Education as a public business
It is one of the complaints of the schoolmaster that the public does not defer to his professional opinion as completely as it does to that of practitioners in other professions. At first sight it might seem as though this indicated a defect either in the public or in the profession; and yet a wider view of the situation would suggest that such a conclusion is not a necessary one. The relations of education to the public are different from those of any other professional work. Education is a public business with us, in a sense that the protection and restoration of personal health or legal rights are not. To an extent characteristic of no other institution, save that of the state itself, the school has power to modify the social order. And under our political system, it is the right of each individual to have a voice in the making of social policies as, indeed, he has a vote in the determination of political affairs. If this be true, education is primarily a public business, and only secondarily a specialized vocation. The layman, then, will always have his right to some utterance on the operation of the public schools.Education as expert service
I have said “some utterance,” but not “all”; for school-mastering has its own special mysteries, its own knowledge and skill into which the untrained layman cannot penetrate. We are just beginning to recognize that the school and the government have a common problem in this respect. Education and politics are two functions fundamentally controlled by public opinion. Yet the conspicuous lack of efficiency and economy in the school and in the state has quickened our recognition of a larger need for expert service. But just where shall public opinion justly express itself, and what shall properly be left to expert judgment?The relations of expert opinion and public opinion
In so far as broad policies and ultimate ends affecting the welfare of all are to be determined, the public may well claim its right to settle issues by the vote or voice of majorities. But the selection and prosecution of the detailed ways and means by which the public will is to be executed efficiently must remain largely a matter of specialized and expert service. To the superior knowledge and technique required here, the public may well defer.
In the conduct of the schools, it is well for the citizens to determine the ends proper to them, and it is their privilege to judge of the efficacy of results. Upon questions that concern all the manifold details by which children are to be converted into desirable types of men and women, the expert schoolmaster should be authoritative, at least to a degree commensurate with his superior knowledge of this very complex problem. The administration of the schools, the making of the course of study, the selection of texts, the prescription of methods of teaching, these are matters with which the people, or their representatives upon boards of education, cannot deal save with danger of becoming mere meddlers....