Cloning Student Voice
©1999 Edward G. Rozycki
See also, Bullying at Columbine
"Stability," said the Controller, "stability. No civilization without social stability. No social stability without individual stability."
--- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World 1
Education and the Pursuit of Cloning
Many citizens of these United States of America seem to long for the deep excitement, the sense of mission, the pervasive invigoration that was provided by the Cold War. Lacking the imminent threat of "mass participation in that Grand Incineration"2 that gave such cogency to our duck-and-cover drills, we miss the struggle against a world Communism that gave so much meaning to life and so much federal funding to U. S. industry and education.
So we dig up Frankenstein, the Body Snatchers, and the Manchurian Candidate! We worry about cults, militias, and other harbingers of the apocalypse. Much more topical in this year 1997, we fuss and fret about cloning.3 We express apprehension, vexation, or reservation about the possibility of creating genetic duplicates of humans. Clones! Even educators and religious leaders have seen fit to issue warnings on the topic.4 But educators should know better than to imagine that genetic identity equates to behavioral identity.5 For leaders of any kind to worry about cloning is like Henry Ford expressing misgivings about Industrialization.
We have been cloning, or at least, trying to clone, educated minds for millennia. What do religious leaders want? Doctrinal clones. What do political leaders want? Political clones. What do ethnic leaders want? Ethnic clones. What do parents want? Clones of themselves.
What do educators strive for? Cultural, informational, and behavioral clones. Even "deviant" educators self-replicate: self-actualized clones, EST clones, inner child clones, Iron John clones. And how those humans beings do resist! In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword. In spite of morality, patriotism, and rationality! Jean Jacques Rousseau notwithstanding, we pursue not the noble savage, nor do we indulge the feral child. We educators look to clone. Not genetically, but much more effectively: mentally, intellectually, emotionally, dispositionally. Our cloning is the incarnation of educational ideals into the recalcitrant flesh of homo sapiens.
Mortimer Adler, recapitulating 2,000 years of educational tradition, justifies our pursuit of the perfect clone. Since human nature is "always and everywhere the same," education, the process where good habits develop powers of human nature, is not the means to develop our individuality. Rather, educators should work to develop their students' understanding through shared meanings in a single universe of discourse rooted in the same cultural soil.6 Back-to-basics, Bennett, and Bloom, as well as a substantial majority of Americans, echo similar sentiments.
Voice? Whose Voice?
What about individuality? Is that not a primary American value? Shouldn't education address the needs of individuals as well as those of society? Isn't the concern for student voice a recognition of individual differences: an expression of interest in the rights of individuals heretofore often prevented from expressing their needs and perspectives? Doesn't this concern counterbalance somewhat the institutional pressure to clone homo eruditus?
Nietzsche, in The Will to Power, comments, "An educator never says what he himself thinks, but only that which he thinks is good for those whom he is educating to hear.7 This is only approximately true. Teachers may withhold a reprimand to avoid provoking worse behavior, and offer congratulations on a job half-done -- in order to motivate the student. They might also refrain from a pleasant digression and stick to their lesson plans. But indulging such a digression can easily be rationalized as showing concern, establishing rapport, or legitimizing student voice.
But there are always competing voices. That is the rub. Giving voice to one person or group is in principle no different from giving voice to any other. Other conditions must enter into our judgment on the desirability of permitting someone voice. As humane individuals we have no interest in giving voice to people like, say, Jeffrey Dahmer, or the Marquis de Sade, or Hitler or Stalin -- nor to students who voice in the classroom the opinions of such malefactors. Are we, consequently, oppressors for this denial? (Or by "giving voice" would you merely mean "letting them talk, yet preventing their acting on it"? After all, didn't Mao Zedong "let a thousand flowers bloom"? So what that he cut them down afterwards?) Should schools allow racists and pedophiles a forum? If not, how do we uphold any principle of liberating voice?
There is a second, related problem. Who speaks for whom? To presume that "leaders"-- especially, those not elected as such -- speak for their "followers" is to subordinate the principle of extending voice to the principle of pursuing the clone.
In fact, professional educators have long denied voice to a great number of stakeholders in the schooling process. And we have felt perfectly justified in doing so. Parents are denied voice in any decision that would favor their own children over others, or that would interfere with everyday schooling practices. Taxpayers have often been maneuvered out of voice on issues that might affect school budgets. Only the voices of "disciplined professionals" are listened to when it comes to curriculum modification. Student voice is ignored to the extent that it is considered to be immature, frivolous, or ephemeral.
There is nothing necessarily wrong in this. Educators have interests that sometimes conflict with parents, taxpayers, and students. To the extent that those groups wield power, they, too, may stifle the voices of educators. Just as stifling voice is not necessarily an evil, recognizing voice is not necessarily a virtue.
No enterprise as complex and as morally profound as education can be carried out by persons wielding simple maxims, e.g., "Recognize all voices" or "Educate every student to the ideal." We support individual differences even as we shape individuals to an ideal. What is required is careful thought. What is required is moral judgment. What is required, unfortunately, is running the real risk of profound error.
1. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (New York: Harper Perennial, 1989), 42.
2. Thanks to Tom Lehrer, "We Will All Go Together When We Go" in Too Many Songs by TomLehrer(New York: Pantheon, 1981).
3. See a variety of responses in Time, 10 March 1997, vol. 149, no. 10, throughout.
4. See Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, "Restrict Cloning Before It Goes Any Further," in ThePhiladelphia Inquirer, Monday, 3 March 1997, A7. Also Art Caplan, "Human Cloning Is Not a Given Yet, Which Means It Can Be Controlled," in The Philadelphia Inquirer,Tuesday,4 March 1997, A11
5. For a one-page counter to many more pages of sci-fi speculation, see Robert Wright's cogent essay in Time,10 March 1997, vol. 149, no. 10, 73.
6. Mortimer Adler, Reforming Education (New York: Westview, 1971), 38, 58, and 67
7. Cited in Rhoda Tripp Thomas (compiler), International Thesaurus of Quotations (New York: Harper & Rowe, 1970), 629.