‘Machiavelli wrote: “You must know that there are two ways of contesting, the one by the law, the other by force; the first is the method proper to men, the second to beasts; but because the first is frequently not sufficient, it is necessary to have recourse to the second. Therefore it is necessary for a prince to understand how to avail himself of the beast and the man.” And he adds this: “This has been figuratively taught to princes by ancient writers, who describe how Achilles and many other princes of old were given to the Centaur Chiron to nurse, who brought them up in his discipline; which means solely that, as they had for a teacher one who was half beast and half man, so it is necessary for a prince to know how to make us of both natures, and that one without the other is not durable.”
At the centre of the labyrinth which serves as a tailpiece in [Klossowski’s] Nietzsche et le Cercle vicieux, we will find, not a Minotaur, stupid beast with his monstrous appetite, but a Centaur, a monster more intelligent than the most intelligent of men, the image of the marvellous dissimulation of signs into one another, supreme wisdom which includes the stupidity of bestiality … And if Caesar must be removed from his mother’s womb by opening it up by force, against nature, it is because Caesar, political master, is a monster made of man and beast…
But Sade also says… that a republic government always menaced by the despots surrounding it must have as its sole morality its maintenance by any means, that it is ruled out that the means are all moral, that on the contrary it must be immoral men who by their movement of perpetual insurrection keep the republic government on the alert… Functional duplicity of the sites of luxury as regards the political sphere itself, at once the charge and discharge of energies: criminality, this perpetual mobility of those which Plato, in The Republic, named hornets, and which he wanted to eliminate, provides the government with a twofold service, in the danger presented to it from the excesses of its insatiability, by requiring the institution of criminal spaces which are discharge points for them and for it. Here Sade revives the great Machiavellian tradition of the connivance of the politician and the beast, the tradition of Chiron the Centaur, instructor to Princes, duplicitous political par excellence.’
– Franz Pfemfert, ‘Youth Speaks!’, Die Aktion, Vol. 3, No. 41, October 11, 1913
Youth Was Silent
Ardor [pseud. Walter Benjamin], Die Aktion, Vol. 3, No. 42, October 18, 1913
Dedicated to the Tägliche Rundschau
Now is the time to stand firm. We are by no means going to allow ourselves to be overcome by the fact of the Free German Youth Congress. To be sure, we experienced a new reality: two thousand up-to-date young people come together, and on High Meissner the onlooker saw a new physical youth, a new tension in the faces. For us, this is just a pledge of the spirit of youth. Excursions, ceremonial attire, folk dances are nothing new and – in the year 1913 – still nothing spiritual.
We in ourselves would rather not greet the Youth Congress with enthusiasm until the collective spirit has been as fully imbued with the will to youth as only certain individuals are today. Until then, we will continue, in the name of youth, to weigh the Youth Congress against the demands of the spirit.
The following scene occurred during the meeting of delegates on the Hanstein. A speaker concluded: “… with a salute to freedom and to German nationality!” A voice: “And to youth!” The speaker hastily corrected himself: “And to youth!”
There was worse. When the prizes for sports were being awarded, the name Isaacsohn was announced. Laughter rang out from a minority. So long as one of those who laughed has a place among the Free German Youth, it will be without nobility and youthfulness.
This Youth Congress proves it: only a few understand the meaning of the word “youth.” That from youth alone radiates new spirit, the spirit. They still seek their feeble, rationalized pretexts for self-discovery: racial hygiene or agrarian reform or abstinence [from alcohol and nicotine]. Hence the power-hungry could dare to defile the festival of youth with party jargon. Professor Dr. Keil cried out: “Raise your weapons high!” Two men came to the defense of youth: Wyneken and Luserke, both from the Free School Community.Wyneken promised to organize his forces into something like a wall around youth, vulnerable as it is to all the pressures of an election rally. For this struggle we may confidently look to the students from Wickersdorf, who in their white caps were a well-defined troop on the Meissner.
Gustav Wyneken addressing the First Free German Youth Congress (High Meissner, 1913)
Youth was silent. If they shouted their hurrahs, it was more in support of the chauvinist Keil’s speech than of Wyneken’s words. It was dismaying to see them entertained by the avuncular Avenarius. That these young people tolerate jovial bonhomie is the worst of all. That they should allow every knowing, “self-possessed” wit to rob them of the sacred seriousness with which they came together. That they go along with smiling conviviality-instead of maintaining distance. This youth has not yet found the enemy, the born enemy it must hate. But who among those that assembled on High Meissner has experienced that? Where was the protest against family and school we had expected? Here no political slogan paved the way for youthful feeling. Has the way therefore remained untrodden? Here everything was still to be done. And here should be revealed what is youthful – indignation at the parental home that dulls the mind, indignation at the school that punishes the spirit. Youth was silent. – It has not yet had the intuition before which the great age-complex breaks down. That mighty ideology: experience–maturity–reason–the good will of adults– it was not perceived at the Youth Congress and was not overthrown.
The fact of the Youth Congress remains the one thing positive. It is enough to bring us together again better prepared next year – and so for all the-years to come, until at some future Free German Youth Congress youth speaks.
[trans. Howard Eiland, Walter Benjamin: Early Writings]
Dennis Hayes (Professor of Education at University of Derby) makes the case at The Conversation for chucking out textbooks on classroom practice and replacing them with theoretical reflections on education (see my own defence of a transdisciplinary theorizing of education/pedagogizing of theory here). Here’s his self-professed ‘attempt at an education canon’, which, if nothing else, should keep the Higher Education and Theory reading group I organize at the University of Westminster busy for the next decade. It was also enjoyable to see his suggestions for the best fictional works on education, as I’ve been soliciting suggestions for a possible MA module on “Literature in/as Education”. Now, back to the books…
I have often argued that I would not let any teacher into a school unless – as a minimum – they had read, carefully and well, the three great books on education: Plato’s Republic, Rousseau’s Émile and Dewey’s Democracy and Education. There would be no instrumental purpose in this, but the struggle to understand these books and the thinking involved in understanding them would change teachers and ultimately teaching.
These are the three great books because each is sociologically whole. They each present a description and arguments for an education for a particular and better society. You do not have to agree with these authors. Plato’s tripartite education for a just society ruled over by philosopher kings; Rousseau’s education through nature to establish the social contract and Dewey’s relevant, problem-solving democratic education for a democratic society can all be criticised. That is not the point. The point is to understand these great works. They constitute the intellectual background to any informed discussion of education.
What of more modern works? I used to recommend the “blistering indictment” of the flight from traditional liberal education that is Melanie Phillips’s All Must Have Prizes, to be read alongside Tom Bentley’s Learning Beyond the Classroom: Education for a Changing World, which is a defence of a wider view of learning for the “learning age”. These two books defined the debate in the 1990s between traditional education by authoritative teachers and its rejection in favour of a new learning in partnership with students.
Much time and money is spent on teacher training and continuing professional development and much of it is wasted. A cheaper and better way of giving student teachers and in-service teachers an understanding of education would be to get them to read the 50 great works on education.
The books I have identified, with the help of members of the Institute of Ideas’ Education Forum, teachers and colleagues at several universities, constitute an attempt at an education “canon”.
What are “out” of my list are textbooks and guides to classroom practice. What are also “out” are novels and plays. But there are some great literary works that should be read by every teacher: Charles Dicken’s Hard Times – for Gradgrind’s now much-needed celebration of facts; D. H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow – for Ursula Brangwen’s struggle against her early child-centred idealism in the reality of St Philips School; and Alan Bennett’s The History Boys – for Hector’s role as the subversive teacher committed to knowledge.
I hope I have produced a list of books, displayed here in alphabetical order, that are held to be important by today’s teachers. I make no apology for including the book I wrote with Kathryn Ecclestone, The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education because it is an influential critical work that has produced considerable controversy. If you disagree with this, or any other of my choices, please add your alternative “canonical” books on education.
Michael W. Apple – Official Knowledge: Democratic Education in a Conservative Age (1993)
Hannah Arendt – Between Past and Future (1961), for the essay “The Crisis in Education” (1958)
Matthew Arnold – Culture and Anarchy (1867-9)
Robin Barrow – Giving Teaching Back to the Teachers (1984)
Tom Bentley – Learning Beyond The Classroom: Education for a Changing World (1998)
Allan Bloom – The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (1987)
Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron – Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (1977)
Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis – Schooling in Capitalist America: Educational Reform and the Contradictions of Economic Life (1976)
Jerome Bruner – The Process of Education (1960)
John Dewey – Democracy and Education (1916)
Margaret Donaldson – Children’s Minds (1978)
JWB Douglas – The Home and the School (1964)
Kathryn Ecclestone and Dennis Hayes – The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education (2008)
Harold Entwistle – Antonio Gramsci: Conservative Schooling for Radical Politics (1979).
Paulo Freire – Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968/1970)
Frank Furedi – Wasted: Why Education Isn’t Educating (2009)
Helene Guldberg – Reclaiming Childhood (2009)
ED Hirsch Jnr. – The Schools We Need And Why We Don’t Have Them (1999)
Paul H Hirst – Knowledge and the Curriculum(1974)
For the essay which appears as Chapter 3 ‘Liberal Education and the Nature of Knowledge’ (1965)
John Holt – How Children Fail (1964)
Eric Hoyle – The Role of the Teacher (1969)
James Davison Hunter – The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age without Good or Evil (2000)
Ivan Illich – Deschooling Society (1971)
Nell Keddie (Ed.) – Tinker, Taylor: The Myth of Cultural Deprivation (1973)
John Locke – Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1692)
John Stuart Mill – Autobiography (1873)
Sybil Marshall – An Experiment in Education (1963)
Alexander Sutherland Neil – Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing (1960)
John Henry Newman – The Idea of a University (1873)
Michael Oakeshott – The Voice of Liberal Learning (1989)
In particular for the essay “Education: The Engagement and Its Frustration” (1972)
Anthony O’ Hear – Education, Society and Human Nature: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education (1981)
Richard Stanley Peters – Ethics and Education (1966)
Melanie Phillips – All Must Have Prizes (1996)
Plato – The Republic (366BC?)
Plato – Protagoras(390BC?) and Meno (387BC?)
Neil Postman – The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School (1995)
Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner – Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969)
Herbert Read – Education Through Art(1943)
Carl Rogers – Freedom to Learn: A View of What Education Might Become (1969)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Émile or “on education” (1762)
Bertrand Russell – On Education(1926)
Israel Scheffler – The Language of Education (1960)
Brian Simon – Does Education Matter? (1985)
Particularly for the paper “Why No Pedagogy in England?” (1981)
JW Tibble (Ed.) – The Study of Education (1966)
Lev Vygotsky – Thought and Language (1934/1962)
Alfred North Whitehead – The Aims of Education and other essays (1929)
Paul E. Willis – Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs (1977)
Alison Wolf – Does Education Matter? Myths about Education and Economic Growth (2002)
Michael FD Young (Ed) – Knowledge and Control: New Directions for the Sociology of Education (1971)
Michael FD Young – Bringing Knowledge Back In: From Social Constructivism to Social Realism in the Sociology of Education (2007)
Dennis Hayes does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.