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Educational Method

( Originally Published 1915 )

Force a Temporary Check on Insubordination. Inasmuch as social order has been developed by slow degrees, control by force has, at times, been necessary as a temporary check upon insubordination ; but it is always soon replaced by other agencies. Gradually the idea has grown that other forms of control are cheaper and more easily administered ; and gradually other methods have become the usual ones. Since, however, the conscious effort of society to govern itself demands a recognition of the laws of social development and requires, among the component members of society, some ability to control themselves in the interests of the group, society cannot do better than to adopt the educational method as a means of establishing that high degree of intelligence necessary for democratic social control.

The Idea of Self-Government Demands Intelligence. We hear a great deal about the natural rights of self-government ; but if there are such rights, they must have their source in intelligence. All so-called natural rights must, after all, yield to the social choices of the community ; for no human being has the right to engage in practices detrimental either to himself or to others. Unfortunate, therefore, is the society that chooses popular government when its citizens have not a sufficient degree of intelligence to maintain it. As history shows us, every people that has succeeded in governing itself has been of general intelligence; and each republic that has failed may, in large part, trace the cause of such failure to the general ignorance of its people. As a matter of fact, where a few citizens are intelligent and strong and the great mass lacking in intelligence, the conditions fit an oligarchy rather than a democracy ; and if such conditions obtain for long, the ignorant many will be forced to yield to the intelligent few. When, therefore, the rulers of an ignorant people are sufficiently wise to consider the best interests of their subjects, a strong central government, founded on force, yields to its people larger immediate return of privilege and benefit than does any other form.

Public Opinion Must Be Improved by the General Education of All Members of Society. If the general intelligence is low, public opinion will, of necessity, be wrong in its premises ; and the type of political and social life which develops will then be undemocratic. It is, of course, possible for a community to maintain order on a low standard of social responsibility ; but only that society will be progressive and self-controlled in which public opinion is permeated with social idealism. And notwithstanding that, in any community, public opinion may some-times be created by a few of the more intelligent, the fact re-mains that unless the majority has sufficient intelligence to understand the ideas of the leaders and make them its own, society will be controlled, not by public opinion, but by the opinions of a dominant few. For it is only when the members are in intelligent and harmonious sympathy with one another that public opinion can receive full expression -- a condition involving, not only individual capacity, but the perfection of social machinery as well.

The Improvement of the Type of Government by Education. As education grows more and more general, the critical faculty of individuals, becoming stimulated, gradually raises the govern-mental ideal. But the development is, indeed, gradual ; for even when people have determined what is right, they some-times find it very difficult so to perfect the machinery of legislation and justice as to carry out their ideals. As a matter of fact, there is nothing in human experience that requires more foresight, ability, and harmonious social action than does the creation of laws for the government of a free people. And it is because the governmental machinery is so imperfect that self-government is both a wasteful and an expensive form of government. Each year our statute books show us new laws, useless or even detrimental to the best interests of the community.. Then, while, on the one hand, our courts of justice are slow to reach their decisions, on the other, our rapid industrial development is constantly creating conditions that require new legislation and new judicial decrees. An enlightened absolutism, therefore, which could anticipate the future needs of the people and by its mandates secure them at once, might, at first thought, seem preferable to the present unenlightened control by political demagogue and selfish trickster. But since there is no way of making sure that an absolutism will be socially enlightened, we are forced to choose the patent evils of a democracy rather than fly to others that we know not of ; and in a democratic form of government we can at least hope that a general diffusion of knowledge will raise the social ideals.

To What Extent Must All Laws Be Supported by Education or Training ? Through impulsive social action, or the imperfection of legislative machinery, it is possible to place upon the statute books laws which do not receive the support of the people whom they are intended to govern. In the first place, people may not have been prepared for them by sufficient preliminary discussion. Then, too, even after a new law has been enacted, the governmental machinery is often slow to come to its full support. During this period of lukewarm enforcement of the law, however, there is an educative process going on among the citizens ; and if the law has sufficient backing from the courts, the people may possibly become educated to its full and free support. But if the law is obnoxious to a large proportion of the people, a continual agitation will be kept up by the dissatisfied ones until the law is repealed by their representatives. There is now, for instance, a great cry for tax reform; yet the adjustment to a new tax law would not be easy. If the courts declared it to be a good and just law, and a sufficient number of the people were inclined to obey it, the public could gradually, through the process of education, be brought up to its standard of requirements. But it can safely be said that no law can succeed without the support of public opinion.

On the other hand, the law is an educator in itself. When once established by the will of any considerable part of the people, it is the expression of an ideal, a program of procedure ; and since all people look to it for guidance, it influences them to reach a uniform conclusion of right and wrong. A good example of this educative process of the law is found in the prohibition law of the state of Kansas. Because of certain political circumstances, this law was passed before a majority of the people of Kansas really desired it. To keep this statute in force, there-fore, it has been necessary for temperance workers to be constantly in the field, educating the public against the evils of drink and emphasizing the necessity of restrictive measures. But the fact that the public had, by legislative enactment, committed itself to the prohibitive measure was of great value to the temperance workers in their educative work. In spite of all efforts to the contrary, however, in those communities where the majority do not desire the enforcement of this law, it is violated to such an extent as not really to be enforced at all, And even in those communities where it is enforced, the constant vigilance of right-thinking people is necessary. Either before or after its enactment, therefore, there must be public discussion of a measure in order to get a majority of the people to assent intelligently to its enforcement.

Specific Training for Social Life. Thus the state that is to be perpetuated through self-government must see to it that its citizens are well educated ; and since a clumsy mode of procedure might destroy the best efforts of popular government, something more than a general intelligence is necessary. Beginning in the grammar grades and continuing with increased force, through the high school and the university, special training should be given in all the subjects that pertain to social order and social control. It is not the place here to state specifically what subjects should be taught and what methods should be used to bring about the desired end. Yet it may be said that everything that leads to an acquaintance with the political and industrial history of the nation, with its social and economic conditions, with its forms of government, its constitutional and common law, and, indeed, with its social relations, should be taught in its public schools.

Yet while the educating process should begin with the children and continue with the youth of the country, the work is not finished with the training of these. And although discussion of public questions and some little dissemination of information is secured through the press and the platform, these agencies are really inadequate to meet the growing need. A realization of this inadequacy has recently led to the fruitful suggestion that the present public forum, furnished by news-papers, books, periodicals, public lectures and addresses, be supplemented by neighborhood gatherings of adults in the community building, the schoolhouse, for the discussion of questions of common interest.' The suggestion has received the hearty indorsement of men of every political party and such leading educational and social bodies as the National Education Association, the National Federation of Woman's Clubs, the National Municipal League, the American Federation of Labor, the American Prison Congress, and three of the national political parties. And Wisconsin has already placed upon her statute books a law requiring that, upon the request of a certain number of citizens, the educational authorities shall open the doors of the schoolhouses for just such purpose.' In carrying out this project, there are, of course, such practical problems to be met as that of gaining a sufficient number of the people of a community to take an interest in the discussion of public questions and that of centering the responsibility for requisite leadership. But the suggestion is certainly most significant and most worthy of an honest endeavor to make the public school more effective in promoting the intelligence and social efficiency of that ninety odd per cent of our people who never get beyond the grammar grades of our schools. More than this, special technical schools preparatory to civil service should be maintained for those who expect to make government their vocation ; for if a state provides education for its own protection and general social well-being, and neglects the training of its officials, it is failing to use the best means it has for conscious development and social control.


BLACKMAR, F. W. Federal and State Aid to Higher Education in the United States.

MACKENZIE, J. S. Social Philosophy, pp. 351-366.

WARD, EDWARD J. The Social Center.

WARD, LESTER F. Dynamic Sociology, pp. 540-634.


1. Show why education, custom, tradition, religion, social suggestion, and all such methods, soon displace force in the government of a people.

2. Why is it more essential that the United States, for example, secure intelligence among her population than, let us say, Russia?

3. Why cannot self-government long remain unintelligent?

4. If education is for the purpose of securing an intelligent citizenship, what purpose is subserved by education in the classics? Industrial education?

3. State the arguments in favor of thorough preliminary discussion of a measure before it is enacted into law. Against such a procedure.

6. What arguments can be advanced in favor of putting the law on the statute books at the earliest possible date? Against such a method?

7. Cite examples of legislation enacted without much preliminary discussion.

8. Read, in Municipal Affairs, Vol. III, pp. 462 sq., and in The World's Work, Vol. V, pp. 3339 sq., the account of Dr. Leipziger's work in the public schools of New York City. Estimate the value of such work in a democracy.

Outlines Of Sociology:
Psychical Activities

Social Control

Aims Of Society

Ideals Of Government

Control By Force

Educational Method

Social Inequalities

Ideal Of Justice

Estimation Of Progress

Nature Of Social Pathology

Read More Articles About: Outlines Of Sociology

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