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Meikeljohn and Maritain: Two Views on the End of Progressive Education

by Carol Thigpen - 1994

The author discusses Meiklejohn and Maritainís two different critiques of American progressive education.

Fundamentally, there is no right education except growing up into a worthwhile world. Indeed, our excessive concern with problems of education at present simply means that grown-ups do not have such a world.

Paul Goodman

As the United States entered the Second World War, two critiques of American progressive education were published that questioned the philosophical well-being of that education in the twentieth century. The authors of these critiques, though praising the pedagogical insights and practices of John Dewey and the progressive schools, hurled accusations at the philosophical backbone of progressive education-Dewey's pragmatism. Alexander Meiklejohn was an American liberal and progressive leader in higher education and Jacques Maritain was a European Thomist philosopher seeking refuge in America from the war raging on his continent. The strange confluence and divergence of their analyses of Dewey's pragmatism and progressive education, combined with their own distinctive backgrounds, created a unique dialogue.

In Education between Two Worlds, Meiklejohn somewhat brutally and with little lament tosses Dewey's pragmatism into a dustbin: "The day of pragmatism is done. The movement which for fifty years has so gaily consigned older theories to oblivion because they were outmoded, were out-of-date, is now itself open to the same treatment. It, too, grows ancient."[1] Meiklejohn heaps this denouncement on his mentor's philosophy because he now finds that pragmatism, after having valiantly fought the "dragons of Victorianism," is totally unprepared to formulate "a positive program of action for the twentieth century."[2] Pragmatism, Meiklejohn writes, is "representative of the inner failure and collapse of the civilization for which it speaks."[3] Meiklejohn's analysis is based on the premise that the previous underpinnings of Western civilization have crumbled and, therefore, a new foundation must be recognized. He defines this watershed in Western civilization as a break with the metaphysics of the past: "In the transition from the medieval to the modern form of human living I doubt if any other change is as significant as the substitution of political teaching for religious. We have changed our procedure for determining what kind of beings human beings shall be."[4] With this sweeping statement Meiklejohn makes clear his thesis that the values, authority, and order for human living that had once been founded on Christian beliefs either do not exist or are not taken seriously in the modern world. Since Meiklejohn believes that values, authority, and order are necessary to human society and, therefore, to the education of the young, it becomes clear that his criticism of pragmatism rests on the charge that it is unable to propose an alternative.

Yet Meiklejohn does not bemoan the loss of the old metaphysics because he is already too caught up in a new faith to worry over the lost past. He finds his new faith in the work of Rousseau, but it is Rousseau's The Social Contract,[5] not the Emile admired by many progressive educators, that fascinates Meiklejohn:

The peculiar significance of Rousseau for our Western culture lies in the fact that he leads the way in the substitution of the state for the church as the primary institution of human brotherhood. The belief in fellowship which had formerly been expressed in religious terms he now expresses in terms of politics. As the church loses its grip on the essential principles of human society and human education, Rousseau so describes the state as to qualify it for taking the empty place.[6]

Meiklejohn then proceeds to define the order and hierarchy for a new democratic state, which, he believes, will supplant the old religious order: "Whenever the general welfare and some individual good are incompatible with one another, the former must prevail. So far as the question of authority alone is concerned a democracy must be a totality in action. We must rise as one man in the furtherance of freedom. The state which is the guardian of our liberties must be exalted."[7] Thus, the state, as protector of the general welfare, takes primacy over the individual. When turning to the implications this new state has for education, Meiklejohn defines the teacher and pupil as "agents of the state" for whom all purpose, value, and meaning are to be found in the ideal of a democratic and, eventually, worldwide state: "Unlike Comenius, the modern teacher will find his sun, not in the mind and will of God, but in the human fellowship which, against rightful odds, mankind is trying to establish."[8] Nowhere in his book does Meiklejohn reflect on the ramifications of replacing a personal-spiritual foundation for human society with a democratic, general-welfare state as the principle of civilization.

One year after the publication of Meiklejohn's Education between Two Worlds, Jacques Maritain presented a cogent critique of progressive education that reflected on the problem Meiklejohn had so facilely ignored-the consequences of abandoning the personal-spiritual values of Western civilization. In Education at the Crossroads, first offered as a series of lectures at Yale University, Maritain agrees with Meiklejohn that pragmatism is finished-but finished because of the future it would lead its advocates into, not because, as Meiklejohn argued, it is unable to lead into a future. Pragmatism must be rejected, in Maritain's opinion, because the only future it can advance individuals into is a world dictated by technocratic society and the "masked metaphysics of science." Its only direction, he writes, is toward "a strong positivist or technocratic denial of the objective value of any spiritual needs."[9] For Maritain such a philosophy ends in a totalitarian hell: "Technology is good, as a means for the spirit and for human ends. But technology, that is to say, technology so understood and worshiped as to exclude any superior wisdom and any other understanding than that of calculable phenomena, leaves human life nothing but relationships of force, or at best those of pleasure, and necessarily ends up in a philosophy of domination."[10] The individual, without access to a spiritual dimension, is left to be an "agent of the state" or an agent of some other configuration of social and/or biological forces and, furthermore, the world that can be taught is narrowed to that which is scientifically verifiable.

Having read Meiklejohn's Education between Two Worlds, Maritain is slightly horrified but not surprised by Meiklejohn's faith in a new world-state. His horror stems from witnessing firsthand the nightmare in Europe resulting from placing all values and faith in the service of a state. Maritain's lack of surprise toward Meiklejohn's proposal emanates from his view that Meiklejohn did not abandon pragmatism; rather he carried pragmatism to its logical conclusion-the technological/totalitarian state lacking spiritual meaning. The intellectual poverty of progressive education, as Maritain saw it, emerged when it attached itself to a philosophy recognizing only the scientific and social/political realms; such a constricted world view could not possibly address what for Maritain was the true purpose of education: "It [the aim of education] is to guide man in the evolving dynamism through which he shapes himself as a human person-armed with knowledge, strength of judgment, and moral virtues-while at the same time conveying to him the spiritual heritage of the nature and the civilization in which he is involved, and preserving in this way the century-old achievements of generations."[11] Maritain's statement of purpose clearly calls for political forces and ideology to play a very different role in education from the one described by Meiklejohn. Maritain's eloquent dictum on this subject is, in fact, precisely the antithesis of Meiklejohn's description of education and the state: "The essence of education," Maritain asserts, "does not consist in adapting a potential citizen to the conditions and interactions of social life, but first in making a man, and by this very fact in preparing a citizen."[12] Maritain goes on to warn his reader of the dire results if this principle is disregarded by pointing not just to what he predicts will happen but to what he has experienced: "For the preface to Fascism and Nazism is a thorough disregard of the spiritual dignity of man, and the assumption that merely material or biological standards rule human life and morality."[13]

Maritain's criticisms of Dewey's pragmatism do not prevent him from admiring Dewey and the progressive educators' pedagological innovations. Maritain praises the principles of Dewey's pedagogy but he indicts many of the progressive school practitioners for failing to emphasize the importance of the subject matter: "Modern pedagogy has made invaluable progress in stressing the necessity of carefully analyzing and fixing its gaze on the human subject. The wrong begins when the object to be taught and the primacy of the object are forgotten, and when the cult of means-not to an end, but without an end-only ends up in a psychological worship of the subject."[14] Here Maritain is criticizing the excessiveness of the child-centered branch of progressive education-its tendency to study the child and the child's interests and needs so obsessively that curriculum content becomes a minor educational activity. Curriculum content, that is, "the object to be taught," is for Maritain the central activity of education, "for it is by grasping the object and having itself seized and vitalized by truth that the human mind gains both its strength and its freedom."[15] The object, that is, subject matter, is not a means but a reality to be explored, understood, and acted on by the student. Maritain's main insistence, therefore, is that both the spiritual dignity of the human being and the complex multidimensions of the world must be respected if education is to be other than technological training.

Thus, for both Meiklejohn and Maritain, pragmatism's rational scientific process was unable to lend value, order, and meaning to the world. Meiklejohn joined the wave of social reconstructionists who placed their own social utopias ahead of them as guiding lights. He turned to the idea of the state, the "masked metaphysics of the state" as Maritain might have phrased it, to fill the void left by the "collapse of the civilization," but such a solution did not, for Maritain, confront the essence of the dilemma and only served to lead one into the jaws of a monster: the nihilistic, totalitarian state. Meiklejohn had understood that the question was "what kind of beings human beings shall be" but Maritain went further to ask the key question: Would a world restricted to science, technology, and the realm of social forces not also restrict reality and the possibilities for what it is to be human? Answering this question in the affirmative, Maritain advises that it is not the task of educators to reconstruct the social system to fit some ideal and train students to fit in it, as had Meiklejohn, but rather it is their task to teach the content of a multidimensional world in order that individuals acquire the knowledge from which to build a social order and meaningful life.


It was not necessary to wait for a European philosopher to point out the intellectual narrowness and spiritual emptiness of pragmatism nor was Meiklejohn the first enthusiast of progressive education to find himself questioning Dewey's philosophy. Randolph Bourne was a bright young star of New York's "literary radicals" circle when in 1916 his popular book, The Gary Schools, praised the philosophy of Dewey and its realization as evidenced in the Gary, Indiana, school system. One year later, however, a disillusioned Bourne published his apostasy, suggestively entitled "Twilight of Idols," to pragmatism. Dewey's support of America's entry into World War I and his criticism of the intelligentsia's pacifist movement alienated and embittered Bourne, who believed that the young technocrats supporting the war knew only how to mobilize and manage war; their enthusiasm prevented them from seeing that mastery of technique should not be confused with understanding the meaning and value of an action. As Bourne looked for the moral substance of American life, he found none: "The working out of this American philosophy [pragmatism] in our intellectual life then has meant an exaggerated emphasis on the mechanics of life at the expense of the quality of living. We suffer from a real shortage of spiritual values."[16] Furthermore, Bourne concluded that Dewey's philosophy failed to confront the problem of establishing any values:

There is always that unhappy ambiguity in this doctrine as to just how values were created, and it became easier and easier to assume that just any growth was justified and almost any activity valuable so long as it achieved ends. The American, in living out this philosophy, has habitually confused results with product, and been content with getting somewhere without asking too closely whether it was the desirable place to get.[17]

Two decades later it was not a war but the economic depression that shook Harold Rugg's allegiance to pragmatism. Rugg, who in The Child- Centered School had so unquestioningly praised Dewey-"it is to Dewey's everlasting credit that his mind was able to stay above the maelstrom of economic exploitation, rapid urbanization, mass education, and to frame critical hypotheses for the intellectual base of the new national school system"[18]-suddenly, in 1931 and 1932, found himself criticizing Dewey's pragmatism. Rugg had concluded that pragmatism was only an intellectual technique mimicking the scientific method and lacking value and vision: "It is essentially a method of thought."[19] The profound influence that Bourne's soul searching and bitter break with pragmatism had on Rugg's thought resounds through Rugg's essay, "America's Effort of Reason and Adventure of Beauty." The essay is a eulogy to Bourne and in it Rugg acknowledges and tries to assume Bourne's burden of describing the artist's struggle to survive in an America dominated by technical know-how, pragmatic solution, and scientific knowledge. Rugg adds his own voice to Bourne's lament of the loss of imagination in a society driven by science and pragmatism when he writes that pragmatists "have enthroned the intelligence which sees in place of imagination, which sees and feels."[20]

Bourne and Rugg each pulled back from their uncritical plunge into pragmatism at the point that the technocratic society-described by Maritain as excluding "any superior wisdom and any other understanding than that of calculable phenomena"[21]-loomed before them. Bourne died two years after his article "Twilight of Idols" appeared and we can only guess at the road he might have taken.[22] Rugg would, however, while supporting Bourne's plea for imagination and creativity, increasingly give dominance to the social ideal as the guide for educational growth. But Rugg's formulation of social reconstruction was far less radical and more subtle than that of Meiklejohn. It was Maritain's writing, not Rugg's, that picked up the mantle Bourne's untimely death left untended. As had Bourne, Maritain insisted that the spiritual dignity of human beings and the complex multidimensions of the world must be respected if education is to be other than technological training. Maritain and Bourne's overriding concern for the complex nature of humanity and the world took precedence over any pursuit of a social direction. For both it was the purpose of education to help each person understand, on many levels-creative, rational, and spiritual-the nature of humanity and the nature of the world and, thereby, live creatively and meaningfully in the world. Meiklejohn's dismissal of a personal-spiritual foundation in the twentieth century left education without a world holding meaning and purpose; therefore, he sought to define the purpose of education as training the student and shaping the content to serve a social ideal that would bestow meaning and purpose.


Meiklejohn's and Maritain's critiques of pragmatism, as Bourne and Rugg's writings demonstrate, were not without precedent; they touch on the threads of some earlier criticisms. Yet Maritain's insistence on maintaining the primacy of a personal-spiritual foundation and Meiklejohn's embrace of social engineering and ideology provide an example of two starkly divergent reactions to the complaints some educators had made about pragmatism. Furthermore, their responses clearly stem from their acceptance or rejection of the proposition that the knowable world is limited to science and technology, to biological and social forces. These opposing premises, in turn, shape their two disparate descriptions of the purpose of education and the nature of that which can be taught-the curriculum. It is this connection-the linkage between the purpose for education, what it is students are expected to learn (the curriculum), and the classroom experience of students and teachers-that, using Meiklejohn's and Maritain's distinct perspectives, can now be examined.

For Meiklejohn the curriculum is not something "other" to be perceived and understood nor does it have its own integrity, order, and meaning. It is a function useful to the state. And while Meiklejohn's "agents of the state" rhetoric might seem overdrawn and naive, this passage from Paul Goodman's Compulsory Mis-Education reminds us of how often such thinking is used in the rhetoric of national reports:

In 1961, in The Child, the Parent and, the State, James Conant mentions a possible incompatibility between "individual development" and "national needs"; this, to my mind, is a watershed in American philosophy of education and puts us back to the ideology of Imperial Germany, or on a par with contemporary Russia. When Jefferson and Madison conceived of compulsory schooling, such an incompatibility would have been unthinkable. . . . To them, "citizen" meant society maker, not one "participating in" or "adjusted to" society.[23]

(The echoes of Maritain's arguments are so resonant in this quotation that one cannot but think that Goodman was quite cognizant of Maritain's Yale lectures.) In a more recent article, Douglas Sloan succinctly sums up the problem that so rankled Maritain and Goodman and seemed to elude Meiklejohn: "A purely instrumental functional education is for instruments and functionaries."[24] An education conceived solely in terms of its function for a particular social arrangement of necessity defines curriculum not as the object to be known but as the subservient agent to the social force and defines the human being as an agent rather than as an integral, creative subject.

Maritain, to the contrary, conceives of the subject matter as something "other," as an object for inquiry, and of the student as a separate, creative being. Maritain's curriculum content is not a means but an end, something to be grasped, having its own internal substance. The subject matter stands on its own and to place it in the service of a state, social system, and/or scientific weltanschauung is to mask the subject matter, to so enslave the subject matter as to deceive the student, to wall the student off from reality other than that dictated by science or the state. The school, then, becomes a place for training "functionaries," not creative beings, to live in a constricted world rather than a place where students come to meet, know, and add their own voice to a multifaceted and layered world.

It is not hard to find Meiklejohn's definition of curriculum in contemporary discussions. High school courses are often justified in terms of the content's "usefulness" for entering college, getting a job, living in a democracy, and overcoming radical prejudice, poverty, health dangers, and so forth. All these problems warrant attention but, if all subjects are taught primarily for their usefulness toward some other goal, no wonder students are often bored. Students quickly understand they are being told that the content is not intrinsically interesting or meaningful; its raison d'-tre is to function as a means and both the student and the subject are sacrificed to the goal. This certainly lacks the sense of excitement, tangibility, and "dynamism" in Maritain's description of teaching subject matter: "It is by grasping the object and having itself seized and vitalized by truth that the human mind gains both its strength and its freedom."[25]

To be more specific, consider for a moment a high school American History course. Enormous battles have recently broken out over what should be taught: European history, black history, women's history, religious, Marxist, conservative, or liberal history. Recognition of the diverse material of American history is extremely important but these confrontations often center around the desire to place history in the service of a cause. History, however, is the narrative story of the social, cultural, and political life of human beings. American history in its complete narrative form includes all of these topics and matters of proportion and perspective can be resolved by teachers' knowing both their subject matter and their students. The "object to be taught"- history-is, unfortunately, too often lost as students are turned into puppets mimicking theories or spouting out memorized facts only superficially, if at all, attached to any historical reality. As Goodlad reports in his survey, A Place Called School: "The topics commonly included in the social sciences appear as though they would be of great human interest. But something strange seems to have happened to them on the way to the classroom. The topics of study become removed from their intrinsically human character, reduced to the dates and places readers will recall memorizing for tests."[26] Students report that their history classes are boring[27]-but this does not have to be. A high school student recently explained to me why art history was her favorite course. First, the teacher obviously loved and knew well the art he was showing the class. Second, by exploring the art object itself-its form, beauty, and subject-all that was enmeshed in the object took on an immediate reality. It was, this high school student emphatically added, "all so tangible." The tangibility made the art and the history come alive for her. Yet it is the tangibleness of subjects that is so often overlooked in high school classes. Too often causes, interpretations, memorization, are taught without the student's having any significant acquaintance with the reality of the object being interpreted or memorized. This young art history student had found that, once she encountered the real "stuff" of the world, suddenly historical periods, artistic interpretations and movements, social influences, and specific lives of artists made sense and were easily learned.

As an example, however, of what often happens to even the most tangible of subjects, one can contemplate the high school biology course. Today the sciences are taught under the guise that students will learn to "think scientifically," get into college, or aid the national security. When John Goodlad asked science teachers in his massive school survey what they expected the students to learn, he found that "the words study habits (or skills), organizing information, scientific method, and critical thinking appeared over and over at both junior and senior high levels."[28] The idea that knowing something about animal life is fascinating in and of itself has a low priority and, again, the students understand the message-it is boring but it may be useful. The content is treated as a vehicle that may or may not be going where the student chooses to go rather than as a body of knowledge that tells us much about the nature of the world and ourselves. Teachers try to entice students by involving them in political activism such as "save the whales" or computer games to memorize biological names. These activities can be fun and interesting but they leave one questioning if the student has learned anything about the intricate biological dimension of life on this planet or more simply the biological life of mammals.

Furthermore, the teacher becomes as bored as the student. No longer acting as a guide into the rich texture of the curriculum content, the teacher finds himself or herself forcing the student to undertake a long march toward social/political and abstract skill goals. The teacher comes to realize that teaching has been disconnected from exploring the subject matter. When the focus is on the function of the curriculum rather than the content to be grasped, the teacher can hardly be expected to take hold of the content, master it, and creatively explore it with the students.

It is precisely at this point, the issue of teaching subject matter, that it is helpful to review Dewey's own words, not those of his critics or disciples, to understand why Dewey, given the criticisms previously discussed, has been the dominant voice in this century inciting so many educators who wished to invigorate teaching and learning.

In his writings on pedagogy and subject matter Dewey attacks the rupture, the alienation between knowledge and the student, that traditional pedagogy had imposed:

In his [the student's] nature study and geography, physical things are presented to him as if they were independent and complete in themselves. But in the actual experience of a child, these things have a meaning for him only as they enter into human life. Even those distinctively human products, reading and writing, which have developed for the purposes of furthering human association, of making human contact closer and richer, are treated as if they were subjects in themselves. They are not used as friendly speech is used in ordinary life, and so for the child they become abstract, a kind of mystery that belongs to the school but not to life outside the school.[29]

To overcome the breach between the subject matter and the student Dewey proposes his formula of experience:

Somehow and somewhere motive must be appealed to, connection must be established between the mind and its material. There is no question of getting along without this bond of connection; the only question is whether it be such as grows out of the material itself in relation to the mind, or be imported and hitched on from some outside source. If the subject-matter of the lessons be such as to have an appropriate place within the expanding consciousness of the child, if it grows out of his own past doings, thinkings, and sufferings, and grows into application in further achievements and receptivities, then no device or trick of method has to be resorted to in order to enlist "interest." . . . externally presented material, conceived and generated in standpoints and attitudes remote from the child, and developed in motives alien to him, has no such place of its own. Hence the recourse to adventitious leverage to push it in, to factitious drill to drive it in, to artificial bribe to lure it in.[30]

In these passages Dewey treats subject matter not as a means but as a dynamic, interesting object worth confronting. Though the first quotation affirms Dewey's opposition to the presentation of subjects as "abstract" and contained "in themselves," the point he is making is not that geography is boring or irrelevant but that when geography is presented as an abstract, unattached entity instead of a study of the physical earth the child lives on, it becomes separated from the child. Geography, in other words, becomes a school subject divorced from the child's experience as he or she lives "in ordinary life" and, in fact, geography becomes an abstraction separated from its own subject matter- the physical earth it is a study of. In the second quotation Dewey proposes how the "connection must be established between the mind and its material." To find this connection Dewey emphatically states that "no device or trick or method has to be resorted to in order to enlist 'interest' " nor should the teacher appeal to "leverage to push it in, to factitious drill to drive it in, to artificial bribe to lure it in." The teacher must locate the connection by looking into the material, by having the connection "grow out of the material itself in relation to the mind," rather than having it "imported and hitched on from some outside source," that is, relying on flashy gimmicks that obscure more often than open up the nature of the material. The key to Dewey's pedagogical argument, therefore, is that all knowledge areas have, of necessity, because they are areas of knowledge acquired by human beings through their experience in the world, some point of access for the student by tapping into the student's own experience in the world. This connection between the child's experience and the material is the dynamic point of entry for the child into the subject matter. The teacher must examine the material and bring it into the realm of the child's experience. Dewey's doctrine of experience reunites the child with the subject matter and thus motivates the child's interest in the subject by appealing to the child's life experience. Learning becomes dynamic and the child becomes inherently interested in the subject.


Dewey had offered educators a way out of the rigidity, absolutism, and passivity of traditional pedagogy; he had made the student an active, creative participant capable of understanding and discovering the scientific knowledge of the modern world. But as educators faced the problems of the twentieth century, mere scientific rationality seemed unable to properly explain or address a world spinning with economic depression, fascism, war, and an encroaching abyss of meaninglessness. When educators wrote about and walked into the classroom with Dewey's philosophy, technical competency over a scientific landscape seemed an inadequate goal and definition of the human endeavor. Recognition that Dewey's pragmatism was open only to the process of problem solving,[31] relentless in its perpetual spiral to the next problem, led to a gnawing awareness that its narrowness greatly reduced the range of intellectual endeavor and left human beings stranded as spinning gyros (processors of information) without meaningful direction or engagement. Furthermore, Dewey's emphasis on activity, growth, and reconstruction of experience, all concepts of movement, seemed to force the questions of why and toward what purpose.

Thus for those accepting Dewey's concept of knowledge and how it is acquired, attention turned to the problems of meaning and purpose. To humanize the scientific landscape and address the issue of purpose, Dewey, in Democracy and Education, had placed the democratic society as the setting to enact his educational philosophy.[32] His democracy, however, was the social order, the setting, providing the opportunity to find meaning and purpose for human life; it did not substantively define meaning and purpose. Meiklejohn and his fellow reconstructionists, therefore, took Dewey's social setting one step further. They set before themselves a social ideal that was to define meaning and purpose. Meiklejohn idealized the democratic state and looked to the needs and interests of the state for purpose and meaning; but, as he acknowledged, the idealization required that the mind and the material, the teacher and the student, be harnessed to the ideal rather than be freed to explore reality. Usefulness to the social goal, not understanding and engagement with the world, took precedence in the classroom.

Maritain, a sympathetic critic standing outside the professional educators' circle, was far less inclined to propose a specific ideological direction than to ask whether an activity had depth and notion of value. He was concerned with the weight of the material and potential of the mind-whether the mind was seen as engaging in and capable of knowing the many dimensions of the world's realness or merely an activity competently arranging scientific data encountered. Maritain saw the limitations of what could be wrought from Dewey's scientific weltanschauung and knew the danger of an all-encompassing social ideal. To counter the world and knowing as defined by Dewey, Maritain maintained that the student and the world are far more complicated, rich in various dimensions of knowing and meaning than as proposed by Dewey. Maritain also declared that only in an abundant, multidimensional as well as scientific world could the excitement, creativity, and potential of the human mind and endeavor be fully engaged. Anything less is a limitation, a shackle deceiving and stifling the student. vThis review of the separate roads that Meiklejohn and Maritain took to explore and respond to Dewey's philosophy is written with four goals in mind:

1. To understand their dramatically different critiques of Dewey's pragmatism and, though their criticisms and proposals are far apart, that both express the sense that his pragmatism inadequately addresses the issue of meaning and purpose in education.

2. To trace how their understanding of the source for meaning and purpose-Maritain's rich, multidimensional experienced encounter, historically and presently, with the world or Meiklejohn's particular social ideal-establishes their definition of what kind of beings human beings are: persons capable of encountering and discovering meaning in the world and creatively living and finding purpose in that world or deficient agents awaiting assignment of meaning and purpose from a dominating force, a social ideal.

3. To analyze how their different sources for purpose and meaning not only relate to their concept of the student (what kind of beings human beings are) but also lead to two very disparate understandings of the object to be taught, that is, the curriculum.

4. To observe how the classroom experience of teachers and students is affected by Meiklejohn's combination of pragmatism and social idealism.

Last, this review has attempted to grapple with various understandings of the curriculum-as function or object, as abstraction or related to ordinary life, as restricted to scientific knowledge or open to various realms of knowing-and how these understandings affect what the teacher and the student experience. Their experience, while educators frequently disparage the boredom, lack of intellectual creativity, or rebellion that is observed, is often precisely what might be expected when one stops to think what the curriculum is that students and teachers are asked to engage themselves in. Thus an understanding of Maritain's critique, Meiklejohn's flight to social ideology, Dewey's pedagological insights, and Goodlad's classroom evidence offers some clues as to the underlying ineffectiveness of many curriculum reforms. If their arguments, insights, and evidence are taken seriously, then curriculum reformers should not be surprised that-when subjects are presented as if they are detached abstractions or skills (Dewey's "a kind of mystery that belongs to the school") rather than having to do with "life outside the school," when subjects are understood as a means to socialize or train the student rather than as lively objects of human experience, and/or when subjects are limited to empirical, rational problem solving- students become alienated from the subjects, bored, rebellious, lack interest in their studies, and draw from their studies little creative thought and activity. Such curricula address neither the potency of learning nor the potential of the human mind. It is hard to imagine that these approaches can offer a mind, as Maritain suggests, the power to gain "both its strength and freedom"[33] or provide a student with an "evolving dynamism through which he [or she] shapes himself [or herself] as a person."[34]


1 Alexander Mieklejohn, Education between Two Worlds (New York: Books for Libraries, 1972; reprint of 1942 Harper and Brothers edition), p. 148.

2 Ibid., p. 149.

3 Ibid., p. 12.

4 Ibid., p. 4. Emphasis in original.

5 Ibid., see chapter 6, pp. 71-85, for Mieklejohn's discussion of Rousseau's two works The Social Contract and Emile.

6 Ibid., p. 210.

7 Ibid., p. 266.

8 Ibid., p. 278.

9 Jacques Maritain, Education at the Crossroads (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1943), p. 115.

10 Ibid., p. 114-15.

11 Ibid., p. 10.

12 Ibid., p. 15.

13 Ibid., p. 114.

14 Ibid., p. 14, emphasis in original.

15 Ibid., p. 51.

16 Randolph Bourne, "Twilight of Idols," in The Radical Will: Selected Writings 1911-1918, ed. Olaf Hansen (New York: Urizen Books, 1977), p. 345.

17 Ibid., p. 343.

18 Harold Rugg and Ann Schumaker, Child-Centered School (Yonkers-on- Hudson, N.Y.: World Book, 1928), p. 38.

19 Harold Rugg, "Social Reconstruction through Education," Progressive Education, December 1932, p. 16.

20 Harold Rugg, "America's Effort of Reason and Adventure of Beauty," Progressive Education, May 1931, p. 375.

21 Maritain, Education at the Crossroads, p. 114.

22 Bourne, "Twilight of Idols." v23 Paul Goodman, Compulsory Mid-Education and the Community of Scholars (New York: Vintage Books, 1962), pp. 18-19.

24 Douglas Sloan, "Knowledge, Values, and Educational History: Once More into the Breach Dear Friends," History of Education Quarterly 25 (1989): 1, 9.

25 Maritain, Education at the Crossroads, pp. 51-52.

26 John I. Goodlad, A Place Called School (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984), p. 212.

27 Ibid., p. 232.

28 Ibid., 215, emphasis in original.

29 John Dewey, "The Need for a Philosophy of Education," The New Era, November 1934, p. 216.

30 John Dewey, The School and Society/The Child and the Curriculum (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956), p. 27.

31 In John Dewey, Experience and Education (New York: Collier Books, 1963; copyright 1938), Dewey wrote, as he often had, that problem solving was the core of the scientific method and this method "is the only authentic means at our command for getting at the significance of our everyday experiences of the world in which we live" (p. 88).

32 John Dewey, Democracy and Education (New York: Free Press, 1966). See Dewey's discussion of the democratic society in chapter seven; he writes: "A democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of a conjoint communicated experience" (p. 87).

33 Maritain, Education at the Crossroads, p. 51.

34 Ibid., p. 10.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 96 Number 1, 1994, p. 87-101
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 5:32:04 PM

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