It's all about decision-making

Mar 8, 2015

Late 19th century and early 20th century industrialists had to prevent workers from making decisions, because that would interfere with productivity. The effect was to reduce the lives of the works to sub-human routines (it may be worth comparing that practice with Josh Gibb's article from yesterday about the place of liturgies!). 

The labor unions were formed to defend the workers from abuse, but to a great extent they accepted the industrialist premise. People should not have to make their own decisions. 

Consequently, industry and labor have been in a perpetual conflict and the societies in which they grow suffer at their hands. 

Free people rule themselves, and ruling oneself means making one's own decisions. Freedom is an attainment, not a starting point.

In industrial society, freedom is redefined as the opportunity to do what you want, perhaps because people have so little opportunity to do so at work. 

To that extent, we should thank God for the demise of industrialism. 

But is freedom replacing it? 

I don't get that impression. Freedom, having been redefined as self-indulgence, is conceptually stuck in the industrial age. Perhaps we can see this as clearly as anywhere in the static approach we take to schooling. 

People learn how to make decisions only by making decisions. But what decisions can a student make in the typical school day? More or less to comply or not to comply. Is it too much of a stretch to say that the average pre-school child at home has more freedom (authority over his own life) while playing with his toys under his mother's supervision than the average high school student? I hope I am stretching, but as I write, I am not convinced that I am. 

But the goal of classical education, an education in the liberating arts, is freedom, and freedom is self-governance. How can we cultivate self-governance in the schools and still fulfill the vocation of a classical school? 

I want to hear your answers, because I think this is a difficult but important question. Why are we still educating children in forms developed under and demonstrably ineffective in the industrial era? Could the problem be at the level of governance? Culture? Curriculum? Assessment? Pedagogy? Community? 

Choose any one of those dimensions and help me think about this. How does your school's (or homes) governance, culture, curriculum, assessment, pedagogy, or community affect or interfere with the development of self-governance in the students/children? Who gets to make what decisions in the school? Can a student become free (self-governing) in an environment where the teachers are not? 

Reply to any of these questions and you will do me a great favor, and those we strive to serve too. 

Andrew  Kern

Andrew Kern

Andrew Kern is the founder and president of The CiRCE Institute and the co-author of the book, Classical Education: the Movement Sweeping America

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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