeneutic orientations in social science; on the present occasion, I might mention Professor Peters' book, The Concept of Motivation [5] as one early philosophical contribution to the debate. Paul Willis' Learning to Labour is a fine example of the endeavour to understand the motivations of pupils [6].

Now "Fifteen Thousand Hours" is innocent of this shift; pupils figure in it only as sources of information and confirmation on difficult-to-measure phenomena. They do not appear as agents, with their own motives and meaning-systems. The reasons they might have for coming into conflict with the school system are unexplored. Does this matter? After all, "Fifteen Thousand Hours" is policy research, not academic social science, meant to make schools better, not explain what happens in them. Well, it does matter when in the concluding chapter of the book we are moved on from ignoring the agency of pupils to actively denying their agency. For in the last chapter, we are presented with prescriptions for managing pupils grounded in the worst traditions of behaviouristic experimental social psychology. These prescriptions may sound innocuous, but they are rooted in antieducational modes of thinking.

Let me give an example. On p.188 the following paragraph appears:

". . . giving children responsibility for looking after school books and papers conveys the teachers' expectations that they will behave responsibly, and will take good care of the school property. The findings showed that schools which expected children to care for their own resources had better behaviour, better attendance and less delinquency. In a similar way, giving children posts or tasks of responsibility (such as the post of form captain or participation in school assemblies) was associated with better pupil behaviour. The message of confidence that the pupils can be trusted to act with maturity and responsibility is likely to encourage pupils to fulfil those expectations."

I have chosen that paragraph because it sounds so innocuous. I want to try to show that in its context it is not.

There are two ways of trusting people (maybe there are more, but two will do in this instance). Either you trust someone because you trust them, and in such a way that you are happy to have your intention to trust them and your belief that they are trustworthy recognized, or else you trust them hoping that they will thereby become trustworthy even if they are not already, and where the effectiveness of your trust in producing that result depends partly on the other person not recognising the complex of intentions and beliefs which you have, including specifically the belief that they are not really trustworthy. In the first case, there is a relationship between two agents, or persons; in the second, a relationship between an agent and a patient. Trust in the first case constitutes communicative action; in the second, strategic action. These are expressions which I derive from the work of Jdrgen Habermas [7]. (Strategic action might also be called manipulative action.) Now, Rutter's model is the agent-patient model, not the agent-agent one, and this is typical of the behaviourist and managerial approaches which dominate the conclusions to "Fifteen Thousand Hours". Of course, it comes easily to a psychiatrist who, quite literally, deals with patients; but is the agent-patient model, and the strategic action approach, appropriate in, or consistent with, educational contexts? I would need a lot of persuading to accept the idea that children should routinely (not exceptionally) be treated as patients, rather than agents, not least because only agents are capable of education. Patients are suitable cases for treatment. I will say a bit more towards the end of my lecture about the conception of education I am using here. Right now, I want to turn to Rutter's conception of schools and then develop my alternative conception.

"Fifteen Thousand Hours" concludes with the statement that the results reported in the book "carry the strong implication that schools can do much to foster good behaviour and attainments, and that even in a disadvantaged area, schools can be a force for the good" (p.205). Actually this statement is misleading in a quite straightforward way. For what Rutter studied was not schools but differences between schools, features that they had in common as schools not forming part of the investigation at all (see, e.g. pp.106-107). I can cheerfully agree that differences between schools may well explain differences in behaviour and attainments of comparable pupils; but I can agree just because I can then go on to ask, what do the things schools have in common as schools do to the behaviour and attainments of children, who become pupils by attending them? It can also be asked, Can schools do other 'than they do?

To answer such questions we have to engage in two parallel intellectual processes. On one side, identify what children have in common as a result of attending schools. On the other side, analyse schools in terms of those common institutional characteristics which are necessary conditions for the characteristics singled out by the first process. If we can achieve that, we can compare the specific results of schooling with some independently justified conception of education. There being very few children who do not attend school who are at all comparable to those who do, the idea of engaging in research comparing those who do with those who do not get schooled is a nonstarter, and we are forced back on theorising, where in any case I believe we always begin, whether we acknowledge it or not.

My theorising begins as follows. Schools as institutions structure relationships between people in ways that would not exist but for schools; they create teacher and pupil roles, for instance. Pupil perception of schools partly defines what schools are, and pupils at some age begin to perceive school attendance as compulsory, and even if, in some legal sense, it is not (in virtue of the `education otherwise' clause of the 1944 Education Act), this perception is plainly not delusory. What compulsion means to individual pupils will no doubt vary according to other beliefs they hold, and according to the reaction of others to non-attendance at school, but I will not go into that. Teachers also seem to perceive school attendance as compulsory, although responsibility for enforcing attendance may rest with Education Welfare Officers, and certainly teachers perceive attendance at (in the sense of attention to) the curriculum they teach as compulsory or obligatory for pupils once they are in school. Equally, pupils understand that once in school they are supposed to attend to the curriculum even if they do not want to, and even when attention to the curriculum is followed by the indignity of being told that you have failed at it - which is the commonest outcome for secondary school pupils. So far, I do not think I have said anything contentious. If I now add that children dislike compulsion, either as a result of their nature or nurture, and will react against doing that to which they feel they are compelled, especially if they risk failure by doing what they are told, even if, in the end, they do it, have I not said enough to motivate the conclusion that schools are institutions which, in virtue of the characteristics just mentioned, tend to alienate pupils: (1) from their practice as learners; (2) from the curriculum as embodying the product of past learning; (3 )from school teachers who compel attention to the curriculum; and (4) from whatever cognitive interests they may possess, and to which the curriculum does not have to be related in any way. (These four kinds of alienation are specified in ways which parallel the kinds of alienation of workers from their work which Marx describes in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 [8].)

Have I now said anything contentious? I think not. You all know what I am talking about, and believe that at least some of your problems of pupil management arise from the fact that pupils know that they come compulsorily to school and to your lesson, and that even if they do not always come unwillingly, these institutionally defined relationships of obligation and compulsion cause recurrent problems for you. These problems include overcoming `motivation crises' in pupils, when they do not see the point of what you are doing, and 'legitimation crises' in yourself when you doubt the point of what you are doing, and for a moment cease to believe in it. (Again, these two expressions come from Jiirgen Habermas' work [9].)

Of course, even if you grant the existence of a causal connection between schools as establishing compulsion and pupil alienation from the curriculum, the question remains whether this is of the slightest importance. The answer to that question depends on both broadly social scientific and broadly evaluative considerations. From a social scientific standpoint, the question becomes, what other countervailing causal mechanisms operate or could operate to neutralise the tendency of schools to alienate pupils from learning? From an evaluative standpoint, the question becomes, How high do we set our sights when it comes to the education of children? Do we set them higher than a few examination passes? I will consider the second set of questions separately towards the end of this lecture. As for the first, it is quite clear that countervailing mechanisms do exist: good teaching and teaching materials can motivate pupils, to take the most obvious example.What is interesting to me is that so many teachers do perceive these mechanisms as countervailing and as operating against tendencies common to all schools.

Recognition by teachers of school-specific anti-educational tendencies also explains, so it seems to me, the attraction to teachers of the writings of deschoolers like Ivan Illich [10]. For although Illich may threaten our jobs, he does not challenge our central educational values. In fact, he reminds us of just those values which probably made us go into teaching in the first place, and reminds us of our guilty knowledge that we are not realising those values. Similarly, the conflict between the commitment to education which teacher trainees have, and the anti - educational characteristics of schools, seems to me to explain why teacher training is so massively about the `socialisation' (or cooling out) of the new teacher. In becoming a school teacher, you learn to lower your aspirations, as also how to handle the contradictions of school practice - for example, the conflict over whether and how to reward achievement or effort.

In short, considerations like these lead me towards the conclusion that the causal relation between compulsion and alienation is a powerful and important one, even though some of its effects can be neutralised, and the business of schooling can go on. However, the more powerful the underlying causal mechanism is, the faster you have to run to stay where you are. How many of you are out of breath?

Compulsion is not the sole characteristic of the causal mechanisms we call `Schools', mechanisms which are transfactually active (to use a term of Roy Bhaskar's [11]), that is which operate even when they are giving rise to no empirically observable events. A second aspect of schooling is the way in which it brings together numbers of people of a particular age group in a particular place. I would be very surprised if the herding together of large numbers of children was not a mechanism which either had causal consequences itself or which activated other causal mechanisms. Sorting out those effects and mechanisms is a complex business; I see no reason for supposing a priori that none of those effects and mechanisms will be anti educational. On the contrary, it seems to me that we habitually suppose some of those mechanisms capable of frustrating our best laid plans for the younger generation. Thus, in the days when the public curriculum of the school excluded the provision of sexual enlightenment, the hidden curriculum of the playground provided a partial substitute, for which I suppose I am not alone in having cause to be grateful. The curriculum of the playground was dependent on the coming together of children of different ages and diverse backgrounds, and was a consequence of schooling which was at once unintended and undesired.

More generally, anyone who sees the development of individuality as a component part of becoming an educated person must regard with suspicion the peer-group cultures and pressures which schools clearly sponsor, and which are so clearly hostile to individual difference, even though there are obviously very many different kinds of peer group, some better than others. For school is not even a countervailing power to the culture and pressures of peer groups; it is one of the mechanisms, which together with neighbourhood and mass media, overdetermine their reproduction. To the extent that the peer group is anti educational, so it is true that schooling, as sponsor of the peer group, has anti educational effects.

I suppose that is a bit like saying that prisons are a breeding ground of crime, and along the lines I am approaching the question, Can Schools Educate? you could also ask such questions as, Can Prisons Reform? Can Asylums Heal? Can Hospitals Cure? I see no reason for being especially surprised if you come to the conclusion that institutions established with particular aims, as part of what can be called a programme, happen to have or to acquire characteristics which tend to block or make more difficult the fulfilment of those aims. This is just what a systems oriented social scientist would expect to be true of the mechanisms (or technologies as they might be called) created by less than omniscient humans.

This expectation will be reinforced to the extent that the professed programme in terms of which a technology is built is not the real programme the technologists are implementing, or if it gets replaced at a later date by some incompatible programme unaccompanied by any rethinking of the technology. Part of the problem with publicly - funded schools, in my view, is that they were designed in the context of a programme in which educational aims of the sort most of us would now accept scarcely figured, but in which overtly political aims (like avoiding revolution) were prominent. Another part of the problem is that they have so many unintended consequences. Yet another part is that they have intended consequences unconnected with educational aims.

People who have to work technologies or mechanisms constructed in terms of aims that they do not recognise or rank highly, and who are at all self - conscious about their activities, tend to devise what can be called strategies by which they seek to subvert the institution, or to achieve their aims in a setting unsuited to them, or simply to survive. (The three terms `programme', `technology' and `strategy' derive from an article by Colin Gordon on the work of Michel Foucault [12].) Both teachers and pupils in schools employ such strategies, much studied by phenomenologically oriented social scientists in recent years, but with insufficient attention to the fact that strategies arise from the `lack of fit' between the potentialities of an institutional mechanism and the aspirations of its members. Let me say a bit about this in connection with teachers, tempting as it is to regale you with accounts of the strategies pupils use to survive schooling and turn it to their own ends. (Read Willis' "Learning to Labour" for some splendid examples of pupil strategies.)

Schools transform educators into school teachers, and some school teachers spend their lives trying to transform themselves back into educators by means of as many different strategies as they have conceptions of education. Others become staffroom cynics. That is the claim I want to make; what does it mean, and what is important about it?

There is no natural necessity that a teacher or educator be a school teacher, or that a child who is learning be a school pupil. There are plenty of models of unschooled teaching and learning, for example, learning to speak one's native language. It is in such relationships, too, that I guess we all discover or develop a desire to learn, and to teach. The institution of school transforms teaching and learning relationships into new kinds of relationships defined by the roles of school teacher and school pupil; the sociological literature is full of discussions of the school teacher and school pupil rode. Centrally, while anyone who has the capacity to teach something is an authority, the schoolteacher is someone who is said to be in authority (to recall a distinction drawn by Professor Peters in Chapter IX of Ethics and Education [13] ) , even if this authority may reasonably appear to the child simply as power over him or her.

Now although this authority or power may exist unexercised, or may be unsuccessfully exercised, to become a school teacher means assuming that authority or power as part of filling the role which the institution of schooling defines. The assumption can be uncomfortable just because there is no intrinsic connection between teaching children and exercising authority or power over them, and because the two can easily appear incompatible - and with good reason. For they are incompatible with at least some conceptions of education. School teachers who find themselves uncomfortable in their dual position as authorities in power devise strategies by means of which they hope to divest themselves of the power they possess, or disguise it. Some mistakenly think that their knowledge, rather than their extra - curricular power to reward and punish, is the source of their problems and pretend to an ignorance they don't possess: a position about as plausible as that of the surgeon who asks the patient where to make the incision. (The worst teachers use their power to hide their lack of knowledge, but for purposes of this lecture I am not concerned with bad teachers.)

At this point, I do not think the argument for the anti educational consequences of school mechanisms can be developed any further without an explicit consideration of the meaning of `education', discussion of which some of you will be thinking I have put off longer than I ought, since some conception of education plainly underlies the direction of all that I have said up to now. However, although I shall now foreground aspects of my conception of education, underlying my arguments is a refusal to accept the validity of rigid `first order/second order' and `fact/value' distinctions.

I shall sketch only those aspects of my conception of education which relate most directly to those aspects of schools which I have singled out as actually or potentially anti educational, namely, compulsion, age - grouping and the school teacher role. In the scope of part of one lecture, I do not think I can be expected to do more than offer a sketch; but in discussion you may well press me to justify my position.

I single out three characteristics central to my conception of an educated person, for on this occasion it is of persons that I am predicating educatedness. First, that such a person is open to, generally welcomes and searches for new experience and knowledge in and about the world in which they live. This requires that they have in some sense both learnt how to learn and also desire to learn. Secondly, that such a person has an individuality expressed in and through their own life plan (to borrow a concept of John Rawls [14j), and this life plan contains reflective components in terms of which new experiences and claims to knowledge are evaluated. Thirdly, and this may in fact be derivable from my first two characteristics, that such a person be capable of participating in and capable of improvement by free and equal discussion. Here I borrow from John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, although `discussion' should be understood as widely as possible to include the voices of poetry and other arts in the conversation of humankind. This third criterion involves a recognition of the irreducibly social nature of human experience, knowledge and activity, a recognition usually associated with post-Wittgensteinian philosophy, but already present in Mill's Socratic theory of argumentation.

All but inevitably such formulations sound hopelessly intellectualist and biased in favour of the particular life of the mind in which people like me have a vested interest. So let me say that I intend the formulations to cover the case of the person who breeds pigeons and belongs to a pigeon club at least as much as they cover the cases of philosophers. After all, no less a person than Darwin was a fanatical pigeon fancier. But they are not meant to cover the case of the person of no discernible interests, independence or capacity for discussion - the kind of person who it is difficult to see as fulfilling themselves; the person who at school will be called, brutally, a lump.

I am aware that it does not follow from a conception of an educated person that a pedagogy can only develop people who satisfy such a conception if, in some sense, the pedagogy mirrors that conception in its practice. For example, it does not follow from the ideal of having people capable of improvement by free and equal discussion that you can only develop people with this capacity through free and equal discussion. More dramatically, the theorists and apologists of Public Schools have always claimed that it is the experience of subordination which equips men for leadership. Now these kinds of claim are not self contradictory; they are pretty clearly empirical and falsifiable claims - and they may well be false. On the other side, it is some kind of partly empirical question whether any given pedagogies and institutional practices do work against the development of the characteristics of an educated person which I have sketched. What I argue is that schools do have characteristics working against the development of the educated person. I will consider my three aspects of the educated person in turn, and interrelate them with more reflections on the theme that schools cannot educate.

A desire to learn is something which, traditionally, primary school teachers have believed in as existing and supporting their endeavours, and of which secondary school teachers have bewailed the loss in the majority of their pupils. I think there is a lot of truth in these perceptions. However, it might be more accurate to say that what disappears at secondary school level is the desire to learn about those things which can be learnt about at school. To explain such phenomena I would look both to the pupils' growing awareness of the compulsory character of attendance at school and its curriculum, and to the fact that the pupils who lose interest tend to be those who are failing at the curriculum. Loss of desire to learn then seems to me explicable as both a reaction against compulsion and a self - protective measure. Put like this, the problem is not that of creating a desire to learn, but rather that of not extinguishing it.

It seems to me entirely possible that the upshot of schooling for some people is a lifelong alienation from the knowledge and, more generally, culture which schools can transmit, and sometimes an alienation from anything that smacks of schooling, so that even the pigeon fancier comes to prefer the safety of existing practices to learning about new ones. In his study of `the Lads', Willis writes of their culture as involving (simultaneously with more positive features) "the rejection of mental activity in general" (Learning to Labour, p.145).

As for learning to learn, that raises questions about curriculum and pedagogy too numerous and important for me even to consider. At the most general level, I ask you to consider the question, Why is it that despite what we all know about the importance of learning to learn, curricula and pedagogies developed in relation to that knowledge tend constantly either to be pushed out of schools, or subverted into variants on the old practices? The Gradgrind system continues in force, although now it is operated through worksheets on which pupils register their daily quota of facts learnt, and learn just enough to fulfil their quotas.

Turning now to the idea of a reflective life plan, I suppose I ought to say a little more about this than can be conveyed by wheeling out that old philosopher's standby, `the unexamined life is not worth living'. Let me do it this way. In Book VI of his System of Logic, published about one hundred and forty years ago, John Stuart Mill described a science he called `ethology' which would study the `laws of the formation of character', adding that ethology is the "science which corresponds to the art of education" [15]. From such a science, Mill would have hoped for guidance on how a society might form `open, fearless characters' and `logical, consistent intellects', to single out from the essay On Liberty [16] just two aspects of a person which Mill valued, and which are involved in my conception of the educated person as one who has a reflective lifeplan of their own. Mill did not think it was easy to develop people having such characteristics; indeed his optimism of will was matched by a pessimism of intelligence: in the essay Utilitarianism, for instance, he writes that "capacity for the nobler feelings is in most natures a very tender plant, easily killed not only by hostile influences, but by mere want of sustenance" [17].

In this century, we would assign to social psychology the domain Mill allocated to ethology, but social psychology is rarely, if ever, conducted on the grand scale Mill contemplated for his ethology, and its connection with a liberating practice of education is habitually severed. Hence, once again we are forced back on theorising. I have already indicated how I see the peer group (especially the adolescent peer group) as essentially hostile to the development of people whose life plans are both reflective and distinctively their own. I well remember a sixteen year old member of a Youth Club I once led replying to a suggestion I made that he undertake some distinctive course of action, `I don't want to be the individual'. How do schools stand in relation to such sentiments? Not only do they sponsor the peer group by collecting it together; they also value uniformity, even if of different kinds, and create the conditions in which a polarised oppositional uniformity seems the only alternative, an alternative which as Willis points out has great weaknesses as well as some strengths. For example, schools have historically valued uniformity of dress and very importantly of language as part of an institutionalised distrust of personal style, which is, of course, an essential aspect of any reflectedupon individuality; more importantly, the hostility to difference has been a class hostility directed against working class children: teachers can be heard getting angry because a pupil looks like a builder's labourer, but never because a pupil looks like a bank manager.

Finally, capacity for improvement by free and equal discussion is a characteristic of individuals which is of direct social and political significance. For it is a prerequisite of the possibility of a rational society, a society in which citizens seek to resolve disputes through the public use of reason. This capacity is not just of direct political significance. For example, in the earlier writings of the most philosophical of psychotherapists, R.D. Laing, you will find described parents who it seems frustrate the therapists' efforts just because of their imperviousness to any evidence or argument the therapist, or their own children, present [18].

Now you might say that in schools teachers obviously recognise as an educational aim the development in individuals of the capacity to contribute to, and learn from, discussion. For example, does not (or did not) the Humanities Curriculum Project (HCP; the Stenhouse packs) embody a clear recognition of this aim? Two points. First, that it is common knowledge that the practice of the HCP has been different from its theory, and that needs explaining. Secondly, that within the context of the kind of theory I have been developing in this lecture, I would say that the structural position of the schoolteacher, which I talked about earlier, is in tension with the role of `neutral chairperson' which the HCP assigns to teachers. More generally, even making allowances for differences in knowledge and experience, schools cannot invite pupils to a `free and equal' discussion and pupils know this. They know that their contribution to discussion is structurally constrained by the power of teachers to decide when discussion is to occur and on what terms, as also to decide what is an allowable contribution. Of course, the tendencies of schools to produce these effects, through the roles they assign to school teachers, is reinforced by the fact that pupils are often relatively ignorant (although not always) and, by definition, inexperienced in discussion. In those circumstances, I would argue that something which works in the opposite direction is all the more necessary, rather than something which reinforces children's beliefs in their incapacity for citizenship, or the likelihood that they will reject that way of life in which the attempt is made to resolve disagreement through discussion (a way of life which we have still to realise, I should add).

If there is to be any discussion of this lecture, I must draw it to a close. I have argued that schools as institutions are causally effective mechanisms, and that some of the characteristics they have in common have anti educational effects. I have tried to introduce some elements of a conception of education measured against which schools are, indeed, anti educational. They may well be educational, measured against conceptions other than the one I have advanced. Undoubtedly, schools also have other characteristics than those I have discussed, some of which may well be educational. Although I have sought to sustain a case that schools cannot educate, I do not at all deny that education can occur in schools. For there are pupils so resolute to educate themselves that they succeed, against the odds; and, likewise, there are teachers constantly devising strategies to facilitate pupils' difficult self education. All praise to those brave enough to take sides against the probable. My only quarrel is with the probable itself [19].


[1] RUTTER, M., MAUGHAM, B., MORTIMORE, P. & OUSTON, J. (1979) Fifteen Thousand Hours (London, Open Books).

[2] PREECE, P.F.W. (1979) Fifteen taus and rhos, Research Intelligence (British Educational Research Association).

[3] BHASKAR, R. (1979) The Possibility of Naturalism (Brighton, Harvester Press).

[4] HARRE, R. & SECORD, P. (1972) The Explanation of Social Behaviour (Oxford, Blackwell).

[5] PETERS, R.S. (1958) The Concept of Motivation (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul).

[6] WILLIS, P. (1977) Learning to Labour (Farnborough, Saxon House).

[7] HABERMAS, J. (1979) Communication and The Evolution of Society, esp. pp. 116-123 (London, Heinemann).

[8] MARX, K. (1970) Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (London, Lawrence & Wishart).

[9] HABERMAS, J. (1976) Legitimation Crisis, esp. Chapters 6 and 7 (London, Heinemann).

[10] ILLICH, I. (1973) Deschooling Society (Harmondsworth, Penguin).

[11] BHASKAR, R. (1979) The Possibility of Naturalism (Brighton, Harvester Press).

[12] GORDON, C. (1979) Other Inquisitions, in Ideology and Consciousness, No. 6, pp. 23-46.

[13] PETERS, R.S. (1966) Ethics and Education (London, Allen & Unwin).

[14] RAWLS, J. (1972) A Theory of Justice (Oxford University Press).

[15] MILL, J.S. (1974) In: ROBSON, J.M (Ed.) A System of Logic, p. 869 (London, University of Toronto Press/ Routledge & Kegan Paul).

[16] MILL, J.S. (no date) On Liberty, in: LINDSAY, A.D. (Ed.) Utilitarianism, Liberty and Representative Government, p. 93 (London, Dent).

[17] MILL, J.S. (no date) Utilitarianism, p. 9 in the collection cited in [16].

[18] LAING, R.D. & ESTERSON, A. (1970) Sanity, Madness and the Family, 2nd edn (Harmondsworth, Penguin).

[19] In the preparation of this lecture, I benefited from discussion with Barry Cooper and Jean Stroud, and, in a more general way, from seminars with my P.G.C.E. students at the University of Sussex. I should also like to acknowledge the secretarial help of Sally Barnes and Margaret Ralph.

Website version 2003, lightly revised from the two previously published versions: as a pamphlet of the same title, published by Jean Stroud: Lewes 1980 and as an article in the Journal of Philosophy of Education, (1980), vol 14, nr 2, pp 139 - 148