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While the direct responsibility of the political state for popular education may be counted among the primary conceptions of democracy, it has required several generations of American life to overcome the antagonistic social circumstances. Even now it may be said that another generation or two will pass before education, by and through the state, will be generally accepted as the ordinary means for the accomplishment of the extraordinary ends of providing a complete individual basis for social stability and progress and also an enduring social environment for the exercise of individual capabilities.
Out of the great mass of material dealing with state education, from the point of view of social theory, the following representative interpretations have been selected as illustrative of a positive attitude toward the question of education in the proper functioning of the state.
1. The Boundaries of State Action [From Wilson, Woodrow, The State (Boston, 1900, Rev. Ed.),
pp. 637-639.] Natural Limits to State Action. - And that there are natural and imperative limits to state action no one who seriously studies the structure of society can doubt. The limit of state functions is the limit of necessary coöperation on the part of society as a whole, the limit beyond which such combination ceases to be imperative for the public good and becomes merely convenient for industrial or social enterprise. Coöperation is necessary in the sense here intended when it is indispensable to the equalization of the conditions of endeavor, indispensable to the maintenance of uniform rules of individual rights and relationships, indispensable because to omit it would inevitably be to hamper or degrade some for the advancement of others in the scale of wealth and social standing.
There are relations in which men invariably have need of each other, in which universal coöperation is the indispensable condition of even tolerable existence. Only some universal authority can make opportunities equal as between man and man.
The divisions of labor and the combinations of commerce may for the most part be left to contract, to free individual arrangement, but the equalization of the conditions which affect all alike may no more be left to individual initiative than may the organization of
government itself. Churches, clubs, corporations, fraternities, guilds, partnerships, unions, have for their ends one or another special enterprise for the development of man's spiritual or material well-being: they are all more or less advisable. But the family and the state have as their end a general enterprise for the betterment and equalization of the conditions of individual development: they are indispensable.
The point at which public combination ceases to be imperative is not susceptible of clear indication in general terms; but it is not on that account indistinct. The bounds of family association are not indistinct because they are marked only by the immaturity of the young and by the parental and filial affections, – things not all of which are defined in the law. The rule that the state should do nothing which is equally possible under equitable conditions to optional associations is a sufficiently clear line of distinction between governments and corporations. Those who regard the state as an optional, conventional union simply, a mere partnership, open wide the doors to the worst forms of socialism. Unless the state has a nature which is quite clearly defined by that invariable, universal, immutable mutual interdependence which runs beyond the family relations and cannot be satisfied by family ties, we have absolutely no criterion by which we can limit, except arbitrarily, the activities of the state. The criterion supplied by the native necessity of state relations, on the other hand, banishes such license of state action.
The state, for instance, ought not to supervise private morals because they belong to the sphere of separate individual responsibility, not to the sphere of mutual dependence. Thought and conscience are private. Opinion is optional. The state may intervene only where common action, uniform law, are indispensable. Whatever is merely convenient is optional, and therefore not an affair for the state. Churches are spiritually convenient; joint-stock companies are capitalistically convenient; but when the state constitutes itself a church or a mere business association it institutes a monopoly no better than others. It should do nothing which is not in any case both indispensable to social or industrial life and necessarily monopolistic.
The Family and the State. — It is the proper object of the family to mold the individual, to form him in the period of immaturity in the faiths of religion and in the practice of morality and obedience. This period of subordination over, he is called out into an independent, self-directive activity. The ties of family affection still bind him, but they bind him with silken, not with iron bonds. He has left his “minority” and reached his “majority.” It is
the proper object of the state to give leave to his individuality, in order that that individuality may add its quota of variety to the sum of national activity. Family discipline is variable, selective, formative: it must lead the individual. But the state must not lead. It must create condition, but not mold individuals. Its discipline must be invariable, uniform, impersonal. Family methods rest upon individual inequality, state methods upon individual equality. Family order rests upon tutelage, state order upon franchise, upon privilege.
The State and Education. — In one field the state would seem at first sight to usurp the family function, the field, namely, of education. But such is not in reality the case. Education is the proper office of the state for two reasons, both of which come within the principles we have been discussing. Popular education is necessary for the preservation of those conditions of freedom, political and social, which are indispensable to free individual developments. And, in the second place, no instrumentality
, less universal in its power and authority than government can secure popular education. In brief, in order to secure popular education the action of society as a whole is necessary; and popular education is indispensable to that equalization of the conditions of personal development which we have taken to be the proper object of society. Without popular education, moreover, no government which rests upon popular action can long endure: the people must be schooled in the knowledge, and if possible in the virtues, upon which the maintenance and success of free institutions depend. No free government can last in health if it lose hold of the traditions of its history, and in the public schools these traditions may be and should be sedulously preserved, carefully replanted in the thought and consciousness of each successive generation.
Historical Conditions of Governmental Action. Whatever view be taken in each particular case of the rightfulness or advisability of state regulation and control, one rule there is which may not be departed from under any circumstances, and that is the rule of historical continuity. In politics nothing radically novel may safely be attempted. No result of value can ever be reached in politics except through slow and gradual development, the careful adaptations and nice modifications of growth. Nothing may be done by leaps. More than that, each people, each nation, must live upon the lines of its own experience. Nations are no more capable of borrowing experience than individuals are. The histories of other peoples may furnish us with light but they cannot furnish us with conditions of action. Every nation must constantly keep in touch with its past; it cannot run towards its ends around sharp corners.
Summary. This, then, is the sum of the whole matter : the end of government is the facilitation of the objects of society. The rule of governmental action is necessary coöperation. The method of political development is conservative adaptation, shaping old habits into new ones, modifying old means to accomplish new ends.
2. The Environmental Influence of the State [From McKechnie, W. S., The State and the Individual (Glasgow,
1896), pp. 363–364.] The child comes into the world a bundle of undeveloped potentialities, void of experience and thought. The environment and external circumstances necessary for the growth of his mind and body are all supplied by the state. This is true, although not all nor even the chief part of them are imparted to the child directly by the officials of the government or by the laws or other organs of the state. The immediate environment depends on the influence of the family and of other institutions and agencies included in and controlled by the state. The child may have “innate ideas” in the sense of that a priori element which is one of the prerequisites of all conscious existence; but the equally necessary a posteriori element can be got only from experience; and the sphere of the state, or of various parts of the state, is the only school where experience is possible for him. He is born into the commonwealth, and from the day of his birth the rights of citizenship, which he cannot actually enjoy till he has acquired full age, are held in trust for him by the state. It is true that it is the family whose influences at first surround him, molding his earliest tendencies and aspirations after its traditions, but the family itself would be empty of content except for what flows into it from society and the state. The community as a whole, then, is the environment of the individual. It is the state which fills him with its own ideas and molds him after its own pattern. The English youth grows up with habits and ideas quite absent in the Zulu or even in the Frenchman. Allowing all due claims for heredity — though this too has been indirectly supplied by the state through ancestors who were themselves its members — his environment has made him what he is.
The state then – using the word in its widest sense puts its stamp on the young individuality before he has reached manhood and acquired the ability to choose his own surroundings.
Willingly or unwillingly, it educates the individual and so has a terrible responsibility thrust upon its shoulders. The young mind as well as the young body is thrown upon its care during the important and impressionable years fated to mold the development of an immortal soul for time and for eternity. This trust, burdensome and disquieting as it is, is yet one which the state dare not decline.
Its duty to the young cannot be brushed aside or lightly treated. But it has also a duty to itself. In each helpless child lies a future citizen who will form an organic portion of the commonwealth, and may exercise a deep and lasting influence on its destinies. All children cannot become great statesmen, but all great statesmen once were children.
On these two grounds the state has both a right and a duty to include the education of the young within its proper province. Indeed it must educate whether it will or no. The only question is whether it will do so consciously or unconsciously, systematically or at random, well or ill. Government need not undertake the work of education, but the supreme legislative sovereign is forced to assume some attitude towards that all-important question.
There are three positions, any one of which Parliament may adopt. (I) It may repudiate all direct responsibility, leaving each child to scramble for itself. (II) It may compel parents to educate their offspring at their own expense. (III) It may
pay for it out of the national purse. Each of these three courses has its adherents.
3. Education and the Police Power of the State [Interstate Consolidated Street Railway Company v. Common
wealth of Massachusetts (United States Supreme Court; argued October 15-16, 1907; decided November 4, 1907), 207 U.S., 79.]
In error to the superior court of the state of Massachusetts to review a conviction of a street railway company, on appeal from the first district court of Bristol County, in that state, for refusing to transport school children at a reduced rate, exceptions having been heard by the supreme judicial court and overruled. Affirmed.
Mr. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the court.
This was a complaint against the plaintiff in error for refusing to sell tickets for the transportation of pupils to and from the public