[Discuss-sudbury-model] the training for the new democracy - Mary Parker Follett

From: David Rovner <rovners_at_netvision.net.il>
Date: Thu Nov 17 23:01:01 2005


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     the training for the new democracy
     In this piece Mary Parker Follett sets out some key elements of what might be involved in education for democracy. Reproduced from M. P. Follett (1918) The New State, New York: Longman Green and Co.

      see also:

      Mary Parker Follett, The New State (1918)
      Appendix:The Training For The New Democracy


            Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933) occupies a very significant place in the development of thinking and practice around adult and informal education. Her contribution can be seen in three particular arenas. First, her involvement in, and advocacy of, community centers in the first two quarters of the twentieth century did a great deal to establish them as an important social and educational form. Second, her theorizing around the notions of community, experience and the group, and how these related to the individual and to the political domain broke new ground - and was 'far ahead of her time' (Konopka 1958: 29). It provided a key element in the development of the theorizing and practice of groupwork and community development and organization. For example, her argument that democracy could only work if individuals organized themselves into neighbourhood groups, and people's needs, desires and aspirations were attended to was fundamental to the sorts of thinking that emerged. Last, she was able to help key figures like Henry Croly and Eduard Lindeman not only to develop their thinking, but also to access important sources of financial help.

            his appendix, according to Stewart (1987: 146) 'one of the earliest of scholarly writings on adult education in the United States'. It is marked by many of the concerns around education from everyday living and lifelong learning that Lindeman was to set out in his Meaning of Adult Education (1926) and that came to the fore in the famous 1919 Report in England.

            links: Mary Parker Follett and informal education | Eduard Lindeman and informal education
            reference: Stewart, D. W. (1987) Adult Learning in America: Eduard Lindeman and his agenda for lifelong education, Malabar, Fl.: Robert E. Krieger.

      [page 363] The training for the new democracy must be from the cradle — through nursery, school and play, and on and on through every activity of our life. Citizenship is not to be learned in good government classes or current events courses or lessons in civics. It is to be acquired only through those modes of living and activitie which shall teach us how to grow the social consciousness. This should be the object of all day school education, of all night school education, of all our supervised recreation, of all our family life, of our club life, of our civic life.

      When we change our ideas of the relation of the individual to society, our whole system of education changes. What we want to teach is interdependence, that efficiency waits on discipline, that discipline is obedience to the whole of which I am a part. Discipline has been a word long connected with school life — when we know how to teach social discipline, then we shall know how to “teach school.”

      The object of education is to fit children into the life of the community. (1) Every cooperative method conceivable, therefore, must be used in our schools for this end. It is at school that children should begin to learn group initiative, group responsibifity — in other words social functioning. The group process must be learnt by practice. We should therefore teach subjects which require a working together, we should have group recitations, group investigations, and a gradual plan of self-government. Every child must be shown his place in the life that builds and his relation to all others who are building. All the little daily and hourly experiences of his interrelations must be constantly interpreted to him. Individual competition must, of course, disappear. All must see that the test of success is ability to work with others, not to surpass others.

      Group work is, indeed, being introduced into our more progressive schools. Manual training, especially when the object made is large enough to require the work of two or more, cooking classes, school papers, printing classes etc., give opportunity for organization into groups with the essential advantage of the group: coordinated effort.

      Moreover, we should have, and are beginning to have, group recitations. A recitation should not be to test the pupil but to create something. Every pupil should be made to feel that his point of view is slightly different from any one’s else, and that, therefore, he has something to contribute. He is not to “recite” something which the teacher knows already; he is to contribute not only to the ideas of his fellow-pupils but also to those of his teacher. And this is not impossible even for the youngest. Once when I was in Paris I made the acquaintance of little Michael, a charming English boy of five, who upon being taken to the Louvre by his mother and asked what be thought of the Mona Lisa, replied, with a most pathetic expression, “I don’t think she looks as if she liked little boys.” That was certainly a contribution to Mona Lisa criticism.

      But after the child has been taught in his group recitation to contribute his own point of view, he must immediately be shown that he cannot over-insist upon it; he must be taught that it is only a part of the truth, that he should be eager for all the other points of view, that all together they can find a point of view which no one could work out alone. In other words we can teach collective thinking through group recitations.

      A group recitation may give each pupil the feeling that a whole is being created: (1) by different points of view being brought out and discussed, and (2) by every one contributing something different: one will do some extra reading, one will bring clippings from newspapers and periodicals, one will take [page 365] his camera to the Art Museum and take pictures of the casts. Thus we get life, and the lesson of life, into that hour. Thus may we learn the obligation and the joy of “belonging,” not only when our school goes to play some other school, but in every recitation hour of the day. The old idea was that no one should help another in a recitation; the new idea is that every one is to help every one else. The kind of competition you have in a group recitation is whether you have added as much as any one else. You now feel responsible not only for your contribution but that the recitation as a whole should be a worthy thing. Such an aim will overcome much of the present classroom indifference.

      Many more of the regular school activities could be arranged on a group basis than is now thought possible — investigation for instance. This is a big word, but the youngest children sent out to the woods in spring are being taught “original research.”

      Again, every good teacher teaches her pupils to “assemble” his different thoughts, shows them that a single thought is not useful, but only as it is connected with others. The modem teacher is like the modem curator who thinks the group significance of a particular classification more important than the significance of each isolated piece. The modem teacher does not wish his pupils’ minds to be like an old-fashioned museum —a hodge-podge of isolated facts — but a useful workshop.

      Again, to learn genuine discussion should be considered an essential part of our education. Every child must be trained to meet the clash of difference — difference of opinion, difference of interest— which life brings. In some universities professors are putting aside one hour a week for a discussion hour. This should be done in all colleges and schools, and then it should be seen to that it is genuine discussion that takes place in that hour.

      Moreover, in many schools supervised playground and gymnasium activities are being established, athletic clubs encouraged, choruses and dramatic leagues developed, not only because of their value from the health or art point of view, but because they teach the social lesson.

      [page 365] The question of self-government in the schools is too complicated a subject and has met with too many difficulties, notwithstanding its brilliant successes, to take up here, but undoubtedly some amount of self-control can be given to certain groups, and in the upper’ grades to whole schools, and when this can be done no training for democracy is equal to the practice of democracy.

      The aim is to create such a mental atmosphere for children that it is natural for them to wish to take their part, to make them understand that citizenship is not obeying the laws nor voting, nor even being President, (2) but that all the visions of their highest moments, all the aspirations of their spiritual nature can be satisfied through their common life, that only thus do we get “practical politics.”

      In our industrial schools it is obviously easier to carry further the teaching of coordinated effort than in the regular day schools.

      Our evening schools must adopt the methods of the more progressive day schools, and must, as they are doing in many cases, add to the usual activities of evening schools.

      The most conscious and deliberate preparation for citizenship is given by the “School Centres” now being established all over the United States. The School Centre movement is a movement to mould the future, to direct evolution instead of trusting to evolution. The subject of this book has been the necessity for community organization, but the ability to meet this necessity implies that we know how to do that most difficult thing in the world — work with other people: that we are ready to sacrifice individual interests to the general good, that we have a fully developed sense of responsibility, that we are trained in initiative and action. But this is not true. If the School Centres are to fill an important place in neighborhood life, they must not only give an opportunity for the development of neighborhood consciousness and neighborhood organization, but they must train up young people to be ready for neighborhood organization. We who believe [page 365] in the School Centre as one of the most effective means we have for reconstructing city life believe that the School Centre can furnish this training. We hear everywhere of the corruption of American municipal politics, but why should the next generation do any better than the present unless we are training our young men and women to a proper understanding of the meaning of good citizenship and the sense of their own responsibility? The need of democracy today is a trained citizenship. We must deliberately train for citizenship as for music, art or trade. The School Centres are, in fact, both the prophecy of the new democracy and a method of its fulifiment. They provide an opportunity for its expression, and at the same time give to men and women the opportunity for the training needed to bring it to its highest expression.

      The training in the School Centres consists of: group-activities, various forms of civic clubs and classes, and practice in self-government.

      First, we have in the Centres those activities which require working together, such as dramatic and choral clubs, orchestras and bands, civic and debating clubs, folk-dancing and team-games. We want choral unions and orchestras, to be sure, because they will enrich the community life at the same time that they emphasize the neighborhood bond, we want civic and debating clubs because we all need enlightenment on the subjects taken up in these clubs, but the primary reason for choosing such activities is that they are group activities where each learns to identify himself with a social whole. This is the first lesson for all practical life. Take two young men in business. One says of his firm, “They are doing so and so”: his attitude is that the business is a complete whole, without him, to which he may indeed be ministering in some degree. Another young man who has been a few weeks with an old-established firm says “We have done so and so for years,” “Our policy is so and so.” You perhaps smile but you know that he possesses one of the chief requirements for rising.

      In our group the centre of consciousness is transferred from our private to our associate life. Thus through our group [page 368] activities does neighborhood life become a preparation for neighborhood life; thus does it prepare us for the pouring out of strength and strain and effort in the common cause.

      Then the consciousness of the solidarity of the group leads directly to a sense of responsibility, responsibility in a group and for a group. Sooner or later every one in a democracy must ask himself, what am I worth to society? Our effort in the Centres is to help the birth of that moment. This is the social lesson: for people to understand that their every act, their work, their home-life, the kind of recreation they demand, the kind of newspapers they read, the bearing of their children, the bringing up of their children — that all these so-called private acts create the city in which they live. It is not just when we vote, or meet together in political groups, or when we take part in some charitable or philanthropic or social scheme, that we are performing our duty to society. Every single act of our life should be looked at as a social act.

      Moreover, we learn responsibility for our group as well as to our group. We used to think, “I must do right no matter what anyone else does.” Now we know how little that exhausts our duty; we must feel an equally keen responsibility for our whole group.

      These then are the lessons which we hope group activities will teach — solidarity, responsibility and initiative, — how to take one’s place worthily in a self-directed, self-governing community.

      In the first year of one of our Boston Centres, the people of a certain nationality asked if they might meet regularly at the Centre. At their first meeting, however, they broke up without accomplishing anything, without even deciding to meet again, simply because those present had never learned how to do things with other people. Each man seemed a little island by himself. They explained to me the fact that they made no plans for further meeting by saying that they found they did not know parliamentary law, and some of them must learn parliamentary law before they could organize. I did not feel, however, that that was the real reason. I was sure it was because they had never been accustomed to do [page 368] things in groups — they had probably never belonged to a basket-ball team or a dramatic club — and we have to learn the trick of association as we have to learn anything else.

      But the Centres prepare for citizenship not only by group activities but also by direct civic teaching. This takes the form not only of lectures, classes in citizenship, but also of societies like the “junior city councils” or the “legislatures” where municipal and state questions are discussed, and young men’s and young women’s civic clubs. And it must be remembered that the chief value of these clubs is not the information acquired, not even the interest aroused, but the lesson learned of genuine discussion with all the advantages therefrom. (3)

      But I have written as if it were our young people who were to be educated by the group activities of the Centres, as if the young people were to have the training for democracy and the older people the exercise of democracy. Nothing could be further from my thoughts. The training for democracy can never cease while we exercise democracy. We older ones need it exactly as much as the younger ones. That education is a continuous process is a truism. It does not end with graduation day; it does not end when “life” begins. Life and education must never be separated. We must have more life in our universities, more education in our life. Chesterton says of H. G. Wells, “One can lie awake nights and hear him grow.” That it might be said of all of us! We need education all the time and we all need education. The “ignorant vote” does not (or should not) mean the vote of the ignorant, we get an ignorant vote very often from educated people; an ignorant vote means ignorance of some particular subject.

      A successful business man said to me the other day, “I graduated from college with honors, but all I learned there has done me little good directly. What I got out of college was an attitude towards life: that life was a matter of constantly learning, that my education had begun and was going on as long as I lived.” Then he went on to say, “This is the attitude I want somehow to get into my factory. Boys and [page 370] girls come to me with the idea, ‘School is over, learning is behind me, now work begins.’ This is all wrong. I am now planning a school in connection with my factory, not primarily on account of what they will learn in the school, but in order to make them see that their life of steady learning is just beginning and that their whole career depends on their getting this attitude.” Now this is what we want the Centres to do for people: to help them acquire the attitude of learning, to make them see that education is for life, that it is as valuable for adults as for young people.

      We have many forms of adult education: extension courses, continuation and night schools, correspondence schools, courses in settlements, Young Men’s Christian Associations etc. And yet all these take a very small per cent of our adult population. Where are people to get this necessary education? Our present form of industry does not give enough. Tending a machine all day is not conducive to thought (4); a man thus employed gets to rely entirely on his foreman. The man who lets his foreman do his thinking for him all day tends to need a political boss at night. We must somehow counteract the paralyzing effect of the methods of modern industry. In the School Centre we have an opportunity for adult education in the only forms in which many people, tired out with the day’s work, can take it: discussion, recreation, group activities and self-governing clubs. The enormous value of that rapidly spreading movement, the forum movement, and its connection with the School Centres, there is space here only to mention.

      Many people, however, even if not the majority, are eager and hungry for what one man spoke to me of as “real education.” University extension work is spreading rapidly and in many cases adapting itself marvelously to local needs; a much closer connection could be made between the opportunities of the university and the training of the citizen for his proposed increased activity in the state by having university extension work a recognized part of the School Centre, so that every one, the farmer or the humblest workman, might [page 371] know that even although he cannot give all his time to college life, he may have the advantage of its training. In the School Centre should be opportunity for the study of social and economic conditions, the work of constitutional conventions, the European situation and our relation to it, the South American situation and our relation to it, etc. etc.

      Moreover, we must remember when we say we all need more education, that even if we could be “entirely” educated, so to speak, at any one minute, the next minute life would have set new lessons for us. The world is learning all the time about health, food values, care of children etc. All that science discovers must be spread. Adult education means largely the assimilation of new ideas; from this point of view no one can deny its necessity.

      I have said that the Centres prepare for citizenship through group activities, through civic clubs and classes and through actual practice in self-government. The Centres may be a real training in self-government, a real opportunity for the development of those qualities upon which genuine self-direction depends, by every club or group being self-governed, and the whole Centre self-directed and self-controlled by means of delegates elected from each club meeting regularly in a Central Council. If we want a nation which shall be really self-governed not just nominally self-governed, we must train up our young people in the ways of self-direction.

      ~ Moreover, the development of responsibility and self-direction will be the most effective means of raising standards. We are hearing a great deal just now of regulated recreation, regulated dance halls etc. We must give regulation a secondary place. There is something better than this which ought to be the aim of all recreation leaders, that is, to educate our young people to want higher standards by interpreting their own experience to them and by getting them to think in terms of cause and effect. You can force a moral code on people from above yet this will change them very little, but by a system of self-governing clubs with leaders who know how to lead, we can make real progress in educating people to higher standards. This is true of athletic games as well as of dances.

       [page 372] We find, indeed, that it is true of all parts of our Centre work. Through the stormy paths of club election of officers, I have seen leaders often guide their young men to an understanding of honest politics. It is usually easier, it is true, to do for people, it is easier to “regulate” their lives, but it is not the way to bring the results we wish. We need education, not regulation.

      Self-government in the Centres then means not only the election of officers and the making of a constitution, but a real management of club and Centre affairs, the opportunity to take initiative, to make choices and decisions, to take responsibility. The test of our success in the Centres will always be how far we are developing the self-shaping instinct. But we must remember that we have not given self-government by allowing the members of a club to record their votes. Many people think a neighborhood association or club is self-governing if a question is put to them and every one votes upon it. But if a club is to be really self-governed it must first learn collective thinking. This is not a process which can be hurried, it will take time and that time must not be grudged. Collective thinking must be reverenced as an act of creation. The time spent in evolving the group spirit is time spent in creating the dynamic force of our civilization.

      Moreover each Centre should be begun, directed and supported (as far as possible) by the adult people of a community acting together for that end. A Centre should not be an undertaking begun by the School Committee and run by the School Committee, but each Centre should be organized by local initiative, to serve local needs, through methods chosen by the people of a district to suit that particular district.

      The ideal School Centre is a Community Centre. A group of citizens asks for the use of a schoolhouse after school hours, with heat, light, janitor, and a director to make the necessary connection between the local undertaking and the city department. Then that group of citizens is responsible for the Centre: for things worth while being done in the schoolhouse, and for the support of the activities undertaken. By the time such a School Centre is organized by such an association of [page 373] citizens, neighbors will have become acquainted with one another in a more vital way than before, and they will have begun to learn how to think and to act together as a neighborhood unit.

      We are coming to a more general realization of this. In the municipal buildings in the parks of Chicago, the people are not given free lectures, free moving pictures, free music, free dances etc.; they are invited to develop their own activities. To the Recreation Centres of New York, operated by the Board of Education, are being added the Community Centres controlled by local boards of neighbors. In Boston we have under the School Committee a department of “The Extended Use of School Buildings,” and the aim is to get the people of each district to plan, carry out and supervise what civic, educational and recreational activities they wish in the schoolhouses.

      A Chicago minister said the other day that the south side of Chicago was the only part of the city where interest in civic problems and community welfare could be aroused, and this he said was because of the South Park’s work in field houses, clubrooms and gymnasiums for the last ten or twelve years.

      When the chairman of the Agricultural Council of Defense of Virginia asked a citizen of a certain county what he thought the prospects were of being able to rouse the people in his county in regard to an increased food production, the prompt reply was, “On the north side of the county we shall have no trouble because we have several Community Leagues there, but on the south side it will be a hard job.”

      The School or Community Centre is the real continuation school of America, the true university of true democracy.

      (1) The western states feel that they are training members of society and not individuals and that is why it seems proper to them to take public money to found state universities.

      2) A little girl I know said, “Mother, if women get the vote, shall I have to be President?”

      (3) See pp. 208—212.

      (4) 1 Also men have less opportunity for discussion at work than formerly.

      This piece has been reproduced here on the understanding that it is not subject to any copyright restrictions, and that it is, and will remain, in the public domain.
      First placed in the archives: February 2002


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