Melbourne Graduate School of Education - Theses

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    The educational ideas of Walter Lippmann
    Barns, Ian James ( 1973)
    Walter Lippmann was primarily not an educationalist but a political commentator and a writer of books on questions of political philosophy raised by the processes of American and international politics. His thought on education emerged from his deliberations and must be seen in their context. His writing career of over fifty years may be seen in terms of an evolving response to what he called "the acids of modernity". By this he meant the dissolution of the old traditional order, the rejection of the ideas of social and political hierarchy, the sacred authority of institutions, and out of this the development of more democratic, secular and human institutions and relationships. Prior to World War I he enthusiastically endorsed this process, but the experience of the War deeply affected his assumptions about the nature of man and ease with which society could be reshaped for the better. At first he attributed the malaise he saw to the inability of the people to gain access to the facts necessary for effective government. He moved on from this, in A Preface to Morals, to examine the basis for a morality which would enable the orderly functioning of a democratic society. During the 1930s he was mainly concerned with the economic issues of the New Deal, but in The Good Society he articulated what he saw to be the foundation stone of a democratic order - the rule of law based upon an appreciation of the essential dignity and inviolability of man. It seems clear from his writings that the fundamental issues which he raised were ontological in nature. However, because Lippmann was primarily concerned with sustaining the conditions of civility and freedom without returning to the belief systems which inspired them, he did not face the issue squarely. He developed a "civic theology" in The Public Philosophy having the show of truth necessary to sustain a political order rather than answers to the questions of the nature of truth and reality. The same evolution from optimistic progressivism to apprehensive conservatism is evident in Lippmann' s educational thought. Initially he argued that there were no fixed bodies of knowledge which should be passed on. Instead the curriculum should be shaped by the child's own needs and interests. But as he became pessimistic concerning the essential goodness of man and saw that the traditions of freedom and civility were being threatened, he trenchantly criticised the progressive movement for its failure to pass on the essential western culture through the assumptions, ideas, values and methods of the academic disciplines. Lippmann' s chief contribution was that he raised the central issues, but the value of his answers was weakened by his failure to face squarely the questions of the nature of reality and truth and how a free society could be based on that truth.