Education presents not one problem, therefore, but many. In the earlier years, to be sure, all children need much the same intellectual experience, at least in school. “The fundamentals” are the subjects everybody ought to master. Thus at first there is only the complexity of meeting individual differences among children—the brilliant, the backward, the well nurtured, the neglected. Complexity enough! And even so, each subject presents, besides, its own problem of social interpretation: “What everybody ought to master” in arithmetic or in geography is by no means clear, and new definitions of the aim and scope of each subject are continually needed. Such definitions must be made from the standpoint of public service and the real demands of life, not from the standpoint of complete mastery of the subject. A social view of education demands selection and reorganization of the elements of knowledge. But beyond this is the fact that children cannot long be kept in the same educational highway. The need to separate arises at least as early as adolescence, the end of childhood and the gate of youth. Here differences of native endowment, economic condition, and conscious purpose force the first fundamental differentiation of schools, courses, and classes. Even if, in some millennium of social justice, the stern necessity of earning a living in the teens were to be done away, the social necessity for variety of schooling would remain. Society needs many kinds of thinkers and workers, just as there are many kinds of aptitude to be trained. There is no “general course” which can provide an “all-round education,” in the sense of providing all that is really needful for anybody who knows what is good for him. To discover the best in education for one child or class of children, though with the public interest well in mind, is to answer but one of the questions the educator must hereafter always ask.

For the public interest goes far beyond the need of supplying to all a uniform minimum of schooling. Democracy means far more in education than the warding off of danger from illiteracy. It is a crude and at bottom a wholly mistaken view of public education which confines it to “the three R’s,” or to those admitted necessities and such other subjects as the common good may dictate for the common school. The public interest is not met by merely elementary education. It is met only when every prospective citizen may secure without undue sacrifice that extent and kind of education which will make him most efficient in his fundamental social relationships, including his vocation. The state needs knowledge, efficiency, insight, and idealism in industry, commerce, the arts, science, philosophy, religion, and family life as much as in citizenship more narrowly defined. The only logical result of the thoroughly social character of education is public support of every socially profitable kind of schooling, with commensurate public authority.

Democracy in education invites, to be sure, the evils of political control; yet education is one of the few permanent means of counteracting political evil. No one need fear to trust educational authority to a public aroused to the meaning and value of education, and this essential condition of public support depends on the slow growth of public conscience and public intelligence. In any case, private initiative will long have an honorable part to play in education and the very policy of the state may often best be served by leaving the special and the higher schools in private hands: but there are a few communities in which the extension of public provision and public authority in education is not imperative.

Of that extension what must be the guiding conceptions? Before all else must come the honesty of an attitude at once scientific and ethical. Educators must face the facts, without abatement of their enthusiasm for ideals.

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