Factories or Temples?
To the Editor:
R. S. Baker concludes his review of Dr. Conant’s latest book, The Education of American Teachers [March] with a pitch too fat to pass by. Professor Baker sees the American school developing in the decades ahead “around one of two visions—as a factory or a temple”. . . . On the one hand, we face “fragmentation of the teacher’s functions, With the more prosaic tasks being taken over by an army of parapedagogical personnel . . . ‘Master’ teachers [heading] teams . . . will efficiently convey masses of information and concepts to masses of pupils. The alternative is to view the school as a temple, as a holy place for forming self-determining individuals.”
This sort of rhetoric should not go unchallenged. A more balanced judgment of the new instructional patterns would show that there is no inherent contradiction between a more rational definition of the teacher’s role, which would involve harnessing technology to the instructional process as well as using specialists to improve teaching techniques; and (2) strengthening interaction between pupil and teacher . . . We may get further in turning schools into temples by ingeniously improving our deployment of these elements, than by responding to new teaching techniques with talk of “factories vs. temples.”
New York City
Mr. Baker writes:
I share with Mr. Gross the urge to be matchmaker for the wedding of machines and morality, but I imagine that we are irreconcilable as to which should command in the marriage. What frightens some of us into “rhetoric” is not the new teaching and administrative techniques themselves, but the outlook that is their source, the view that insists on seeing human beings exclusively in abstract, statistical, “scientific” terms. I, too, would like to see us “ingeniously improving our deployment” of some of the impressive new gadgets and tehniques. But I have been too intimately involved with the upsurge of teaching technology to believe that without some rhetoric more raucous than mine, it will ever be put, consistently, to humane uses. What the issue boils down to is that many school administrators, most school board members, and nearly all of the burgeoning ed. research staffs respond to Skinner, but not to Buber. (Can’t we recognize that the causes of alienation are complex without getting the notion that it is desirable?) My quarrel with Dr. Conant is that he ignored what, in these strange new days, is half the truth about education; my quarrel with Mr. Gross is’ that he seems unable to distinguish which half is means, which half is ends, or that he naively believes it does not matter. It does.