Education and Income
reviewed by Ellis Weitzman - 1962
Education and Income
SAXTON, PATRICIA C.
New York: Viking Press, 1961. Pp. xxi + 298. $6.00.
Dr. Saxton's subtitle, "Inequalities in Our Public Schools," is a far more honest statement of the content and emphasis of her volume. In this book, the author has rather heavy-handedly and from a consistently social-uplift viewpoint presented considerable evidence that to those who have such desiderata as higher income, better homes, and better educated parents are given such blessings as better school buildings, higher IQ ratings, smaller classes, and, in short, more of all the benefits of public education. Using a study of the public school system of a large industrial metropolis as her springboard, Saxton shows by means of many tables and statistics that the culturally deprived are abused by teachers and psychological examiners and are generally educationally underprivileged in our public schools.
Despite the fact that the issues raised by Saxton are of extreme significance to all concerned with democratic and human values, one must seriously question the validity of her assumptions. Her extreme environmentalism is a bit strange in a time when all serious thinkers concede that nature is also responsible for much of the variation in human ability, behavior, and personality. Saxton implies that nurture alone accounts for differences in aptitude and achievement, that given equal opportunity and sufficiently stimulating conditions, all people would be giftedindeed, all would merit academic honors and awards. Much of the blame, for example, is placed upon the misuse of the IQ in our schools, and Dr. Saxton expresses cogently the view that these tests mirror cultural opportunity rather than innate aptitude. With this view any perceptive critic of our public school practices must agree strenuously. It does not follow, however, that there are no individual differences in endowment, that given proper conditions all would write like Shakespeare or compose like Beethoven. Only an unusually naive person would attempt to explain a Mozart or Newton in terms of cultural opportunity. And one must not overlook the fact that elimination of objective measurements would result in utilization of subjective estimates known to be even more biased than our improperly applied standardized instruments. In addition, the author has shown little inclination to inquire into the reasons why people in a competitive society use our public schools to the advantage of those in a position to enhance their children's relative gain from them.
Despite these limitations, Saxton has documented well and pinpointed clearly a truly serious inequity in our society. Her book should be required reading for the many parents and teachers who labor under the misconception that our public schools reflect a genuinely democratic situation, that equal opportunity prevails for all regardless of family origin. On the other hand, readers might well be cautioned not to overlook the fact that some are, indeed, more deserving of educational benefits because of a greater potential or a greater intellectual appetite. As a matter of fact, the desirability for equal opportunity need not rest upon the issue of the distribution of aptitude, but can be far more solidly based upon the right of all citizens to the best education they are capable of absorbing under the most benign and favorable conditions possible.
In the closing pages of her work, Saxton has placed her finger quite sharply upon the elements in school control and policy responsible for the ills she has documented. In addition, she lists thirty-seven suggestions for democratizing our public schools, many (but not all) of which have much merit and might be considered with great advantage.
In closing, it is exceedingly necessary to point out that others might quite readily, by searching out myriad studies on the other side of Saxton's issues, make just as strong a case for the retention of intelligence tests, the expansion of special classes for the gifted, and the differential bestowing of educational rewards. Despite sympathy with the author's motives and purposes, this reviewer cannot condone the complete neglect of negative data, especially in areas where controversy has raged for over half a century.
The American University, Washington, D. C.
Both delighted and distressed by the paradox, we are impressed by how completely education has become what it always has beena lifelong process, essential and endless. As sheer technical training, education in the context of contemporary technology is hard pressed to provide the skilled manpower in literally hundreds of fields on which modern society depends. The rate of invention has reached a point where the engineer trained ten years ago is, without "booster shots" of educational vitamins, close to obsolescence. Even more, education, conceived as the development of people capable of creatively critical participation in the human community, has lost forever any terminal point that may once have been assigned to it. On a globe as shrunken as ours, the price of opportunity and rewarding excitement is complexity and tension, and deepened understanding is the only coin in which it can be paid. Earning such understanding is an enterprise that now stretches, whether we like it or not, from the baby's first cry to the old man's last gasp. Such has become the pace of the ancient marathon between education and catastrophe.
It is for such reasons that we have been puzzled by the discontinuance of the Ford Foundation's support for the Fund for Adult Education, ably headed until a year ago by C. Scott Fletcher. Among the priorities for education, certainly the provision for a constantly informed citizenry, encouraged and trained to play a critically responsible role in the social drama, must rank high. Conceivably, Education for Public Responsibility (New York: Norton, 1961. Pp. 192. $4.00.), edited by Dr. Fletcher, explains in part the demise of the Fund. The book contains fourteen essays and addresses touching on the problem of how education can contribute to more effective leadership in America and in the world at large. Individually, these discussions are excellent, some of them deserving the closest study by anyone who dares to develop fresh, realistic perspectives on the human scene. Certainly, no one who looks with pride on the profession of education should miss F. S. C. Northrop's consideration of the question of "What Kind of American Civilization Do We Want?" Nor can one adequately fulfill one's professional functions without exposure to Emery F. Bacon's insightful discussion of "Achieving Excellence in Labor Education" or Henry A. Kissinger's marvelously sensitive yet tough handling of the relationship between "The Policymaker and the Intellectual," the sharpest formulation available of the barriers in the Big Society to making maximum use of intelligence in the administration of government, business, or the schools.
Yet good as the individual contributions are, Education for Public Responsibility as a bookwhich is to say, as a systematic stimulus and guide to actionis a disappointment. Nowhere does one find a clear formulation of the responsibilities of citizenship, a statement of the personal requirements for exercising those responsibilities with zest and competence, and a discussion of how education at any level can contribute to the equipping of the individual with the necessary sensitivities, skills, and knowledge. The theme of power, so dominant in modern society, is oddly missing in this anthology, especially as it affects the individual's perception of himself as a unit that counts in the interplay of social forces; and one also longs for some straightforward discussion of the ways by which individual behavior, including the person's participation in important decision-making, is controlled by various agencies using various means. Finally, there is simply no cohesive social vision animating these essays as a collection, however much particular contributors may share special aspects of their realistic dreams of a livable world. As is the lamentable case with so much of the educational literature, there is no strong sense here of a society composed of accountable individuals, meeting their obligations to the community that bore and supports them by practicing a responsible and, where possible, loving criticism of it.
Such a vision, of course, must be constantly renewed, and one of the places we rightly and traditionally look for such renewal is the arts, especially literature. Spanish literature, curiously neglected in the United States, is a deep well of rejuvenating waters, and for this reason, we have hailed the release by Barren's Educational Series of attractively printed, well edited paperback editions of Alarcon, Galdos, and Lope de Vega. For the same reason, we are pleased to discover a personal favorite, Calderon's La Vida Es Sueno, in a competent verse translation by William E. Colford. The tariff of $1.25 seems a little steep, but there may be justification for it. There is no justification for the 28 pages of shoddily printed excerpts from El Cid, "literally translated" in a manner that puts off even confirmed enthusiasts for the epic. And this repugnant little pamphlet is priced at 95 cents! Happily, there is a fine contrast in W. S. Merwin's excellent verse translation of the entire Poem of the Cid (New York: Mentor Classics, 1962. Pp. 301. $.75), complete with the Spanish text on the facing pages and an authoritative, literate introduction by the translator. And splendidly, the publishers have resisted all temptation to refer to the recent Hollywood version of the Cid! There is reassurance in the rediscovery that this eleventh-century hero of feudal Spain still presents a valuable model of personal dignity and public responsibility, and for those with eyes, this old poem embodies a social vision that could well be more widely entertained.
Social vision is also often deeply imbedded in another art, that of the architect, whose concern with design and the utilization of space is much too little appreciated in American schools. While there are grounds for regretting that urban development, that urgent and ongoing necessity of our times, so frequently is conceived as the province of those whose primary focus is on buildings rather than people, architecture has produced a large number of artists who have deeply understood the intimate connections between human aspirations and the kinds of structures in which men live and work. Paladio and Wren come at once to mind, and Jefferson's keen architectural interests were by no means irrelevant to his humane philosophy. More recently, Sullivan and Wright, Gropius and van der Rohe, have significantly underscored the relationship of the humane and socially responsible spirit to the construction of houses, churches, office buildings, and schools that add dignity and value to the lives that are lived in them. Yet American architecture, practiced with technical skill and under conditions of unparalleled industrial support, is hardly free of culpability for blight and ugliness that are hard to match in foreign cities anywhere.
In Architecture and the Esthetics of Plenty (New York: Columbia Univer. Press, 1961. Pp. xii + 304. $7.50), James Marston Fitch analyzes the impact of economic abundance and the character of modern industry on urbanism and its architectural expression. Combining balanced judgment with a witty style and sureness of historical scholarship, he finds that we have developed high standards of sanitation and safety in our buildings and have brought the minimal amenities to a higher proportion of our population than has any other country, but our standards of taste and beauty are markedly lacking. The very advances of mass production that make abundance so widespread also tend to debase sensibility, leading, for economic reasons, to a narrow range of stereotyped designs that appeal to "the statistical myth of a national common denominator." Further, the factor of "planned obsolescence" in contemporary competitive industry has two evil effects. It "institutionalizes the tendency toward adulteration of material and workmanship" so that the product, including buildings, must be scrapped and replaced sooner than necessary, and it tears design away from its fundament in function. "Anyone who has watched the migration of tail-lights . . . over the rear end of American autos, or the everchanging size and shape of radiators, must realize that this kind of change is completely divorced from objective progress. Design thus isolated from reality can only weaken and die . . ." (p. 279).
What Mr. Fitch calls for is a vision of city life based on a full and scientific appraisal of concrete human requirements, and he has provocative ideas of how to get it. Those ideas are likely to be both congenial and instructive for educators, who will find in Fitch's assertion of the architect's public responsibility a handsome guide to the zestful acknowledgment of their own.
Provocative and useful social vision of another sort is provided excitingly by Winston White in his hard-headed Beyond Conformity (New York: Free Press, 1961. Pp. 230. $5.00). This book is a criticism of the critics, a stringent appraisal of the "intellectuals," those articulate men who warn society when it seems to them to desert the standards of its heritage or when it fails to give emphasis to the alternatives that would enrich it. Mr. White takes to task such commentators on the contemporary scene as Riesman, Niebuhr, Clement Greenberg, and others for ignoring the effect of increasing social complexity on the range of individual choices. Basing himself in empirical observation and sociological analysis, he argues that modern social organization reflects a progressive structural differentiation that has, in America, resulted in "greater mobilization of resources, increased capacity to pursue whatever goals are deemed desirable, and greater freedom of choice for more individuals." Within a tradition that values the realization of all persons' capacities, criticism is often more inevitable than cogent: "American societyhowever good it may beis never good enough."
Whether Mr. White is right or not, his book cannot be read without involving the reader in a silent but vigorous reappraisal of his own dreams of the good society and how the individual may productively and responsibly be related to it. This is high praise, entailing no endorsement of White's particular views. If such praise could be properly showered more liberally over our school and college classrooms, then the issue of education for public responsibility would be well looked after indeed.EJS