Supplement for Sixth Class: Extramural Education, Educating Adults, and


The Primacy of Political Education


Copyright © 2023 Bruce W. Hauptli


I. Questions From Last Time. 


II. Chapter Eight: Extramural Education:


Significant education can occur outside the schools and the families, and, as in the schools, questions of funding and governance arise.  In the next two Chapters Gutmann discusses possible sources of democratic education and of “democratic culture” which lie outside the schools and democratic education of adults.  I believe these discussions are too limited and recognize they are unsatisfactory, but praise her attempt thee areas which many philosophies of education largely neglect. 




Gutmann discusses public libraries (232-238) contending that the importance of public libraries seems settled, but funding and governance need to be democratically determined:


238 without access to public libraries, parents must raise their children in a culture that treats books as any other commodity, and children must depend on the purchases of their parents.  A community that funds public libraries constrains its citizens in a different way.  Although no one is forced to use a library, citizens are forced to pay for them and to live in a society where children have easier access than they otherwise would to books that some parents may find objectionable.  The choice between communities must by its very nature be made collectively. 


Her discussion here is too limited, and given the role libraries provide for citizens of all ages, it needs to be more fulsome.  Given what she has said about the funding and governance of schools, however, we can infer that her principles of equality of opportunity to use libraries, tolerance, and “academic freedom,” should inform democratic decisions regarding governance and funding of public libraries.  She talks exclusively of books, but as we well know libraries provide story times, activities, study areas, internet access, and so much more. 


Television and Democratic Education & Culture:


Whereas libraries are local and can have significant positive benefits for democratic education and the promotion of democratic culture, Gutmann’s discussion of television’s role in and democratic education and in promoting democratic culture (pp. 238-251) notes that while its reach is much broader, it is far less beneficial.  First, public support for educational programming is more contentious both in terms of it funding and governance.  Moreover, much of television is passive and geared toward entertainment—it is difficult for the medium to promote critical thought or interaction with others.  She does note that programs like Sesame Street are of high educational value, but while governments may attempt to encourage educational offerings by licensing requirements, the move toward deregulation makes this an increasingly unlikely tactic. 


Thus her discussion of the role television can play in promoting democratic education and culture strongly parallels her discussion of the democratic education in the primary schools.  In both arenas the focus is not on democracy (in schools on training for employment and in television on entertainment):


246 television is as closely tied to democratic culture as schooling is to democratic education.  The analogy…properly suggests that among cultural media, television is uniquely powerful ad pervasive in our society.  It is probably the most influential, it is certainly the most universal culture to which children are exposed.  Because television shapes and conveys popular culture, it should be primarily publicly rather than privately controlled.  Like public authority over schools, public authority over television should be constrained by society as not to be repressive. 


She suggests that the British sort of mix of significant public and private television is a superior model for promoting democratic culture, but her discussion on pp. 247-251 does not provide a model for developing this in the case of programming for children (or for adults).  While we can see why she advocates public control, it is harder to believe it could readily be implemented, and in the current climate it does not seem to be without danger for the promotion of either democratic education or the enhancement of democratic culture. 


252-255 New Technology:


Here her discussion is clearly dated.  She discusses cable television, but is unable to successfully contend for either public funding or control of that medium.  In light of the fact that now the cable networks are “old” technology, it is clearly apparent that the newer ones (streaming TV, websites, information platforms, file sharing services, etc.) are even less subject to public control. 


III. Chapter Nine: Educating Adults:


258 Gutmann contends that “a substantial minority of American citizens are functionally illiterate.  Remember that she also contends that she contends that 148 “the main problem with primary schooling today” is not that it does enable high-school graduates to get good jobs


…but that it does not prepare students for democratic citizenship. 


In short, then, educating adults for democratic citizenship is essential! 


Adults and Democratic Culture, Democratic Perfectionism, Influence Over Culture, Access to Culture, and Cultural Freedom:


256-263 Gutmann begins this discussion by advocating for public funding for cultural education for adults as long as it is democratically approved (260).  Here she focuses on what might be called high culture (especially the arts).  She considers views of Rousseau, Rawls (and many others who believe such support is unwarranted and that taxation for such purposes is unwarranted) contending that


262 a democratic justification for subsidizing culture does not undercut the urgency of providing for the basic needs of citizens, but neither does the urgency of providing for basic needs undercut a democratic justification for subsidizing culture…. 


263 like all humanly designed tests, the market only partially measures what matters to us. 

  Democratic debate and deliberation are a different test, also a partial and imperfect one, of whether cultural institutions should be supported.  Because democratic processes ideally complement rather than compete with the market, the standards of value employed within democratic deliberations need not and preferably should not be market standards. 


She goes on to contend (263-267) that public support of culture must be constrained by the nondiscrimination and nonrepression constraints.  While she makes a good case, I believe her conception of “culture” may constrain her discussion here.  Her argument can easily be turned to public support of the “sports,” “recreational,” and “parks” cultures.  Unless she can make a particular case that education in the arts is uniquely supportive of democratic citizenship and virtues, the discussion here must the diversity of cultural conceptions in a pluralistic society. 


Adults and Primary and Higher Education Illiteracy:


270-281 Gutmann next considers the importance of supporting adults who wish to pursue higher education. 


217-273 She believes they present no particular problem regarding either public support or control over the earlier discussion of higher education except for the costs associated with extending higher education.  She also draws attention to private, corporate, union, and civilly supported adult educational programs. 


273-2 Illiteracy in adults presents a more important problem for democracy however.  Available programs (jointly financed by federal, state, and local sources) have limited success, and suffer from significant attendance and drop-out problems.  Moreover, it seems, at least at first glance, to be inappropriate to suggest compulsory democratic education for such adults.  So she begins her discussion of adult democratic literacy by trying to characterize its core elements:


276-277 (1) understanding the help-wanted ads in a local newspaper;

(2) knowing how to fill out a check and address an envelope;

(3) completing sixth grade;

(4) understanding a brief passage describing the function of the Supreme Court;

(5) giving a reasonable interpretation of any section of one’s state constitution. 


277 She notes, however, that “…90 percent of seventeen-year-olds can read and describe a help-wanted ad in the newspaper, but less than 60 percent are able to understand a brief passage describing the role of the Supreme Court.  Unless we radically narrow our ideal of democratic citizenship—to include only he ability to get a job and not the ability to participate effectively in democratic politics—we cannot count the first three accomplishments, or any longer list of similarly economically oriented accomplishments, a sufficient measure of functional [democratic] literacy.” 


Remember that Gutmann said that our compulsory primary education fails to provide functional democratic literacy, though it clearly provides functional economic literacy (147-148).  She contended that it is necessary for democracy that primary education provide future democratic citizens with the former not just the latter.  However, here (278-279) she notes that many capable citizens do not seem to be able to meet conditions (4) and (5).  She also contends that adults who cannot read or write can stay informed and be politically active.  She concludes this speaks against the wisdom of trying to come up with a simple characterization of the necessary and sufficient characteristics of a democratic education:


279 democracy is educationally demanding, but its first and foremost demand is that adults be treated as sovereign citizens not a students of philosophers or the subjects of kings.  This is why we encounter no paradox, only a serious problem, when we acknowledge that democratic states have the authority to make schooling compulsory for children but not for adults who fall below the democratic threshold of education.  Since the threshold defines not a fully but an adequately educated citizen, this constraint on democratic authority may leave many adults less that adequately educated.  A stricter constraint—mandating the maxim education—is ruled out by our recognition of the primacy of treating adults as sovereign citizens. 


279-281 While illiteracy amongst adults can lead them into dependency and humiliation, compulsory education for adults is not justified.  Of course, voluntary publicly (and privately) supported adult educational opportunities are both appropriate and advisable. 


IV. Conclusion: The Primacy of Political Education:


282 Gutmann begins her conclusion by noting that laws which violate the principles of nondiscrimination or nonrepression may arise in any democracy, and educational laws may fail to institute practices which educate children to become responsible citizens.  The fact that education or citizenship is very demanding makes such lapses understandable. 


282-287 Discretion In Work and Participation In Politics:


282-285 The aims of democratic education will not be fully realized until citizens have additional opportunities to exercise discretion in their daily work.  Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and many others recognize that industrial employment can work against democratic engagement of citizens. 


287-288 Political Education:


288 Democratic politics puts a high premium on citizens being both knowledgeable and articulate, and democratic education must be a shared trust between parents, citizens, teachers, and public officials—it thrives when all these participants are responsible democratic deliberators.  


Democratic Education and Democratic Theory:


In this section Gutmann emphasizes that democratic education provides the foundation upon which democratic society.  But the “dependency is reciprocal.”  If the participants in the education of future citizens are not democratically inclined, the education provided may not yield citizens who are democratic. 


288-289 ...our concern for democratic education lies at the core of our commitments to democracy.  The ideal of democracy is often said to be collective self-determination.  But is there a “collective self” to be determined?  Are there not just so many individual selves that must find a fair way of sharing the goods of a society together?  It would be dangerous (as critics often charge) to assume that the democratic state constitutes the “collective self” of a society, and that its policies in turn define the best interests of its individual members. 

  We need no such metaphysical assumption, however, to defend an ideal closely related to that of collective self-determination—an ideal of citizens sharing in deliberatively determining the future shape of their society.  If democratic society is the “self” that citizens determine, it is a self that does not define their best interests.  There remain independent standards for defining the best interests of individuals and reasons for thinking that individuals, rather than collectivities, are often the best judges of their own interests.  To avoid the misleading metaphysical connotations of the concept of collective self-determination, we might better understand the democratic ideal as that of conscious social reproduction, the same ideal that guided democratic education. 


289 The dependency is reciprocal. 


But doesn’t this raise “the chicken and egg problem”: if deliberative democratic citizens are needed for democratic education, and democratic education is necessary if we are to have democratic education, isn’t democracy impossible? 


289-290 Similarly, families are not democratic, yet they play an important role in democratic education, which may promote increased democracy in families. 


(end of chapter)


So, then how may the air of paradox be dispelled here?  Well, let’s look at American History:


were the English Colonies democratic? 


were all “Americans” revolutionaries? 


was the initial US Government under the Articles of Confederation democratic?  Was it approved by a vote of “the people” or by a vote “the colonies/states?”  Was there broad public discussion of the Articles? 


When that government was replaced by a Federal Constitution, was it approved by “the people” or “the States?”  Was there broad public discussion of the proposed Constitution?  Did such discussion yield changes in the Constitution? 


Were all “white” males able to vote at first?  When were women allowed to vote, “black” Americans, indigenous people? 


Did most citizens receive a “democratic education” initially?  How did that change over the past 247 years? 


While it wasn’t, in any way, guaranteed that a democracy would arise, did democratically-inclined (and educated) individuals successfully lead the way toward our imperfect democracy?  Were there always antidemocratically-inclined citizens? 


So, is there a paradox here, or a tender plant in need of careful care and cultivation? 


Are the histories of other democracies [England/United Kingdom, Switzerland, France, Germany, Japan, India….) much different? 



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Last revised on 04/04/23