18 | A Paper by Carlos Mönckeberg, Frank Thomas Smith and Dr. William L. Chapman
Editor’s Note: Very special thanks to Frank Thomas Smith, author and editor of the Southern Cross Review, for permitting me to reprint this excellent piece on proposed educational reform in Argentina. As mentioned in my introduction to this magazine and on the landing page of the Starship Sloane Publishing website, I had my first story, “King of the Condors,” published by Frank in the Southern Cross Review a couple of decades ago. As a long-time public educator, I found this paper to be quite interesting. I hope that you do as well. This paper originally appeared in the Southern Cross Review, Issue #145, July/August 2022, published since 1999 in the Traslasierra Valley of Argentina.
The Necessity of Truly Free Education
Carlos Mönckeberg (d), Frank Thomas Smith and Dr. William L. Chapman (d)
Any reform decided upon cannot have the desired effect if it does not get to the root of the problem of education in this country and in the world: the dependence of educational institutions on the political state.
If we analyze the evolution of social forms in history, we find three archetypal elements that constitute an organized society. The State proper, that is, the bearer of the element of rights.
The sector which we could call cultural, and which encompasses all manifestations of religion, culture, art and education, since to educate is precisely to make the contents of culture available to the learner.
And finally, the sector of economic life, which includes the processes of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services.
Although this plan of a social organism seems convincing, it is only applicable to the present, and this present is a consequence of the preceding historical evolution. Formerly, in the early epoch of the evolution of humanity, the social organization started from an all-embracing theocracy which, from the top of the pyramid, for example the Egyptian Pharaoh, who ruled as a representative of the divinity and as a secular lord simultaneously.
In this way, everything was organized and regulated: as much religion as the relationship between individuals, and between the different estates, that is to say rights – or lack thereof – and also agricultural planting and sowing seasons, etc., in other words the Economic aspect. Examples of this theocracy and its organization can be found throughout ancient history, in America, and, as remnants of that past, in recent European history in the absolutist monarchies that derived their attributes and powers from divine law.
Transformed theocratic impulses still persist In modern times, replacing divine right as justification for the absolute and all-encompassing character of the monarchical state with abstract concepts such as “popular will”, “sovereignty”, or other abject ones such as “racial spirit”, just to mention a few. However, the function of the state today consists, in reality, only in guaranteeing legal equality among people: “the equality of man before the law”. This aspect only emerged in the history of mankind when divine law was replaced by human law, legislated law, especially in the Roman Empire with the law that bears its name.
It is only recently, with the birth of industrialization in the West, that the economic aspect or science has emerged as an independent sector within society, alongside the science of law. A reflection of all this evolution can be found in history since the 16th century, when man found the path to spiritual freedom in religious struggles. In the French Revolution he sought to secure his juridical equality as a citizen, and in the social struggles of the twentieth century he sought to define the character of human relations in economic life, struggles which have not yet ended, but which are not the subject of this paper.
It should be understood that any of the factors that integrate the structures of an organized society should be at the service of humanity and not the latter being of service to them. Neither the structures that integrate the spiritual-cultural-educational element, nor the State nor the economy, exist by themselves, but only in function of human beings. The human being must be considered as such and not as a mere “citizen” or “producer” or “consumer”, because every human being participates at the same time in the three aspects of social life, and each of these is governed by the laws that are intrinsic to it.
If the economic sector encroaches on the political state – whether through its lobbyists, influence in legislative bodies, justice, or in the administration – “equality before the law” will be violated to the benefit of economic interests. If economic interests invade the spiritual-cultural-educational sector, it will not consider the individual needs of the student, but will organize education according to its production needs, or it will control research, so it will not be at the service of the welfare and evolution of humanity, but of its own enrichment, which is the case today in all the so-called developed countries.
The result is the plundering of natural resources through the application of scientific resources, the destruction of the ecological environment and, in short, the questioning of human survival.
If the political sector is the one that invades the spiritual-cultural-educational sector, the latter will become an expression of the struggle for political and ideological power, or, indirectly, of economic power. Expressions such as “Aryan culture” (in National Socialism), “popular culture”, “national culture”, are manifestations of this invasion, which prevent the emergence of the only valid element: culture itself, without attachments, this being the free expression of the spiritual, cultural, artistic and educational faculties of each individual human being.
From the latter results the only true requirement to educate: ability, which can only be offered by the community of educators, not by a ministry or a state secretariat or by any other sector of the political establishment.
In the course of history it has been necessary for the political state to take responsibility for education in order to ensure that it is available to all. This goal has been achieved, and now it is time for the State to give education its freedom. The State is a political entity and has its political task, which is to ensure human and civil rights. Everyone has the right to education and the State must guarantee this right. However, the State should not control or administer education, a task that does not fall within its natural sphere and for which it is incompetent, a fact amply demonstrated by the situation of education in this country. There is a tendency to look to other countries as models; in the case of education this outward look does not serve us well. The sad fact is that education is in the hands of the State all over the world and world education suffers as a consequence. You may ask: if the state is not responsible for education, who is? The answer is so simple as to be obvious: those who educate. And these teachers and professors – are they in a position to take on this additional task? Perhaps not immediately, but at least more so than political bureaucrats. After all, it is they who daily teach children in schools, who best know the pedagogical and spiritual needs of children because they know them as real people and not as mere statistical abstractions.
Ability also means knowledge of that to which it is directed, that is, the student’s education. From objective observation and experience, the educator will extract knowledge of the learner’s needs, the only parameter to determine the method and content of education, and not an “educational policy”, a term that in itself is contradictory and aberrant.
From all of the above it is clear that in order for the cultural-spiritual activity to develop organically, an environment of total freedom from the state-political establishment and from the economic sector is required. The ideal situation would be for the teaching staff of each school to run its own institution without a director. However, if the teaching staff feels that a principal is necessary, it can choose one of its members to perform this function. In this way, teachers would grow with their task and would know what pedagogical methods to apply without being ordered by some minister of education. It also means, in the case of education, that it should be detached, administratively and even economically, from the State, and organized on the basis of self-management, as a totally independent sector. The self-management or self-government of the educational sector would be in the hands of those who “know the subject”, those who are qualified, that is to say, the educators.
Each school would form a community of educators, or, perhaps, a community of educators together with a community of parents, giving rise to the movement of a school that would determine the education to be imparted to the children attending it, without the interference of inspectors, ministries or any other entity belonging to the political state.
It will be difficult to achieve educational freedom as long as the state controls finances. Therefore, it may be necessary to change economic procedure as well. Communal and provincial Autonomous Educational Commissions may be formed. These commissions, composed of representatives of the cultural and educational sector of society, will receive the funds earmarked for education in each locality and distribute it according to the needs of each school. Where will this money come from? Basically it is the same money generated by the country’s productive labor that is now diverted through the State and would instead go directly to the Educational Commissions.
Each community should participate directly in securing the financial means for education in its locality. This active participation would awaken the individual and collective creative forces of society. It is understood that the more economically powerful communities should share their resources with the less favored ones. This could be coordinated through regional educational commissions.
It would be ideal that each educational institution be self-financed in accordance with the idea of fraternity in the economic aspect. Each parent or student should contribute whatever his situation allows him to contribute; each teacher would withdraw what his or her needs determine. In order to solve the economic needs of the schools, we suggest two possible measures:
a) Everything that the national, provincial or municipal budget provides for the maintenance of the educational system is automatically transferred to the autonomous educational sector, which, through its own administration, freely disposes of those resources, or
b) a voucher is issued for each school-age child, which would be delivered to the parents, who in turn would deliver such voucher to the school to which they freely wish to send their children. For its part, the school would exchange this voucher with the State for funds that the State receives through taxation.
This system (a or b) could be applied to all public schools, which would be administered by the respective educators, totally detached from the sphere of the State. The current private schools could continue to exist, but state subsidies to them should gradually disappear in order to allow them a healthy autonomous development. This system of cultural-educational freedom should be applied to the three main levels of education and teaching, since it is the only one that guarantees the full development of the creative capacities of the individual, and with it the basis for the healthy evolution of the social organism of a nation, of a people.
In our country [Argentina] there is already a precedent for partial detachment of educational bodies from governmental entities. This is the university system that allows universities – both state and private – to dictate their own statutes and govern themselves, without the intervention of public authorities. This regime has positive ingredients of spiritual freedom, since it is the university faculties that decide for themselves their contents and teaching-learning methods, without being imposed by government officials. But this freedom is only partial, since government agencies maintain their power to interfere in the educational activities of state universities, through control of the financial resources. The state universities depend for their development and progress on the national budget, so in this sense the negative influence of the political-state sphere and the economic sphere on spiritual life is evident.
It should be emphasized that although the economic sphere is important, the essence of the reform is the liberation of education from the political state and economic interests alien to the integral development of the human being. Through true educational freedom, the spirit of the country can be transformed and a model can be presented to a world desperately in need of new paths.
This paper was written (in Spanish) in 1987 for consideration by the Pedagogical Congress studying educational reform in Argentina. Obviously it was not taken into account.