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Integration and Transcendence: Conflicting Models in Higher Education

by Richard Olmsted - 1971

The proper goal of a university education is the subject of serious discussion in many circles today. (Source: ERIC)

American colleges and universities, a decade ago the most passive segment of a generally quiescent educational system, have recently exploded into violent and sometimes deadly conflict. Campus disturbances have so seriously affected the delicate social balances constituting higher education that more than a few educational commentators have concluded that these present relationships cannot long survive.

Disruptions in higher education are indicative of important changes in American social life and in the ideological structures that serve to regularize and rationalize it. These disturbances can be more completely understood in the context of the clash of two pervasive conceptions of education, the decay of the social functions historically performed by each of these educational ideologies, and the growing influence of one over the other.

The conceptions of education that have dominated the American educational scene during this century are both based on the assumption that the purpose of formal education is preparation for adulthood. The fundamental distinction between the two is the differing model of adulthood posited as the proper result of the educative process. Some educators have tried to produce integrated men, while others have striven to educate men for transcendence. The difference between these two efforts has loomed large in educational thought, exerting profound effect on educational practice.

Education for Integration The integrated man accepts as given the fundamental assumptions of the society in which he lives. He has the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to live a happy, productive life. In our society this means that work is important to him, and he does his work well. But he also knows how to utilize his leisure time to increase his satisfaction in life. He obeys the law of the land, votes, pays taxes, serves in the military when called, supports his children, and observes the social amenities. This list could be extended, but the point to be made is that the integrated man is the solid citizen of his society. The goal of education for integration is therefore the production of individuals with desirable citizenship characteristics.

Such an education takes a variety of forms depending on the nature of well-adjusted adulthood at any particular moment in time and culture. However, the curriculum for this education is formulated on the assumption that the purpose of the school is to supply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of the integrated man. The source of this model is found in existing society, or more precisely, in an idealized projection of existing society. By analyzing either formally or informally the characteristics of the well-adjusted adult, educators are able to determine what ought to be taught in the schools.

Examples of this conception of education are prevalent in the educational literature of this century. It is more difficult to find well-articulated alternative views. In the 1920s the integrative goal was expressed with particular force and influence by the advocates of the scientific curriculum movement. W. W. Charters summarized both the goal and methodology of his movement in a single sentence: "The activities and ideals of society must be determined, evaluated, and selected; the best method of performing the activities under the domination of appropriate ideals must be collected; and the material so determined must be presented at the [best] psychological moment in the life of the child."1

Education for Transcendence The transcendent man is a different prototype. The mark of the transcendent man is an understanding of life that goes beyond the appearance of everyday concerns. The transcendent man lives beyond the confines of the present culture in the broader context of the best of human traditions. Not permitting himself to be dominated by vulgar daily affairs, he can judge the whole of present concerns in the framework of the broad sweep of human history.

In America, colleges and universities have traditionally attempted to produce the transcendent man. The curriculum supposedly effective in this pursuit has included languages, literature, philosophy, and history. Some of the more optimistic advocates of this view have argued that the study of these subjects alone would result in transcendent men, while others emphasized the importance of contact with great teachers who were themselves transcendent men.

Not surprisingly, most of the advocates of education for transcendence have been college professors or presidents. One of the most eloquent of these was David Starr Jordan, an early president of Indiana University and the founding president of Stanford. In 1907, he articulated his conception of transcendence in College and the Man:

The college will bring you into contact with the great minds of the past.... The great men of all ages and climes will become your brothers.... The uncultivated man looks out on life through narrow windows and thinks that the world is small. He also thinks it mean and unworthy because the dogfight in the gutter is all that his eye can reach. The man of culture has infinite resources within himself because within himself is the key to all the best that men have thought and done since men first began to think and act.2

Social Basis of Ideals If education for transcendence has held sway in colleges and universities, it is also true that education for integration has been the predominant conception in public secondary and elementary schools. From their differing positions of dominance, these two sets of educational ideals have had different social functions. The idea of education for integration has historically served as the ideological rationale for the preparation within the public schools of the mass of men for subordinate positions within the economic order. The preparation of the creative leadership of the society in colleges and preparatory schools has been conducted in the name of education for transcendence. However, recent changes in the economic order have disturbed the institutional niceties of this division, rendering the conception of education for transcendence socially obsolete. Nonetheless, even though much of the social basis for the idea of education for transcendence is gone, the concept remains an active part of educational thought and is now what it never was when its social basis was intact—subversive to the established order.

The apex in the development of the intellectual rationale for American capitalism came during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth. The concepts of education for integration and education for transcendence served as part of that rationale. The notion of education as a preparation for integrated adulthood served to justify the production of a mass of semieducated, docile industrial workers. As the logical culmination of this idea, scientific curricular theorists reduced English composition to letter writing, literature to the language level of the daily newspaper, arithmetic to change counting, science to practical mechanics, and then larded the whole with virtues appropriate to a well-behaved proletariat: obedience, punctuality, perseverance, patriotism, thrift, long-suffering. This, the education extended to the vast majority of Americans, was the natural result of a societal demand for a mass of acquiescent workers.

The conception of education for transcendence served to produce for society a minority of creative individuals needed to advance and justify capitalism. It also served to confirm in the minds of both the subordinate and dominant classes the natural superiority of the dominant. Those who had access to higher education were clearly marked as apart from and superior to most men, distinguishable by their manners, speech, and attitudes.

The Technological Society Even as this combination of educational ideas achieved its greatest acceptance, however, changes in the structure of American society were taking place,3 changes that would eventually extend the conception of education for integration well into the domain of higher education and serve to make obsolete the conception of education for transcendence. A new form of social organization, based upon giant corporations, aided and sometimes guided by giant government, utilizing an increasingly complex technology, was remodeling the economic and social basis of American education and would serve eventually to alter its ideology.

One consequence of this transformation has been a decline in demand for semieducated workers. There are few members of Marx's "industrial army" utilized in moonshot technology, or even in less advanced industry. In place of the demand for unskilled and semiskilled workers is an increased need for highly skilled technicians, engineers, computer experts, and managers.4 The division of labor in intellectual endeavors is replacing the division of industrial labor. The massive application of technology that dominates contemporary society requires not tiring, repetitive, physical labor, but creative, intellectual effort applied toward the solution of one small aspect of a much greater productive problem. Intellectual labor is being specialized and socialized in much the same fashion that physical labor was socialized a century ago.

These alterations are reflected in the output of formal education. The length of time the average adult spends in formal education has increased steadily throughout this century and, more importantly, the quality and purpose of primary and secondary education have changed. The idea that college preparation is the central purpose of lower schools was under constant attack most of the first part of this century. In the past twenty years, however, these criticisms have diminished as a higher and higher percentage of high school graduates have entered college. The most successful curricular reforms of the past decade have been those designed to improve college preparation within academic disciplines.5 College education is becoming as commonplace as high school education was a generation ago, and the individual unable to achieve a high school education must face the fact that he may be unfit for productive life in our society.

College students today attend institutions far different in size, scope, and purpose from those their fathers graduated from a generation ago. Such institutions, led by giant Midwestern universities, have grown in geometric ratios since World War II, and their curricula have increased in diversity. Hardly an aspect of our modern technological society, from space exploration to sewage disposal, is omitted from their course offerings. Many private universities and colleges have tried, with mixed success, to follow the enrollment and curricular policies of their state-supported sisters.

The concept of education for transcendence is consequently on the defensive in schools of higher learning. The concept of education for integration has gained ground, perhaps supremacy, in the ivy halls. The demand for well-educated men has not been a demand for transcendent men, since the most effective citizens of a technological society are specialists of limited purview. This is not to assert that specialists are not intelligent or creative, simply that their intelligence and creativity count in the society only inasmuch as they are focused on the limited problems dictated by society. There are few rewards and frequent punishments for those who turn their creativity beyond its circumscribed place in our technical society. The education of such an intellectual proletariat is best rationalized as education for integration.

Many of the ideological features of the modern university contribute toward the goal of smoothly integrating its graduates into our technological society. For example, the concept of science as a value-free enterprise to be pursued for its own sake seems admirably suited to justify the narrow application of an individual's talents within a larger corporate or governmental structure. The restricted application of established criteria to a limited field of inquiry and the suspension of judgment and responsibility for the total social configuration of one's efforts are the appropriate attitudes necessary for the creative servants of a technological system.6 The concept of professionalization also serves to reinforce the fragmentation of thought necessary for intellectual division of labor. Specialized languages serve to deny the thought of a particular study to those who are uninitiated, and parochial ideas about disciplinary competence serve to keep individuals from trying to reach beyond the confines of their specialty. Few educated men, including those who teach in our colleges and universities, claim transcendence. They are satisfied with and well rewarded for claims to specialized expertise.

Conflict In spite of the growing strength of the conception of education as integration, however, the conception of education as transcendence remains a part of the ideological universe of higher education. A number of small, private colleges whose students are not economically dependent upon the skills they acquire in college have taken determined stands in defense of the idea. In larger private and public institutions the idea of transcendence is expressed in numerous official pronouncements about purpose, and there is frequent shuffling of course requirements and occasionally more drastic administrative reorganization in vain hopes of reviving the noble purpose. Higher education, having succumbed to the temptations of the marketplace and entered the grubby business of providing lackeys for productive society, seems to seek, through rhetoric and reorganization, the innocence of its youth. However, virtue lost is gone forever, and colleges must live with the dominance of integrative education.

The conception of education for transcendence persists, nonetheless, both as nostalgia and as an alternative to the more oppressive aspects of contemporary education. It remains as a reminder of the past and as a subversive element in the present. Probably the disturbances apparent in higher education can be traced in part to the subversive nature of this idea. Students, constantly told that their studies will liberate them, are beginning to realize that those same studies are confining them to lives dedicated to narrow, often stultifying, problems. They are promised transcendence and balk at integration. College-age adults, free of the restraints of family and the confines of productive society, given the heady wine of transcendent conceptions of education, are restive. The contradiction between a rhetoric that emphasizes the liberating aspects of education and a reality that is narrow and confining is more and more apparent. Professors who personify the conflict with transcendent rhetoric and restrictive practice seem bewildered that the contradiction should be detected. Administrators, forced to take a more practical stand, have said by their actions if not words: Integrate or leave.

Nonetheless, the protesters remain and their numbers grow, a hopeful sign in a generally depressing era. It may indicate that a few take seriously the mandate of education for transcendence. For although our society offers few rewards for transcendent men, we desperately need them. We need large numbers of men capable of comprehending and judging the whole of our society and its direction and, further, capable of acting on their judgments. Otherwise, the rationality of the parts of our lives will disguise from us the irrationality of the whole, and the irrationality of the whole may either enslave or destroy us.

1 W. W. Charters. Curriculum Construction. New York: Macmillan, 1923.

2 David Starr Jordan. College and the Man. Boston: Beacon Press, 1907.

3 There have been many attempts to catalog and analyze these changes. Two important efforts similar in analysis but with opposing conclusions are: John Kenneth Galbraith. The New Industrial State. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1967; and Herbert Mar-cuse. One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.

4 One painful bit of evidence of this trend is that economic recession in the 1970s means unemployment for the highly educated as well as the unskilled.

5 The "new math" is the most obvious example.

6 There is some evidence that this attitude is breaking down. The soul-searching at MIT since the spring of 1969 is one spectacular example of this tendency. However, the irrationality of challenging such an obviously productive system as that in operation on the north bank of the Charles River mitigates against any serious challenge.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 72 Number 3, 1971, p. 443-448
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1660, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 10:38:27 PM

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