|St. Lawrence Institute|
for the Advancement of Learning
As part of his analysis, and as the key argument to justify his conclusion, Hayek provided an explanation of how ideas evolve and move in society. It was this discussion which struck me during this most recent reading, as the nature and shape of ideological change in our society is the common theme of the essays presented in this issue of Discourse. In essence, Hayek argued that intellectuals -- despite a strong popular belief to the contrary -- play a long-term role in the evolution of society through their role in shaping public opinion. In his argument Hayek used a broad definition of "intellectual" - characterizing them as the "professional secondhand dealers in ideas" - and included not only philosophers and academics, but doctors, teachers, journalists, ministers, politicians, authors, lawyers, artists, in fact anyone whose principle function is to be a transmitter of ideas or information in society. Hayek argued:
There is little that the ordinary man of today learns about events or ideas except through the medium of this class; and outside our special fields of work we are in this respect almost all ordinary men, dependent for our information and instruction on those who make it their job to keep abreast of opinion. It is the intellectuals in this sense who decide what views and opinions are to reach us, which facts are important enough to be told to us, and in what form and from what angle they are to be presented. Whether we shall ever learn of the results of the work of the expert and the original thinker depends mainly on their decisions.
In this passage, Hayek alludes to something fundamental to our time. In the modern "Information Age" the idea of the "Renaissance Man" capable of encompassing all knowledge has been rendered a physical impossibility. The vast leaps in human knowledge over the last centuries has encouraged the emergence of the specialist to the point where little interchange amongst disciplines take place. Having said that, there remains a deepseated psychological need for a sense of holistic understanding of the surrounding world; we still feel the need for some understanding of "what's it all about?" For all practicable purposes the old joke about the medical profession applies equally to all aspects of modern life. We are all either G.P.'s -- knowing less and less about more and more -- or specialists -- knowing more and more about less and less -- to some degree or other, and usually both, one of the paradoxes of our world.
It is this dichotomy which has given rise to many of the professions encompassed in Hayek's definition of "intellectuals" but particularly those -- professional "generalists" such as journalists and essayists -- whose livelihoods depend upon their pens. However, Hayek stresses that the degree to which these people control access to the means in which ideas circulate -- and therefore to which ideas we are presented with and from what perspective -- is vastly underestimated by the average person. It is in this way that Hayek's "intellectuals" control the long-term evolution of ideas and attitudes in modern society, and is the chief reason Hayek believes that regaining their allegiance to the concept of liberal democracy is essential if its survival is to be assured.
Of particular interest is Hayek's description of the way in which ideas are selected as important or "true" by the intelligentsia. Usually lacking detailed knowledge about any field in particular, "intellectuals" judge ideas not on their specific merits within a field, but solely as they fit into an overall world view, or Weltanschauung, which they regard as modern or advanced. The main criterion, if you will, is how well does the new idea fit into already established ones to form a coherent and acceptable world view. Ideas which may be easily integrated into an existing view are looked at favourably, and those which oppose one are either frowned upon or, more commonly in the modern world, ignored and given no coverage or acknowledgement at all.
Our first article serves as a good illustration of the process describe by Hayek. In"Totalitarian Geography," Gerry Kelebay describes the changes which have been wrought in the study of geography since his student days, in effect a case study of how changes in the left-wing Weltanschauung dominant since at least the 1960s has influenced one aspect of how we see the world around us. When reading this article one pauses and reflects on the degree to which the Gramscian call for a "war of position" has been answered. Antonio Gramsci, a Marxist theoretician of the 1920s and 1930s, argued that the "revolution" would not be achieved through street fighting and mobilizing the working class. A successful revolution, argued Gramsci, could only be sustained by the capture of the minds of the "elite" who compose the cultural conscience of the country in question. As this and the other articles in this issue demonstrate, a constant and never flagging intellectual war has been waged in our society. Gramsci's watchword was "Capture the Culture," and in examining the world around us one can only reflect on how successful this campaign has been.
In "Was Dewey a Marxist?" Bill Brooks queries the extent to which a major educational theorist may be said to be indebted to the ideas of socialism in general and Karl Marx in particular. Bill rightly notes that, despite all sorts of talk about problems in modern education, no one wishes to examine the underlying philosophical assumptions which make up the system. This may seem somewhat surprising -- that Marxism may have died in the Soviet Union, but is alive and well in the public education system is a standard line -- but then again maybe not. Bill points to the public surrender of control over these issues to "experts" in the school bureaucracies; one should remember that the hallmark of practical Marxism has been the deliverance of what the apparatchiks want to deliver, not what their citizens want or need.
Our third article, and his second in this issue of Discourse, has Gerry Kelebay pose the question "Is the Practicum Practical?" This article raises a similar question to Bill's, by focusing on one way in which the ideas of John Dewey have changed the practice of modern education. In this article Gerry challenges the current fetish for practical teaching experience versus subject knowledge for young B.Ed students prevalent amongst most university education faculties. While not denying a role for instruction in teaching methods or limited exposure to classroom instruction, Gerry questions both the amount of time taken from the study of the prospective teacher's chosen subject as well as the impact upon the quality of education received by our children presently in the schools.
The reader will have noted that the articles in this issue of Discourse deal with changes which have occurred in our educational system. There are two reasons to this. Firstly, the issue of what is taught, and how, to our youth is of vital importance to the continued development of our free society. These articles only touch upon the changes wrought in our educational system over the last number of years. While we all realize the power inherent in the modern electronic media and the need to be "media literate" in digesting the information we receive from it, we should also begin to question the values being taught to our children by a self-perpetuating education bureaucracy. Those who have been involved with their local school commissions will recognize the description provided in Bill's article: outside input into the content -- and intrinsically this means the values taught -- of the modern school system is most unwelcome by our modern "experts."
Secondly, these were the articles which were submitted for publication. You will note elsewhere in this issue a formal "Call for Articles," opening up our pages to a wider writing public, which we sincerely hope you will respond to. We have been asked if we intend on resuming our original quarterly publication schedule. To this we are forced to reply: no. Monetary concerns could be resolved should we develop a sufficient writing pool to justify the expense.
In closing, I would like to thank our readers for the encouragement and support received since the Summer 1993 issue. I look forward to your comments on the present issue.
Sid Parkinson, Editor
P.O. Box 307