A COMMUNITARIAN FOUNDATION FOR SCHOOLS:
PHENOMENOLOGY AND THE ENDS OF EDUCATION

H. Peter Steeves


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I. A Central Question

It is widely accepted that there is a strong relationship between education and communities, though as an academic theme the nature of this relationship is only sporadically thought to warrant detailed scrutiny and investigation. There are notable exceptions. In the early 1900s, Dewey focused on the theme, stressing the importance of the link between education and community in works such as School and Society and Democracy and Education. And the social reconstructionists of the 1930s spoke of schools as tools for social and communal change. To be sure, in each generation there are some who acknowledge the importance of the education-community relationship, but it is only rarely that the theme is taken to be the central question in the philosophy of education.

This is due in part, I would argue, to the rise of Liberalism- -both in terms of the birth of the Liberal State and the increasing dominance of the academic tradition of Liberalism complete with its various assumptions concerning the nature of the Self and the Community. The Liberal community is a community only in a very specific sense of the word: it is the setting and the backdrop against which disparate individuals meet and interact with one another. These Liberal Selves--busy choosing their own ends and values--supposedly live their lives fundamentally unattached and isolated. They are drawn together out of the need for and the availability of work, thus creating a community of buyers, sellers, consumers, producers, owners, and laborers. As a result, education becomes just another commodity within society, and educators take on the role of trainers, preparing the next generation to enter the corporate community and function appropriately. Those (dwindling) aspects of higher education which are not taken to be a form of training--typically the humanities--thus earn less respect and are evaluated with an unsympathetic eye. Because the community is a collection of isolated individuals who have only business relations to tie them together, schools must treat students accordingly, i.e., as autonomous, choosing, Liberal Selves who will one day take up business relationships with each other. In this limited respect education has a duty to shape the community: it must maintain a (supposedly) value-neutral background for society by refraining from teaching values, while at the same time fostering tolerance and respect to the non-interference rights of others (which is not typically acknowledged as a value itself). Education and the community are thus related, but this relationship is not seen to be of great philosophic interest.

The problem is that we would like to think of ourselves as a community in a different, richer sense. We would like to think that our society is more than a playing field for big business and our schools are more than training centers for future entrepreneurs and laborers. We manifest these desires when we (attempt to) separate "vocational training" from "education" and "jobs" from "careers." A community, we know, must be a vibrant home for traditions and shared interests, not just an arena for strangers.

But how, in fact, does such a community come to be? If it is the case that we do not have "appropriate" communities any longer, what is education's role to be in bringing them about? And how can education properly change, then, to reflect the values appropriate to a communally situated Self?

These are difficult questions. It seems impossible even to begin to answer them without first knowing what a true community is, and on this there is little agreement. The term is used too loosely even among academics, and I take it that it is in this spirit that in 1987 Wendell Berry wrote: "Community is a concept like humanity or peace, that virtually no one has taken the trouble to quarrel with; even its worst enemies praise it." A year later in her presidential address to the Philosophy of Education Society, Mary Anne Raywid called for a return to the theme of the school- community relationship, struggling, though, to say just what a community is.1 Calling on philosophers, theologians, and social scientists, Raywid offered, in place of a definition, a list of the "constitutive features of community" as compiled from her extensive reading. This list--including such notions as long- term interaction, mutual dependence, common sentiments, and shared beliefs--proved at its worst to be contradictory and at its best common-sensical. But this is not to fault Raywid; it is, rather, an example of the difficulty we face in discussing community- -especially in terms of its relationship to education. If we had a better understanding of community in general, a means of comprehending and evaluating our roles and institutions, and a model for appropriate change, perhaps a discussion of the relationship between education and communities would be in order.

For the past several years my own work has been to achieve just this--a more precise understanding of community. And I have been led to the point where a systematic investigation of the relationship between community and education is not only possible, but necessary. The philosophical foundation of my work has been an investigation of our experiences of Self and Other, and this phenomenological inquiry has suggested an understanding of community grounded on our most basic experiences of the world.


II. Intersubjectivity and the Foundation for Community

The question of other minds has been with philosophy for some time. Typically, the problem is stated: How can I be sure there really are other minds like mine out there? In various incarnations, the question arises as: "How do I know that I am not the only true consciousness and I am hallucinating other people? How can I be sure that an evil demon is not tricking me into thinking other people exist or that a mad scientist is not zapping my brain such that I think I am experiencing other people (and a world), but actually I am just a blob of gray-matter floating in a vat in some laboratory? How can I prove everyone else isn't actually a robot, intricately programmed to act as if they had a mind? Why think that other minds exist if it is impossible to feel and think and be aware from their perspective rather than my own?" For such reasons it would appear that there is an unbridgeable chasm between my mind and the possible minds of Others--l am sure that the former exits but I can never have First-hand experience to prove the latter.

Now it must be admitted that non-philosophers tend to find these sorts of questions silly. And I would have to say that I agree. It seems to me that this is just the sort of thing that gives philosophy a bad name in some circles and stands as evidence that we philosophers have the penthouse suite in the ivory tower. But the silliness of wondering whether or not your neighbor is a robot has its roots in serious problems which have arisen in the history of philosophy.

The modern version of this problem is due, for the most part, to Descartes. The famous cogito ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am") was the conclusion of Descartes' project of radical doubt. It is the reason we can supposedly be sure that we exit but never know for sure about Others. The idea is that I can doubt that most of my experiences are really taking place, or at least taking place in the way that I perceive them. I can doubt that this room is really as I see it--doubt, even, that it exists. I can doubt that the people around me are really here--I can imagine the possibility of a complex illusion making it appear that other people are here. I can doubt away every experience I have, according to Descartes, but one. I cannot doubt that I am doubting. The act of doubting carries with it its own validation. Even if I try to doubt that I am actually doubting, I am clearly engaged in a doubting act. My doubting, my consciousness, my thinking mind exists. I think, therefore I am.

So Descartes has reduced all of experience--all that exists-- to his own Ego. The problem now is how to get back to the world. My own mind self-evidently exists, but there is no such proof for other minds. Descartes' solution is to bring in God: the world and other people must really exist as I experience them because a benevolent God would never allow me to be fooled. Such an argument has not convinced most who have come after Descartes, but they have been caught up by the problem. The chasm between the Self and the Other lingers.

One solution--and, I think, the proper one--is to question the validity of the content of Cartesian doubt. Is it the case that we can doubt the existence of the world? Perhaps. But we cannot doubt that we are having the experience of the world. This is to say that it might be the case that our experience is illusory or warped, but clearly it is an experience. And the fact of the matter is that we always, necessarily experience the world, and we experience ourselves and Others as in the world. The result of Cartesian doubt, then, is not an isolated Ego cut off from the context of the world (and Others). We never actually have an experience of ourselves this way. Rather, we uncover a much different human Self--a Self always embedded in the world and always experienced in the company of Others. This is the phenomenological turn as Husserl puts it in his Cartesian Meditations.2

[It is true that] the whole unitarily surveyable nexus, experienced through a period of time, can prove to be an illusion, a coherent dream . . . . [But] the philosophically reflective Ego's absention from position-takings, his depriving them of acceptance, does not signify their disappearance from his field of experience . . . . [Doubting] does not leave us confronting nothing . . . . [F]urthermore, it must by no means be accepted as a matter of course that, with our apodictic pure ego, we have rescued a little tag-end of the world, as the sole unquestionable part of it for the philosophizing Ego, and that now the problem is to infer the rest of the world by rightly conducted arguments, according to principles innate in the ego . . . . Descartes erred in this respect. Consequently he stands on the threshold of the greatest of all discoveries . . . yet he does not grasp its proper sense . . . [T]he momentous fact is that I, with my life, remain untouched in my existential status . . . The psychic life of my Ego . . . including my whole world-experiencing life . . . is wholly unaffected by screening off what is other . . . . I . . . am constituted, accordingly, as a member of the 'world' with a multiplicity of 'objects outside me.'

In other words, even immersed in doubt I do not experience myself as a doubting mind floating in a void or an abyss. Rather, I experience myself as being in the world yet doubting that the world really exists as I see it. I never have the experience of being an isolated, disconnected Ego separate from the world and Others. And this is a major discovery, especially as it pertains to my experience of other people. Husserl goes on to explain that my experience of the world--even in doubt--

is essentially such that the "others"--for--me do not remain isolated; on the contrary, an Ego-community, which includes me, becomes constituted . . . as a community of Egos existing with each other--ultimately a community of monads, which, moreover, (in its communalized intentionality) constitutes the one identical world . . . [And if we were to ask of the Ego and the Other:] are they not separated by an abyss I cannot actually cross? . . . [Our answer would be:] On the contrary, . . . in the sense of a community of men and in that of man--who, even as solitary, has the sense: member of a community--there is implicit a mutual being for one another, which entails an Objectivating equalization of my existence with that of all others . . . . lt is an essentially unique connectedness, an actual community and precisely the one that makes transcendentally possible the being of a world, a world of men and things.3

That is to say that even in the midst of doubt--even after realizing it all might be an illusion--I cannot help but experience myself as fundamentally interconnected with other people. They are always there for me, even if I doubt their existence. At the deepest and most abstract level I am not an isolated, monadic Self, but rather necessary a member of an intersubjective world--a member of a community.

We can be more detailed if necessary. We can investigate how it is that the sense of Self arises in an infant, for instance, and we will uncover that it arises simultaneously with the sense of the Other and the community of Others. The upshot is: if we never actually or possibly experience ourselves disconnected from Others, our community, and the world, why talk about ourselves as if we could?

The disconnected, unattached, isolated Cartesian Self is, basically, the classical Liberal Self. It is autonomous and self-interested. It needs a reason--usually a social contract--to relate to Others. It sees Goods in the world as isolated, abstract, and ahistorical. And this is fundamentally different from the phenomenological/Husserlian Self which is social and communally-interested. It needs no initial push into society for it already and only exists in the context of a community. It sees Goods in the world as intermeshed, intertwined, and essentially intersubjective, for if there is no isolated, egoistic, monadic Self then there are no isolated, egoistic, monadic Goods to be pursued. Consequently, we have reason to believe that the Liberal model of the Self is misdirected, and we thus set in its place a more communitarian model instead.


III. Educating Liberal Selves

All of this is but a brief sketch of a vast body of work and a demanding topic. But having laid at least an initial framework for a phenomenologically-founded communitarian Self, I would like to focus on what this new understanding of our nature might mean for the topic at hand--the proper ends and aims of education.

What happens when we assume the Liberal view of the Self and then ask: To what goals should education aspire? First, we would discover that the institutions of education would have to adopt goals specific to the kind of student being taught and, assuming the Liberal model, that would mean an isolated, ahistorical, non-socially-situated, generic human. This would lend itself to the standardization of education. If all students are essentially the same then they could be taught the same material in the same manner: the monad Primer. The overt role of values in education would thus be limited. As autonomous, isolated, thinking Selves, students would be seen as needing to be taught objective common fact only. Having been provided with the descriptive, they could then freely choose their own normative paths. Non-interference rights--the so-called "negative rights"--make sense given such an understanding of our nature. If the only thing one can truly be sure of is one's own Self, egoism quickly follows.

Next we would have to inquire into the nature of this objective common knowledge. Just what is it that every Liberal Self should learn in the Liberal State? Clearly the educator is helping prepare the student to live in a certain kind of community, and that community is ultimately the backdrop for modern capitalism. It is, supposedly, a value-neutral playing field on which we can meet and interact. Liberal Selves naturally are capitalistic. They pursue individual, isolated goods such as personal profit; they form alliances only when it is mutually beneficial (as in business contracts); they are competitive rather than cooperative; and they can easily objectify each other (as producer, consumer, human capital, etc.) because it is never clear there are any other real subjects out there besides themselves anyway. Good educators will thus create good market-dwellers. Ultimately the distinction between society and the business world will be set aside and education will be more explicit in its goals: create the workers of tomorrow according to the system of today.

I take it that Robert Howard is arguing a similar point in his book Brave New Workplace when he writes that we must recognize

the establishment of the corporation as the dominant institution in American society. For this has brought about a corresponding decline of social identity based on small, local communities. Increasingly, 'individuals are raised to be flexible and mobile,' . . . [a]nd the Self becomes a strategy, a tool.4

In Working and Educating for Life, Mechthild Hart makes the connection with education even clearer:

The current debate on the crisis in higher education has many facets, generating apparently divergent positions and proposed solutions. The common theme, however, is the changing relationship between higher education, or the world of academia, and society. Significantly, 'society' has become largely equivalent with business or the corporate world . . . . Adult education seems to see its task as essentially pre-defined: to train and educate human capital . . . . [Thus] education's task is interpreted mainly as training for the right kind of skills, basic or advanced, and 'right' is interpreted as helping towards finding or keeping a job (or making a career) . . . with emphasis on skills, efficiency and control, and also in the entrenched individualism of adult education philosophies which emphasize Self- directedness or the individual growth of isolated learners who strategically organize or 'manage' their own learning within the confines of their own privately determined goals.5

Bad education is an education that does not serve the ends of corporate America under this view of the Self. The problems here, however, are numerous.

First, it is clear that the marketplace is not a value-neutral playing field. Values, of course, are taught whenever a student reads a textbook or takes an exam. Even tolerance and non-interference are values, and thus the Liberal Self is not free to adopt just any set of values, but rather any set which does not conflict with the values of the Liberal State (which were not a matter of choice). Modern institutions of education clearly indoctrinate students--and those who stand to gain are well aware of this fact. One need only delve into our recent past to see the thoughtful swiftness with which education is used as an homogenizing tool.

Consider, for instance, the case of Hopi children who were systematically stripped from their families and placed into American public schools, especially during a period ranging from the 1880's to the 1930's. The United States Bureau of Indian Affairs argued that it was for "the benefit of the Indians."6 The official position was that Indian culture had stunted the growth of the true Liberal Self, and that proper education could thus "help the children break away from the boundaries of a culture that diminished the children's ability and desire to partake in American society . . . [Thus] when Hopi parents resisted sending their kids to schools, the cavalry tore the children from their parent's arms and then arrested the parents."7 The result was a generation of Native American Indians who were molded into market-dwelling Americans. Their social, religious, cultural, economic, and philosophic values had changed and, as author Jerry Mander points out, "[T]hese children were the Indians the United States would later reward with 'tribal leadership.'"8 Clearly, there was a thoughtful plan.

But if Liberalism is inherent in the Self rather than created by educational institutions, what was the worry? Why was it so imperative to get Native American children into public schools?

Before attempting to answer this question, I must be clear that this is not meant to be a condemnation of the public school system. On the contrary, they might be our last and final hope. Private schools have proven even greater Liberal indoctrinators that their public counterparts, and the solution for bad education (i.e., education not producing good workers) is today typically thought to be privatization.

In this spirit in 1992 Arnold Fege, the director for government relations for the national PTA, was quoted in The Nation as saying that corporate America needs to become even more involved in education "because the public schools are not producing the types of student that business needs."9 Commentator Susan Willis suggests that this attitude began a devastating turn toward privatization such that in order to

supply business with what it needs, President Bush proposed the formation of new schools, funded by private industry start-up grants . . . . Meanwhile, to meet industry's expanding need for a docile, low-skilled workforce, many states have implemented youth apprenticeship programs at the high school level. These programs assign high school juniors and seniors to twenty-hour-a-week jobs (95 percent of which require mindless, repetitive labor) and offer a curriculum that features watered-down math and pro-business ethics. Although the Bush era may be over, the swing toward privatization has not been reversed, and many corporations maintain toeholds in public education.10

Mander, in fact, concurs, citing the use of technology in the classroom as a tool to impose Liberal values. "Corporations already provide a vast amount of educational materials' to schools," he argues;

when they also provide the computer programs that kids interact with . . . they pave the way to an officially sanctioned, unified field of knowledge. That field will be narrower than at present . . . and it will be consistent with corporate values . . . . Oil and chemical companies, [for instance] have been particularly generous in providing materials to help explain nature to young people--materials that portray nature as a valuable resource for human use and that celebrate concepts such as 'managing nature' through chemicals, pesticides, and large-scale agribusiness. Thus a generation of youngsters is trained to regard nature in a way that coincides with corporate objectives.11

And because corporate objectives are society's objectives- -because the corporate world/social world distinction is gone-this is all seen as good. The country barely raises an eyebrow when we learn that Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's history course, "Renewing American Civilization," which he taught at a Georgia college and which was shown by satellite TV at over 100 other locations, was financed by corporations. For $50,000, for instance, "a corporation could become a 'sponsor' and work directly with the leadership of the Renewing American Civilization Project in the course development process.'"12

The solution here is not simply to stop corporations from providing educational material. What is needed is a major overhaul of the institutions of education themselves. Working with new understandings of the proper nature of Selves and society, much can be accomplished.


IV. Toward a Phenomenological-Communitarian Philosophy of Education

A phenomenologically informed philosophy of education must begin with the acknowledgment that humans are inherently intertwined. There is no Ego without the Other (and the community of Others). The world I experience is the world common to us all: such is the nature of our experience. From the get-go, we experience ourselves as connected to Others with whom we share a world. No social contract is needed to get these Selves together- -they are already connected through a rich nexus of relations. No argument is needed to found morality--the Common Good is already there, and my own perspective on the Good is but a perspective, a view from Here on the same Good which the Other views from There- -and thus there are no isolated goods to pursue: what is possibly good or bad for me is possibly good or bad for the Other and the Community in which we find ourselves thrown.

Liberal Selves can be precariously molded from such stuff, but they are not natural or inherent. When the small, personal communities die which inflated us to life; when the primary relationships of family and neighborhood which forged our Ego are no longer considered important and no longer play a role in our economy; when education mistrains us as generic workers, we tend to act as if we were something we are not.

The anxiety, unrest, and disillusionment of our times testify to this fact: we are acting a part which does not reflect our true nature. Paolo Freire was on to something like this, I think. In his quasi-phenomenological analysis of education, Freire investigated oppressive forms of consciousness which destroyed the possibility of education. Uncritical thinking ("naive thinking"), he claimed, was the result of oppressive social relations, particularly those generated by the feudal system. Still, though the feudal system backdrop created a peasant educated to think in a complacent, static, subservient way--his mind adapted to the "normalized today"--there was hope for liberation. Hart explains it thus:

It is important to note that although suppressed by the oppressive social relations of the feudal system, Freire's students still have the capacity for theoretical-reflective consciousness. Freire does not discuss the source of this continued capacity, but I believe we must locate it in the general context of the peasants' experience . . . . [T]he peasants' experience of work and production in is rich with history, and draws on knowledge which has been accumulated and stored over time and which has to be applied according to the fluctuating and changing conditions which characterize working on the land. In other words, the peasants' own work makes for experiences which are inherently educative . . .13

This is certainly true, but to it I would add that the peasants' experience of Self, Others, and the world itself also makes possible a liberating education. A communitarian Self bubbles beneath the surface of even the most exemplary Liberal Ego.

What then, are the proper goals of education, the proper method of scholastic liberation, and the proper values to which our schools should aspire? How is education to proceed assuming the communitarian view of the Self?

Education must be seen as a project essentially soaked with values. It is a process of coming to know one's Self--of understanding the nature of communal Being. And because one is always constituted as a member of the world and as a Self among Others, Self understanding inherently requires an understanding of the world and Others. Hart argues that "knowledge [is] constantly created and recreated in accordance with change and development, but it also has multiple sources: subjective and objective, social and individual, about self and about others."14 But one must keep in mind that these are not strict dichotomies. Individuality is a function of social perspective, and I only know myself to be a Self in virtue of the fact that I know you to be the Other. It is this fact--coupled with an awareness of the mutually appealing world, the world which necessarily appears as for-us- all--that provides an initial foundation for education: the "objective core [of education] is guaranteed by the shared or common medium of the social world in which educator and learners participate, and by their shared and common interest in critically examining and revisioning this world."

It is important to pin down just what this "objective core" is, and an understanding of objectivity such as Hart offers captures the original meaning of the word. An objective curriculum--or a "rational" curriculum--is one which is founded in a particular community and is constituted by incorporating a multiplicity of perspectives on the appearing world. Husserl makes the point in his Crisis of the European Sciences, and James Hart puts it in terms appropriate for our purpose:

If we understand rationality here . . . as the ongoing passive and active self-displacing to standpoints other than the actual one at hand, we have not only an encompassing [and essentially phenomenological] theory of rationality, but also one which makes space for the dis-coursing of the polis . . . [D]is-coursing is essentially a self-displacing to standpoints other than one's own; it is making the rounds to all perspectives of the common world in order to ascend to an encompassing trans- or impersonal perspective which does justice to them all.15

Educational discourse must, then, become a self-displacement. Its method and (partial) goal must be to come to know the world by rational inquiry--i.e., making the rounds to the various perspectives and synthesizing an understanding which attempts to do them all justice.

At this point, however at least two questions arise. First, does this mean that education must be multicultural and global in scale, thus destroying the spirit of community-based schools? And second, is this not just another take on Liberalism--a more subtle relativistic philosophy inevitably requiring us to refrain from teaching values because everyone's perspective is different and all are equally valid?

In regard to the first question and thus the scope of the curriculum and institutions of education, a phenomenologically- founded communitarian view has the benefit of being an excellent example of how the motto "Think globally; act locally" might become a pedagogical reality. Perhaps it is true that we are connected to all of humanity--indeed, to all of the living world. But the people and places which give us meaning, constitute our identity, and comprise the content of our actual daily experience are particular people and places--my wife, my neighbor, this valley, this grove of trees. These are the primary relations which constitute me and my world, and knowing them must be a top priority. We are all connected to Hopi children, for instance, and Hopi and non-Hopi education should include this truth, but more than this it should include a rational discourse on the local world.

Liberalism, in contrast, is essentially placeless, and Liberal Selves soon come to have homelessness--physical for some, spiritual for all--thrust upon them. Home is where the job is under the Liberal model and a Liberal education prepares students to accept this fate. Since identity is constructed by the marketplace, and the marketplace is inherently placeless, there is no need to teach students about their local community. Instead we teach them, for instance, about "the environment," a grand Liberal construct. The environment surrounds us but does not include us; it must be protected as a resource (again, the corporate viewpoint). The environment is best understood generically--as a placeless every-place--and best analyzed scientifically. The result is that American elementary school students know a few things about the Brazilian rainforest (typically, how its disappearance is endangering some colorful or cute animals--an easy sell), and they know nothing of the needs and history and richness of the land beneath them. In terms of values, Daniel Kemmis puts the point in this manner:

Public life as we all too often experience it now is very much like a Big Mac--it can be replicated in exactly the same form anywhere. And just as our acceptance of placeless "food," consumed under placeless yellow "landmarks," weakens both our sense of food and of place, so too does the general placelessness of our political thought weaken both our sense of politics and of place . . . . No real culture--whether we speak of food or of politics or of anything else--can exist in abstraction from place.16

And no real education can ignore the reality of place.

Of course, this runs the risk of sounding like an excuse for isolationism--a kind of "group egoism" in which we only care to learn about our little corner of the world. Communitarians are often accused of conservatism of this nature. Does such a model for education set the stage for schools to teach "Male Supremacy Studies" and "White History Classes?"

Some would be quick to observe that this is already what is going on--and they would have a point. Despite the rhetoric of Liberal tolerance and value-neutral course content, modern education does not need communitarianism as a justification to start teaching the values of those who are in power; this is already the norm. But more to the point, a proper communitarian philosophy of education would neither lead to nor condone such a curriculum. The problem is that such a construction of "we"--the "we" which inhabits "our racial supremacy" or "our gender superiority"--is inauthentic. It acknowledges merely one perspective of a necessarily common world. It is, in fact, a group egoism, and as such suffers from the same problems that plague traditional, individual egoism. Such an understanding of "we" is based on a false understanding of experience--the mistaken belief that there is an isolated "us" or a good which is solely "ours." And this is not our experience of the world. In fact, such beliefs are phenomenologically contradictory--they require taking Others to be simultaneously subjects and objects, and they require a necessary acknowledgment of the intersubjectivity of the common world with a simultaneous suppression of its publicity and thus alternative perspectives. Such oppressive values will not find a voice in the curriculum we are pursuing.

At this point, however, a second concern arises. Have we not pushed the problem to the opposite extreme and initiated an all-encompassing relativism in which ail perspectives on the world are equally valid and thus none should be valued above or taught to the exclusion of the others?

Our first response must be that perhaps one perspective does not have more value than another, but that does not necessarily mean that all perspectives must be given equal time in the classroom. Understanding one's place in mid-Ohio should not preclude knowing about deforestation in Brazil, but it must include knowledge of this Midwestern land and its life--human and otherwise. Of course, this knowledge must include a variety of perspectives itself--education is (partially) a systematic making-of-the-rounds in an attempt to synthesize a worldview and Self understanding. Native American voices and pioneer settler voices and German immigrant voices and animal-life voices--all are stops along the way; each contributes to a better understanding of Self, Other, and world. Consequently, it must be made clear that the focus of inquiry is an act of selection and not exclusion. Talking about us in this place is not devaluing Others--indeed, it cannot be because the nexus which unites us is a necessary assumption.17

A second response is that acknowledging difference is not to be equated with rejecting overarching values. Tolerance and respect are not the same as relativism. In fact, tolerance and respect are often submitted as appropriate absolute values, and relativism is the rejection of absolutes. Postmoderns are notorious for their relativism, but Nicholas Burbules and Suzanne Rice, arguing for a postmodern theory of community in education, make it clear that

[t]here is no reason to assume that dialogue across differences involves either eliminating those differences or imposing one group's views on others; dialogue that leads to understanding, cooperation, and accommodation can sustain differences within a broader compact of toleration and respect.18

Thus difference--and the acknowledgment of difference--can be an absolute, and it can be taught as content and method. Respect, under this theory, does not relativize all perspectives but rather includes them all in the search for truth.

Finally, we might respond that when we make the rounds it is possible that we will encounter someone who is wrong--not in the sense that his or her perspective is incorrect, but that he or she is mistaken about what the whole must look like.

Liberal Selves, for instance, are wrong. They have meticulously constructed a world in which to live--they have accepted the world in which other Liberal Selves (including educators) have placed them--but this world is experientially contradictory. Here there is an attempt to suppress the publicity of the world--the publicity of Goods, for example--and act as if one is an isolated Ego. But of course one never actually experiences one's Self this way. Through phenomenological analysis we can demonstrate that Liberalism misdescribes experience, that Liberal Selves are misunderstanding their perspectives as well as the underlying whole, and, consequently, that the values of Liberalism are wrong.

I am wrong about my experience quite often. More than once I have had the experience while shopping of taking a store mannequin to be a real person. Typically the error is caught in a split second, but there is an interesting phenomenology at work in these moments. As I experience the mannequin from a different angle or with senses other than sight--in phenomenological terms: "as I turn empty intentions into fulfilled intentions by perceiving what was previously only apperceived"--I come to realize that I was mistaken. It is true that I was having an experience of something, but I now know it was not the thing I thought it to be. Could racism be corrected in a similar manner--i.e., through an education which makes the rounds of various perspectives and examines Selves, Others, and the world? Is not racism essentially a problem of taking Others as objects? Is racism a problem that can be dealt with on a phenomenological level? Perhaps. What would be needed to answer in the affirmative--what would be needed to show that relativism is wrong in general--is something universal to which we might appeal.

And there are universal truths. Among them are the generic structures of experience: we experience objects as wholes; we experience objects as sensual manifolds; our experience has a structure which gives rise to presence and absence as modes of appearing; we experience categoriality; etc. Claims to the contrary can be shown to be false through guided phenomenological reflection (i.e., through education). There are also necessary ways in which we experience Others. Our own Ego is a result of our experiences of Self and Other--without the Other, there is no Ego. Consequently, claims which objectify Others are self-defeating. We do not experience Others as objects; our own subjectivity testifies to this fact. We can tell ourselves a story, teach objectification in our schools, and create institutions that are designed for human-objects to pass through them rather than human subjects, but we would be wrong to do so. In the end, the publicity of the world, its inherent intersubjective nature, and the interconnection between the Ego and the Other cannot be suppressed. We can claim that they are not there, but the claims would be false.

Inevitably, there is also a universal Utopian longing inherent to our experience of the world. It is a longing toward what James Hart calls the "person of a higher order" and what Husserl identified as being "one with the life of Others; . . . a piece in the unity of the life of the community [which also] reaches beyond this into the life of humanity."19 This desire to participate in the common world and to examine and ultimately mold the world must become both a goal and method in education, and as such it will ultimately dispose of relativism as well. Mechthild Hart clearly understands this when she claims that "only a critical as well as Utopian dimension prevents the stress on individual difference, contextuality and multiple realities degenerating into an inconsequential and ultimately incapacitating, disempowering relativism."20 Education, then, has a duty to adopt such Utopian goals.

In the end, phenomenological communitarianism has much to offer a philosophy of education. Husserl, in fact, concludes his Cartesian Meditations with an educator's call for action. "Know Thyself!" he commands, echoing the Delphic motto.21 And as our own Ego arises in sense simultaneously with the Other--as we always and necessarily experience ourselves as in the world--Self-understanding is inherently Other-understanding and world-understanding as well. The task, then, is great, but the ends are worthy. And with a proper understanding of the human experience, education stands capable of making our Utopian longings into concrete aspirations for real communities.


Endnotes

1. See Mary Anne Raywid, "Community and Schools: A Prolegomenon," in Philosophy of Education 1988, ed. J. Giarelli (Normal, Illinois: Philosophy of Education Society, 1989).

2. Edmund Husserl. 1960. Cartesian Meditations. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijholf, 17, 20, 24, 25. 98. 99.

3. Husserl (1960) 107, 121, 129.

4. Robert Howard. 1985. Brave New Workplace. NY: Viking Penguin Books, 121-22.

5. Mechthild Hart. 1992. Working and Educating for Life. London: Routledge, 59, 11-13.

6. Jerry Mander. In the Absence of the Sacred. 1991. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 274.

7. Ibid., 274-75.

8. Ibid., 275.

9. Susan Willis, et al. 1995. Inside the Mouse. Durham: Duke University Press. Willis quoting Fege, p. 183.

10. Ibid., 183-84. 11. Mander (1991), 92, 123.

12. Gingrich's antics are entertainingly and comically well-documented in Al Franken's recent best-seller, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. (NY: Delacorte, 1996), p. 134.

13. Hart (1992), 169-70.

14. Hart (1992), 196-97. The quote which follows is also from this passage.

15. James Hart. 1991. The Person and the Common Life. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 379.

16. Daniel Kemmis. 1990. Community and the Politics of Place. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 7.

17. There will be those who say that every selection is a necessary exclusion, but I would maintain that, while this is true on a certain level (e.g., I can only talk about one thing at a time), it need not be true on every level (e.g., I value all trees; let's talk about pines right now).

18. Nicholas C. Burbules and Suzanne Rice. "Dialogue Across Differences: Continuing the Conversation." Harvard Educational Review 61, n. 4 (Nov. 1991): 402. Emphasis removed.

19. Husserl as quoted by James Hart (1991), 268.

20. Metchthild Hart (1992), 197.

21. Husserl (1960), 157.


Copyright H. Peter Steeves

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