Supplement For Second Class : Preface, Introduction, and States and Education 


Copyright © 2023 Bruce W. Hauptli


Please read Gutmann’s Preface, Introduction, and Chapter One: States and Education.  You might also find my contrast between “indoctrination “and “education” interesting in “Education, Indoctrination, and Academic Freedom.”


We spent most of the first class discussing democracy and education and didn’t get to the prepared supplements and the text.  I mentioned some of the things covered in my A Quick Introduction to “Deliberative Democracy “ and Democratic Education and I recommend reading it, but will not cover it in class.  Questions about it are, of course, appropriate! 


I. Questions and concerns from the last class. 


II. Discussion of Gutmann’s “Preface to The Revised Edition” and “Introduction: Back to Basics:”


xii-xiii A guiding principle of deliberative democracy is reciprocity among free and equal individuals: citizens and their accountable representatives owe one another justifications for the laws that collectively bind them.  A democracy is deliberative to the extent that citizens and their accountable representatives offer one another morally defensible reasons for mutually binding laws in an ongoing process of mutual justification.  To the extent that a democracy is not deliberative, it treats people as objects of legislation, as passive subjects to be ruled, rather than as citizens who take part in governance by accepting or rejecting the reasons they and their accountable representatives offer for the laws and policies that mutually bind them. 

  Deliberative democracy underscores the importance of publicly supported education that develops the capacity to deliberate among all children as future free and equal citizens.  The most justifiable way of making mutually binding decisions in a representative democracy—including decisions not to deliberate about some matters—is by deliberative decision making, where the decision makers are accountable to the people who are most affected by their decisions.[1] 


Well, must she insist on “all students?  Should she?  Both here, and as we discuss her ideas in this course, we will have to consider whether parents, perhaps even “groups,” “have a right” to offer an alternative education.  Here we will also have to wonder whether a “competing” [democratic] responsibility outweighs such a right. 


In their Democracy and Disagreement: Why Moral Conflict Cannot Be Avoided In Politics, and What Should Be Done About It Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson maintain that making deliberative democracy work requires that each citizen must treat every other citizen reciprocally—that is as a political equal worthy of respect.  When this attitude is present, each “side” in a disagreement can work deliberatively to address, and potentially resolve the issue.  Even where this is not successful, it can yield understanding:


the principles of accommodation are based on a value that lies at the core of reciprocity and deliberation in a democracy—mutual respect.  It is what makes possible cooperation on fair terms.  Like toleration, mutual respect is a form of agreeing to disagree.  But mutual respect demands more than toleration.  It requires a favorable attitude toward, and constructive interaction with, the persons with whom one disagrees.  It consists in an excellence of character that permits a democracy to flourish in the face of fundamental moral disagreement.  This is a distinctively deliberative kind of character.  It is the character of individuals who are morally committed, self-reflective about their commitments, discerning of the differences between respectable and merely tolerable differences of opinion, and open to the possibility of changing their minds or modifying their positions at some time in the future if they confront unanswerable objections to their present point of view.

  Mutual respect not only helps sustain a moral community in the face of conflict but also can contribute toward resolving the conflict.[2]  


In the first citation Gutmann initially talks about a democracy being deliberative “to the extent that,” but the subsequent “universality “of the requirements for a democratic education for all children and that all citizens have “a deliberative character” are seemingly extreme.  Here we will have to ask whether she is describing “an ideal” or whether she is offering a “practical proposal” and either “most,” “many,” “a majority,” or “a large minority” would be sufficient.  One possibility here is that Gutmann (and Thompson) might want to contend that in our quasi-democracy too much emphasis has been placed on  “rights “ and almost no emphasis has been laid on  “responsibilities. “  I develop this sort of idea in my Hate Speech and Democratic Responsibility: Rights, Civility, and Responsibility contending that responsibilities are more basic and can outweigh (years ago I would have said ‘trump “) rights. 


Back to Gutmann:


xiv Democratic Education offers a principled defense of schooling whose aim is to teach the skills and virtues of democratic deliberation within a social context where educational authority is shared among parents, citizens, and professional educators. 


11 The most distinctive feature of a democratic theory of education is that it makes a democratic virtue out of our inevitable disagreement over educational problems.  The democratic virtue, too simply stated, is that we can publicly debate educational problems in a way much more likely to increase our understanding of education and each other than if we were to leave the management of the schools, as Kant suggests, “to depend entirely upon the judgment of the most enlightened experts.  The policies that result from our democratic deliberations will not always be the right ones, but they will be more enlightened—by the values and concerns of the many communities that constitute a democracy—than those that would be made by unaccountable educational experts. 


What does she mean by “democratic virtue?”  How is it different from moral virtue, religious virtue, cultural virtue.... 


We should pause, here, to consider how ancient the idea that education should be controlled by “experts.”  Think of Plato’s Republic and his views regarding education and democracy.... 


11-12 The primary aim of a democratic theory of education is not to offer solutions to all the problems plaguing our educational institutions, but to consider ways of resolving those problems that are compatible with a commitment to democratic values.  A democratic theory of education provides principles that, in the face of our social disagreements, help us judge (a) who should have authority to make decisions about education, and (b) what the moral boundaries of that authority are. 

  A democratic theory is not a substitute for a moral ideal of education.  In a democratic society, we bring our moral ideals of education to bear on how we raise our children, on who we support for school boards, and on what educational policies we advocate.  But we cannot simply translate our own moral ideals of education, however objective they are, in to public policy.  Only in a society in which all other citizens agreed with me would my moral ideal simply translate into a political idea. 


Really, she doesn’t want to offer solutions?  What does she mean by “considering ways of resolving problems that are compatible with a commitment to “democratic values?” 


Is her commitment to democratic values more “basic,” or fundamental than to her “moral values?”  Does she believes her commitment is one all individuals share?  Does she believe all her fellow citizens share it? 


Do you see elements of pragmatism in her view?  Could there be a connection here to John Dewey’s A Common Faith. 


Going back to the final sentence in the Gutmann cite, would it be enough for all the citizens to agree with her, or would she also want them to have done so deliberatively? 


13 A democratic society is responsible for educating not just some but all children for citizenship. 


Remember the earlier discussion about ‘all.’ 


14 A democratic theory of education recognizes the importance of empowering citizens to make educational policy and also of constraining their choices among policies in accordance with those policies—of nonrepression and nondiscrimination—that preserve the intellectual and social foundations of democratic deliberations.  A society that empowers citizens to make educational policy, moderated by these two principled constraints, recognizes the democratic ideal of education. 


16 Authority over education is the theoretical issue that organizes this book.  The central question posed by democratic education is: Who should have authority to shape the education of future citizens? 


III. Chapter One: States and Education:


In this chapter Gutmann discusses the educational theories of Plato, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill distinguishing between: “The Family State,” “The State of Families,” “The State of Individuals,” and “A Democratic State.”   


22-28 her discussion of The Family State focuses on Plato’s view that the ideal state is one ruled by philosophical experts [philosopher kings]” who exercise absolute paternalistic control over the citizens and the education future citizens.  Plato contends that “the ignorant many” are wholly unsuited for rule, and that the philosophical rulers may tell “noble lies” to the citizens to maintain political control because it is in the interests of the citizens who are incapable of knowledge—and thus cannot rule.  For Plato democracy is a terrible form of government.  Gutmann’s discussion concludes:


28 the family sate attempts to constrain our choices among ways of life and educational purposes in a way that is incompatible with our identity as parents and citizens.  In its unsuccessful attempt to do so, it successfully demonstrates that we cannot ground our conception of a good education merely on personal or political preferences.  Plato presents a forceful case for resting educational authority exclusively with a centralized state, a case grounded on the principle that knowledge should be translated into political power.  But even the Platonic case is not sufficiently strong to override the claims of parents and citizens to share in social reproduction, claims which I return in defending a democratic state of education. 


28-33 her discussion of The State of Families characterizes them as ones that place (32) “…educational authority exclusively in the hands of parents, thereby permitting parents to predispose their children, through education, to choose a way of life consistent with their familial heritage.”  She considers John Locke, Thomas Aquinas, and Charles Fried exemplars of this orientation and in the footnote on p. 29 cites the Irish Constitution’s claim that “recognizes the family as he natural primary and fundamental group of Society and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law” as clarification that civil society is a collection of individual families each of which has full authority over the education of future citizens. 


32-33 States that abdicate all educational authority to parents sacrifice their most effective and justifiable instrument for securing mutual respect among their citizens. 

  The “pluralism” commonly identified with the state of families is superficial because its internal variety serves as little more than an ornament for onlookers.  Pluralism is an important political value insofar as social diversity enriches our lives by expanding our understanding of differing ways of life.  To reap the benefits of social diversity, children must be exposed to ways of life different from their parents and—in the course of their exposure—must embrace certain values, such as mutual respect among persons, that make social diversity both possible and desirable. 


33-41 She discusses John Stuart Mill who embraces The State of Individuals which (34) “…responds to the weakness of both the family state and the state of individuals by championing the dual goals of opportunity for choice and neutrality among conceptions of the good life.  A just educational authority must not bias children’s choices among good lives, but it must provide every child with an opportunity to choose freely and rationally among the widest range of lives.” 


35 Her criticism of this orientation builds on the claim that “…the capacity for rational choice requires that we place some prior limitations on children’s choices.  To have a rational sense of what we want to become, we need to know who we are; otherwise our choices will be endless and meaningless.” 


37 She contends that “the same argument that holds against the family state holds against the state of individuals: being right is not a necessary or sufficient condition because parents and citizens have a legitimate interest (independent of their “rightness”) in passing some of their most salient values on to their children.”  Going on to say in the next paragraph “why must freedom be the sole end of education, given that most of us value things that conflict with freedom?  We value, for example, the moral sensibility that enables us to discriminate between good and bad lives.  A well-cultivated moral character constrains choice among lives at least as much as it expands choice.” 


39 We disagree over the relative value of freedom and virtue, the nature of the good life, and the elements of moral character.  But our desire to search for a more inclusive ground presupposes a common commitment that is, broadly speaking, political.  We are committed to collectively re-creating the society that we share.  Although we are not collectively committed to any particular set of educational aims, we are committed to arriving at an agreement on our educational aims (an agreement that could take the form of justifying a diverse set of educational aims and authorities). 


Who is included in her ‘we’?  She wrote in 1987 and 1999, and I think she clearly believe it applies today—but is this true of all of us, most of us, a majority of us, …?  The importance of this question needs to be emphasized, as is evidenced by the current situation in Florida.  Of course, in February of 2023 any discussion of “states and education “is going to suggest a discussion of the situation in Florida. 


41-47 Finally, she advances A Democratic State of Education in contrast to the other conceptions:


42 the broad distribution of educational authority among citizens, parents, and professional educators supports the core value of democracy: conscious social reproduction in its most inclusive form.  Unlike a family state, a democratic state recognizes the value of parental education in perpetuating particular conception of the good life.  Unlike a state of families, a democratic state recognizes the value of professional authority in enabling children to appreciate and to evaluate ways of life other than those favored by their families.  Unlike a state of individuals, a democratic state recognizes the value of political education in predisposing children to accept those ways of life that are consistent with sharing the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic society.  A democratic state is therefore committed to allocating educational authority in such a way as to provide its members with an education adequate to participating in democratic politics, to choosing among (a limited range of) good lives, and to sharing in the several sub-communities, such as families, that impart identity to the lives of its citizens. 


44 …a democratic state must aid children in developing the capacity to understand and to evaluate competing conceptions of the good life and the good society.  The value of critical deliberation among good lives and good societies would be neglected by a society that inculcated in children uncritical acceptance of any particular way or ways of (personal and political) life….To integrate the value of critical deliberation among good lives, we must defend some principled limits on political and parental authority over education, limits that in particular require parents and states to cede some educational authority to professional educators. 

  One limit is that of nonrepression. 


45 A second principled limit on legitimate democratic authority, which also follows from the primary of democratic education, is nondiscrimination. 


An important background point here is a contrast between the pluralistic view under consideration and Plato’s view that there is only one good life for human beings—a life n accord of the dictates of deductive philosophical wisdom—and if individuals can not attain the level of philosophical knowledge needed to understand this life, they needed to have this good life imposed upon them.  The idea that there is only one good life has been deeply ingrained in Western Culture (whether the discussion is regarding morality or the good life more generally), though Plato’s particular view has never gained the wide acceptance he hoped for. 


46-47 In the chapters that follow, I treat the theory just sketched as a guide to moral reasoning rather than as a set of rigid rules from which we can logically derive public policies.  The theory of democratic education builds upon a critique of most influential existing theories rather than upon a closed system of self-evident axioms,….It makes no claim to being a logically tight system of axioms, principles, and conclusions that flow from them….The distinctive virtue of a democratic theory of education is that its principles and conclusion are compatible with our commitment to share the rights and the obligations of citizenship with people who do not share our complete conception of the good life.  To the extent that Americans share (or insist on living in a way that requires us to share) this commitment, a democratic theory of education commands our allegiance. 


Notes: [click on the footnote number to return to the passage in the text

[1] Amy Gutmann, Democratic Education (Princeton: Princeton U.P., [1987] 1999), p. xii-xiii.  Emphasis (bold and italics) have been added and will be added often to subsequent citations.  All further citations to this work in this and the ensuing supplements will be begin with the page number as this one did, but will have no further footnotes. 

[2] Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, Democracy and Disagreement: Why Moral Conflict Cannot Be Avoided In Politics, and What Should Be Done About It (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1996), pp. 79-80.  Emphasis [bold] added to the passage.  For a quick characterization of deliberative democracy see my “A Quick Introduction To Deliberative Democracy and Democratic Education.” 


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Last revised on 03/20/23