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Education for a Democratic Society
Unpublished Manuscript, Patrik Schumacher, London 1989

This paper tries of offer general philosophical and political reflections pertaining to the question of the societal role and constitution of schools as institutions for education and socialisation.
Last year the Baker Bill (Education Reform Act, 1988) was approved by Parliament, a bill demanding a core curriculum to centralise the control of education via standardisation. By the same means the selection function of the educational system is promoted, a function that – as will be argued below - ultimately contradicts the educational task of the education system.
Education is an ideologically and politically contested arena of society. Beyond the obvious problem of (un)equal chances and the advantage of entrenched elites fostered in the so called “public schools”, most of the worries about education consist in or derive from the worry that certain groups within society (some speak of the ruling class) use the educational system to indoctrinate or impose their concept of “maturity”, their morality according to their interest, their values, their idea of what counts as knowledge and what is important to learn etc. It is often said that education is ideologically biased to the advantage of a certain class.
Granting that such worries concerning the existing educational system are justified, the institution of obligatory schooling deserves to be defended against too generalised, abstract critiques that demand the abolition of all formal schooling. The challenge of these extremely sceptic positions, however, leads the author to the distillation of a fundamental principle that has to be maintained and built on.

According to the chapter on education in “Introductory Sociology” (edited by Anthony Giddens) the question of the criteria behind the selection of possible curricula has come to the forefront in the sociology of education. “It can be argued that the values and knowledge selected for transmission within schools will be more familiar, more compatible and more beneficial to some groups in society than to others.” [1] Similarly, in “Education and the Political Order” we read that “... the educational system selects, organises, transmits and thus controls patterns of knowledge”. [2] This is then taken as an explanation for the educational failure of the working class: “Knowledge is organised in ways that makes its acquisition easier for some social groups rather than others”. [3] Certainly, one could imagine different “patterns of knowledge”, so that working class children would do better. But the problem is whether those “patterns” would make them fit for successful (productive) activities in the advanced and complex civilisation they live in. The criterion for selecting, organising and transmitting knowledge cannot be the equality of educational achievement at all costs. If the organisation of knowledge in schools is supposed to be “dependent upon the character of the British class structure” [4], then the question is how much of what the schools provide is dictated by the manifold qualifications needed to sustain “our” complex civilisation. One might grant that a small and decreasing part of the curriculum (like literature, music, art, ancient languages - subjects one might call “cultural”) has no direct bearing on the skills really needed. Those cultural subjects are inspired by the 18th century classical, “humanist” education which was indeed confined to a thin upper stratum, and these subjects still mirror the cultural experience of rather those classes who see themselves as the descendents of this older ruling class. Since the industrial revolution a different kind of education was demanded, for more and more people. Despite this development, the old “humanist” idea education is often still cherished as the ideal aim and purpose of education. These “humanist” subjects, especially the ancient languages, are especially fostered in the “public” schools. These subjects might in turn serve in enhancing an elitist, esoteric cultural identity for the upper classes who isolate themselves within these “public” schools.
However, the far bigger problem remains the fact that such a wide stratum of society (the working class) is loosing out in the educational system - in scientific as well as cultural subjects.

There was a time when the failure of most working class children (as well as of some unlucky children from the middle classes) was testified, explained and legitimised by the so called 11+ test, a supposed IQ test at the age of eleven, prematurely sealing the fate of many children. The test was introduced (together with students’ grants and a removal of fees for secondary schooling) with the 1944 Education Act as a progressive measure towards educational equality. But even after this reform, the underrepresentation of working class children continued. Even if one compares children with equal 11+ results, the educational success differs significantly according to social background. A genetic inferiority of working class children can therefore not account for their underachievement in school, not even for their underachievement in the test itself, as we shall see.

Basil Bernstein [5] developed a theory of class dependent linguistic faculties to explain the class specific educational achievements. He contrasts the ‘restricted code’ of the working class with the ‘elaborated code’ of the middle class speech. The restricted code gives access only to the here and now, operates with ‘particularistic’ meanings, is ‘context bound’, so that speech can be understood only by the immediate participants. It uses condensed symbols. Principles are never made explicit. The elaborated code is supposed to operate with ‘universalistic’ concepts, principles are reflected, it is ‘context free’, so as to make the meaning available to all. Condensed symbols give way to rationality. These codes are linked to the social structure the individual is embedded in according to class.
The unskilled worker slots into a given hierarchy, where his stereotype occupation is prescribed, not allowing for any individuality. His family reproduces this clear cut authority structure. Rights and duties as well as the general treatment of the family members are tied to their stereotype position (father, mother, child) and are not negotiable. Children tend to be controlled by commands with little or no explanation. Bernstein calls this family type ‘positional family’. The contrasted work experience of the middleclass with relative autonomy at work, responsibility and decision making, leads to family relations which are based on genuine differences between persons with their unique attributes and individuality. Bernstein calls this type ‘person orientated’ or ‘personal family’. Here the child being punished rather for bad intentions than consequences learns to articulate his individual motives and generally learns to argue.

With this conception Bernstein advanced an important step against the flawed idea of a genetically established intelligence, mirrored in the practice of the obligatory IQ test. The educational problem of the working class is not only explained better but it is now possible to tackle it, it is no longer a law of nature one has to accept. Most remarkable and fruitful is the link Bernstein establishes between intelligence (rationality) and anti-authoritarian, non-hierarchical (democratic) social relations.
In order to prepare the ground for the elaboration of this essential insight about the link between rationality (and thus knowledge, science, education) and democratic human relations it is useful to critically engage with Chris Jenks’ ideas articulated in his article “Constituting the child”. Jenks argues that pedagogics, sociology and psychology define the child, the object of their theories, only negatively, in relation to an “unexplicated but nevertheless firmly established, rational adult world” [6], i.e. as a creature that has not yet grown up to what it should be, that is not yet an adult. “Accounts of this nature begin from a given model of structured human conduct and then seek to explain childhood as teleologically related to that pre-established end”. [7] This observation leads Jenks to speak of a “theoretic violence”[8], and to demand to “constitute ‘the child’ as an ontology in its own right”.[9] He demands to acknowledge the difference, the “strangeness” of the child positively – but fails to concretise this demand by elaborating the demanded positive “ontology”.

Although reflecting rightly on the socio-historical origin of the “given” notion of maturity, Jencks falls victim to essentialism. After dismantling the notion of child development towards an uncritically presupposed “adult”, he falls himself victim to the myth of a genuine, unadulterated, given “self” of the child that already encapsulates in nuce a whole personality that should not be violated, that should evolve free of indoctrination. Thus he ends with the pessimistic and paralysing equation of education with indoctrination. A valid and important critique leads Jenks to wrong conclusions. His valid contribution lies in the insistence on the reflection on the normative use that is made of presupposed categories of maturity and social competence/incompetence. As aims for socialisation they are neither God given nor immutably inherent in “human nature” but emerge historically, as a result of both material conditions and ideological struggles. There is not one homogenous ideological system but many conflicting notions, each representing certain interests and purposes one might try to make explicit. Although in recent approaches the historical dimension is mostly acknowledged, most theories still operate with the uncritical presumption of a general consensus of “us”. “This supra individual monolith remains the unquestioned basis of all theorising…”.[10]

To establish a true consensus that does not unduly generalise partial norms and partial interests but that marks out fundamental principles that should be in the interest of anybody who seeks a consensus in the first place – the condition of the possibility of any consensus – is the main aim of my paper. I am going to show why, on a very basic level, I have to maintain a ‘we’, not an unquestioned “we”, but a critically reflected, transcendental ‘we’, denoting ‘us’ as ‘rational beings’. This ‘rationality’ which I have to presuppose as consensual, first emerged in ancient Greece, the cradle of Western civilisation. I shall reflect on its validity and on its necessary social conditions.
Jenks seems to deny any such consensus. In any case he still wouldn’t grant it any justification to be imposed on children. The insight into the historical origin and cultural relativity of the predominant standards of maturity and morality leads Jencks straightaway to the rejection of their validity. The typical pitfall of relativism: Instead of using the initial insight to critically reassess the underlying principles he surrenders to an uncommitted pluralism, a pluralism even of “versions of rationality”, not acknowledging that his own theoretical project continuously relies on exactly those principles which he wants to undermine. A comparison with anthropology is here fruitful and Jenks himself makes this comparison: “For an anthropologist to proceed from such a position would be for him to invite the charge of ethnocentrism”. [11] (The phrase “Such a position” refers to the position of a valid presupposed rational adult world). Ethnocentrism seems to be the arrogant and dogmatic stance of the complacently enlightened European anthropologist who thinks himself superior and does not concede the legitimacy of the savage’s “different kind of rationality”. Although by given standards one would have to call much of what savages think and do irrational, the anthropologist – it seems to be suggested – should resist any such value judgement. (In the name of a purely descriptive science or in the name of good taste?). But why not stand upright by it? The evaluation is made anyway, if not explicitly, so the more implicitly with the actual practice of the science. What this conception of an “objective” and eagerly liberal anthropologist who is supposed to pay due respect to the plurality of “possible” kinds of world views, fails to realise, is that this generous concession to the savage’s “rationality” is nothing but a hollow lip service, simply because the anthropological project continues its course according to the enlightened criteria of modern rationality and obviously won’t even consider, for instance, to subject the fate of any hypothesis or theory to the verdict of the savage sorcerer.
The sorcerer won’t ever enter the anthropological discourse but remains its object. His utterances won’t be a contribution to but only new material of the scientific investigation (like the patient of psychoanalysis) unless he subjects to rationality or, expressed positively, unless he learns to argue in a rational way. The same goes for the child that, as Jenks protests, is “conceptualised as a structural becoming, not as a social practice nor as a location of Self”. [12] As to what this “Self” is or wants, Jenks remains silent, as would the child, left by itself, suffering Jenks’ generous renunciation to “indoctrinate”. (The prominence of Jenks here is due to the fact that he seems to represent a certain typical “radicalism” that collapses into relativism, respectively scepticism. “Radical” arguments of the kind flourished in the discussions of our postgraduate course).
What becomes clear so far is the impossibility to disengage completely from the Western tradition of rationality (since ancient Green philosophy) as long as one relies on discussion rather than cursing and sorcery. All theory, all sciences, all (non-fictional) writing and ultimately all discussions (in western civilisation) are in a way a continuation of the dialogs of Socrates. To reject this tradition without self-contradiction, one would have to drop out of the discourse, one would have to shift values in actual practice, not just theoretically – this would mean to stop communicating competently within contemporary civilisation.

At least since Hegel, philosophers started to realise more and more that ‘rationality’ is a historical achievement, a collective institution – it seems to have lost the dignity it had in Plato’s eternal realm of ideas. Kant was the one who ultimately secularised it, it became “human”, as ‘transcendental subject’. (The poet Heinrich Kleist nearly died over this disclosure). Hegel was the first to subject it to history but tried to recover its dignity through the concept of an ideal history with pre-established telos. Marx finally made the history a real one (and thus put it into our hands). Many misunderstand (as did Kleist) the evolving reflective insight into the contingent origin of our principles of rationality as a desecration or respectively as a licence to celebrate irrationalism or scepticism.
As long as this happens only theoretically one does not have to worry too much as we have seen – any theory (from Greek “theorein”) remains as such a part of ‘us’ – especially as permanent critique and contradiction is the most outstanding, characteristic and absolutely constitutive feature of Western culture and rationality so that one shouldn’t worry too much, if this criticism goes over the top and contradicts itself once in a while, as long as this happens only in theory.

The rationality that can neither be divided nor disposed of does not only built on purely theoretical (scientific) principles but always necessarily includes and presupposes social rules, and indeed moral rules. At first sight this might seem to be an odd claim. Isn’t morality a matter of subjective evaluation, independent of the objective field of rational thinking; can’t one be immoral and rational at the same time? Well, for a great variety of moral precepts and ethical rules this independence is obvious enough. Some ethical precepts are indeed “accidental”, accidental in relation to the foundations of ‘our’ rational adult world. But there are fundamental rules that are not open to argumentative dismissal. There are fundamental ethical principles that are indispensably constitutive of the very notion of rationality (and thus science), so that the dichotomy of the factual against the normative, the theoretical against the practical breaks down in the last analysis.
Juergen Habermas [13] and Karl-Otto Apel [14] elaborate convincingly the dependence of rationality on a set of moral claims. In their ‘transcendental pragmatism’ – building on Kant, Hegel, Marx, Peirce and Wittgenstein – they make explicit the (moral) rules that are constitutive of rationality and thus of ‘our’ consensus about “reality”.

Before disclosing these principles and before drawing conclusions for education from them, I want to use Charles Sander Peirce’s [15] article “The Place of our Age in the History of Civilisation” from 1863 to sketch the historical emergence of ‘our’ so far achieved rational adult world. Peirce helps to pinpoints the characteristics of ‘our age’ with which it stands out against darker times or foreign cultures:
“By our age I mean the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. There are those who dazzled by the steam engine and the telegraph regard the 19th century as something sui generis but bring Bacon or Newton here and display to him the wonders our century has to show and he will tell you ‘… it is not surprising…’ from the moment when the ball of human progress received its first impetus from the mighty hands of Descartes, of Bacon, and of Galilei, we hear, as the very sound of the stroke, the decisive protest against any authority, … , against any arbiter of truth except our reason. The human mind having been emancipated by these great sceptics, works of great originality were speedily produced. We thus see, however, that all the progress we have made in philosophy, that is all that has been made since the Greeks, is the result of methodical scepticism which is the first element of human freedom. I need not repeat the political history of the last 250 years to prove the predominance of the spirit of liberty in that sphere. You will find an ever increasing irreverence towards rulers, from the days of Hampden to ours, when some of the more advanced spirits look forward to the time where there shall be no government”.[16]
It is notable how Peirce links technological progress with anti-authoritarian spirit and political achievements – but I think without yet fully understanding the dynamic dialectic between technological, spiritual and political development. For Peirce the whole process starts with the emancipation of the spirit. Marx tries to analyse history as a complex reciprocal interaction of the technological, the socio-political and the spiritual (dialectical interaction between ‘forces of production’ and ‘relations of production’) whereby the spiritual (‘ideology’ or ‘consciousness’) is a subsidiary rather than independent force. Here is Marx’s account of his (our) age, from the Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848:
“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production and thereby the relations of production and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions are swept away, all new formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned and man is at last compelled to face, with sober senses, his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind”. [17]
Neither Peirce nor even Marx did fully appreciate the logical dependence of the intellectual on the socio-political emancipation. This ‘logical dependence’ does not imply that emancipated minds and science cannot at all develop under Absolutism or any other authoritarian regime or that an authoritarian state cannot produce a scientific/technological success. However, even if the great sceptics Peirce mentioned did not all live in politically free and democratic states, they depended upon a culture of free argument at least amongst themselves, a non-authoritarian intercourse among equals, namely the non-hierarchical community of scientists (in contrast to the hierarchical catholic church). This is indeed implied by the very notion of science (truth). In England at the time Francis Bacon formulated scientific method in his “New Organon” (1620) a man of his class [18] (though not yet everybody) could already look back on a history of parliament (and thus a culture of public debate) of 200 years. Even if what Galilei taught around 1600 in Pisa, Padua and Florence under repressive political circumstances was true, its truth – in the sense we understand scientific truth – was established as such only much later. That does obviously not mean that his works “became true” only much later. It means that at 1600 the notion of scientific truth wasn’t really around yet. The criteria and institutional support structures which define ‘truth’ in ‘our’ rational adult world had not evolved yet. They only began to develop in small circles around scholars like Galilei, i.e. among people who developed a culture of dispute under the influence of a fresh reading of the ancient writings which were, as it were, the preserved impulses from a past democratic society.
To make the logical point here very clear: The emancipated mind, that is the scientist claiming rationality and scientific truth depends logically on the social emancipation of at least the scientists in relation to each other. A private scientific truth is impossible in the sense that a private language is impossible. Wittgenstein in his “Philosophical Investigations”, says about a ‘private language’: “… I have no criterion of correctness. One would like to say: whatever is going to seem right to me is right and that only means that here we can’t talk about ‘right’”[19].
For instance, in the natural sciences the principle of reproducibility implies that a valid scientific result has to be reproducible by anybody who wishes to put it to the test. On this condition rests the claim of universal validity. This means access to science must be free. In principle anybody, whatever rank, race, class or confession, can put a scientific claim to the test. This is a logical remark about scientific truth because it defines what ‘we’ mean by a scientific as opposed to a dogmatic (religious) claim where a few ordained dignitaries claim privileged access to truth via divine inspiration. Religious “truth” is established through hierarchical power: Believe or go to hell. (Unfortunately this wrong logic still prevails in our schools: Believe this and learn it by heart or you won’t get the certificate.)

The “political” character of rationality (in the last analysis) is once more highlighted in Foucault’s [21] text “What is Enlightenment”. Foucault’s text refers to Kant’s article with the same title from 1784, published in absolutist Prussia in the “Berlinische Monatsschrift”. Foucault: “Enlightenment … it now appears as a political problem. The question in any event is that of knowing, how the use of reason can take the public form that it requires, how the audacity to know can be exercised in broad daylight while individuals are obeying as scrupulously as possible and Kant, in conclusion, proposes to Frederick II, in scarcely veiled terms, a sort of contract – that the public and free use of autonomous reason will be the best guarantee of obedience on condition however that the political principle that must be obeyed itself be in conformity with universal reason”[22].
The proposed “contract” amounts to a contradiction in terms or else to the annihilation of the monarch’s absolute power [23].

I began by referring to the worry that education could turn into indoctrination – general education according to partial interests. A true consensus that would not unduly generalise partial interests had to be found. What then was found to be this bottom line consensus of Western culture concerning truth, morality and politics? The most fundamental bottom line here is, first of all, that we can (have to) discuss these issues! Since ancient Greek philosophy all these issues were exposed to critical argument. Truth, in order to stand as such, has to sustain critique and is not received via unquestionable revelation or inherited authority. Different moral systems have been in debated among the ancient Greeks. The notion of inherited and unchecked political authority too crumbled already in ancient Athens and then again in the Enlightenment. Truth can only be the (temporary) result of an open debate. This is already a quite distinct attitude towards these issues (truth, morality and politics). These issues are opened up as issues of discussion. This stands in sharp contrasts to many other (“fundamentalist”) cultures. The social institution ‘discussion’ already presupposes a whole set of principles (rules) – including “moral” rules – as it were, before one even starts to discuss. These principles formulate the conditions under which the discourse is qualified as rational. Only under these conditions does “truth” have a chance. The reflection on the conditions that makes a discussion at all possible is necessary to avoid the self-contradicting and self-endangering rejection of just these conditions within the discussion itself as much as for the defence against its less theoretic enemies. These conditions are those that guarantee democratic relations between the participants of a ‘rational’ discourse. In the case e.g. of scientific discourse, they are the necessary conditions of the scientific character of its results. The conditions are:

• The discourse is open. Everybody has principally the right to contribute to the discussion. Nobody is excluded. Therefore for instance: science can never be racist without ceasing to be science.

• Contributions are valid (or not) independent of the contributor. There is no privilege e.g. neither age, nor sex, nor birth, nor status count. The argument ultimately speaks for itself, irrespective even of the academic credentials and supposed expert authority of the contributor.

• The discussion is repression free. No violence, intimidation, pressure etc. is involved. There are no power relationships between the members of the “ideal communication community” (20). For instance: A confession arrived at through torture is worthless. Or: A discussion in a class room is at risk to fail the criteria of ‘rational discourse’ because the students are receiving marks for their contributions and might therefore feel forced to agree with the teacher’s view. Such an agreement is not based on reason but on power. The debate is corrupted, its outcome not rational. Or again: The hierarchy within research institutes endangers rational discourse within the institute, for the professor is able to fire critical assistants. However, the rationality of research is still guaranteed due to the non-hierarchical international public discourse between the different institutes.

• It is presupposed that the contributors are honest. A debate is flawed if a participant makes an “argument” to flatter somebody or to please an audience. In none of these cases did one really enter the debate, did one really make one’s point. Consensus on this basis is not rational. Rationality is also compromised if the aim is to win the discussion (to protect one’s face or status) rather than to win the truth. (This condition of honesty is often hard to verify.)

These ‘conditions’ contain the social/moral logic of rationality and thus science. This logic makes it possible for the laymen (the public) to have as well a certain control function over the experts concerning what has to be regarded as the best scientific knowledge, for instance on a difficult, complex and controversial topic like atomic energy. Fortunately one does not have to be an expert to detect whether private interests, blackmail, bribery or any other form of corruption is involved. The reflection on the social conditions of a given research is very important. Sometimes the majority of the scientists of a certain field of research are dependent on private business interests, e.g. in a field of research mainly financed by private industry.

The conditions that guarantee democratic relations are necessary conditions of science and rational discourse in general. Science, like rational discourse in general is a democratic process (therefore education should become a democratic process). I think this sums it up best. To avoid misunderstandings that might creep in, in respect to the word “democratic” that I rely on quite a bit in this article: It should be clear that this “democratic process” does not imply, in the case of science (and education), that truth is established through a majority vote. This would mean an overpowering of minorities with whom a consensus has to be established by reason. (Majority support is not a reason). As long as this is not achieved the question remains open.

“Democratic conditions of science” means that the scientific results have to be results of a repression-free, open and honest discourse without privileges and where evidence is in principle universally accessible. These conditions, conditional of any communication in the sense ‘we’ understand it as mutual – dialog not monolog – are the necessary (but not yet the sufficient) criteria of scientific truth. On these general politico-moral conditions are superimposed the methodologies of the sciences, as they emerged so far, and keep developing.
The necessary “political” conditions do not imply that scientific questions are political questions (at least not as long as the “political” conditions are granted as reasonably fulfilled) and obviously vice versa: Political questions are not (only) questions of research, of truth. They are questions concerning interests that have to be negotiated and these political negotiations, although they (ideally) adhere to the same general principles of rationality, follow a different specific logic (different from science) e.g. majorities do count as argument here and partial (though hardly personal) interests do count too.

To distinguish questions of truth from questions of interest is not always easy, especially as it is a common “political” move to formulate political questions as questions (and answers) of truth in order not to expose the interest behind a certain position. Point of view that arise from special interests are often presented as “science” and thus as something that can be legitimately generalised. The concept of truth is abused by such a “science” based on hidden purposes about which there is no general consensus in society. Hidden purposes do not necessarily imply the deliberate intention to deceive. For example: The psychiatric “science” might from the outset be the manipulative treatment and control of deviant individuals – “deviant” might be defined according to quite narrow, partial criteria. The basic concepts of the “science” are constructed according to the purpose but it presents itself as the seemingly value free diagnosis of medical facts which imply the need for medical help (internment, drugs, etc.). The abuse of psychiatry was obvious under Stalinism. Psychiatry in the western world is even more insidious than in Stalinist Russia because it operates more subtly: It operates with unquestioned assumptions of a “normal”, “natural” human being. A norm is presented as a fact of nature and thereby shielded from critique. Instead normative criteria should be consciously and explicitly put on the agenda. The same goes for all those education or socialisation projects – theoretical or practical – which Jenks rightly criticised. The same goes as well for the other sciences that operate in (potentially) contested fields: Psychology, sociology, political science, economic science. Here the basic concepts and methods are questionable in their claim to objectivity and universality. This is reflected in the actual diversity of approaches in these fields. It is important that no repressive measures restrict positions, e.g. it is important that Marxist economics is not repressed in the western capitalist economies. A decision can only, if at all, be reached in a public debate that gives space to all positions. In this debate questions of interest versus questions of truth should be as much as possible distinguished. Questions of truth are, in turn, to be distinguished according to the distinction of facts versus theoretical conjectures. (Both distinctions are rather difficult to uphold.)

For the sake of just politics and true science it is essential to always reflect on the potentially ‘hidden agenda’ behind every apparently purely factual/theoretical and disinterested “scientific” claim. Even the most basic scientific concepts (e.g. like: supply and demand, IQ, mental illness) and seemingly innocuous scientific methods (e.g. indifference curve analysis, 11+ test, psychoanalytic analysis) have to be challenged continuously from within and from outside. These challenges concern the evaluative assumptions and constitutive purposes (like e.g. justification of free market, apology of unequal education, manipulation of the patient – with good or bad intentions) of a scientific project already at its theoretical starting point and not just at its practical results. Strictly speaking there is no “pure” science of society and/or man. Once the underlying evaluating assumptions and purposes are made explicit, conclusions might be developed in a truly scientific way, with universal validity but only relative to the underlying assumptions. This means that no “absolute truth” can demand subjection. In contrast to the social sciences, the case of the natural sciences proper is pretty transparent. There is no hidden agenda behind sciences like physics and chemistry. Their constitutive purpose – the predictive control of nature, the mastery of the material environment – is obvious and, I think, hardly a partial one. The material conditions of life have to be provided under all circumstances and in modern, civilised times with ever increasing necessity of ‘predictive control’, in contradistinction to the “golden age” when man was just collecting the fruits of nature. The fact that capital was (and still is) the driving force behind the enormous, systematic development of this ‘predictive control’ in science and technology does not taint or compromise the necessity of this ‘mastery’ as such. The engineering of production processes that incorporate labour is another matter. Here issues production efficiency (productivity) have to incorporate working conditions. This aspect becomes contentious in a class society where those who decide on the production processes are not themselves subjected to the working conditions they decide upon. Therefore any truly rational notion of (progress in) productivity has to include the quality of working conditions as crucial factor, rather than solely focussing on the quality of the product and output quantity.
At the advanced stage of our civilisation, originally created by the social force of capitalism, there is no “necessity” that capital remains the force and purpose behind this ‘mastery’ on nature. Truth in the natural sciences is what affords and continuously enhances this ‘mastery’. To what specific ends the gained ‘mastery’ should be applied is a purpose question on another level, a question of interest, to be decided politically. (This includes the political possibility to generally leave such decisions to the capitalist market.)

Progress in history – looked at from the vantage point of (universal) rationality – has to be identified with the development of arenas of argumentation, with the furthering of procedures of democratic discourse and their opening up (as real not only formal opportunities) for as many members of society as possible and for more and more domains of social life. With increasing density, complexity and extensiveness of the social organism, a conscious and democratic organisation of the inevitable interrelations constituting society becomes more and more a material necessity. In the 18th and 19th centuries the freedom of a relatively small class of citizens (organising their affairs through constitutional states with limited, national parliaments) together with the freedom of science allowed the productive power of social labour to explode, creating unprecedented economic growth. This growth was premised on an intensified interdependence within society and between societies across the whole globe. Although created by men, the forces unleashed confronted men like uncontrollable natural forces. Everybody was subjected mercilessly to the uncontrollable vicissitudes of the market forces, leading from countless personal tragedies to the point of global devastating crises; uncontrollable because of the lack of democratic coordination. There has been some progress since then, a lot of which was due to the trade unions and the workers’ movement in general – but it still has to go much further, especially on the global level. For instance: Mankind, far from having found “itself”, is still running with open eyes into ecological catastrophes. Nobody can afford to stop first. The universality of material (economic) interdependence (the world market) is not yet matched by the universality of negotiated (democratic) coordination, including more than just one-sided interests. (The insight into this logic led Marx to the insistence that a successful revolution can only be a world revolution, that socialism cannot exist unless it is global. This has nothing to do with an imperialistic urge to world power).

Democracy should not only extend to the macrocosm of world affairs it needs to extend much deeper into the microcosm of social relations, to the relations at each work place. They way hierarchy and power are enacted at work - in my view - not only damages human relations but produces barriers to communication which are counter-productive. The insight we gained about the social conditions of good science, namely that it requires ‘democracy’ within the community of scientists (in order to let the efforts of the different scientists amount to a dynamic progress), is also valid with respect to the efficiency of production (and administration). This argument for intensified (“radical”) democracy (and in turn for democratic, anti-authoritarian education of independent, critical minds) might even persuade those who are more interested in affluence than in democracy as an end in itself. The argument pinpoints the lever behind the development of democratic, participatory structures. Without this lever the idealism of the protagonists of democratization would be in vain. The gradual dissolution of authoritarian structures in every social arena (political administration as well as within the enterprises) and its substitution by participatory processes based on the principles of rational argument is accompanying the vast productivity increases and affluence of western civilisation. My thesis is that more participation and democracy on all levels is a precondition for all further gains in productivity. The responsibility must be more and more spread to let the economic organism become more and more differentiated and thus efficient. More and more jobs are allowing and demanding an increasing scope for initiative, responsibility and judgement. Democratization cannot be reduced to democratic centralism. Decentralization and devolution of detail decisions is as much required as centralisation for the establishment of overarching frameworks. (Education, therefore, is accompanying work continuously. It does not stop after school). The operations of an enterprise have become so complex that they can no longer be completely controlled in an authoritarian way by a few from the top of the hierarchy. Framed but independent decisions, based on special qualification and only locally available information, have to be made on many levels which cannot be integrated through a rigid command structure. Decisions should be made on the ground, by those who execute them, within nested, coordinating frames. With respect to worker’s qualification we witness today a reversal of the deskilling tendency of 18th/19th centuries’ industrialisation. Then special qualifications were disappearing in the levelling of the factory mass production. The labourer was everywhere just an exchangeable part in the mechanised process, an annex to the machine. The worker was the more productive the more his/her contribution could be reduced to a simple mechanical routine. The worker as quasi-mechanical appendage of a machine acted as an interim evolutionary stage to full automatization. Although the reversal of this condition has not yet reached every corner of the economy, the new tendency is clear and strong.

One can read it in the papers and hear it from the businesses themselves. For instance, in the appointments section of the Sunday Times (17 June 1990) the co-chairman of Unilever is quoted about the recruitment strategy of his company: “We tend to look for people who can work in teams and understand the value of cooperation and consensus. This is reinforced by team based training. Every participant becomes part of a group of 25 to 30 people in more or less the same position. This shared experience leads to the creation of a network of equals who know one another well and usually continue to meet and exchange experiences” [24]. Another article in the same paper is expecting “organisations to change to more fluid team working structures in the 1990’s…”[25].

Such are the promising signs of the time of the “New Times” [26] which have been heralded over the last few years in Marxism Today under the name of “postfordism”. Fordism, in contrast, is the era of conveyor-belt-mass-production, archetypically pioneered by Henry Ford. This kind of production was characterised by an enormous scale, endlessly repeated mass products, minutely prescribed work, unskilled workers, military discipline and strictly hierarchical administration. Now capitalism in the advanced industrial societies is emerging with new possibilities of production and new demands in consumption. The 1980’s brought an explosion of computer technology, flexible, reprogrammable robot production allowing for permanent innovation and variation, a retail revolution with diversified market niches, smaller high street shops instead of discount stores with a few mass products. The 1980’s were a decade of design, quality and individuality, to sum it up in three words. One of the results is a new paradigm for the organisation of a successful enterprise with new social relations at work (Toyota instead of Ford) as it is being described in Robin Murray’s article “Fordism and Postfordism” (Marxism Today, October 1988): “The key point about the Toyota system however is… that it has adopted quite different methods of labour control and organisation. Central management had no access to all the information needed for continuous innovation. Quality could not be achieved with deskilled manual workers. Even hourly paid workers are trained in statistical techniques and monitoring, a further way of tapping the ideas of the workforce. Workers are no longer interchangeable. They gather experience. Continuous training, payment by seniority, a breakdown of job demarcations are all part of the Japanese core wage relation. Decentralisation of work, day to day autonomy has been given to work groups and plant managers. Teams linking departments horizontally have replaced the rigid verticality of Fordist bureaucracies” [27]. One might assume that Japan – the most successful industrial nation – represents the future of the European conditions. But the description of this European future and Japanese present seems a little idealised and indeed Robin Murray does not fail to mention that there is still a majority of workers which are – in contrast to the well paid and involved core workforce with guaranteed lifetime employment – only subcontracted, low paid and low skilled. However, the tendency towards ‘democracy’ among equals at work seems inevitable and will involve more and more workers. Obviously, there is still a lot to de done in this respect. But for Marxists it is important to point out that these progressive developments are motivated by productivity and that they deliver increased productivity, especially in the most advanced sectors of the world economy.
However, what ultimately stands in the way of rational coordination, on the macroscopic as well as on the microscopic level, is the sacredness of private property of the means of production (a dogma, in support of which some people have very good “reasons”).
Conclusions for education in schools:


The school (together with the mass media) is a very important factor in universalizing a shared culture of discourse (Bernstein’s ‘elaborated code’) and should be one of its exemplary arenas. Therefore teaching has to be antiauthoritarian. Authoritarian teaching of science and rationality in general would mean to contradict the aim by the mean. The concept of knowledge dissolves if it is conceived as a given material the student has to reproduce on command. Sustainable knowledge in Western culture is inherently discoursive, dialogical, based on the exchange of arguments. The transmission of knowledge has to reflect the way it originates and is established in discourse. The shining example of this kind of teaching/learning is given in Plato’s “Meno” [28] in which Socrates is guiding a boy to understand a geometrical theorem. Socrates is not presenting a result by force of his authority as teacher but the teaching goes on dialogical until the pupil arrives at the result by way of his own insights and thus makes it his own. Only under such circumstances one may strictly say that the boy knows now, whereas otherwise he would just have to believe what he was told. Socrates: “This knowledge will not come from teaching but from questioning. He will recover it for himself.” [29]. The same thrust is in Zarathustra’s last address to his followers before he leaves them behind: “Alone, am I going now, my disciples! You too go away now and alone! That’s how I want it. Go away from me and defend against Zarathustra. Or rather: be ashamed of him! Perhaps he deceived you. The man of knowledge does not only have to love his enemies he also must be able to hate his friends. One badly rewards his teacher if one always remains just the pupil and why don’t you want to pluck my garland? You revere me: but what, if your reverence one day upsets? Watch out that you’re not slaught by a statue. You say that you believe in Zarathustra? But what matters Zarathustra! You are my faithful, but what matter all the faithful? You had not yet searched yourself: thus you found me. So do all faithful; that’s why it is so minor with all faith. Now I bid you to lose me and to find yourself and not before you all have disavowed me, I shall come back.” [30]. (From Nietzsche’s “Thus spoke Zarathustra”).

Critique of the existing education system:

Whoever regards the school in its present form as an institution that perpetually reproduces the status quo of a class society by stratifying it (and legitimising the existing stratification) into a leading elite and a docile, yet suitably trained labour force, should recognise that a liberated, democratic education still needs to provide the skills so far provided. Opting out can only curb total social productivity and produce powerless, marginalized individuals. I argue instead that a democratised, non-selective education is the most efficient way to provide the skills needed, both technical and social skills. On this basis one might hope that there will emerge amongst the students a mentality which prepares them to become active agents for social and political progress, as well as proficient participants in sophisticated, high value production processes.
My thesis is that the selection function of the educational system is a serious fetter on the educational potentials of society. The selection function has nothing to do with education as such. (It serves as a justification of a class society, and has often very little to do with real educational achievements and potentials). The selection function of school with its apparatus of marks, examinations and certificates is even contradicting the aims of education:

i. Emphasis on certification leads to alienation, alienation from the content and meaning of education, alienation from what is supposed to be learned. The aim of learning is no longer critical understanding but the mark or certificate.

ii. The practice of examination does corrupt the relationship between teacher and student. It becomes a power relation which spoils the rationality of discourse. Whether the teacher likes it or not: He is teaching science in a counter-scientific spirit. Discourse must be repression free. Otherwise no knowledge is generated.

iii. The selection function of school leads to over-standardisation of the contents of education and thus curbs the full range of contents that might be worth of being taught. It further limits the unfolding of the full diversity of intellectual potentials and interests of a given population. Standardisation - required for a an efficient examination/selection process - can never make use of the all teachers’ full potential.

iv. The curricula are more and more loaded with useless detail knowledge that is easy to test (towards multiple choice tests, evaluated by computer). Soon after the examination such “knowledge” is mostly forgotten or even obsolete.

v. A general scientific spirit that involves critical initiative cannot be tested and therefore is not developed in a context that is geared towards testing and selection. (This kind of counterproductive testing is even dominating education at universities.)

vi. The selection pressure on the school enhances individualistic (egoistic) strategies of “survival” – everybody against everybody. (This reflects the reality and reactionary mentality of the petty bourgeois, a relic of times dominated by individual production. Capitalists are still ideologically looked at as if they were individual producers). Excluded is thus the experience of productive teamwork (especially democratically organised teamwork of equals).

Finally, the above reflections lead to the following concrete demands/proposals:
• The school should no longer burdened with a selection function.
• Therefore: no marks, no examinations, no certificates.
• No obligatory curriculum imposed from above.
• Teamwork is to be encouraged.
• Self-government by the teachers and students, i.e. involvement of students (and parents) in decision making processes concerning curriculum, timetables, as well as the use of funds for e.g. materials, trips, external teachers.

References and notes:

[1]p. 386, Giddens, Anthony, Ed. Introductory Sociology, London 1981, The Macmillan Press Ltd.
[2] p. 6, Tapper, Ted & Salter, Brian, Education and the Political Order, London 1978, The Macmillan Press Ltd.
[3] p. 21, ibid.
[4] p. 7, ibid.
[5] From the mid sixties onwards Basil Bernstein produced a series of very influential articles, at the time when the interest in linguistics proliferated. Most of his work is contained in Class, Codes and Control vol. 1 3, London 1975, Routledge & Keagan Paul. Vol 1 was published 1971.
[6] p. 13, Jenks, Chris, Ed., The sociology of Childhood, London 1982, Batsford Academic and Education Ltd. The paper Constituting the Child is the editor’s introduction to the book.
[7] p. 14, ibid.
[8] p. 16, ibid.
[9] p. 14 ibid.
[10] p. 16, ibid.
[11] p. 13, ibid.
[12] p. 15, ibid.
[13] Juergen Habermas (* 1929) is a prominent descendant of the so called Frankfurt School. His book Erkenntnis und Interesse, Frankfurt 1968 (Knowledge and Human Interest, London 1971) had some influence on the students’ upheavals in 1968. Habermas is still teaching philosophy in Frankfurt.
[14] K.O. Apel is professor of philosophy in Frankfurt.
[15] Charles Sanders Peirce (1839 – 1914), an American philosopher, former professor at Harvard University. He is known as the founder of ‘Pragmatism’.
[16] p. 4 8, Peirce, Charles S., Selected Writings (Values in a Universe of Chance), New York 1966, Dover Publications, Inc.
[17] p. 37, Marx/Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, Progress Publishers, Moscow. The Communist League, a secret international association, commissioned Marx and Engels at a congress held in London 1847. The Manifesto was first published in German in 1848, in English in 1850.
[18] Francis Bacon (1561 to 1626), studied law in London, was member of Parliament 1584 to 1614, since 1613 attorney general, then lord chancellor (highest legal post in the kingdom) and Baron of Verulam, in 1621 Viscount of St Albans. Lost his offices for taking bribes.
[19] note 258, Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations, Oxford 1958, 2nd ed., Basil Blackwell Ltd. First edition was 1953.
[20] notion Habermas uses in this connection.
[21] Foucault, Michel (*1926), French ‘poststructuralist’.
[22] p. 37, Foucault, Michel, The Foucault Reader, New York 1984, Pantheon Books, Random House Inc., reprint at Penguin Books Ltd. 1987.
[23] Kant’s famous definition of enlightenment (German: “Aufklaerung”): Enlightenment is the liberation of man from his self-inflicted minority (immaturity).
[24] p. 1, section 6, Sunday Times, 17 June 1990, article: Local Rivalry Wrecks Globalisation by Godfrey Golzen.
[25] p. 16 section 6, Sunday Times 17 June 1990, article: Giving Women a Lift to Top Management by Deborah Rowland.
[26] Marxism Today’s issue from October 1988 was entitled New Times. It started a whole series of articles on the theme in the following issues. A collection of these articles has recently been released as book.
[27] p. 45/46, Hall, Stuart & Jacques, Martin, New Times, London 1989, Lawrence & Wishart with Marxism Today.
[28] 82b, 85d, Meno was written in 387 b.c. Plato uses the scene with the boy to argue for his ‘nemesis theory’ about a prior knowledge of ideas.
[29] 85d, ibid.
[30] Nietzsche, Friedrich, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Leipzig 1887.

Literature on education:

Bernstein, Basil, Class, Codes and Control, vol. 1 3, London 1975
Cooper, David E., Authenticity and Learning, London 1983
Giddens, Anthony, Ed., Introductory Sociology (chapter on education), London 1981
Holly, Douglas, Ed., Education or Domination?, London 1974
Illich, Ivan, Deschoolin society, USA 1971
Jenks, Chris, Ed., Sociology of Childhood, London 1982
Rusk, Robert, Doctrines of the Great Educators, London 1918
Tapper, Ted & Salter, Brian, Education and the Political Order, London 1978


Apel, Karl Otto, Transformation der Philosophie, Frankfurt 1976
Foucault, Michel, The Foucault Reader, New York 1984
Hall, Stuart & Jaques, Martin, Eds, New Times, London 1989
Habermas, Juergen, Knowledge and Human Interest, London 1971
Habermas, Juergen, The Theory of Communicative Action, Beacon 1984
Marx, Karl & Engels, Frederic, Manifesto of the Communist Party, London 1850
Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, written 1983/85
Peirce, Charles S., Selected Writings, Toronto 1958
Popper, Karl R., The Logic of Scientific Discovery, London 1959
Skinner, Quentin, Ed., The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences, Cambridge 1985
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations, Oxford 1958

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