CHILDHOOD, SCHOOLING, AND UNIVERSAL MORALITY

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This paper contrasts the aims of progressive and traditional state mandated schooling, and argues that the former represents a new form in the history of Western education, oriented to individual, social and moral reconstruction rather than
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   National Society for the Study of Education,  Volume 112, Issue 1, pp. 61-79Copyright © by Teachers College, Columbia University Childhood, Schooling, and Universal Morality DAVID KENNEDY  Montclair State UniversityThis chapter contrasts the aims of progressive and traditional state-mandated  schooling, and argues that the former represents a new form in the history of Western education, oriented to individual, social and moral reconstruction rather than reproduction, and guided by the evolutionary possibilities inherent in human  neoteny. The school is identified as a key site for the reconstruction of civic virtue  in its role as a “just community” or embryonic society grounded in the principles  and practices of participatory democracy. INTRODUCTION: A MORAL CRISIS  As the second decade of the twenty-first century rapidly unfolds, the hu-man species finds itself faced with multiple crises of planetary propor- tion—crises in political economy, ideological polarization, perpetual  war, erosion of human rights, political corruption, and grave environ-mental degradation. Whatever the causal nexus of these multiple crises, the current difficulty that the corporate, financial, and government plan-ners and decision-makers are having in finding effective solutions to the challenge that they represent is, I would suggest, associated—in the US anyway—with a collective moral crisis. This crisis is twofold. First, in the inability or refusal to recognize and act to correct the excesses and injustices, and consequent immoral outcomes of the economic and political models that cause them; and secondly, the moral problems associated with holding to a competitive, tribalized nation  62 National Society for the Study of Education state model of collective identity and action in an era of unprecedented globalization. The moral harm that both crises represent is, first of all, will -ful ignorance, and second, profound hypocrisy. Both of these are aspects of collective or “modal” subjectivity (Keniston, 1976).In order to avoid a dangerous dualism, we do well to accept Socrates’ contention in  Protagoras  (Plato, 1961) that no one willingly seeks to do evil, but that moral wrong is a consequence of the difficulty we have in understanding the necessary connection between individual self-interest and collective or relational interest. The inability to grasp the connec-tion between the short term and the long term, the individual and the collective, is exacerbated by our current situation, in which emergent so-cial, cultural, and physical conditions demand changed attitudes, dispo- sitions, and responses—reconstructed habits, in the broad sense of habit as the apparatus of response and initiative in any given situation. All of the global situations we find ourselves in are increased in impact and sig-nificance by the new intervisibility and transparency created by the emer-gent information environment, and lay bare, not just new opportunities, but imbalances and contradictions within larger systems that confound traditional habit. The problems they present challenge both groups and individuals to generate solutions which, in order even to be imagined, demand a reconstruction of what the French social philosopher Pierre Bourdieu (1977) called  habitus : a set of socially maintained and mediated assumptions, dispositions, attitudes, hopes and fears, discourses, pro-scriptions, taboos, ideals, tastes, and beliefs that are embodied and ex-pressed in each individual subject of a given collective. And John Dewey, in his one work devoted exclusively to social morality (1922), analyses habits as on a continuum between rigid or flexible. Rigid habits are those that are not “permeable” to new situations—to which new situations do not suggest new or altered forms of response, and hence become dys-functional. Framing it this way, we may say that our moral crisis is the product of rigid and hence dysfunctional habitus. The zone of dysfunction lies in the relation between private and public, or individual and universal, moral- ity. In a habitus characterized by an extreme ideological individualism, private morality—I don’t steal, lie, cheat, et cetera—is separated from public morality, which operates according to universal values extended as equally to the other and groups of others as to myself. Private moral -ity is played out upon a local stage, within the family and the tribe, the political party and its specter, the “nation.” However, in a situation of increasing intervisibility and intercausal relations on a planetary level,  where we see more and more plainly the global effects of every local ac-tion and vice versa, the line between the spheres of private, local moral-ity and universal social morality becomes unclear; the dialectical tension  Childhood, Schooling, and Universal Morality 63 between the two forms of morality is intensified, and urges us toward either transformation/reconstruction or retrenchment/reaction. The lat-ter is characteristic of rigid habitus, and results in what psychoanalysts call “splitting,” whereby the two forms no longer even recognize each other. This can lead to the apparent paradox of a highly “moral,” even moralistic culture falling into murderous barbarism, as Germany did in the 1930s—a turn of events from which there is no reason to assume any nation is exempt.Universal morality is based upon a developed, embodied imagination,  which makes for the capacity to feel empathy for the stranger—to enter the transitional space between self and other, where it is possible to ex-perience compassion for the suffering of others, to be troubled by it, and to find it as unconscionable as one would if it were happening to oneself or one’s intimates. Its chief cognitive component is not just the ability to reason, but the critical disposition to identify, question, and to prob- lematize both explicit and implicit assumptions, and to recognize faulty reasoning and rationalization. The development of both these disposi - tions is dependent to a great (if ultimately incalculable) extent on the chief institutions of education in our culture—the family and the school. In the first section of this chapter, I begin by suggesting that Charles Darwin’s notion of an “instinct of sympathy” among humans represents an evolutionary imperative which finds expression in the school as an embryo of a society in continual reconstruction—a view developed from Rousseau through such progressives as Pestalozzi and finally, in the US,  John Dewey. Second, I explore the contrasts between the progressive movement, which identifies childhood as a cultural vanguard for trans-formative change, and the state-mandated purposes of public schooling, specifically through an account of the neotenic (neotony being the long human maturation process) character of the school as an institution. In this account I draw on both evolutionary biologists and child psycholo- gists in characterizing the dialectic between child and school, suggest - ing that the school might be a “place apart” or laboratory in which the conflicts of private and universal morality can be addressed. In the third section, I identify the school as one site for the emergence of a new moral order and the reconstruction of civic virtue, specifically through Arendt’s notion of innocence and Merleau-Ponty’s view of childhood polymor - phism, both of which support Dewey’s account of childhood innocence as a trustee of a new sensibility. Finally, I characterize the practices of the neotonic school as dialogical, interactive, interest-based, and inquiry- driven, but also as a moral collective, as in Kohlberg’s just community approach. Here, social morality, where private and universal morality are not in conflict, is sustained through collective deliberation and ac-tion, processes that are at the heart of participatory democracy. When we  64 National Society for the Study of Education recognize the evolutionary power of childhood, school—which has from the beginning been a place set apart from the everyday world—becomes a creative place, a space of embodiment of an emergent culture in the form of reorganized habits and habitus. I: SCHOOLING AND NEOTENY: THE EVOLUTIONARY IMPERATIVE  AND PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION The Chinese character for the word “crisis” is made up of two words—“risk” and “opportunity.” The risk implied by the current educational situation in which—following the national coup of the NCLB legislation in 2001—we find ourselves, is an ominous one. The dictatorship of a one-dimensional, instrumentalist educational model over the institution of schooling on a national level could not be more threatening in the present circumstance, for it reinforces the very habitus and the very set of values that contribute to our moral crisis. “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” are quintessential representations of the hidden and explicit curricula of that form of education which justified the political philosopher Louis Althusser (2008) in identifying universal compulsory schooling as an “ideological state apparatus”: they replicate patterns of extreme competition, individualism, unthinking compliance with au-thorities, discouragement of deep learning or thinking, and passivity and willful ignorance in the public sphere. They reproduce a habitus too rigid to adapt successfully to changing circumstances, unless catastrophe and its aftermath be considered an adaptive process.The evolutionary advance that is called for by our current situation is the further realization of a form of modal subjectivity that expands what Darwin called the “instinct of sympathy” (2000, p. 166) from the “tribe” to the species as a whole. In Darwin’s account, the core of the moral sense lies in this “instinct,” which is srcinally called forth by the tribe’s need for “mutual aid in attack or defense” (p. 165). As such, it is postulated on the necessity of an enemy. In an era of global interdependence, the evolutionary imperative is that the tribe become identified with the spe-cies as a whole, and the enemy transformed into whatever crisis threat-ens it, be it pollution, militarism, environmental catastrophe, or various forms of social, political, and economic totalitarianism, whether “soft” or “hard.” This shift from nationalism to internationalism—called for, in fact, by Dewey (1920) at the end of WWI—is clearly already visible in  world affairs, and is generally regarded—given what he referred to as the “plasticity” of the young—as heavily dependent upon education as a driving force. But education by an ideological state apparatus is based on the reproduction of a form of nationalism that is a regressive tribal phenomenon writ large. As such, it ignores the evolutionary imperative, and prevents the integration of individual and universal morality upon  Childhood, Schooling, and Universal Morality 65  which the broader application of the “instinct of sympathy” to the species as whole depends. Where risk is intensified, the Chinese character implies, so is oppor-tunity. The opportunity represented by the crisis involves re-imagining the school as a cultural apparatus that allows for the nurturance, en- couragement and exercise of collective morality—or, more specifically, the operationalization of the instinct of sympathy on a universal scale. Educationalists who pay respectful attention to the population they work  with—children—have an imaginative advantage here, in that the child -hood of the species is in fact the very emblem of evolutionary advance. This advantage is even further enhanced to the extent that the privileged discourse in the “West” reflects what the anthropologist and historian of childhood David Lancy (2008) has called a “neontocracy”—a society in  which childhood and youth are recognized and even treasured as the cre -ative vanguard of optimal species adaptation. This historically emergent philosophy of childhood reflects an emergent form of the adult-child re-lation, one that encounters both the plasticity and the capacity for agency of childhood in the interest of the reconstruction of the habitus, and  which understands the school as a site for addressing the moral crisis that currently paralyzes our ability to address the planetary crisis. The modern affirmation of the evolutionary potential of childhood first emerged as a cultural theme in the late eighteenth century, an- nounced in the influential Emile of Rousseau (1979), where it can be identified as a prophetic statement of the “new humanity” represented by the aspirations of the French and American Revolutions. While in Rousseau it was stated in the context of an aristocratic home schooling ideal, it entered the discourse of mass schooling in the Romantic educa- tors Pestalozzi and Froebel and their followers, was carried forward in socialist, anarchist and libertarian discourses throughout the nineteenth century, and reached American shores in the Progressive movement that flowered early in the twentieth, where it was most succinctly summarized in Dewey’s (1916) philosophy of education as continual growth and re - construction—which in itself took its most compelling metaphors from evolutionary biology. These philosopher-educators were newly oriented to understand the child-adult collective called school, not as a reproductive apparatus but as an embryo of a society in continual reconstruction, dedicated to the nurturing of an emergent modal subjectivity, a new humanity in a form of collective awareness that more fully realizes its evolutionary potential for individual and collective human thriving. Although muddied by the convulsions of the first half of the twentieth century and ultimately sup-pressed by the reactionary culture of the Cold War, this educational ideal  was stated again during the period of economic prosperity of the 1960s
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