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The Teacher and the Future

by L. Thomas Hopkins - 1942

The place and function of the teacher in the future will be considered under four aspects: (1) What are the general and educational conditions which we as a people face at the moment? (2) What are the operating antecedents to these conditions? (3) What is the direction for life and education which appears to be more fruitful in producing better conditions of living in the future than in the past? (4) What are the opportunities of the teacher in maintaining, extending, and enriching this more desirable life and learning in America and in the world?

THE problem to be considered here is by no means peculiar to teachers. Every person everywhere in this great world of ours is concerned about the future. He sees and feels his old and previously reliable beliefs shattered. He is groping for some new tangible means of security in the midst of profound changes. His life has not fitted him to cope serenely and courageously with the variabilities of an uncertain world. He feels lost on a turbulent stream of conflicting experiences which have uncertain beginnings and no visible ending. He is greatly disturbed by the unpredictable factors which the future may hold. Consequently people in many places in many countries are considering together either openly or clandestinely this same general problem—what of the future.

The future of any living thing is oriented in its present which in turn is grounded in its past. The place, function, and opportunity of the teacher in the future is a function of the kind of education operating at the moment, together with the past conditions which produce it. No present behavior of a normal living thing is ever disassociated from its past life. And the behavior of the teacher in the future will be intimately related to the quality of his educational behavior today. To see the problem in its total setting, the place and function of the teacher in the future will be considered under four aspects: (1) What are the general and educational conditions which we as a people face at the moment? (2) What are the operating antecedents to these conditions? (3) What is the direction for life and education which appears to be more fruitful in producing better conditions of living in the future than in the past? (4) What are the opportunities of the teacher in maintaining, extending, and enriching this more desirable life and learning in America and in the world? Each of these aspects of the problem will now be considered.

What are the general and educational conditions which we as a people face at the moment? There are many ways of examining the conditions which we face in America and in the world today. For purposes of this discussion the psychological approach will be used. The reason for this is that the world situation is the behavior of peoples growing out of their efforts to solve their problems of living. To understand such behavior one must use the same careful diagnosis and treatment which he would suggest for any individual or group whose actions in the present portend less desirable behavior in the future. Failure to see the present upheaval as the outcome of efforts of peoples to deal with these pressing problems of living may and perhaps now is leading to faulty diagnosis and dangerous postwar proposals.

The two most frequent words used in describing the general and educational conditions of the movement are emergency and crisis. They were used by our political and educational leaders long before Pearl Harbor and have been reiterated with increasing vigor since December 7, 1941. In fact some of our prominent statesmen have used such words repeatedly in describing the American scene since 1933. But individuals and groups move through life on a series of needs or problems or difficulties or experiences which are met and resolved successfully. These ordinary affairs of living are not called emergencies or crises and were not so designated in the period 1920-1933. What then is the difference between an ordinary problem of living and an emergency?

Webster's dictionary states that an emergency is "an unforeseen occurrence or combination of circumstances which calls for immediate action or remedy." The important phrases in this definition are "an unforeseen occurrence" and "calls for immediate action" These clearly imply that our leaders did not anticipate the situation and did not even recognize it until conditions were so bad as to call for immediate action. But the average man might well ask why such an emergency arose. And the answer is simple but painful. The emergency has arisen because of unintelligent study or lack of foresight in the simple everyday problems of living which preceded the present situation. Intelligent individuals or groups anticipate the consequences of behavior before acting. Thus they solve problems by studying present area, past conditions, and possible future consequences. In this way they develop evaluated inquiry, critical thinking, deliberative action—all of which have appeared dormant in the affairs of general and educational life for many years.

Webster's dictionary says that a crisis is "a state of things in which a decisive change one way or the other is impending." It is a turning point in the course of anything, marking the change for better or worse. But in human living, crisis has deeper implications. In solving his ordinary problems an individual has only a relatively small part of his previous learnings or behavior open to examination and revision. He still has a great area of stability in learned belief, value, meaning, process, personality integration. The new problem is taken in stride and through it a new and better functional organization of learnings is developed. But a crisis disturbs simultaneously his entire range of learned behavior. He has no secure beliefs, no tested meanings, no habit process, no stability of personality with which to face the emergency. He must revise his whole physiological, mental, emotional, social economy of living in the emergency if he is to weather the crisis, just as the body reorganizes its whole operating economy in order to crush the attack of a consuming fever. Thus the emergency and the crisis appear to be the natural consequences of the failure of intelligence in the solution of the simple problem of individual and group living from the Armistice of November 11, 1918, up to and even including the present.

In such an emergency or crisis in individual behavior, there are three generally accepted courses of action: (1) control the obvious condition on a more or less first-aid basis in order to keep the individual alive; (2) find and remove the conditions which have contributed to the emergency; (3) help the individual build his life and living on a sounder basis so that such emergencies and crises will be less likely to occur in the future. These courses of action are used by a doctor in treating a patient, they are used by a psychiatrist in dealing with instances of psychoneurotic behavior, they are used by the teacher in handling the many instances of children suffering from maladjustments due to ineffective teaching, they are used by the parent in helping children over their deep disturbances caused by the impinging social culture. They should be used by leaders in diagnosing and remedying the ills of the peoples of the world.

What are the antecedents of the present conditions? Why has intelligence failed? There are many antecedents to the present chaotic situation but the present discussion will be confined to the failure of intelligence with particular reference to the educational system. It is here assumed that the educational system should share with other agencies some of the responsibility for the behavior of children and adults. When such behavior shows the lack of critical thinking and deliberative foresight, the educational system is in part, perhaps a large part, accountable. There are many reasons why the schools have failed in this respect but only three very important ones will be cited.

First, our educational system is organized to develop individual class literacy, not to improve the social intelligence of the common man. We began with class schools brought over from Europe, some for paupers, some for the masses, some for the financially competent, some for the few who were not eliminated by the others. Even within each school the class system of treating pupils has and does even now function. In each school the individual learns the things which make him literate in that class. The three R's for those who go through the elementary school, the higher academic subjects for those who attend high school, the "general cultural subjects" for those who receive the A.B. degree, the specialized achievement for those who receive academic honors. And each individual uses his class achievement for his own individual profit rather than for the social good. As late as the nineteen thirties the accumulation of wealth at the expense of others was a most laudable personal goal. Even in schools the money value of an education was stressed by such respectable organizations as the U. S. Office of Education. But this academic knowledge which gives class literacy is far removed from social intelligence. During the past few years there have been many instances of persons high in such literacy who have appeased and even became the quislings of our enemies. Educational surveys for the past fifteen years have shown the shortcomings of the school system in aiding all pupils to develop their capacities for critical thinking. Yet psychologists know that such capacity is present in every individual and can be developed through an appropriate modern curriculum to produce the social intelligence so badly needed in all of our affairs of living. It is on the upbuilding of such intelligence in everyone that democracy must survive or fall.

Second, our educational system has stressed authoritarian human relationships rather than social, cooperative, democratic action. In authoritarian human relationships certain individuals have control, power, authority over others. Their followers learn the wisdom or the answers to problems of living handed down to them by their status superiors. This scheme of human relationship is not new. It is as old as early tribal societies. It has been perfected by philosophers, many religious organizations, great empire builders, large business concerns, the majority of families, and most educators. It represents a very low or primitive level of human relationships. It results in compulsion, exploitation, and conflict ending in compromise until each party can prepare himself to renew the struggle. The effect is undesirable for everyone since it breeds hate, disintegrated personalities, unintelligent action. Yet this viewpoint dominates our schools, the solution of our employer-labor problems, the policy of the government in its public relationships. And this very concept of human living written into the Treaty of Versailles is one of the potent antecedents of the present world conflict. The schools must move rapidly and effectively to promote cooperative, social, democratic human relationships in order that youth may bring insight and practice in a better way of life to the council tables of the future.

Third, our educational system has extolled the glories of life in the past rather than the opportunities and possibilities for improving life in the future. Authoritarian peoples rely heavily upon the mores—the beliefs, the truths, the skills, the actions of people in the past. These are taught to children by a process of repetition, habituation, conformity. In our schools American history is the core of the curriculum in the elementary grades, including the early beginnings in Europe. It is retaught for two or more years of the junior high school. Pupils study it again in the eleventh or twelfth grade as required by law in most states. College students slide through a survey of civilization along with other excursions into the past listed as biology, physical sciences, and humanities. With all of these years of concentration on the past the pupils are and should be very well unprepared to deal intelligently with problems of present living in the light of future consequences. Because surveys show that youth resents its. unpreparedness to deal effectively with present problems of living, some responsible educators, government officials, newspaper editors, and others are demanding that the schools teach pupils more of the same kind of U. S. and World history which is one of the primary causes of their present disability. While every present act in individual or group learning has its antecedents, one studies them as the physician examines the events leading to acute indigestion. He must see the prior conditions in order to help the patient plan intelligently a better course of action in the future. And this is equally true in all aspects of living. The better life is before us, not behind us. An educational system which glorifies the good life of the past rather than the opportunity of making a better life for everyone in the future is anaemic when it should be dynamic.

What is the most fruitful direction for educational institutions to take in order to aid in producing better conditions of living in the future? The most promising direction for educational institutions to take in the future has already been implied. It will be more definitely pointed out here. We as a people must apply to institutions the principles of diagnosis and treatment which any competent physician or psychiatrist would use in any instance of organic or functional disorder. First, we must do everything possible to save the patient. We must win this war in order to have the opportunity to develop a better future. To lose the war means that the forces of authoritarians will suppress us even more than they have in the past. But we must recognize that many if not most of the educational changes necessary for the emergency are like the sedative given to an hysterical person. They are for temporary use, not for continuous diet. Second, we can make the patients or the children in our schools more comfortable and educationally active by removing all of the antecedent conditions to the present emergency and crisis such as education for class literacy and private profit; education for authoritarian ends, human relationships, and controls, together with all of the machinery, organizations, materials, devices, and such other trappings that go with these conditions. When such educational practices are a potent allergy in the present crisis as demonstrated by hundreds of years of social illness, it would seem reasonable to remove them as one would similar conditions in treating individual behavior. Third, we can build our educational system on a sound foundation of cooperative human relationships, present problems of individual and group living, socially wholesome personalities, creative integrative learning, democratic organization and management. This offers greater possibilities of aiding pupils to develop capacity, to upbuild intelligence, to learn the techniques of deliberative action, to reach conclusions in present problems based upon a higher quality of human relationships. Fourth, we must make these changes from authoritarian to democratic education promptly throughout the entire educational system. Time is precious. We cannot allow another generation of children to be educated under the old system. And for children twelve years in school is a generation, not their total life expectancy of seventy years. In fact, twelve school years is really three life generations because the disabilities of these years may persist even unto the grandchildren. Children must come to know, to believe in, to have confidence in the future as the great opportunity for rich living and to trust the democratic process as the means of achieving it.

What are the opportunities of the teacher in promoting this more desirable life and living in America and in the world? The first and perhaps the greatest would be the opportunity to develop his capacities to the highest extent possible. He would be continuously encouraged by all individuals and groups to improve his capacity to act on thinking. He must feel security in doing this for himself in order to aid children to develop their potentialities. He must feel his work as an exciting, challenging new experience in guiding the present and future behavior of his children. This change from following the authoritarian line to developing cooperative, intelligent action will give the teacher an opportunity to grow into a normal, wholesome integrating personality. The pressures, the conflicts, the frustrations which drive him or his pupils to escape from the present into blissful reveries will be slowly but surely reduced. He will still have his everyday problems of living but he will have an opportunity to solve them in such way as to prevent disintegrating emergencies and crises. For the weight of the authoritarian tradition on the lives of teachers and pupils is a most powerful cause of personality disabilities. Secondly, the teacher would have the opportunity to build a genuine profession of education. For the first time in the history of America the true contribution of educators to our expanding national life would be realized. The people would come to view the members of the profession as experts in the democratic process of living, competent to aid children and adults to guide their lives by its principles. Thus the schools would serve to enrich the highest values of individual and group living. Finally the teacher will feel he has an important part to play in shaping the better world to come. He will have the opportunity to help children develop through their own living the principles of intelligent, cooperative action which will eventually prevent the repeated occurrence of the emergencies and crises which beset an authoritarian world. For the intelligent, integrating teachers of America working in cooperative democratic relationships with their pupils are the best present guarantee of a better life and living in the better world of tomorrow.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 44 Number 2, 1942, p. 110-115
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 9205, Date Accessed: 1/23/2022 10:02:17 AM

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About the Author
  • L. Thomas Hopkins
    Professor of Education, Teachers College
    Professor L. THOMAS HOPKINS is a specialist in the field of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College and has devoted the major portion of his time to the curriculum of the elementary school. During the past several years he has acted as consultant in curriculum construction in several large cities. Professor Hopkins' most recent books are Integration—Its Meaning and Application (with others), and Integration: The Democratic Process.
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