The Revolution in Educationby Mortimer J. Adler; Milton Mayer

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  • The Revolution in Education by Mortimer J. Adler; Milton MayerReview by: Vernon MallinsonBritish Journal of Educational Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2 (May, 1959), pp. 171-173Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of the Society for Educational StudiesStable URL: .Accessed: 25/06/2014 02:01

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    pupils, and came upon a desk on which initials were carved. On looking more closely he found these to be the initials of his own grandfather. 'That desk,' says the authoress, with a sad shake of the head,' is the symbol of the immobility of our school system over the past hundred years.'

    To the student of the history of English education, this book brings home some important truths. We begin to realize that the problems which we have had to face in this country have been comparatively few and simple, because on the whole the social history of Britain in the last hundred years or so has been one of steady progress. Italy has been convulsed with the growing pains of a new-born State; political strife, conflicting party programmes, ultra- national effervescence under the Mussolini regime, the devastation of war, leaving its pitiful trail of homeless and mutilated children. Every dominating influence of the moment has sought to make use of the school for its own purpose. Under Mussolini the children were drilled into an infant militia. There has been the constant conflict between clerical and anti-clerical interests. The Church, which has done so much in the past for Italian education, has been alarmed at the increasing control exercised by the State, and the organization of a system of God-less schools. But the fundamental problem the whole time has been the difficulty of enforcing regular school attendance, and a school-leaving age of fourteen, on an illiterate peasant population which requires child-labour on the farms, and which sees no need fbor academic learning even of the most elementary kind.

    Little wonder, then, that the history of modern Italian education is the record of heartbreaking frustration. This is not to say that there has been no progress. On the contrary, there are encouraging signs, as may be seen from the useful diagram supplied on page 433, showing, in ten-year intervals, the number of children in the different age groups, at school or engaged in other work. Perhaps the most telling of these figures are those of the number of pupils i4-19 attending school in 1881 and 1951 respectively; 20,000 com- pared with 41o,ooo. There has been considerable achievement also in the matter of adult education, in an effort to combat widespread illiteracy. The occupation of the country by American troops during and after the war was beneficial in this respect.

    But an immense amount remains to be done. Miss Jovine recognizes that in the field of educational theory her country has forged ahead-all Europe, indeed, is indebted to Madame Montessori-but in the practical domain the Italian school system lags behind. She places little hope in the governing class. She looks rather to the teachers themselves to be more forceful in their aims and more insistent with regard to their needs. In Italy as elsewhere, more teachers are needed, and Miss Jovine looks with some anxiety at the system of training which they receive.

    She is to be commended for supplying a much-needed survey, for her care and thoroughness in compiling it, and for her frank objective method of treatment. The numerous illustrations, moreover, have been carefully selected, and add considerably to the interest of the book. The result is a handsome volume which may fittingly take its place among the up-to-date histories of education on our shelves, filling a noticeable gap.


    The Revolution in Education. By Mortimer J. Adler and Milton Mayer. Pp. 224. University of Chicago Press and Cambridge University Press, 1958. 28s.

    If I label this book as being primarily of interest to Americans, the British and European reader should not treat the remark as disparaging. Nor should he necessarily assume that he can learn nothing from it. True,


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    there is nothing particularly new about the questions asked. What is new is the way in which the questions asked are pertinently related to the American dilemma in education, and thus have some bearing, however indirect, on our own immediate problems in that field. The authors' main thesis is that the rise of democracy, industry, and modern technological science during the last century have caused a major revolution in the structure of society and in the conduct of life; that this revolution calls for a fundamental reappraisal of educational philosophy; and that this re- appraisal has not yet been fully made. It has not been made, they would claim, because nobody so far has attempted to examine carefully and logically the issues at stake; to show how much of the hot argument now being waged rests more on misunderstandings than on true differences; to isolate the basic philosophic differences that exist on educational issues. All this, they have modestly attempted to do, and they make their points in a downright and challenging manner that compels attention as much as does the clear and lucid style of writing they have adopted.

    Of course, much of what they say and how they say it is to the European mind 'irritating'. Like most Americans, they have to feel comfortable in their generalizations before they can settle down to particulars and worry them out, and one-third of the book is devoted to doing just this. Like most Americans, they have a hankering after statistics and consequently go wrong by persisting in comparing like with unlike. Thus they say that 'today there are over 7,000,000 or approximately 85% of all the children between 14 and 17 years of age' in High School in America. 'No other country attempts to give secondary schooling to more than 20% of its youth'. It all depends on what you mean by secondary schooling, and this definition they con- veniently sidestep. Like all good Americans they have been fully indoctrinated with a comfortable belief in the supremacy of the American way of life to all others that prevents them from advocating any root and branch reforms. They are wedded to the peculiar form of American democracy as surely as they are wedded to Dewey. You may make any quotation you like from Dewey to prove your point and to reject, scorn, despise or praise him. What you must not do, apparently, is to read him to see what he really did say and to fit quotation to context. At least, that is the impression I have gained whilst teaching in America, and this book does nothing to dispel the idea.

    However, once we are through the 'comfortable' first seventy pages, and once the preliminary sparring is over, disputation really begins and the authors conduct it along excellent lines with both clarity and forcefulness of statement. They distinguish six basic philosophical differences of approach to the problem of educating for the times in which we live, and whilst what they have to say is related solely to American problems, we have to admit with them that 'whatever, wherever, whenever the society, the ultimate framework of educational discussion remains the same because man, what- ever his vicissitudes, remains man, with his human potentialities and limita- tions'. And therein lies the interest the book must have for us. They see the battle as joined between the aristocrats and the democrats; between the realists and the idealists; between the traditionalists and the moderns. They trace with considerable cunning the complicated interweaving patterns and show, for example, how there can be such a thing as a democratic-realist, a democratic-idealist, or even (to stretch a point) a traditionalistic-modernist. They pertinently observe that quarrels result, not on a basis of what people really believe, but on a basis of caricatures each side sets up of the others in order to demolish them. Consequently, they take as their main task in this section of the book that of destroying caricatures and arrive by their own process of reasoning at the pithy comment that the modernist and tradi-


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  • Adolf Reichwein: eine politisch-pddagogische Biographie. By James L. Henderson, translated and edited by Helmut Lindemann.