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Sociology and Modern Social Problems By Charles A. Ellwood Characters: 22571

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

As has just been said, the ultimate reliance in all social reform or social reconstruction must be upon the education of the individual. Social organization can never be more complex or of a higher type than the individual character and intelligence of the members of the group warrants. At any given stage of society, therefore, the intelligence and moral character of its individual members limits social organization. Only by raising the intelligence and character of the individual members of society can a higher type of social life permanently result.

Another fact to which the student needs his attention called is that all progress in human society, it follows, from what has just been said, depends upon the relation between one generation and its successor. Only as new life comes into society is there opportunity to improve the character of that life. If at any given time intelligence and character limit the possibilities of social organization, then it is equally manifest that only in the new individuals of society can that intelligence and character be greatly improved.

There are, of course, two possible ways of bringing about such improvement:-first, through the selection of the hereditary elements in society, eliminating the unfit and preserving the more fit; but, as we have repeatedly pointed out, such a scheme of artificial selection is far in the future, and in any case its inauguration would have to depend upon the second method of improving individual character, which is through education and training. As we have insisted, not only may the natural instincts and tendencies of individuals be greatly modified by training but through education the habits and hence the character of individuals can be controlled. Therefore the main reliance of society in all forward movements must be upon education, that is, upon artificial means of controlling the formation of character and habit in individuals.

The finality of education in social betterment can be, perhaps, further illustrated by reconsidering for a moment some of the social problems which we have just studied. Take for example the problem of crime. There are only three possible means, as we have already seen, of eliminating crime from human society:-first, through changes in individual human nature, brought about by biological selection, that is, through a system of selective breeding, eliminating all who show any criminal tendencies. This method would, perhaps, eliminate certain types of criminals as we have already seen, namely, those in whom the hereditary tendency to crime is dominant. A second means of attacking the problem of crime would be by improving social and economic conditions by means of the interference of the organized authority of society in the form of the state. Legislation and administration directed to social ends might accomplish much in reducing the temptations and opportunities for crime in any group. The correction of evils in social and industrial organization would, no doubt, again greatly lessen crime but it is entirely conceivable, from all that we know of human nature and human society, that crime might still persist under a just social and industrial organization. Crime could be completely eliminated only through a third means, namely, the careful training of each new individual in society as he came on the stage of life, so that he would be moral and law-abiding, respecting the rights of others and the institutions of society. Moreover, neither selective breeding nor governmental interference in social conditions could accomplish very much in eliminating crime unless these were backed by a wise system of social education.

Now what is true of crime is equally true of all social problems. They may be approached from either of three sides:-first, from the biological side, or the side of physical heredity; second, from the side of social organization, or the improvement of the social environment; third, from the side of individual character, or the psychical adjustment of the individual to society. As Professor Ward and many other sociologists have emphasized, it is this latter side which is the most available point of attack on all social problems; for when we have secured a right attitude of the individual toward society all social problems will be more than half solved. Thus, as we said at the beginning of this book, education has a bearing upon every social problem, and every social problem also has a bearing upon education. Just how important this reciprocal relationship between education and social life is, we can appreciate only when we have considered somewhat more fully the nature of social progress.

The Nature of Social Progress.-Social progress has been defined in many ways by the social thinkers of the past. Without entering into any formal definition of social progress, we believe that it will be evident to the reader of this book that social progress consists, for one thing, in the more complete adaptation of society to the conditions of life. We regard those changes as progressive whether they be moral, intellectual, or material, which bring about a better adaptation of individuals to one another in society, and of social groups to the requirements of their existence. Social progress means, in other words, the adaptation of society to a wider and more universal environment. The ideal of human progress is apparently adaptation to a perfectly universal environment, such an adaptation as shall harmonize all factors whether internal or external, present or remote, in the life of humanity. Social progress means, therefore, greater harmony among the members of a group. It means also greater efficiency of those members in performing their work. Finally, it means greater ability on the part of the group to survive. Social progress includes, therefore, the ideals of social harmony, social efficiency, and social survival. Things which do not ultimately conduce to these ends can scarcely be called progressive.

Now it is evident that adaptation on the part of individuals and groups to the requirements of life may be in part accomplished by biological selection, that is, by eliminating the least adapted. But selection is, after all, a very clumsy and imperfect instrument for securing the highest type of adaptation. Again, it is evident that a certain degree of adaptation can be secured through the constraint of government and law; but only a relatively low type of adaptation can be secured in such an external way. It is finally evident, therefore, that the highest type of adaptation in either individual or social life can be secured only by training the intelligence and moral character of individuals so that they will be sufficient to meet the requirements of existence.

Another feature of social progress which we have not yet mentioned in this chapter, though we have noted it repeatedly in earlier chapters, is the increased complexity of social organization. This increased complexity is in part due to the mere increase in numbers. It is also due to the various processes themselves by which wider and more universal adaptation is brought about in society. Thus, while every useful mechanical invention aids man to conquer nature, it at the same time increases the complexity of social life. Now in a more complex society there is more opportunity for conflicts of habit between individuals, more opportunity for social maladjustment, and therefore more opportunity for the failure of some part or all of the group in achieving a social life characterized by harmony, efficiency, and capacity for survival. Hence, the adaptation of individuals in the large and complex groups of modern civilized societies becomes a greater and greater problem. The regulative institutions of society, such as government, law, religion, and education, have to grapple with this problem of adjusting individuals to the requirements of an increasingly complex social life. No doubt religion, government, and law have a great function to perform in increasing social regulation, but they can only perform it effectively after they enlist education on their side.

The Social Function of Education.-We are now prepared to understand the meaning of educational systems in civilized society and to see what the true function of education is. Education exists to adapt individuals to their social life. It is for the purpose of fitting the individual to take his place in the social group and to add something to the life of the group. Educational systems exist not to train the individual to develop his powers and capacity simply as an individual unit, but rather to fit him effectively to carry on the social life before he actively participates in it. In other words, the social function of education is to guide and control the formation of habit and character on the part of the individual, as well as to develop his capacity and powers, so that he shall become an efficient member of society. This work is not, at least in complex civilizations like our own, one which we carry on simply in order to achieve social perfection, but it is rather something which is necessary for the survival of large and complex groups. Otherwise, as we have pointed out, the conflicts in the acquirement of habit and character on the part of individuals would be so great that there would be no possibility of their working together harmoniously in a common social life. Just so far as the system of education is defective, is insufficient to meet social needs, in so far may we expect the production of individuals who are socially maladjusted, as shown in pauperism, defectiveness, and crime.

Education is, then, the great means of controlling habit and character in complex social groups, and as such it is the chief means to which society must look for all substantial social progress. It is the instrument by which human nature may be apparently indefinitely modified, and hence, also, the instrument by which society may be perfected. The task of social regeneration is essentially a task of education.

Education as a Factor in Past Social Evolution.-Does past social history justify these large claims for education as a factor in social development? It must be replied that the history of human society undoubtedly substantiates this position, but even if it did not, we should still have good ground for claiming that education can be such an all-powerful factor in the social future. The sociological study of past civilizations, however, shows quite conclusively that all of them have depended in one way or another upon educational processes, not only for continuity, but largely, also, for their development. As we have already seen, the life history of a culture or a civilization is frequently the life history of a religion. But religious beliefs, together with the moral and social beliefs, which become attached to them, were effectively transmitted only through the instruction of the young. The religious element did scarcely more than afford a powerful sanction for the moral and social beliefs upon which the social organization of the past rested; hence, when we ascribe great importance to the religious factor in social evolution, we also ascribe,

at the same time, great importance to education, because it was essentially the educational process, together with religious sanction, which made possible most of the civilizations and social progress of the past.

Indeed, we have no record of any people of any very considerable culture that did not employ educational processes to the largest degree to preserve and transmit that culture from generation to generation. Culture has been passed down in human history, therefore, essentially by educational processes. These educational processes have controlled the formation of habits and character, of ways of thinking and ways of acting, in successive generations of individuals. The educational processes have had much more to do, therefore, with the civilizations and social organization of the past than industrial conditions. Industrial conditions have been rather relatively external factors in the social environment to which society has had to adapt itself more or less. In the same way, political authority has rested on, and been derived from, the social traditions rather than the reverse. It is therefore not too much for the sociologist to say, agreeing with Thomas Davidson, that education is the last and highest method of social evolution. The lowest method of evolution was by selection, and that, as we have already emphasized, cannot be neglected. The next method of social evolution apparently to develop was the method of adaptation by organized authority, and, as we have already seen, organized authority in society, or social regulation by means of authority, must indefinitely persist and perhaps increase, rather than diminish; but the latest and highest method of social evolution is not through biological selection nor through the exercise of despotic authority, but through the education of the individual, so that he shall become adjusted to the social life in habits and character before he participates in it. Human society may be modified, we now see, best through modifying the nature of the individual, and the most direct method to do this is through education.

The Socialized Education of the Future.-If what has been said is substantially correct, then education should become conscious of its social mission and purpose. The educator should conserve education as the chief means of social progress, and education should be directed to producing efficient members of society. The education of the future must aim, in other words, not at producing lawyers, physicians, engineers, but at producing citizens. Education for citizenship means that there must be radical reconstruction in the educational processes of the present. The education of the nineteenth century aimed at developing largely power and capacity in the individual as such. Its implicit, and oftentimes its avowed, aim was individual success. The popularity of higher education in the nineteenth century especially rested upon the cult of individual success. It became, therefore, largely commercialized, and emphasized chiefly the professions and occupations which best assured the individual a successful career among a commercial and industrial people.

It is needless to say that the individualistic, commercialized education of the latter years of the nineteenth century very often failed to produce the good citizen. On the contrary, with its ideal of individual power and success, it frequently produced the cultured freebooter, which our modern industry has so often afforded examples of. Education, instead of being a socializing agency and the chief instrument of social regeneration, became an individualizing agency dissolving the social order itself.

Very slowly our educators are becoming conscious of the fact that this type of education is a social menace, and that our educational system needs reformation from bottom to top in order to become again equal to the social task imposed upon it by the more complex social conditions of the twentieth century. Hence the demand for a socialized education, which is proceeding, not only from sociologists and social workers, but from the progressive leaders of education itself. What this socialized education of the future shall be is not the province of this book to discuss, but a few of its essential characteristics may be noted. As has already been said, such education will aim, first of all, at producing the citizen before it aims at producing the lawyer, the engineer, the physician, or any other professional or occupational type. No doubt, this means, for one thing, that all individuals shall be taught to be good fathers and mothers, good neighbors and members of communities, even more than they are taught the accomplishments of life. No doubt, also, the socialized education of the future will emphasize the adjustment of the individual to the industrial order of society, because it is necessary that individuals shall be producers if they are to be efficient citizens. The necessity and value of industrial training in our system of education has already been emphasized in discussing other social problems. Such training has its place and that place, as we have already seen, is a very important and fundamental one; but it must not be forgotten that the relations of men to one another are more important than the relations of men to nature. In industrial training, the element which is apt to be emphasized is the relations of the individual to the physical facts and forces of nature; but this is only a beginning of the training for citizenship, because good citizenship consists essentially in harmonious and efficient functioning in the social group. Therefore, the study of the relationships of men to one another must be the final and crowning element in a system of social education. Such studies as history, government, economics, ethics, and sociology must occupy a larger and larger place in the education of the future if we are to secure a humanity adjusted to the requirements of its existence. Historical and sociological instruction should lead up, moreover, to direct ethical instruction. If the industrial element in the social life is important, the moral element is even more so, since it is, as we have already said, the ideal aspect of the social. In some way or another, our public schools, from the kindergarten up, must make a place for social and ethical instruction of a direct and explicit character.

In the higher education, the social sciences must be especially emphasized, because it is those who receive higher education who become the leaders of society, and it is important, no matter what occupation or profession they may serve society in, that they understand the bearings of their work upon social welfare. They must know their duties as citizens and understand how society may best be served. In other words, our higher education should put to the front the ideal, not of individual power and success, but of social service; and this means that, in addition to the technical or professional education which the more highly educated are giving, there must be a sufficient knowledge of social conditions and of the laws and principles of social progress given them to enable them to serve society rightly. Intelligent social service cannot exist without social knowledge.

All this implies that the older idea that education can be given regardless of content is, from the social point of view, a great mistake. Social knowledge is necessary, as we have just said, for efficient social service, and a socialized education can have no other end than social service. Therefore, sociological knowledge in the broadest sense should be required in the education of every citizen, and particularly those who are to become social leaders. Professor Ward has ably argued that if sufficient information of the facts, conditions, and laws of human society could be given to all, that alone would bring about in the highest degree social progress. Whether we agree or not that the mere giving of information will of itself lead to progressive or dynamic action in society, it must be admitted that right social information is indispensable for right social action. As Professor Cooley has said, "We live in a system, and to achieve right ends, or any rational ends whatever, we must learn to understand that system." Hence, the commanding place which sociology and the social sciences should occupy in the education of all classes, and especially in the training of the teacher himself.

It is not unreasonable to believe that the development of the social sciences will show us the way to remove many, if not all, social evils; and it is also not unreasonable to believe that the knowledge which these sciences will furnish will stimulate in the vast mass of individuals an impetus to remove these evils. Moreover, training in the social sciences will check many of the most menacing tendencies of our present civilization. For one thing, training in the social sciences will lessen the practical materialism of modern civilization, for it will throw the emphasis on the relations of men to one another rather than on the relations of man to nature. The social sciences, aiming at the control of the social conditions and of social progress, necessarily emphasize the higher life of man, and they therefore set before the student as the goal, not material achievement or individual success, but the service of man. Again, training in the social sciences will check the exaggerated individualism, which, as we have already seen, is one of the most menacing tendencies of our time; for the social sciences show the solidarity of the society and the interdependence of its parts. They show that no individual lives to himself, and that his acts evidently affect the whole of society. Finally, training in the social sciences will insure the development of true moral freedom in our social life, for these sciences involve a searching but impersonal criticism of social institutions and public policies. Now the very breath of life of a free society is intelligent public criticism of its institutions and policies. Without this, there can be no change, no progress. But intelligent criticism implies scientific criticism, that is, criticism based upon adequate scientific knowledge and without personal bias. This means the scientific study of institutions and social organization. If the American people are to perfect their institutions, they must maintain and develop their moral freedom; and to maintain true moral freedom, they must encourage the scientific study of social conditions and institutions. To secure an unbiased attitude toward social and political problems, to train every citizen for social service, to reconstruct social organization along scientific lines, it is necessary, therefore, to give the social sciences an honored place in the education of all classes and professions.


For brief reading:

WARD, Applied Sociology, Chaps. VIII-XII.

WARD, Dynamic Sociology, Vol. II, Chap. XIV.

HORNE, The Philosophy of Education, Chaps. IV and V.

DEWEY, The School and Society.

For more extended reading:

DAVIDSON, History of Education.

GRAVES, History of Education.

MONROE, History of Education.

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