Democratic education, says Aristotle, ought to mean, not the education which democrats like, but the education which will preserve democracy. Until we have realized that the two things do not necessarily go together we cannot think clearly about education.
For example, an education which gave the able and diligent boys no advantage over the stupid and idle ones, would be in one sense democratic. It would be egalitarian and democrats like equality. The caucus race in Alice, where all the competitors won and all go prizes, was a “democratic” race: like the Garter it tolerated no nonsense about merit.1 Such total egalitarianism in education has not yet been openly recommended. But a movement in that direction begins to appear. It can be seen in the growing demand that the subjects which some boys do very much better than others should not be compulsory. Yesterday it was Latin; today as I see from a letter in one of the papers, it is Mathematics. Both these subjects give an “unfair advantage” to boys of a certain type. To abolish that advantage is therefore in one sense democratic.
But of course there is no reason for stopping with the abolition of these two compulsions. To be consistent we must go further. We must abolish all compulsory subjects; and we must make the curriculum so wide that “every boy will get a chance at something.” Even the boy who can’t or won’t learn his alphabet can be praised and petted for something—handicrafts or gymnastics, moral leadership or deportment, citizenship or the care of guinea-pigs, “hobbies” or musical appreciation—anything he likes. Then no boy and no boy’s parents, need feel inferior.
An education on those lines will be pleasing to democratic feelings. It will have repaired the inequalities of nature. But it is quite another question whether it will breed a democratic nation which can survive, or even one whose survival is desirable.
C. S. LEWIS | Present Concerns ed. Walter Hooper (San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1986), 32–33. | “Democratic Education” is Lewis’ title in his “Notes on the Way” from Time and Tide, vol. XXV (29 April 1944), pp. 369–70.
1. The Order of the Garter, instituted by King Edward III in 1344, is the highest order of knighthood. Lewis had in mind the comment made by Lord Melbourne (1779–1848) about the Order: “I like the Garter; there is no no damned merit about it.”
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