Friday, November 19, 2004
Heroes of Public Education
Update: I have composed my remarks. One of the great themes that Huxley and Horace Mann both highlight is the concept that the social benefits we have now, we inherited from our forebears. What we do with them is our legacy to our decendants. This has implications for education, envirnomental policy, fiscal policy; really everything we do. We can take a short-sighted view that says our purpose in this life is to accumulate our own wealth (which we naturally got entirely through our own effort) and to keep it and pass it on to our lineal decendents. I would submit that this is the prevailing view of modern-day conservatives; at least that is what I can discern from their policies and rhetoric. We can take a longer-term view that we have received a leg-up from the collective efforts of the society that begat us, and we have an obligation to increase its collective wealth and well-being so that the next also has the benefit of that leg-up.
Here are some of Huxley's comments that got me thinking along those lines (taken from a book of aphorisms] selected by his wife and published posthumously):
CCLXXXIII [C. E. ix 230]
I cannot speak of my own knowledge, but I have every reason to believe that I came into this world a small reddish person, certainly without a gold spoon in my mouth, and in fact with no discernible abstract or concrete "rights" or property of any description. If a foot was not set upon me at once, as a squalling nuisance, it was either the natural affection of those about me, which I certainly had done nothing to deserve, or the fear of the law which, ages before my birth, was painfully built up by the society into which I intruded, that prevented that catastrophe. If I was nourished, cared for, taught, saved from the vagabondage of a wastrel, I certainly am not aware that I did anything to deserve those advantages. And, if I possess anything now, it strikes me that, though I may have fairly earned my day's wages for my day's work, and may justly call them my property–yet, without that organization of society, created out of the toil and blood of long generations before my time, I should probably have had nothing but a flint axe and an indifferent hut to call my own; and even those would be mine only so long as no stranger savage came my way.
So that if society, having, quite gratuitously, done all these things for me, asks me in turn to do something towards its preservation–even if that something is to contribute to the teaching of other men's children–I really, in spite of all my individualist learnings, feel rather ashamed to say no. And, if I were not ashamed, I cannot say that I think that society would be dealing unjustly with me in converting the moral obligation into a legal one. There is a manifest unfairness in letting all the burden be borne by the willing horse.