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Other Ways of Knowing: Educational Goals

by Elizabeth Leonie Simpson - 1971

A definition of education is formulated and analyzed. (Source: ERIC)

Insofar as American education has tended to regard its chief business as that of conveying information and training skills, it has tended to store its values, so to speak, in the educational attic. The result is that values... are more often treated with a kind of sentimental deference rather than critically and constantly reinterpreted as of importance to the whole theory and practice of education in a democratic culture. -- Theodore Brameld, Cultural Foundations of Education

Education is behavior. It is not ideas or feelings, not plans or theory, but actions, the patterns and arrangements of behavior which occur between the already established institution and personal variables—those individual tendencies which make up the attitudes, values, beliefs, and behavior of persons. It includes, as Robert Gagne has so clearly pointed out,1 prior experience—what has been learned before—yet behavior is a function of the situation in which it occurs, the time and place, people and physical environment—even the ambiance or ethos2and the management of this formal situation provides the social structure of institutions, including education. There are no learners and no teachers, no delinquents or saints, no failures and no successes, except those which occur in time, place, and situation. f To the extent that a culture is unwilling to leave learning entirely to chance, the time and place and situation in which it occurs are controlled, although the extent and direction of that control may vary enormously. Seen in this perspective, asking the teacher and the administrator to become more innovative and autonomous, more accepting and more supportive, is not the relinquishing of authority, but merely a shift in its location and emphasis. Education as a structured process remains essentially, as it has been, a management of experience based upon decisions at various status levels about the qualitative and quantitative nature of that experience.

That these fundamental decisions vary so widely in the face of a substantial and increasing body of empirical evidence about the nature of learning seems to be another sad example of human nonutilization of available knowledge. Scholars,3 practitioners, and parents alike still emphasize strongly the intellectual function of the schools, even at a time when the relationship between emotional and social stability and cognitive development is beginning to be well understood. The social limitations of this behavior are readily observable, i.e., increased drug use, dropout rate, unwanted pregnancies, etc. When the disregard of other responsibilities leads to the ultimate stunting of intellectual capacities, it must be considered a malfunctional shortcut, even by the hard-nosed. Education is situational and contemporary, yet it includes history and the effects of the past on the individual, the institution, and the society. It is our belief that the individual cannot be taught without considering his past environmental encounters and their effects upon him.

If the primary goal of the school is teaching children to think, then the most economical method of attaining that goal should be through the satisfaction of demonstrably a priori requisites: psychic needs and mental health. But the setting of culture-wide goals in a complex society is by no means a simple matter, and once they are set, as we have seen, goals expressed as values are not always those enacted. Even when they are, they may be corrupted through the process of organizational goal-displacement which Merton describes,4 for bureaucracy in any form effects certain changes on the personalities of its members which encourage tendencies to adhere rigidly to rules and regulations for their own sake. When this happens, policy becomes the prevailing criterion for decision, and the original goals and purposes of the organization are distorted or disappear. Adherence to past policy itself becomes the functional goal of the organization;5 what were means become ends.

Displaced Goal If the chief institutional goal of education has been the conveying of information and training in intellectual skills, that goal has been thoroughly displaced where the social structure of the schools has been maintained for its own sake. Teachers operating as bullies of the intellect, authoritarian hierarchies, the lack of integration between the needs of the child and those of the culture and beyond, the rigidity of form which automatically inserts humans who have nothing more in common than age into a specified timetable, emphasis on cognitive learning ripped from its proper context of values and feeling all contribute to the inward dislocation of educational goals. By defining their function in status quo, the schools have been restricting change on the basis of formal limitations which don't necessarily exist—limitations of institutional and cultural adaptability to present knowledge about the nature of learning.

The problem of self-imposed limitations which may not derive from reality affects the substantive curriculum as well. Education is quickly made futile for those who believe that innate ability is the essential learning variable. As Freud said about therapy, what is determined by biology cannot be changed. It might be easier to despair and to educate by the rigid inevitability of genetic typing —if we knew what the types were and who belonged in them. But education as an American institution has an obstinate and optimistic commitment to belief in corrigibility. Like de Tocqueville, we recognize "society as a body in a state of improvement, (and) humanity as a changing scene in which nothing is or ought to be permanent."6

Fifth century China and the countries where Islam has flourished were committed to fatalism and the belief that foreknowledge and effort could prevent nothing that was destined. For hundreds of years disease and early death went unperceived in Africa because it did not occur to anyone that life could be different. But in our active, dissatisfied society, disparities between ideal and actual tend to lead to change. We know that there are genetic boundaries, but also that their definition has changed over time. This is not to say, with that prototypical environmentalist Ortega y Gasset, that "Man has no nature, only history." It is between man's nature and his environment that history is born. Not everything can be changed, even by awareness and belief coupled with technical and scientific knowledge. However, it is under these conditions of expectancy that knowledge of shared problems, their causes, and efforts to cope with them tend to become public responsibility and a moral obligation.7

To the extent that individuals accept that responsibility, problems become manifest rather than remaining latent or suppressed, and with that manifestation comes the active attempt to find their solution. That, we believe, is what is happening now in many countries, including the United States, England, and Germany. We do not believe that the changes we are seeing would have been possible during the Great Depression of the thirties or the frightening war years of the forties. In spite of the war in Southeast Asia, the bomb, racial conflict, crime in the streets, pollution, and the revolution against the Establishment, unemployment has stayed below its peak in the fifties, and more Americans than ever before may take the gratification of their physiological needs for granted. Many of our children have grown up in an affluent society; more are better fed, and in some important, immediate ways, more secure—in spite of rapid social change—than most humans have been in the past, and so freed to seek the satisfaction of higher needs. It seems to us that younger teachers and administrators who have known neither economic deprivation nor war are less afraid and less anxious than their older colleagues and less likely to carry internal threat into the external environment.

Within the educational institution, as well as the society at large, a different personality type seems to be emerging—one motivated by higher needs and the expectation that gratification can be achieved. What we are witnessing, we believe, is a restructuring of vital socioeconomic institutions based in part on psychological determinants working directly on the cultural system. To explain this process and the results of its transactions for observable personality variables, Joel Aronoff has postulated a scheme of reciprocal interchange:8

Aronoff hypothesizes that both structures (observable personality variables and sociocultural institutions) are the final product of three factors: environment, past sociocultural institutions, and organismically-based psychological needs.9 The model is explained by suggesting that: "... specific environmental features create the possibilities and set the limits of cultural and personality development. The cultural institutions introduced to the setting adapt to its requirements to produce preliminary institutional forms. However, while this first arrangement will gratify the basic needs of the individual on some levels, it may deprive them on others. If the early social forms provide only limited degrees of gratification, they will leave deficiencies in other needs not yet provided for. As basic psychological needs must find some form of gratification, these deprived needs exert their influence on the general cultural system and re-structure the initial institutional forms in such a fashion as to get as much gratification as possible in that setting.10"

Reciprocal interchange is seen as the restructuring process in which the relationship between the three factors is altered into some variety of resolution which is observable both individually and institutionally.

For a period of nine months in 1962, Aronoff studied villagers on the island of St. Kitts in the British West Indies. Two groups within the village were compared: fishermen and sugarcane cutters. Although the basic personalities and subcultures of these groups differed markedly, the results of the original study showed that the maintenance (economic, political, and social) systems and family organization in each group were strongly influenced by personality variables.11 In 1966, Aronoff returned to St. Kitts to observe the psychosocial changes which had occurred in the interval—changes in which one of the proposed three critical determinants (the psychological one) had varied naturally and influenced the social system.

Following his model of social change as the outcome of reciprocal interchange, Aronoff suggests that a number of social variables, such as better medical care and lower emigration rates, contributed to the increased psychological security of the cane cutters. The new, younger cutters were no longer a physiologically deprived and anxious lot, operating on very basic levels of motivation. From an authoritarian work gang in 1962, the cane cutter group had shifted toward a democratic social structure, until by 1966 it had become an individually-oriented gang. From the evidence he gathered, Aronoff concludes that personality factors, as well as environmental determinants and historical sociocultural institutions, must be allowed causal status in the structuring of a social system.

We know of no systematic basis for comparing psychological variables either in students or the managers of the American educational establishment over a period of drastic social change such as the one we are undergoing today. No panel study has been done, and we are left without the possibility of finding an empirical analogue to Aronoff's research. However, contemporary records show an increasingly complex technology, the growth of affluence, and the social changes which have accompanied them. We see the pattern of gratification and infer from private and public action the cultural and personal transactions which follow AronofF's model: if the needs of the individual are met, both he as an individual and his society as a structural system will be changed.

Where, then, does the school, as an observable, contemporary sociocultural institution, stand in this anastomosing river of change? Product of the historical past, the physical and social environment, and the personalities which have acted upon it, it is set to task to bear witness (1) to a widespread public commitment to superordinate values which include those of human survival, the reduction of interpersonal hostility, and the development of individual powers, and (2) to the use of the most recent available knowledge of methods of implementation of these values, including the effects of gratification upon needs and motivation.

A commitment such as this is a defining vehicle for goals as well as an expression of belief. The supreme norm becomes Handy's "greatest possible satisfaction of the needs of those involved in a given situation."12 In different situations, quite different needs may be prepotent, but "In principle, we can identify the group concerned, diagnose the needs involved, determine the most adequate way of satisfying these needs, ascertain the costs, etc., all by means of the normal processes of scientific inquiry." The problem, as Rogow has written, is: "... how to make the world safe for democratic character development, and unsafe for those authoritarian and destructive tendencies that threaten an end of the human experience. In short, the most urgent question... is the question of man's survival itself."13

No statement makes clearer the fundamental social mission of all the culture's institutions—survival—and the futility of stressing subordinate cognitive goals within the schools to the exclusion of others which are interdependent and superordinate. There is no entry to existence through that door, and it is pointless and dangerous to teach a child to open a door to nowhere.

Just as the cognitive, conative—that is, motivating—and affective are interdependent within the personality, their behavioral counterparts must be integrated within our institutions. The inhibition of destructive antisocial tendencies begins with a socialization process far more fundamental than the acquisition of cognitive skills or a body of substantive knowledge. It begins with transactional processes—the environmental encounters and interactions which build health, lessen vulnerability under stress, and provide the ability to cope with normal life crises so that the developing child may become what both he and a democratic culture most wish him to be—and what he must be if both are to survive.


  1. Robert Gagne. The Conditions of Learning. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965.
  2. J. Milton Yinger. Toward a Field Theory of Behavior: Personality and Social Structure. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965.
  3. See, for example, David Ausubel. Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969; who is particularly contradictory in stressing cognitive learning.
  4. Robert K. Merton. Social Theory and Social Structure. Glencoe, 111.: The Free Press, 1957.
  5. See, Elton B. McNeil, "Analysis of an Ailing Monster: School Organization," Eli M. Bower and William G. Hollister, eds. Behavioral Science Frontiers in Education. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1967; for a succinct statement of the problems of school organization as they impinge upon change and innovation.
  6. Alex Inkeles, "National Character and Modern Political Systems," Francis L. K. Hsu, ed. Psychological Anthropology: Approaches to Culture and Personality. Homewood, 111.: The Dorsey Press, 1961.
  7. Or private responsibility. See, R. Rosenthal and L. Jacobson. Pygmalion in the Classroom. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969; for a fascinating account of the effect of teacher expectancy upon pupils in the classroom.
  8. Joel Aronoff. Manual for Scoring Abraham Masloufs Theory of the Hierarchy of Needs. First draft, n.d.; Joel Aronoff, "Psychological Needs As a Determinant in the Formation of Social Structure," unpublished ms., 1968; Joel Aronoff. Psychological Needs and Cultural Syste?ns. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand, 1967.
  9. John W. M. Whiting, "Socialization Process and Personality," Francis L. K. Hsu, ed. Psychological Anthropology. Homewood, 111.: Dorsey Press, 1961; suggested that psychological predispositions may serve culture in an integrative function. In his linear model, maintenance systems are the basic customs surrounding the nourishment, sheltering, and protection of the members of a society—e.g., the economic, political, and social organizations. Protective systems are systems of psychological defense, any feature (art, music, religion, ideology) "not immediately and practically involved in the satisfaction of basic biological needs." Emphasis is focused upon the cultural determinants of personality: the maintenance systems determine child rearing practices which, in turn, determine the personality of the child—an intervening hypothetical variable which is finally reflected in the projective systems. In contrast to Aronoff, Whiting does not consider organismically-based psychological needs or the possibility that they may influence the cultural system directly.
  10. Aronoff, Manual for Scoring Abraham Maslow's Theory of the Hierarchy of Needs, op. cit.
  11. Abraham Maslow. Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper and Row, 1954; measured by a sentence completion test based on his theory of personality and the hierarchy of needs.
  12. Rollo Handy. Value Theory and the Behavioral Sciences. Springfield, 111.: Charles C Thomas, 1969.
  13. Arnold Rogow, "Some Relations Between Psychiatry and Political Science," Muzafer and Carolyn Sherif, eds. Interdisciplinary Relationships in the Social Sciences. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co., 1969.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 72 Number 4, 1971, p. 559-566
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1671, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 8:55:25 PM

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About the Author
  • Elizabeth Simpson
    University of Southern California at Los Angeles
    Elizabeth L. Simpson is the associate director of the Center for International Education, University of Southern California at Los Angeles
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