Backing into the Future

This morning I finally ordered a personal copy of a used book, through Amazon, that I have, again,  been thinking about recently. The book by Richard Bailey has been elusive while it is frequently intriguing to my imaginations about the future of education. For several years I’ve admired Education in the Open Society – Karl Popper and Schooling.  The hardcover version available is above my pay grade at $130.00. Published by Routledge, this book is an extension of work that Bailey did for a PhD. His current interests are focused in a seemingly very different direction; namely physical education, coaching, and school administration.

I’ve read the book twice, checking it out from the UW-Madison library. The second time through I took pretty extensive notes. However rereading the notes, now around four years old, leaves too many gaps. Fortunately used copies of the book are now available and I ordered one for about $20.

Popper popped into my mind again yesterday while watching an interview on C-SPAN2 with Krisanne Hall, who writes and teaches about the US Constitution. She is a Christian who has, with her husband, Reverend J. C. Hall, founded Liberty First University, an online vehicle for advocating how the framers of the Constitution anticipated and would probably be shocked at the twists and turns in the directions of progressive politics in America. In the interview, she several times refrained from directly stating her opinion but referred to writings of Washington and Jefferson as well as Madison and Paine in the Federalist Papers. Her premise being that it is only through the study of history that we can know how to interpret and form opinions about the Constitution, and by extension, the proper applications of law in contemporary society. Liberty, they say, is not what it used to be and was supposed to be.  

Krisanne Hall was highly critical of American schools and universities for what she regarded as a failure to learn the lessons of history. She quoted Patrick Henry, who said, “History is the lamp that lights our future.” An attorney and former prosecutor, she is a very articulate speaker and for several minutes of the interview railed about the lack of passion by teachers in encouraging historical lessons for their students. Encourage, she emphasized, means to “infuse.” Ouch! That seems a little too close to dogma for me. I really prefer fostering of open-ended questions. Maybe history demands more questions.

Listening to the interview I was troubled by at least two things. First, the originalists had no way to anticipate or predict the changes wrought by two centuries of political maturation and technological change. The Constitution they built based on pragmatism applied to eighteenth century European politics not only required ten amendments for ratification, but has been amended seventeen times since. Second, originalism and historicism are at best only part of a basis for understanding contemporary American politics, society and the economic forces shaping our future.

Popper was not supportive of historical reasoning as an effort to predict the future. Among several books by Popper on my shelves, one carries a provocative title: The Poverty of Historicism, He concluded the book saying; “It almost looks as if historicists were trying to compensate themselves for the loss of an unchanging world by clinging to the faith that change can be foreseen because it is ruled by an unchanging law.”

There is plenty to concern ourselves about the current state of America. Our politics are off the wire with ineffective Congressional capacity as well as an ideologically focused and split Supreme Court and a President that should never have been elected by an antiquated system of State’s Rights and Sovereignty emblemized by the Electoral College. In two volumes, Popper defends an Open Society against totalitarianism. In a separate volume, he lays a philosophical foundation for science through Conjecture and Refutation; the scientific process of falsification.

Education perhaps needs less passion at the front of the classroom and more leadership from behind to find directions fitting to a very troubled present and a more promising future. In listening to the interview with Hall I had to wonder if I could manage a productive conversation with her. It is very doubtful that my patience would follow her passion for answers from history. Federal empowerment of States may support more innovation in education, but States that only want to follow the dictates of historical dogma are unlikely to advance in a world both troubled and empowered by change.