TO: Durkheim, E. (1961) Moral Education, New York: The Free
Press of Glencoe, Inc
introduction by Wilson which summarises the main themes in the book. For me those main themes are the paradoxical
nature of individuality and its deep connection with social rules and
social constraints. However, all the main
concepts are invoked, from types of solidarity to the work on suicide
much on religiosity, although the general outlines of a secular
religion are important].
is a collection of
Durkheim’s lectures given to would-be teachers at the Sorbonne
that schoolteachers are often pretty high powered academics in France). As a result, they are excellent examples of
clear exposition and argument, taking on some common conceptions about
children, and offering detailed advice about how to run classes as well
summarising sociological themes. They
are refreshingly non scholastic.
The task of managing this paradox of
individuality is the central one for the education system.
Reading it fairly recently again, I was struck
by the similarities with Dewey, despite the rather different
where things really get
going, after some preliminaries in which Durkheim reminds people that
order is the main issue, and that individual freedom requires social
even though making that point to teachers looks as if you are
traditional formal education. However,
restraint is essential if the personality is to develop, and rules are
so that we can master ourselves—without discipline and the control of
will never be properly happy, because we will never attain our goals. As a
result: ‘The rule, because it teaches us to restrain and master
ourselves, is a
means of emancipation and freedom’ (49). In
educators must help children
unattainable goals, and ‘the important thing is to discover a goal
compatible with one’s abilities’ (49).
argument that human
nature itself requires constraint, since it is only through constraint
can possibly achieve satisfaction of our desires. As
the capacities of
their citizens also increase so that ‘The normal boundary line is in a
continual becoming’, and no abstract morality can fix it (51). Nor can discipline simply be imposed or left
to develop automatically. Of course,
progress can come through deviants. Initially,
can think of the essence of morality
as not so much
content but form, and it follows that moral action is action that is
directed to the immediate gratification of the individual.
This is a point against utilitarians in
particular. It does not take long to
realise that ‘Moral goals, then, are those the object of which is society. To act morally is
to act in terms of the collective
interest’ (59). It can’t be anything else
because there is
nothing else except human individuals and groups.
are to act
as moral agents, they cannot just be seen as groups of individuals. They must be seen instead as sui
generis [entities in their own right] . This
a practical point
supporting Durkheim’s theoretical arguments. The
of societies emerge and cannot be
reduced to back to those
of individuals—‘a combination of elements presents new properties that
characterise any of the elements in isolation’, with the example of tin
copper producing bronze (61). When human
beings get together and interacts, new ideas and feelings
emerge—‘everyone knows how emotions and passions may break out in a
meeting’ (62). And of course societies
outlast individual members, and so do propensities for particular
activities such as ‘crime… suicides,
marriage, even… comparatively low
empirical argument appears—for
people have always considered action directed towards others to be
‘Egoism has been universally classified among the amoral traits’
(65). Societies have moral functions, and
appear as different from individuals. Here,
[is] a psychic being that has its own
particular way of
faults, feeling and action, differing from that peculiar to the
compose it’ (65) [odd 'group mind' stuff?]. It
personality, just as organisms develop lives of their own even though
comprised of cells. However, social
goals must relate to individual goals if individuals are to respond to
morality: it is not just a matter of societies being useful to us. Human nature requires that we become involved
in society. When we are not involved,
suicide rates increase – '[a man] [male nouns and pronouns throughout
as was common in those days] destroys himself less frequently when
things to concern him other than himself’ (68). Egoists
a mistake when they try to abandon
is from society that there comes whatever is best in us, all the higher
of our behaviour’ (69) including language, religious ideas, and science.
three actual groups to
which we belong, the family the nation and humanity.
‘There is no necessary antagonism between
these three loyalties’ (74) [conservative functionalism, and identity
where the nation and society are equated]. It
that the most general of these—mankind—is
too abstract to be
a realistic active group, and that ‘The state is actually the most
organized form of human organisation in existence’ (76), although even
formations may exist in the future. As
it is, the nation should be the focus of our efforts, and we should get
commit itself to more altruistic goals. This
notion permits a broader notion of
up of we individuals,
even though it transcends us. Societies
therefore must symbolise morality [and again there is a dangerous
between society in this sense and the nation state—‘if one loves his
or humanity in general, he cannot see the suffering of his
generally, of any human being—without suffering himself’ (83). Social
as alcoholism or suicide require social
treatment, ‘the collective organization of welfare’, which is also a
personal discipline and
collective ideals are part of the same interest in morality, ‘two
the same, single reality’ (85). Morality
is in fact made by society, although much of collective life is
us. Again, historical comparisons showed this to be the case, that ‘the
morality of each people is directly related to the social structure of
people practicing it’, and ‘each social type has the morality necessary
just as each biological type has a nervous system which enables it to
(87). Collective beings exert a
compelling collective authority, a powerful morality, which exerts
individuals—‘a voice that speaks to us, saying: that is your duty’ (89). This is not God or any other transcendent
being: ‘When our conscience speaks, it is society speaking within us’
(90). This must be the case, because
only authority rising above individuality, immune to individual action,
authoritative. The fact that certain
beliefs and sentiments appear to be compelling arises because they are
bound to the very core of the collective conscience’ (91).
There are genuine social forces underneath
what appear to be abstract rules and systems, and the best creative
individuals have simply identified themselves with these forces [back
to the point about creative deviants]. There
a connection between what is good
and what is necessary.
like duty and morality remain entirely abstract. As
a result, they are unlikely to affect
children in particular. Education should
not just rely on emotional involvement, but should
through reason: ‘if one limits himself to repeating and elaborating in
emotional language such abstract words as duty and good, there can only
a parrot- like morality. The child must
be put in contact with the concrete and living realities, which such
terms can only express in the most general way’ (94).
that moral education
requires ‘Education through direct experience’ (97) [here, the school
moral community, possibly in an identitarian way].
It is not enough to stress mere duty, nor
merely what is good as a basis for morality—both are connected
aspects of one and the same reality’ (99). Historically,
impulse or the other might come to
however. In the current circumstances,
where ‘collective discipline in its traditional form has lost its
we must try and ‘sustain this feeling for discipline in the child’
by developing morality, involving people in collective ends. New ideas of justice and morality may emerge,
but in the meantime ‘we have to develop a spirit; and this we have to
in the child’ (103).
develop a rational
commitment to morality, dispelling with Gods and other myths, and we
all the normal techniques of rational education to do so, as a ‘simple
scientific and logical enterprise’ (105). There
be no eternal and unchangeable laws,
especially in fluid and complex
real, as Kant argued. Morality must
triumph over individual will, but not by squashing individual freedom. Morality constrains us because we can only
deal with immediate individual interests, but we can only see this
use of a reasoned will. Once we realise
this, we can become rationally committed to morality.
Kant’s mistake was to attribute this kind of
applied reason to a transcendental realm, a ‘metaphysical conception,
only mislead us in our thinking’ (110).
elements look external to our will, and that looks like a form of
dependency. There must be rational
grounds for moral obligations. Left to
our own devices, we would pursue ‘individual, egoistic, irrational, and
ends’ (112). This is seen best in the
development of real autonomy. Sciences
liberated us from many of the constraints of nature.
We need to liberate ourselves from our own
nature as well. ‘Conforming to the order
of things because one is sure that it is everything it ought to be is
submitting to a constraint. It is freely
desiring this order, assenting through an understanding of the cause’
(115). But if we understand the reasons
for morality, doesn’t this strip it of its authority?
Not necessarily, because we can still
recognise the [transindividual] need for constraint.
understand why we act in
the way we do, and this is the only realistic autonomy.
We are social creatures. Morality
our individual will. We need
to have a wide understanding of this
and how it affects our conduct. In this
sense, we can come to freely desire the existence of social
acceptance is nothing less than an enlightened assent’ (120). [Compare with Althusser on this] We
explain this to children in
schools. Of course this would be a
secular morality, denying any unknowable elements.
ideas, although ‘morality has its own realism’ (123).
That is it is based in social reality.
Children need to be able to understand social
reality in order to play their part in social life.
This position reconciles individual interest
and social duty—‘it is in submitting to rules and devoting himself to
that he becomes truly a man’ (124). Teachers
be interested in this complex reality. Morality
be reduced to a formula or to
a series of myths.
psychologist Sully has
developed some useful insights here, especially about how scientific
develops in children. There is an
argument that these stages can be detected in ‘early man’ as well
(131)—fleeting interests, ready emotions, lack of discipline and so on. Children’s emotions temporarily disable their
rationality, especially anger. The trick
is to encourage progressive development of rationality.
Luckily this is possible because children are
creatures of habit and open to suggestion (134). We
on this ‘great receptivity to
suggestions of all sorts’ (139), and hypnotism can help us understand
a passive stance in front of the teachers, while the mind is relatively
unformed. Later on, the ascribed
authority of the teacher becomes decisive. [A
experiment is cited, that looks rather
like the Asch
conformity test, teachers authoritatively deny the correct answer and
children to agree, page 141].
have to be reinforced by the organization of the school.
School develops the work begun in
families, and make it more abstract and impersonal.
School rules are not just a matter of
excessive regulation imposed on children for the teachers benefit: ‘It
[should be?] the morality of the classroom’ (148).
[The whole discussion here reminds me of
Parsons’s account, based on his pattern variables, that suggests that
school was the first place that the child encounters the values of
society—specificity, universalism, achieved status and the like]. The role of the teachers to maintain such
discipline to prevent immorality, and its excess: ‘A class without
is like a mob’ , and ‘genuine demoralisation sets in’ (151). On the other hand, the conscientious
discharge of obligation ‘is the virtue of childhood, the only one in
with the kind of life the child lead at that age, and consequently the
that can be asked of him’ (151).
one is in his place and finds it good to be there’
(152). The absence of discipline means
confusion [anomie?] —‘one no longer knows whether this is good or bad,
should not be done, whether this is permitted or as illegitimate. Hence a state of nervous agitation’ (152).
discipline should be
extended but need not be universal, for example, it should not
control ‘bearing, the way they walk or recite their lessons, the way
they do their written work in their notebooks, etc.’ (153). This would only compromise the moral
authority of the teacher, while instant submission ‘destroys all
(153). Teachers should therefore
restrain themselves in the name of moral education.
decisive and authoritative, but they must really feel they are acting
name of moral authority. They should not
rely on fear, and nor should ‘arrogance, vanity or pedantry’ dominate
(155). Teachers should convey the
of their authority, rather than seeing it as a personal quality. They should make it clear that they are also
subject to rules and obligations. This
is a difficult view to uphold, but essential.
authority, and this can transmit itself to children [in a kind of
amplification spiral, rather like religiosity, page 159]: ‘the effects
on the cause and intensify it'. There
need be no regimentation, but discipline should not be buried beneath
facade’ (160). ‘Everything in life is
not beer and skittles; the child needs to prepare himself for exertions
hardship… It would be a calamity to
allow him to believe that everything can be done as though it were
although children need to be introduced at this idea carefully and
there be punishment in
schools? Not if it is aimed just at
preventing misbehaviour, or takes the form of revenge or expiation. It must have a moral function, designed to
uphold the inviolability of morality, to buttress conscience. To this end it is important simply that
misbehaviour is met with disapproval.
not just let
misbehaviour run on until it meets its natural consequences, the theory
to Rousseau’ (168), although Rousseau says it should apply only to
physical education. Spencer also
believed that bad actions should just be left to attract bad
depends on children seeing the connections between acts and
this can be unlikely in complex societies. Educators
intervene to point out these
is to persuade children
to accept authority and act out of respect for it.
Punishment has only a limited role.
It is the teacher who is crucial.
Some authorities, such as Tolstoy, see school
discipline as artificial and unnatural, and argue that spontaneous
and interest will suffice. However, this
is contrary to history, and will not work in a complex society [hints
organic solidarity here]. It is natural
for ‘the milieu’ to react to transgression (181). Thus
punishment expresses most
disapproval ‘in the least expensive way possible’ (181), to reaffirm
obligations. Thus there is no need for
corporal punishment [Durkheim supports love withdrawal, the
orchestration of the
disapproval of others]. Corporal
punishment is ‘repugnant’ (183), barbaric. Even
societies tend to treat their
children very gently,
and harsh treatment probably emerged first in the middle ages.
the middle ages probably arose from a culture clash between the
and the masses, or between Europeans and the Colonies.
Cultural superiority produces ‘a veritable
intoxication, an excessive exaltation of self, a sort of megalomania,
goes to the worst extremes’ (193). The
culture clash between educated teachers and their charges must not be
to develop that way, however, and a tendency to violence must be
favour of patience. Nevertheless, ‘There
is then, in the situation of school life itself, a predisposition to
discipline’ (195), which is why it is necessary to develop a strong
force’—moral opinion, especially when turned into public opinion. Without this, schools turn into
despotism. It is necessary to prevent
schools becoming isolated from wider society, developing a ‘too
character’ (197). We must resist harmful
punishments and encourage helpful and effective ones.
one particular class or stream is also likely to be ineffective,
‘There always prevails a latent spirit of disorder and rebellion’
(198), and a
tendency for teachers just to control. Punishment
runs the risk of reducing
legitimacy, and ‘cannot but
to contribute to future lapses’ (199). The
same applies to laws more widely. Punishment
range across a scale, from
disapproving glances to
public disapproval, but generally, ‘the higher in the scale punishments
the less economical they are; the usefulness is increasingly out of
the loss of force that they entail’ (200). Punishment
neither be immediate and angry,
and nor excessively
cold and impassive.
problems beset systems
of reward, which are designed primarily to reward intellectual prowess
than moral development. In the wider
society, rewards are not as detailed or widespread as punishments, and
schools need to adopt a similar regime. It
is partly because moral behaviour is simply
takes place without any anticipation of regular reward: ‘Were there a
on such behaviours, they would promptly acquire a degrading commercial
(206). The true reward for moral
behaviour is contentment.
real force, as
widespread as egoism, although they are normally thought of as opposite
tendencies. It is common to see egoism as
somehow natural, while altruism only develops with culture and
education. However, there are also
disinterested activities, such as ‘the desire to know and understand’
(209). Hatred can also be disinterested. Egoism can also be self-destructive. Some egoism even aims at suffering—such as
‘the taste for melancholy… What is it if
not a certain love of sadness?’ (212). [Anecdotal
literary examples leading to massive
not the search for
pleasure that drives human action in any egoistic way.
We can be driven by personal goals, or by non
personal ones, including allegiances to social groups.
There is no abstract difference between
egoistic and altruistic motivation, but simply a matter of orientation,
the action stops with the individual or overflows them (214). It is a matter of focusing on different
objects. External objects get
internalised by representation, as when we get attracted to
persons. ‘Thus, we have egotism embedded
conversely, there is altruism in egoism. Indeed,
individuality is not an empty form’
(215). It is impossible to live ‘a purely
centred existence’ (216). Thus ‘egoism
and altruism are two abstractions that do not expect in a pure state;
implies the other’ (217).
means that children are
not necessarily naturally egoistic or selfish, and that they are
altruism [homely examples follow, backed up with some from Sully].
environment plays an
important role in moral education, especially in acting as the first
group, away from the primary intimacy of the family [with more echoes
Parsons—actually the other way around of course]. In
schools are a crucial
intermediary between the family and the state, especially since other
intermediaries have now disappeared—‘provinces, communes, guilds’ (232). This follows given the centralisation of the
French State under the monarchy, and then under the Republic. This centralism produces a moral crisis,
since people need to be bridged into collective life.
first experience of
such collective life. At the moment, in
France, families seem to be the core of life, with a reluctance to join
particular associations. It is not the
same in Germany. There is only an
illusory collective life in the salon. Groups of the past cannot be revived, so new
need to be developed. They cannot be
imposed. Schools play a crucial part here.
revive moral unity
through collective life. The most
important duty for the school is to encourage a collective life and to
people enjoy its benefits, including solidarity, mutual aid and
found in some religious minority groups.
children to think in terms of ‘the class, the spirit of the class, and
honor of the class’ (241). They should
encourage collaboration and discourage ‘destructive sentiments’ (242),
every opportunity to let children ‘sense their unity in a common
(243). This can include emotional
reactions to literature, history, school events, collective proverbs
precepts, collective punishments and rewards, collective
‘for example, the teacher might make an inventory of everything
accomplished—good and bad—during the week, sum up notes and
from day to day; and, on the general impression that emerges from this
he could grant or withhold certain rewards from the entire class’ (245). [Sounds like some American practice I have
about, where points are awarded for particular collective activities,
supporting the local team].
particular, the school needs
to promote rational morality, an awareness of social realities [social
as Durkheim sees them]. It must combat ‘oversimplified rationalism’,
the most obvious and self evident impressions perceptions are accepted
(250). Descartes is blamed for this.
Reality is much more complex, especially social reality, which people
reduce to the isolated individual as the only real object.
The teaching of science is the best way to
combat this view.
reverse the tendency
to see the complex as illusory, as fundamentally made up of simple
Descartes comes in for some criticism again—he has deeply influenced
French mind’ (253)]. There is a tendency
to overemphasise analysis in the very language we use, and to miss the
of the totality. The trends are found in
French literature. We want to celebrate
rationalism, but without simplification.
real as any
other. It is best understood as a
combination of simple determinations—‘there is always a real cause for
apparent complexity; and the effects of the cause are themselves real’
(255). Combinations of simple elements
‘release new properties which each of the component elements by itself
not present’ (256). This helps us avoid
social atomism. Of course society has a
real existence, because it is able to appear as important to
individuals. It also resists simple
attempts to alter its
character, as when politicians attempt to tinker with it.
seen as the
theorist who particularly asserted the reality of the individual, and
societies simply as a combination of the individual wills in the social
contract. The Revolution discovered the
problems with that view, and could not see how to forge a social order
individual will. A proper view of the
social is required in order to guarantee social order, and
be opposed, beginning with the child. Teaching
science can contribute here, not
mathematics, which ‘are
simplistic by principle and by method,
but physical and natural sciences’ (261).
how science has
developed from a long process of experimentation and hypothesising. They must see that science is
provisional. That there is a need for
observation and exploration. That is the
only route to link ‘the simplistic workings of our minds and the
things’ (262). Unexpected findings offer
another good example. Biology can also
help in showing that complexity has its own effects, in particular in
life to complex organisms. Complexity
must not be overdone in case it leads to mysticism and ‘obscurantism’,
especially religion. Is necessary to
show that ignorance can be progressively reduced and there is no limit
growth of knowledge. In this way, science actually encourages morality.
science is far
more important than teaching art and aesthetics. Contemplating
work does help our
preoccupation with the self: ‘When we awaken a taste for the beautiful,
the avenues of the mind to disinterestedness and sacrifice’ (269). However, we are not investigating reality but
ideal objects, and we are operating with feelings and emotions rather
rational inquiry. There is no resistance
from objective reality, and ‘the realm of art diverges from that of
since it departs from reality... We must
see people as they are—their ugliness and wretchedness – if we want to
the imagination, it
is a game, but ‘Morality, on the contrary, is life in earnest’ (273). Of course, games and leisure are important,
and the values of arts education will help children avoid unworthy
itself, leisure is always dangerous' (274), and art guards against
leisure. However, science is far more
important, and the better we understand reality the easier is to act
science. So far this is too unsuitably
developed to be taught in schools. History
is much more promising, since it helps
children to realise that
society 'is real, alive, and powerful' (275), and how contemporary life
on what happened previously—seeing 'social life inexorably moving in
direction despite the endlessly changing composition of its personnel'
instil in the child
'collective consciousness'—'it is not enough to make him feel the
it. He must be attached to it with his
whole being' (277). Children must be
provided with an ‘intellectual and moral framework distinctive of the
group' (277). The school must organise
this methodically, and in accord with 'the French character' (278),
some aspects must be resisted, especially Cartesian thinking. We must celebrate the universal ideas
associated with French thought, cosmopolitanism intellectualism, and
contributions to the general good of humanity.
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