Madisonian Explanation of Educational History

The history of education is fraught with political, racial, ethnic, religious, economic, and cultural conflict. In order to understand why so much exploitation has occurred, and how to achieve educational progress in the future, it is necessary to consider the insights of James Madison.

James Madison was a home-educated Framer of the United States Constitution. He was a preeminent architect of the Constitution (primarily drafted by Gouverneur Morris), the primary drafter of the Bill of Rights, an extraordinary political theorist, historian, and author, and the fourth President of the United States. In Federalist Paper No. 10, Madison articulated the widely-lauded Theory of the Large Republic. Madison's Notes for the National Gazette Essays outlined his Public Information Theory. As explained elsewhere, Madison rejected the Platonic concept of government by philosopher kings in his Federalist Paper No. 49.

Madison understood that ninety percent of what ninety percent of people do is motivated by personal pride, greed, and insecurity. Although many people also manifest more noble instincts, including love and the ability to sacrifice for the common good, these more noble qualities are not reliably predominant or consistently manifest. Individual self-interest leads to acts of self-gratification, which in turn expand in both scope and frequency until eventually checked by external constrains.

Human behavior can become even more troublesome at the group level. Madison used the term "factions" to describe special-interest groups. He understood that all factions are "united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of [self-]interest."

Factions do not operate on a purely principled basis, because compromise is always required for two or more unique individuals to work together. Factions tend to be 1) controlled by the most aggressive or opportunistic faction member(s), 2) composed of members who are often detached from operational details, 3) influenced by selective disbursement of information, 4) supported by a large number of individuals who uncritically accept direction, 5) motivated to action by emnity harbored towards neighboring demographic groups, and 6) permeated by a preferance for the security of minimal solutions instead of the risk associated with seeking optimal outcomes.

Human society is therefore caught in an unavoidable conundrum. On the one hand, group activity can achieve many beneficial, even essential, outcomes, including feats which would be impossible to achieve on an individual basis. Factions are both necessary and useful. However, group dynamics can also lead to incredibly destructive, unprincipled, and inhumane factional behavior. Factions can induce individuals to support harmful, irrational, or petty actions that would not be accepted on an individual basis.

Inevitably, one faction or one alliance of factions will eventually obtain control over any given locality. In a non-democratic society, this control is most often achieved through superior military force. In a democratic society, control is most often obtained through majoritarian control of the electorate, and then enhanced through subsequent economic and legal intrigue.

However the power is obtained, factions will have a propensity to exercise their power to gain self-interested outcomes, which are adverse to the "permanent and aggregate interests of the community." Once in control of the government, factions will attempt to use government institutions to generate further momentum and consolidate control. This is accomplished through the selective filtering of the information flows that operate to shape public opinion, which will in turn accomplish an alteration of the future public opinion. The altered public opinion "shifts" the bell curve of political behavior and exerts an effect upon future government administrations.

Madison proposed a set of practical solutions to minimize the problems posed by the faction conundrum. Some of those solutions were posited in Federalist Paper No. 10, while others were set forth in Madison's unrelated writings. Very basically, and as a non-exclusive list, Madison suggested: 1) institutional checks and balances, 2) large-scale, nationwide inclusion of diverse state factions, 3) facilitation of "a general intercommunication of sentiments & ideas among the body of the people," which would serve to enlighten public opinion and create an "equilibrum in the interests & passions of the society itself," and 4) abolishment of the peculiar institution of slavery, which operates to suppress individual liberty (Madison rhetorically condemned slavery but had a mixed political record on the issue).

These principles lead to sound, fair, and stable government. Such precepts also can be applied in many private settings to maximize the stability and integrity of private mediating institutions.

The history of education in the United States is a textbook illustration of Madison's predictive theories. Various nineteenth-century factions obtained control of the different state governments, and then implemented a variety of measures to derogate the civil liberties of demographic minorities residing within their states.

In order to maintain the suppression, dominant state factions denied demographic minorities the liberty to direct the upbringing and education of their own minority children. Sometimes, as in the case of African-Americans, children were not permitted to study at all. Sometimes, particularly with African-Americans and Native Americans, children were sold or abducted away from their minority parents.

After 1852, factions turned to compulsory attendance as the weapon of choice against demographic-minority families. Public schools were used to spatially confine minority students, tax the revenues and property of minority parents, and inculcate the state majoritarian worldview into the minds of minority children. In the nineteenth century, compulsory education weighed particularly heavily against African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, American Catholics, Mormons, Amish, American Jews, and Hispanics. By the mid-twentieth century, Evangelical Christians also found themselves at odds with public compulsory education.

Changing the identity of the controlling faction does not tend to solve the underlying problems identified by Madison. When demographic minorities (or new demographic majorities) manage to obtain local political control, the political atmosphere is still poisoned. The previously-aggrieved minority will typically ignore memories of its own past, and use its newly-acquired power to vex fellow state residents (e.g. the Puritans of Massachusetts). Structural containment, not factional identity, is the best protection against misconduct.

Education, once viewed as an individual quest for truth in the competing market of ideas, degenerated into a cultural battlefield populated by factions. Each faction sought to impose its own self-interested racial, religious, ethnic, economic, or political agenda upon children held hostage to the process. Even when the factional motivations were ostensibly lofty, the means were misguided and the results proved disasterous.

As Madison predicted, however, the "Large-Republic" dynamic of the United States gradually operated to curb the abuses of the state factions. A national majority enacted the Fourteenth Amendment in order to prevent state-majority factions from derogating the basic civil liberties of state demographic minorities.

In Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923), the United States Supreme Court applied the Liberty Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to curtail state government derogation of demographic-minority parental liberty. Subsequent cases, including Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925)(Catholics), Farrington v. Tokushige, 273 U.S. 284 (1927)(Asian-Americans), and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972)(Amish), extended the same rationale to protect other demographic minorities from cultural genocide.

Perhaps the most famous summary of Madison's concepts in the educational context was penned by United States Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, a home-educated man who presided over the German war-crimes tribunal held after World War II:

Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good as well as by evil men. Nationalism is a relatively recent phenomenon but at other times and places the ends have been racial or territorial security, support of a dynasty or regime, and particular plans for saving souls. As first and moderate methods to attain unity have failed, those bent on its accomplishment must resort to an ever-increasing severity. As governmental pressure toward unity becomes greater, so strife becomes more bitter as to whose unity it shall be. Probably no deeper division of our people could proceed from any provocation than from finding it necessary to choose what doctrine and whose program public educational officials shall compel youth to unite in embracing. Ultimate futility of such attempts to compel coherence is the lesson of every such effort from the Roman drive to stamp out Christianity as a disturber of its pagan unity, the Inquisition, as a means to religious and dynastic unity, the Siberian exiles as a means to Russian unity, down to the fast failing efforts of our present totalitarian enemies. Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 640-41 (1943).

The design of the Quaqua Society takes Madisonian principles into account. We are mindful of the past lessons learned from the history of education and alternative education. We are committed to seeking responsible action for the common good, while avoiding the worst excesses of factional behavior.

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