Parent-Teacher Conference

Perhaps there is a reason why Plato suggested the State might be better served if parents were severed from their children at birth. This week’s readings highlight the difficulty–or impossibility–of marrying genetic & general responsibilities within an educational institution or program. From the founding Harvard documents, in which the authority of the tutor and the “call of parents or guardians” are conflated and confused, through the uncertain (yet essential) roles placed upon early, domestic childhood education evidenced in both the Deluder Satan law and the UVA commission report, all the way to Coates’ description of the socratic “interrogations” of his scholastic misadventures his mother required of him, a clearly discernible tension between the (individual) family and the society-at-large operates on the student-subject(s) of the system.

It is easy to overlook the impact of this split between “home” and “school” interests, but in many ways it is this fundamental incommensurability that initiates some of the greatest issues & iniquities currently plaguing education. In agrarian early America, the metaphorical assumption of an agricultural model for schools and learning set the stage for the “common ground” problems endemic to today’s institutions. Thomas Jefferson, following Aristotle, defends education as a matter of public patronage in the UVA report, arguing that it “generates habits of application, of order, and the love of virtue… and control by the force of habit, any innate obliquities in our moral obligation.” Putting aside the obvious exclusions necessary in a Jeffersonian “public” (i.e., black people, women, etc), we see on the one hand an interest in a common “parentage” for education–a deference and deferral of immediate individual benefit & sovereignty for the good of the community.

He goes on to liken education to the pruning and care of a tree, whose early bitter fruits can be replanted and cultured until they sweeten, implanting

a new tree on the savage stock: …Education, in like manner, engrafts a new man on the native stock, and improves what in his nature was vicious and perverse into qualities of virtue and social worth.

What we see, murkily, is a vanishing point of “pre-educational” viciousness, one on which the level, agricultural ground is compromised by the soil (and, to a lesser extent, the seed) itself. In other words, public education–as an interaction with the dominant cultural languages–is a necessary corrective to private vice. Learning to speak is coequivalent to learning to be virtuous. Being chained to the concept of habit & development leads us back to patronage: the paradoxical position of a father who must implant his cultural history while rejecting his claim to it. Thus, Jefferson is able to separate his world of ideas, in which fathers exist solely for their “progeny,” from those of the “illiterate” and “barbarous” Native Americans, who look “backward for better things.”

The real difference here is not teleological, nor merely aesthetic: it is the divide between my/our culture and yours/theirs. Only with reference or recourse to the savage, vicious “childhood” of the Native Americans (or the silent infancy of black Americans) does the educational program of protecting a mature “progeny” become visible. Languages–the prime directive of all these foundational documents–are necessary and important to be taught because they inscribe culture, they are the physical manifestation of difference (which inescapably implies hierarchy). In a way, however, the stage is simultaneously set for an ethics of equality: as we are all children, we are all (at some point) open to the same virtue and deserving of the same treatment as anyone else. Aristotle’s habit-virtue only “works” (ethically) in a world of endlessly renewing/renewable childhood.

By the end of the report, we’ve moved thoroughly from the agricultural (social) model to the familial, reflecting, along the way, the move towards that specific Jeffersonian sense of equality which is so rightly celebrated and contested:

Pride of character, laudable ambition, and moral dispositions are innate correctives…and when strengthened by habitual appeal and exercise, have a happier effect on future character than the degrading motive of fear. Hardening them to disgrace, to corporal punishments, and servile humiliations cannot be the best process for producing erect character. The affectionate deportment between father and son, offers in truth the best example for that of tutor and pupil….

It is so unfruitful to read this as a paradox… as “disproved” by the agricultural/pruning model of education that so clearly relies upon “disgrace, corporal punishments, and servile humiliations” of vast swaths of the populace. The motivations and intentions of a father towards his son must be seen as the nonviolent and care-oriented corollary and necessary complement to the “social farmer” notion. While, yes, we could fixate on “father / son” male gender priorities and search through the injustice catalogue for other problems and exclusions, I think the really productive work comes from applying a Platonic filter: the relationship supersedes the individual actors or their identities. If there is a “contradiction,” here, it is towards the earlier idea that education must “fix” the innate insufficiencies of a familial/domestic childhood… here, education must look to the model of the family in order to compensate for its own lacks, or to perfect its own operation.


The question, of course, becomes: what if the messages from the “tutor” and from the “father” are different? In other words, what if the cultural imperatives of the family are at odds with those of the school? What if the father is abusive? What if the domicile or the school is compromised or extended?


I came to see the streets and the schools as arms of the same beast. One enjoyed the official power of the state while the other enjoyed its implicit sanction. But fear and violence were the weaponry of both…. I began to see these two arms in relation–those who failed in the schools justified their destruction in the streets. The society could say, ‘He should have stayed in school,’ and then wash its hands of him.

This is Coates from 2015. So, the home has expanded to become the streets. Academies are less and less encouraged to act in a manner than replicates “home” (real) life, at least in some part due to the radical and intolerable inequalities, dangers, and realities of everyday life “outside” the school. And maybe they shouldn’t. But to what degree can schools be assailed for their status as schools? What is saved and what is sacrificed behind these brick-and-mortar abstractions of lived experience? Moreover, in a world in which everything appears as another “arm” of state power operating through fear and violence, what is the value of interrogation if not to differentiate between “intentions?” Coates, in continuation:

It does not matter that the ‘intentions’ of individual educators were noble. Forget about intentions. What any institution, or its agents, ‘intend’ for you is secondary. Our world is physical. Learn to play defense–ignore the head and keep your eyes on the body…. No one directly proclaimed that schools were designed to sanctify failure and destruction. But a great number of educators spoke of ‘personal responsibility’ in a country authored and sustained by a criminal irresponsibility… ‘Good intention’ is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.

Well, dad, what are your intentions? Indeed, the central style of the book emphasizes a split between the social world–epitomized by the school (which might as well be the jail, the army, the streets or any other anonymous agent of wholesale oppression)–and the private confidence of the (truth-generating) family world. But this split creates an inoperable reality just as skewed as Jefferson’s. Educators in such a reality must subject themselves to disgrace and punishment in order to vindicate the students–becoming the new “vicious” children–and at the end of the day, what?

Let me be a little clearer here. If Coates’ advice is meant to be “taken” by his child, the advice is predicated upon a world in which only his child “takes” the advice while the rest of the community continues apace. It is, again, the difference between my/ours and yours/theirs. As soon as the advice is meant to be read by “all” or by “society,” Coates is taking up, if critically, the criminally irresponsible “weaponry” he deplores.

Once more, it is more productive to apply both simultaneously–vibrating constantly between the specific (“ignore the head and keep your eyes on the body”) of the father-son and the general problematics of the educational system that engenders such advice. In other words, Coates is writing both to and beyond his progeny, as was Jefferson (if in vastly different terms and metaphors). And, really, this is what I believe Plato–ever the dramatist–was going for in that section of The Republic: the “severing” of ties is at the same time a drastic and sweeping establishment of ties, a move that allows us to apply the same relationship that tears a “son” from his “father” to all sons… all co-rulers. Whether or not any system so theoretically based or intended necessarily excludes/depends upon a second, “ruled” class is up for debate, as are the questions of socialization and acculturation inherent in a “parental” model. And so this is why the agricultural model is especially complementary and useful for the genetic one–it feeds the parent as well as the child, establishing a synchronicity that fosters a greater sense of equality. Hegemonic teacher/student and parent/child relationships are replaced by more fluid, incestuous ones.


And there are several (more recent) iterations of this. I mean, the idea that we are able to have a “childhood” or a continued “adolescence” within the world of academia is well-established, and hearkens back to the familiar roles: either of an untrained, “vicious,” childlike existence (i.e., Facebook, J. Crew, and so on) or an unremittingly infantile one (see the recent article from the New York Times). In either/any case, we are confronted with a system that seemingly prepares or otherwise separates “education” from the “real,” leaving us with a severe question at the base of academic awareness.

Why bother humanizing a process inaugurated and intended to dehumanize?? Because, perhaps as these readings partially show, those faulty points of genesis and points of “attack” do more to separate (create enemies) than they do to politicize (create allies).

And “children” in their political incarnations need the most dire critical analysis and help.

This is just a salvo. There’s so much more here– please comment.


  • Thanks, Jeff. I can’t wait to read how others respond. You’ve set the bar very high for us and provocatively. Thanks so much for kicking off what should be a great conversation, even before we arrive in class on Wednesday.

  • I have to admit, some of your points weren’t quite clear to me, but what I gathered from your response, and what I hadn’t thought about before reading it, was that each of these readings, in their own way, articulate a problem that is still fundamental to secular education (and not only in the US). That is the division between what kind of education ought to be the responsibility of parents/home life and what should rightfully be the province of the school system. Now it takes the form of the (somehow eternal) debates over ecumenical prayer in schools and other displays of religious faith, Evolution, sex education, and “multicultural” education, including issues of gender and sexuality. Depending on your point of view, being either knowledgeable or ignorant of these subjects – accepting or rejecting their principles – now constitutes what it means to be properly educated. And only properly educated people, according to one model or the other, will possess the virtue, good citizenship and knowledge necessary to be productive Americans who can participate in late 20th and 21st century society.

    Of course, parochial school (whether K-12 or college), has its own versions of this binary and these controversies. For example: Ultra-Orthodox yeshivas are known to graduate young men who are not well-equipped for secular society – even in terms of literacy – and young women who know even less. The University of Notre Dame gave president Obama an honorary degree and was reprimanded by a regional Archbishop, Raymond Burke, who also said he would not give John Kerry communion because Kerry is pro-choice (Archbishop Burke was later promoted to cardinal by Pope Benedict, and then essentially demoted by Pope Francis).* Yet some of the more liberal Boys’ Jesuit high schools include sex education that is not just abstinence-only clinical and anatomical basics. These examples are not all equivalent in terms of the educational values and principles they represent, but they illustrate a similar diversity (and, presumably, controversy), in parochial education.

    * I can’t seem to insert a hyperlink so here’s a Washington Post article about Cardinal Burke:

    • Yeah. I was definitely thinking along many of those lines during the reading– & was hoping someone would bring up religion/Evolution/sexuality debates etc. So much attention and vitriol seems to be launched at the lines of separation in “private” beliefs… in many cases the anxiety over losing control of a privileged home identity trumps any effort to leapfrog the “sticking point” (for instance, Evolution vs. Creationism is much less of a problem in a less rigidly defined/economized “subject-curriculum” structure) in order to accommodate public realities… even if those accommodations would, in fact, end up in the best interests of all concerned.

      & your last point is also especially well taken– that the relative “stakes” of the competing ideologies matter a great deal and can change the debate. The ethics & politics involved even in the separation, accreditation, maintenance, finance, etc. of parochial/private versus charter or public schools are important to treat discretely. Even putting aside questions of accessibility, socioeconomic equality, etc, is an abstinence-only curriculum more “tolerable” to a society if it is taught at a religious school rather than a public school? How would our consideration of a teaching-hospital administrator refusing to treat a Republican leader because he is anti-choice differ from our examination of Burke?

  • Nicky

    Greetings Jeff
    At first based on your title I was expecting to read something totally different. And if I read correctly you are actually discussing mulptiple different points, so I will just focus and comment on couple, especially since as I stated in class I am still becoming familiar with the term of “pedagogical practices”. Based on your title and your first paragraph I am guessing that your essay is about the link between what students learn at home and what they learn from school and how together or separately these two structures affects the student’s learning and education. Each of the readings as you stated though are dealing with different eras and different educational institutions of learning–The Founding of Harvard of course obvious by it’s title is explaining how the University came into existence.
    The Deluder Satan Law article and Coates essay, “Between the world and Me”, seems more connected to your title of Parent-Teacher Conferences. The Deluder Satan Law which went into effect of 1647, five years after the law requiring all heads of household responsible for the children in their care literacy whether through home schooling or by mandatory schools set up and paid for by the citizens definitely supports one of your theories that a child’s education should start first at home. Though now adays it seems that in some homes because of fact that both parents have to work outside the home to maintain the income needed for the household expenses or that lots of homes are single parent incomes, then the children’s primary basic education is mainly obtained outside the home in nursery school or pre-k schooling. Hence the increase raised amount of day cares and finally the free and full day pre-k classes provided in New York city’s public schools as the amount of children receiving early education literacy skills first at home is decreasing. I was lucky as a parent that though I worked early am full time job I was able to have the time and energy to provide my son with his primary education like his alphabets, counting, colors and few other subjects prior to his entering day care/nursery at the age of 2 1/2 years. My son was reading so proficiently at the age of four that he was selected to read a one page poem at his upper classmates kindergarten ceremony. I instilled in my son from early thena pattern of coming home from school, change out of school uniform, have a snack and unwind for fifteen minutes and then start the homework assignment so that could be completed and out of the way for later activities. The private day care I chose to put my son in, was owned and operated by West Indian standards/staff. Hence the requirement of uniforms for all the children in attendance including the toddlers 18 months of age amd once the children were potty trained, placed in the class of same age peers and assigned weekly homework assignments. I honestly believe because this type of learning practices were placed on my son at an early age both at home and at school (parent-teacher conference) is part of the reason he was so goal-set, determined, and sucessful on becoming the valedictorian for his middle school graduating class.
    Having that parent-teacher link I feel is very important for a child’s educational success, unfortunately now adays it is not as strong and available/accessible for some students today as it was in the old days. Not because parents don’t care or are less involved as Coates proved in his essay about how so involved were his parents, that whenever he got in trouble in school he faced consequences at home immediately , that caused him to rethink and analyse his actions and the responsibilities he had to improve and do better at school the next day.

  • Nicky

    Lisa and Jeff as I reread both of your posts and now afterwards did Jeff’s reply to you Lisa pop on my screen , in all honesty I didn’t even think of the religious/sexuality/revolutionary changes in our educational system as a topic to discuss in response to Jeff’s original post. But it has given me a sorta different perspective on each of our readings. See you in class tomorrow and before then I may re post a different reply to both of you. LOL sometimes after a good night of rest I can think more openly.

  • I too was thinking about what Jefferson’s mixed metaphors tell us about his world view and how they could be useful to us more broadly. (In general, though not here, he tends to use a lot of metaphors about clothing, and sartorial rhetoric in this period is one of the things I’ve been paying attention to lately.) The fatherly stuff, as Jeff indicated, brings to mind Jefferson’s views on slavery. With the grafting metaphor we have Jefferson the natural scientist, systematizing and overcoming nature. While these sets of imagery may seem at odds with each other–one is about benevolence and allowing the learner to flourish, the other more cruel and restrictive–I think you’re right in saying there’s a resolution here. The impulses of compassion and an almost compulsively controlling kind of oppression coexisted in Jefferson’s paternalistic ideology. So Jefferson’s idealized father-son relationship (like any family) isn’t any more naturalistic than pruning a tree, it’s also a cultural-political-social construction like a school. That’s a healthy thing for us to remember as we embark on our discussion of education being outsourced from the home, I think.

  • I thought the Coates excerpt was very on point and very compelling, especially alongside the chapter from Wilder. Together, the two pieces speak volumes about “the black body”, and society’s intentions for those bodies. In the Wilder piece, black bodies were highly valued for labor but beyond that were assumed to be in need of constant governance…even free blacks were subject to laws that monitored their movement. Black bodies needed to be regulated, detained, curfewed, watched. Slave labor was lucrative, but it also functioned as a solution…what else could be done with black people, black bodies?

    I use the term black bodies deliberately because Coates writes a great deal about the idea of the body in a way that seems to separate it from any kind of individual identity, in a way that appropriately seems to imply a lack of value. His reflections on school and related institutions as a young black man parallel some of Wilder’s ideas about the black bodies (in need of surveillance, governance, special regulation). Obviously, the stakes are different in a contemporary context, but still, black bodies who cannot produce (or labor in an intellectual/scholastic manner) are labelled deviant, lacking in value. What else can be done with black bodies?

    It’s interesting to me that Coates grew up in a home where he had access to “books about black people, by black people, and for black people spilling off the shelves and out into the living room”. I grew up in a similar home. I’m not saying this is a solution; it’s not a math problem. But I think it’s interesting that he was encouraged early in life in written inquiry into self-knowledge that connected to the wider world, and now he won the National Book Award. And won it with a book about blackness. A book about blackness that white people want to read. From both personal experience and my experience as a teacher, I think young people have to see the image of themselves reflected in the things around them. Or rather, young people are going to TRY to see the image of themselves in everything around them. When they don’t find that image reflected consistently in books, mentors, community leaders, political leaders, positive representations of power, etc, they will either feel invisible or believe whatever other images they see, no matter how inaccurate or damaging.

    • Maybe we can add a breakdown in the kind of reflection you’ve identified as so vital to Catherine Prendergast’s students’ list of why the lecture doesn’t seem to be working…

      I thought Coates did such an artful job of acknowledging the role of his parents in his development while expanding the idea of family with his heartfelt explanation of the kinship he felt with Malcolm X. Like Douglass, though he’s deprived of so many choices he still gets to choose his intellectual inheritance.

    • I think young and old people alike need to see & interact with “image[s] of themselves,” and a critical task of education would seem to be to operate less as an ersatz/supplementary world (i.e., to the “real” one) and more as a coextensive part of it. In other words, the fact that we have to write a difference between “personal experience” and “experience as a teacher” presents immediate challenges to communicating cohesive images/models FOR the world from WITHIN the school… something Coates views (perhaps…) as a political impossibility for black bodies and/or black brains. I’m not convinced.

      • I should have been more clear: in my experience as having been a black youth and now as a teacher of black youth. Being a black body and teaching bodies. There’s a connection, but those are two separate things.

        • Sure, you’re right. I sort of meant that–in your capacity as a teacher– you are no less of a ‘real’ model/image for your students than Coates, and perhaps (I don’t know) can achieve different/more productive things from a less “exceptional,” “superblack,” or extra-educational standpoint.

        • Hey Erica, I’ve been thinking about what you said about race in tonight’s class–and thank you for your explicitness. I just feel that race in the U.S. is a coded discourse. Coates writes about “violence” and we as the non-violent (of course) hear “black,” even with our eyes closed. Obama can be many things, like “liar,” but he can never be that ‘angry black man’ as that would present too threatening, too violent an image for the U.S. white populace to handle. I grew up, like Obama, in Honolulu. But I grew up, coded and tracked by a state educational process that identified me as Hawaiian on paper and “problem” in behavior; I was never expected to graduate from highschool let alone college. When I grew up (and times have changed), you would never admit to being Hawaiian because that would mean you were “lazy” and “stupid.” I wish mere word searches could shine a spotlight on how race interacts with being and speaking, e.g. “exceptional” and “super” but as compared to what? We learn to tread very lightly.

  • Hello Jeff,

    There were so many intriguing conversations between the various texts this week that I’d like limit my response to your thoughts on Ta-Nehisi Coates. It seems relevant to note that Between the World and Me navigates several literary genres (memoir, epistolary essay, manifesto, etc.) and Coates deploys numerous rhetorical strategies that take into account audience (clearly an audience that would include readers in addition to his son), reception, and historical connection to, and discourse with, extant texts addressing the subject of race in America (e.g. Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Letter from Birmingham Jail, and many others). Underscored throughout, within the power dynamics of the family as well as larger social and institutional structures, is the destructive violence inscribed upon the black body in the U.S., and how reflexive such violence appears to be. The text returns again and again to the fragility of the body upon which perennial, pervasive, systemic violence has been visited for so long that it appears to be somehow natural, somehow invisible:

    The destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy. It is hard to face this. But all our phrasing– race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy– serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions, all land with great violence, upon the body. (10)

    When the educational system is contextualized within such systematic (and literal, not metaphorical) violence, in my opinion you might want to further articulate the private/social split to which you refer when you write “If Coates’ advice is meant to be ‘taken’ by his child, the advice is predicated upon a world in which only his child ‘takes’ the advice while the rest of the community continues apace. It is, again, the difference between my/ours and yours/theirs. As soon as the advice is meant to be read by ‘all’ or by ‘society,’ Coates is taking up, if critically, the criminally irresponsible ‘weaponry’ he deplores.”

    In an unfinished genealogy of racism, Foucault contended that modern racism is not merely an irrational prejudice, a form of socio-political discrimination, or an ideological motive in a political doctrine; rather, it is a form of government that is designed to manage a population. This Foucauldian analysis of institutional racism (including educational institutions) attempts to understand and counter contemporary forms of racism. Foucault’s genealogy of racism, accentuates the constructedness of our racialized social structures and educational institutions, and perhaps challenges us to develop new and more effective strategies to change them.

    • Well, yes, exactly. And Foucault emphasizes “speaker-positions” as opposed to fixed political identities. What I’m getting at in the quote you pulled is the difference between activism directed at an individual injustice & its remedy and an institutional/discursive “inhabitation” of a problem that removes the conditions of possibility for the injustice.

  • Reading Jeff’s post reminded me of the decision that parents make to homeschool their children, often when they are acutely aware of the split between “home” and “school” interests that Jeff points to, provided that they position where they are able to do so. The reasons for homeschooling vary from a notion or a known fact that there are bad educators in a school where the child is zoned, or a reference in a book to a school’s limited resources, to ideological differences. It appears that these parents are taking the stance that they can do better than the system. Still, they are required to adhere to sanctioned curriculum guidelines, and exams, particularly if they are considering higher learning for their children.

    Then there are parents like those of Ta-Nehisi Coates who encourage their children to critically look at their behaviors and others in response to a system that does not inspire. We live in a world that holds fast to customs that are so ingrained, at home and in school. How do we learn to think deeply if our inspiration is limited both at home and in school?

    I recently listened to an interview between Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director of the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture and Ta-Nehisi Coates, available as a New York Public Library podcast. It is clear that Coates wants us to think. I see a not so subtle message in his choice to pursue a career in journalism over sticking it out in college to earn the diploma.

  • Wow, Jeff. What a comprehensive post. I feel unlucky I have to follow it this week! This talk about how home and school are similar and dissimilar has made me wonder how students see it. Particularly, I’m thinking along the lines of this article* in the NY Times opinion pages a few weeks ago. The essay is written by a female philosophy professor, Carol Hay, who describes how many of her students see her as a mother or a girlfriend but not a professor. Because they see her as mother or lover, they fail to give her the respect and authority needed to become an effective teacher.

    Now, one could argue that Hay is making a troublesome comparison: why don’t mothers and girlfriends get respect? By denying her similarity to mothers and girlfriends, isn’t Hay merely reinforcing our society’s expectations that mothers and girlfriends should be treated as objects to comfort men (and women), but not subjects who can teach us something? I think, however, this line of criticism misses the point. Hay is saying that she is expected to take on roles that do not belong to her. Her argument is not that children shouldn’t respect their mothers or romantic partners: she is showing that because of her body she has to take on extra work–work usually relegated to the domestic and not professional sphere–which her male colleagues don’t have to take on.

    I think it’s true that–particularly for women–teachers have to take on a level of emotional labor that exists outside the job description and for which we are not paid. As Hay points out teachers–again especially women–are handed the responsibility of managing not just the classroom, but the feelings of the students (and sometimes their own colleagues) as well. This is a very difficult task. It assumes that one has enough emotional energy to not only handle one’s problems, but handle others’. And because it’s not in the job description–and because the labor is distributed unevenly based on gender–the way that the domestic sphere and the professional sphere overlap in some students’ minds seems unfair.

    Now, some might argue that we should collapse these spheres a little. Perhaps teachers should teach the whole student (including performing emotional work) and not just the state sanctioned subjects. Maybe those people are right, but I would caution asking teachers to take on the additional emotional labor. As we know it can be very draining and difficult to take on the job of managing other’s emotions. Many female teachers are expected to do it, but they’re not paid or trained for the difficult work.

    *Like Lisa I’m not sure how to insert a hyperlink in a comment. Maybe we could go over that today? Here’s the link:

    • Jeff’s post has certainly inspired us! I don’t have anything to add regarding content, but I will jump in with mechanics of linking hypertext in comments. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t make it easy for us to insert tags through an editor in the Comment section. Instead, we must know or look up the tag to surround the link and the text, as in ‘Link to Parent Teacher Conference postIgnore the single quotes around the html tags.

    • I totally feel you on this!! By the way, there are a whole host of problematic relations that come from being viewed as a man/father/oppressor/boyfriend/rapist! within modern structures. i’d love to get into these in class.

  • Oops. My explanation was interpreted as html instead of plain text. Ugh. I’ll try again by putting the tag in a comment. <!–Link to Parent Teacher Conference post.–>. Disregard “” If that doesn’t work here is a link to a page with the format:

  • What a brain-tingling thread! Thanks so much Jeff for starting us off! Love how you included Plato who was much more definitive than Jefferson in identifying and categorizing a multitude of accepted social roles like how the cop (guardian) needs to have a nice house and a good salary if expected to serve and protect. Plato also thought all artists should be kicked out of the republic since their role is to uphold imagery, including metaphors, versus producing new ones. And I suppose that’s where I’m going here: what’s being built, upheld, kicked out, torn down in these readings? One ongoing theme is America’s five-relationships: father-son, state-individual, teacher-student, master-slave, husband-wife, yes. But there are also so many other relationships present such as mother/son/father/son/grandmother/grandson/writer/reader– all at once! When Coates mother has him reflect on why he was in trouble at school he comments that it was a lesson “of drawing myself into consciousness,” something he couldn’t learn in school, on the streets or through religion. So where did he go? When Douglass was banned from reading, writing and dreaming in Master Hugh’s home, he found poor, white shipyard boys and Irish dockworkers (who were most likely indentured servants) to help him learn. One of my favorite relationships in the readings is that among front row, back row and absent students mentioned by Catherine Prendergast’s students. Unlike Jefferson, Coates, Douglass, Prendergast’s students and Stommel aren’t interested in building a school/ state; their interest is with engaging the mind, in making varied social connections and with pursuing purpose, which lends itself to any number of questions chief among them being, I feel, has the academy been prepared to do that?

    And to be fair to Jefferson, he was a deeply conflicted man, especially when it came to reasoning through the existence of slavery– something he was asked by Quakers to do when the first and only petition against slavery came before the Pennsylvania congress (1688, see Ellis, Founding Brothers, 2000). He also changed his mind, a lot, but not his ideas:). For example, that church (“may be rooms for religious worship”) mentioned at the center of the University of VA, point 2, was changed to a library. Separation of Church & State” first coined by him in 1802 and stemming from his 1787 penning of the 1st Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

    U of V library:

  • Sorry! Also wanted to hear what all of you thought about Wilder’s comment of how the Academy is the “third pillar of a civilization built on bondage”–the other two being Church & State.

    • Definitely. The status of “the Academy” as a fortification seems to background the status of INSTITUTIONS as fortifications… Of life as a series of life-fortifying events

  • Wonderfully thought-provoking stuff Jeff. I am intrigued by your references to Plato. It has been a while since I actually read The Republic closely, but I appreciate your brining in the focus on the importance of the social over the individual, or as you say, “the relationship supersedes the individual actors or their identities,” which is quite relevant to the Coates and Wilder readings. The institutional practice of education is necessarily socially oriented, and this means that at any given moment in history the educational structure *should* correspond to the needs of the social structure.

    Now, as Professor Davidson illustrates in Now You See It, the current structure is still oriented towards the kinds of skills required by the Fordist assembly line and the principles of industrial management, while the social world (in the U.S.) no longer corresponds to these models. Is there a way (and I’m shooting from the hip here) that the current educational model also reproduces social relations that are no longer relevant in the 21st century? In Coate’s book it is clear that there is not just a disjunction between school and the street, they are effectively separate worlds.

    The question, as I see it, that then emerges is “what current social realities do we want our schools to reproduce” the relationship supersedes the individual actors or their identities?” Wilder demonstrates that the models of education offered by schools in the North were part of a system that propped up the ideological and social underpinnings of slavery, and in this way they were, very effectively, serving the interests of their time (meaning, of course, reproducing white privilege). This reminded me of a line from The Republic in which Plato refers to the necessity of educating children in true nature of war while keeping them safe from the consequences:

    “we must mount them on horses in their earliest youth, and when they have learnt to ride, take them on horseback to see war […] In this way they will get an excellent view of what is hereafter to be their own business; and if there is danger they have only to follow their elder leaders and escape.”

    So, one of the issues we have to face as educators is not just how to be relevant, how to be in sync with the dominant determinations of our times, but how to choose WHAT to include in our reproduction of the social system. To ask not just what is the most currently valued, but what deserves to be passed on? Should we be inculcating a taste for war in our children simply because our current social system has produced a state of endless warfare as the norm? In what ways can ‘being out of step,’ so to speak, with the dominant system be a socially progressive choice?

    • ‘To ask not what just is the most currently valued, but what deserves to be passed on’

      Precisely. Or– what things that we find disagreeable, or inconvenient, or stumbling-block/’Satans’ should we include or accommodate in a humanist political programme

  • Looking through a modern educational lens at the historic documents I think it is unrealistic to separate the home and school. Jefferson could have the argument that father and tutor should be a separate entity because the reality of what expectation to be enrolled at school was a nearly homogeneous population with very similar backgrounds and family dynamics/beliefs. To create critical thinkers in a heterogeneous education system it must be considered the different dynamics that the varieties of people are bringing to the classroom. You say, “here, education must look to the model of the family in order to compensate for its own lacks, or to perfect its own operation.” which I believe is applicable then and now, but more than likely more than in histories past, the tutor and the father (or family in general) will have different views. If different perspectives and experiences aren’t challenges and brought to light, how can people become critical thinkers? I believe there is value in bringing different lived experiences or lived histories to the classroom in order to create a deeper understanding of the world, which was a precedent in Jefferson’s dialogue.

    The analysis of Coates when he says, “Forget about intentions. What any institution, or its agents, ‘intend’ for you is secondary. Our world is physical. Learn to play defense–” has come to be a sad, yet true, sentiment in looking at the American Education System. Taking a closer look at the Harvard document and the Jefferson document, it is very apparent that education in America was not intended for all and in practice, it is still not intended for all. One good intentioned teacher isn’t enough to combat the systemic racism that is built into centuries of educational doctrines. As a student, you do need to be on defense and make sure your best interest is a heart, because as Coates clearly states, intention is not enough.

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