Rewritten from an article originally published in Educational Theory Fall 1987

Mechanisms for Policy Reversal:
Example -- maintaining the mythos of Lifelong Learning

2000 Edward G. Rozycki

edited 1/15/13
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1. Introduction
2. The Case of "Lifelong Learning"
3. Social Contradiction and "Vagueness"
4. Equal Opportunity versus Individualization
5. Basic Organizational Conflicts
6. Lifelong Education: A Characterization And Critique
7. Status, Economic Potential and Social Control
8. A Mechanism: celebratory-pejorative slogan pairing

9. Levels of Culture
10. The Totality of Lifelong Education
11. The Multicultural Dilemma
12. Systematizability
13. The City Of God And Outer Darkness
14. Motivation and Educability
15. Conclusions: policy begets and is begotten by social contradiction

The apparently ambiguous policy formulations of public organizational language, far from being intellectually vacuous, in fact, function to reconcile the social contradictions of the circumstances in which they are advanced as program proposals. It is all too easy to dismiss such "vague" formulations as "mere" slogans, indicative of underdeveloped mentality. Such is the hubris of intellectuals. Conflicting implementation, often justified by the same vague policy, is also pejorated as "irrational." Such is the hubris of "practical people."

Komisar and McClellan have argued that slogans, not to be disdained as "mere slogans," have a logic of their own and play an important role in education.1 The practical implementation of vague policies has been investigated by Lindblom.2 We will look to see how vagueness in policy formulation, mistaken for a dysfunction, works to reduce conflict and maintain the pursuit of incompatible but desirable goals within organizations.

The Case of "Lifelong Learning" (or Lifelong Education)

Our particular focus will be on conceptualizations of "lifelong learning" (which different authors use interchangeably with "lifelong education." I will use them interchangeably -- and randomly -- throughout this article.). For example, Sell offers the following characterization of lifelong education: "Learning activities, including all skills and branches of knowledge, using all possible means, and giving the opportunity to all people for full development of their personalities.3 This cannot be taken at face value without generating immediate objections. Does he mean to include in "all skills and branches of knowledge" techniques of hand-to-hand combat, "brainwashing," organizational subversion, market manipulation, surgery, sexual practice, or sleight of hand? Certain personal notions of morality, not to mention difficulty of access, would be important restrictions to consider.

Is "all possible means" meant to include hypnosis, indoctrination, drug-enhanced learning, or aversive conditioning? Is the "opportunity" spoken of to be determined by input, i.e., equal-access, or outcome, i.e., equal-result, criteria?

Does "all people" mean those who do not speak English, who are physically or mentally handicapped, or who live in remote locations? When speaking of "full development of their personalities," do we want to allow such development as indicated, say, by Maslow's or Kohlberg's theories? What about theories that hold personal development to be of less importance than group enhancement?

Social Contradiction and "Vagueness"

The realities of social life, not only the existence of value pluralism, but also the counterforces endemic to the organizational environment -- what Freire4 refers to as "social contradictions" -- often render infeasible any proposal clear enough to offer indication that some powerful party's interests will be threatened by its implementation. Komisar has argued that one must expect the public language to be no clearer than is necessary to support coalition.5 "Clarity" is dysfunctional when commitment is uncertain.

Perrow distinguishes between "actual" and "public" goals. He comments:

Actual goals are discovered only when the public goal ... is factored into operational goals -- those for which specific operations can be discovered. Once this is done, it turns out that there are several goals involved, and maximizing one will usually be at the expense of another.6
The mechanism of interest is the generation of ideology to obscure whatever goal is sacrificed in a particular situation to optimize another. Public goals formulations straddle the conflicts of operational goals. Lifelong education will be found to be the locus of rather important social struggles.

Equal Opportunity versus Individualization

By way of illustration, Green7 argues that American public education serves two operationally incompatible but desirable goals: providing equal educational opportunity to all students and providing each student with an education suited to his individual needs. At different stages in its development, the educational system has emphasized one or the other of these goals and generated ideology which served to celebrate the emphasis, e.g., "education for all children," while dismissing as unimportant the costs of ignoring the deemphasized goal, e.g., "the need to standardize the curriculum and reduce the proliferation of special programs." (The contrary emphasis could be celebrated with "individualizing instruction" and justified with "breaking the lockstep of bureaucratic educational control"!)

Is this real reconciliation of incompatible goals or more symbol than substance? One might reasonably desire two goals that cannot be achieved simultaneously in a given organizational environment. These goals, however, might be sequentially and intermittently optimized by controlling perceptions of their desirability and possibility of attainment.8 Celebratory discourse in public arenas may be the sign of real reconciliation of private conflicts. Or it may be an attempt to deny that such conflicts exist. Only the processes of challenge and dialogue will determine which.

Basic Organizational Conflicts

A number of investigators have discovered basic conflicts, "social contradictions," endemic to complex organizations. Gulick9 hypothesizes that process departmentalization is incompatible with product departmentalization. (in education this would mean that school district consolidation, for example, would undermine, say, school spirit or curriculum development centered on academic disciplines.) The corresponding celebratory-pejorative slogan pairs are commonly encountered: a) to promote process departmentalization, "exploiting efficiencies of scale" -"reducing duplication of effort"; b) to promote product departmentalization, "tighter quality control" - "reducing alienation through teaming."

Merton10 sees a conflict between rule-regulated reliability and organizational adaptability, e.g., policy-governed behavior reduces sensitivity to individual differences. The celebratory-pejorative ideological pairings might be: (a) to promote rule-regulated reliability, "even-handed administration" - "no favoritism"; (b) to promote organizational adaptability, "concern for client individuality" - "humanizing the bureaucracy."

Selznick11 finds delegation of authority to be incompatible with commonality of subgroup goals. (This is possibly why teacher professional ization or unionization is resisted.) The celebratory-pejorative pairings for this social contradiction could be: (a) to promote delegation of authority, "suboptimization" - "reducing autocratic management"; (b) to promote commonality of goals, "management by objectives" - "lessening goal displacement."

Gouldner12 finds that in a rule-governed organization the desire to maintain low visibility of power relations conflicts with getting more than "minimally acceptable behavior" from organization members, e.g., coercion tends to stultify volunteerism. The celebratory-pejorative pairings here are: (a) to promote low visibility of power relations, "productivity through 'ownership' " - "humanizing the workplace"; (b) to promote better than minimally acceptable behavior, "raising standards" - "managerial prerogatives."

The import of these conflicts, long identified by organizational researchers, has yet to be appreciated by educational planners and theorists. There are several reasons for this. Organization theory, reflecting the clientele for which it was developed, tends to have a promanagement bias, evident in the Gouldner finding about power relations and "minimally acceptable behavior." This bias is not critical for analytic purposes; however, when organization theory is invoked, it is usually for the sake of undergirding managerial interests. Secondly, educators often find certain adversarial assumptions of organization theory uncomfortable, having been long indoctrinated with Pollyannaish "big-happy-family" models of effective school management. Finally, organization theory downplays class-conflict explanations of social phenomena because it locates the origins of conflict in organizational structure. Social contradictions will arise as readily in labor unions and workers' parties as in corporations or feudal fiefdoms. Social contradictions are endemic to complex organizations; and policy rashly scorned as vague" is the instrument by which they are managed.

The procedure we will follow henceforth will be to take an extended characterization of lifelong education13 and examine it in light of other theories pertinent to the discussion, looking to uncover the social contradictions obscured or reconciled by the ideological formula under consideration. Where possible, the ideology will be analyzed in terms of celebratory-pejorative pairings.

Lifelong Education: A Characterization And Critique

K. Patricia Cross14 presents a characterization of lifelong education which "lists agreements among scholars throughout the world on the basic concepts underlying the ideal of lifelong learning."15 The first of these "agreements" is this:

"The three basic terms upon which the meaning of the concept is based are life, lifelong and education. The meanings attached to these terms and the interpretation given to them largely determine the scope and meaning of lifelong education."

This seems to be an innocuous enough statement, yet it masks important theoretical commitments. "Lifelong education" would be pleonastic for Dewey,16 because the occurrence of educative experiences -- ones which further the potentional for growth -- are possible throughout life in a variety of situations, formal or nonformal. Juxtaposing the words 'lifelong' and 'education' can only be informative if they are thought to be conceptually distinct, i.e., if there are life activities that do not involve education. For Skinner17 "education" is the arrangement of contingencies of reinforcement. Since a living organism is, presumably, always exposed to arrangements of contingencies of reinforcement, education must be lifelong. (Since Skinner lacks even the value criteria Dewey invokes to cull out possible noneducative experiences, "lifelong education" is, on the Skinnerian view, hopelessly redundant.)

Cross' theoretical commitments are obscured by, and the stronger for, the conflation of "education" with "learning" which occurs systematically throughout her book, Adults as Learners. By learning she does not mean anything so general as "acquiring new skills" or "acquiring new information," which could, after all, be done inadvertently or unconsciously Cross gives a quote that she claims describes the concept generally employed in her book:

The term "lifelong learning" refers to the purposeful activities people undertake with the intention of increasing their knowledge, developing and updating their skills, and modifying their attitudes throughout their lifetimes. (Advisory Panel on Research Needs in Lifelong Learning During Adulthood, 1978, p. 17)18
The insinuation seems to be that unintentional acquisition of skills and knowledge is not learning, at least not education, or perhaps not as much to be desired as skills and knowledge intentionally pursued. The basic conflict glossed over here is the one that centers on the question What is worth knowing? or What things are more valuable to know?

Status, Economic Potential and Social Control

Randall Collins19 argues that the structure of the educational system derives from the competition of three traditional curricular determinants: status-group interests, skills acquisition interests, and bureaucratic-control interests. If we answer the question of educational worth in terms of these three interests, the range of potential conflict is made obvious:

a. What is worth knowing? Anything that enhances one's status within group X or enhances the status of group X relative to other groups;

b. What is worth knowing? Anything that enhances one's economic potential;

c. What is worth knowing? Anything that makes one more amenable to control by organization Y.

Status is a relative good, i.e., an outcome of a zero-sum game. Only someone's lower status ensures my higher status. Status pursuits are inherently conflictual. Who participates in organized instruction? According to Cross20 the more highly educated and wealthier. Is this participation by higher-status groups due to their recognition of some intrinsic value in what they study or is it rather, as Green21 has suggested, a response to the deflation suffered by their credentials due to the universalization of educational attainment? The potential for conflict centers here on what kind of lifelong learning will satisfy the status interests of attender groups. If market considerations are the determinant, then those interests answered will be those of the higher-economicstatus groups.

Economic potential is a relative good: mine increases at the cost of the decrease of economic potential of someone else. Cross gives statistics22 indicating that subject matter trends in adult education have been substantially vocational and increasingly so from 1969 (44.6 percent) through 1975 (47.8 percent). Again if market considerations determine course content, then those enjoying relative advantage vis-6-vis economic potential will be favored. As in the case of status-group education, those that already have, pursue more. (One may well wonder with Freire whether "their monopoly on having more as a privilege ... dehumanizes others and themselves ... [because] ... having more is an inalienable right, a right acquired through their own 'effort,' with their 'courage to take risks.' If others do not have more, it is because they are incompetent or lazy."23)

The social contradiction to be dealt with is the conflict between providing structured education for people at any stage of their lives that is organizationally viable, e.g., economically feasible, but which does not merely serve to reinforce the interests of particular groups in society

A Mechanism: celebratory-pejorative slogan pairing

A major thesis of this paper is that such social contradictions, which are operational impossibilities24 of meeting two desired goals simultaneously, generate discourse that serves both to celebrate the alternative taken and to deprecate the alternative discarded. Yet, since both goals are desired, an alternative set of slogans may be generated which will celebrate the discarded choice when, in the future, it is opted for and will deprecate the presently chosen alternative when, in the future, it is discarded.

The celebratory-pejorative slogan pairs appropriate for the conflict between promoting organizational feasibility and providing universal access are: (a) to promote organizational feasibility, "serve the market"-"equal opportunity" (access model); (b) to promote greater participation across class and ethnic lines (Cross provides a good example of celebratory discourse): "Contrary to the elitist form of education, lifelong education is universal in character. It represents democratization of education."25 To pejorate the concern for marketability, one might deprecate the "trivial character of skills education."

The lifelong-learning-equals-lifelong-education ideology looks, at first glance, to be an updated Puritanism: idle hands do the Devil's work. What is of lesser worth, it insinuates, is unsystematic, unintentional, serendipitous, inadvertent, unplanned enhancements of skill and knowledge.26 Such activities as tinkering, fiddling, reading for enjoyment, playing, fooling around, being idly curious, letting one's imagination wander, speculating, wondering, wandering, or following one's inclinations, activities the learning outcomes of which are fortuitous, are of less worth. They are also activities not likely to be under the control of some organization. One begins to suspect that lifelong education (or learning, whatever) is a furtherance of Collins' third determinant: bureaucratic-control interest.

Levels of Culture

Edward T Hall27 provides an interesting theory that bears on our concerns. Culture, writes Hall, exists at three levels. There is the formal culture that governs those aspects of our behavior which we learn as proper or improper, correct or incorrect, which serve as ends-in-themselves to define who we are and what group we belong to. This formal culture is inculcated didactically, consciously, and with great affect. It resists change because deviations are considered improprieties. Examples of the formal culture are toilet training and eating habits, manners, pronunciation, and deference rituals. What is "good" or "bad" behavior is determined by the formal culture.

The technical culture consists of those aspects of our behavior which may be thought of as "means" for serving the "ends" set out in the formal culture. This level of culture is taught as judgeable on the basis of its effectiveness, and critical rationality is thought appropriate for its evaluation. Affect is low and changeability is high. Some examples of the technical culture are which implements we choose to write or garden with, investment counseling, how-to education of all types.

Conflicts occur when what is formal culture for one group is dealt with as technical culture by another. For example, sexual ideology is part of the formal cultures of most ethnic groups. However, certain professional groups treat it as technical culture. Where these different kinds of groups interact we find "sex education controversies," e.g., Is providing contraceptive information immoral? Are sex therapists really prostitutes? Could one expect the President of the United States, for example, to advocate any more effective method for avoiding AIDS -- or pregnancy -- than sexual abstinence?

Many groups formalize what were originally aspects of the technical culture in order to maintain or enhance their status vis-6-vis other groups, e.g., certain medical procedures become "standard practice" which only doctors, not nurses, may deviate from. This is precisely what appears to be at hand with lifelong education: an attempt to formalize, thus restrict, organizational approaches to nonschool education.

The third level of culture Hall describes is the informal culture. This governs much of our behavior, but at a subconscious level. It is not taught and indeed is generally not thought teachable. Only when informal norms are broken is there affect because following the norms is only acting "naturally." Examples of information culture are male and female postures, gestures, and walking behavior. Such things as speaking distances, voice inflection, and waiting behavior tend to be part of the informal culture. Distracted fondling of the genitals in public is an informal gender display among males in certain societies; such behavior would be a formal violation, for example, among American working-class males. Equal access by women to certain occupations - an enhancement of a broader technical culture - violates both formal and informal cultural rules of many ethnic groups.

The Totality of Lifelong Education

That culture is not unidimensional poses severe problems for educators who propose enhancing ethnic distinctions or multicultural education.28 What is pertinent to our concerns here is that the proponents of lifelong learning seem to be making the same assumption that sex educators do: that certain problems can be adequately dealt with by culturally unintrusive, technical means. What is more likely is that many norms of both the formal and informal cultures of various persons are violated in the pursuit of an organizationally viable lifelong education.

Cross continues:

Lifelong education includes formal, nonformal, and informal patterns of education.
The home plays the first, most subtle and crucial role in initiating the process of lifelong learning. This process continues throughout the entire lifespan of an individual through family learning.

The community also plays an important role in the system of lifelong learning right from the time the child begins to interact with it. It continues its educative function both in professional and general areas throughout life.

Institutions of education, such as schools, universities, and training centers, are important, but only as one of the agencies for lifelong education. They no longer enjoy the monopoly of educating the people and can no longer exist in isolation from other educative agencies in their society.29
Cross seems to overlook the potential for cross-cultural conflict, not recognizing that different aspects of culture are not all learned in like manner and are not equally amenable to change through education. Such obliviousness to the complexity of culture is not uncommon, to wit: "Some time in the future, a long, long time from now, when culture is more completely explored, there will be the equivalent of musical scores that can be learned, each for a different type of man or woman in different types of jobs or relationships, for time, space, work, or play.30

The Multicultural Dilemma

The community is not necessarily a culturally homogeneous extension of the family. Certainly, the school is often not. Professional cultures are not infrequently in conflict with both community and family norms. And university attendance may open cultural chasms between students and their families.

We arrive at one of the major social contradictions of our culture: the cosmopolitan-local conflict writ large.31 It is highly unlikely that our public institutions can promote and enhance all cultural subgroups in our society and, at the same time, avoid assimilating any group to an amalgamated general culture and maintain common arenas where the business of society at large can be conducted and participated in democratically Some subcultures would find their greatest enhancement through the oppression of others. General civil rights, as well as state taxation and police powers, delimit certain subcultural developments.

The countervailing forces here are the pressure to enhance subgroup power and the pressure to assimilate such subgroups into a general culture. The ideology generated by this tension generates the following celebratory-pejorative pairs: (a) to promote subgroup enhancement, "cultural pluralism"-"secularism," e.g. "Horace Kallen was correct when he hypothesized that cultural pluralism is deeply rooted in man as an intrinsic need and value"32; (b) to promote subgroup assimilation, "Americanism"-"Balkanization."


The assumption of cultural homogeneity that supports interest in lifelong education is conjoined with a further assumption of systematizability: "Lifelong education seeks continuity and articulation along its vertical and longitudinal dimension.... Lifelong education also seeks integration at its horizontal and depth dimensions at every stage of life."33 It has been the despair of the twentieth-century systematizer to discover that knowledge is not of one piece. Goedel's proof destroyed efforts to unify mathematics and logic.34 Kuhn's theory of paradigm change undercuts the belief in accumulative, linear scientific progress.35 Education is nowhere near a functional theory of method, much less a practice.36 The once much heralded "Structure of Disciplines" approach37 has come to naught, yet "scholars throughout the world," according to Cross, are agreed on a conception of horizontal and vertical integration of lifelong education! What, we must ask, is the function of Cross' insistence on an ideology of systematizability?

Clearly, it is to support bureaucratic-control interests in systematic education. Articulation and integration are the professional concerns of curriculum specialists. To allow that such articulation or integration may not be possible is to allow that systematic education may not be possible. The organizational "contradiction" here is comprised of the competing pressures to organize educational resources, presumably to make instruction more efficient, and, contrarily, to permit free learner selection, allowing for variations in learning style and other idiosyncrasies.

The ideology generated by this tension gives us celebratory-pejorative slogan pairs such as: (a) to promote systematization, "continuity and articulation"-"a hodgepodge of courses"; (b) to promote free learner selection, "interdisciplinary studies"-"overspecialized curriculum." This tension between freedom of instructional content and method versus systematization is illustrated in the following quotes from Cross. First we hear it for diversity:

Lifelong education is characterized by it flexibility and diversity in content, learning tools and techniques, and time of learning.

Lifelong education is a dynamic approach to education which allows adaptation of materials and media of learning as and when new developments take place.

Lifelong education allows alternative patters and forms of acquiring education.

And, finally, to blow a horn in favor of systematization:
"Lifelong education has two broad components: general and professional. These components are not completely different from each other but are interrelated and interactive in nature."38
The City Of God And Outer Darkness

The final characterizations of lifelong education appear to function to dissuade one from looking for other possibilities, insinuating that the only alternative to lifelong education is disaster:

"The adaptive and innovative functions of the individual and society are fulfilled through lifelong education."39
This does not logically preclude that other alternatives might serve those functions. It assures us that lifelong education will. But the need to express such assurance derives from an underlying doubt that it does, or at least the belief that such doubt might exist in the minds of those considering lifelong education as an alternative. The underlying social contradiction here is that existing between systematization and individual adaptation or innovation. The celebratory-pejorative pairing for this might be: (a) to promote systematization, the immediately previous quote counts as celebratory; the restriction -- which we noticed early above -- of the terms 'learning' and 'education' to refer to intentionally undertaken activities aimed at acquiring skill and knowledge deprecates a possible "overweening" concern with individual adaptation and innovation; (b) to promote adaptation and innovation, the quote given immediately previous also serves the opposite function. It celebrates in the mentioning the concerns of adaptation and innovation. But concern for systematization is not pejorated.

We encounter now a different kind of formulation from those we dealt with in earlier sections. These insinuate strongly that there is no option. Consider the following.

Lifelong education carries out a corrective function: to take care of the shortcomings of the existing system of education.
The ultimate goal of lifelong education is to maintain and improve the quality of life.40
Such formulations celebrate the concerns of making up for present educational faults and of the quality of life without deprecating systematicity. The following formulations celebrate systematicity and insinuate that alternatives to lifelong education are to be deprecated.
Lifelong education is an organizing principle for all education.
At the operational level, lifelong education provides a total system of all education.41 But in the following we find an ominous note: "There are three major prerequisites for lifelong education; namely, opportunity, motivation, and educability.42 This seems to place restrictions on previously declared concerns for universality, correction, and totality. If opportunity is a prerequisite, how does this not restrict the universality of lifelong education? What this seems to indicate is that there might be a realm of individual opportunity that might restrict access to an otherwise universal system of lifelong education. At least this seems to be a reasonable hedge on the proposed universality given Cross' discussion43 about individual obstacles to participation. It might also serve to disarm traditional concerns about governmental intrusion into private lives. On the other hand, if "opportunity" means "adequate wealth" or "time and energy remaining after work," then access to the purported benefits of lifelong learning remains effectively restricted to the affluent.

Motivation and Educability

Motivation is a strange prerequisite. Operationally, this could be interpreted to mean that whoever participates in lifelong learning satisfies this "prerequisite"; whoever doesn't, does not. Certainly this allays the fear of coercion to participate. But at the same time it fails to address the issue of correction. Perhaps low motivation is the effect of previous schooling. Will lifelong education address this possibility? Cross considers this dilemma but leaves it unresolved for "lack of data."44 This is, however, less an empirical and more a moral issue. Even if present noninterest could be definitely identified as caused by earlier educational treatments, it does not follow that coercion ought to be used to obtain participation. A difficult set of deliberations weighing costs and benefits both of prudential and moral kinds lies buried in this concern with motivation.

Educability is a particularly suspicious concern. Racism and class biases of all types have been justified on the basis of educability. In 1915 Terman lamented the prevalence of low IQ scores:

Among laboring men and servant girls there are thousands like them.... The tests have told the truth. These boys are ineducable beyond the merest rudiments of training. No amount of school instruction will ever make them intelligent voters or capable citizens.... They represent the level of intelligence which is very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial, or, at least, inherent in the family stocks from which they came.... Children of this type should be segregated in special classes and given instruction which is concrete and practical. They cannot master abstractions, but they can often be made efficient workers, able to look out for themselves.45
What is particularly troubling about this hedging on educability is that lifelong education had been characterized earlier as flexible, employing a diversity of content, learning tools, and techniques and using a dynamic approach, adapting new methods and media as they develop. And yet there may be some who cannot participate in this pursuit to improve the quality of life, to be adaptive and innovative, to correct deficiencies. Some will be cast out of the New Jerusalem, bereft of this organizing principle, excluded from this total system for all education.

But what is educability? Having educational abilities of various kinds. And what are educational abilities? Tom Green46 has caught it cogently: educational abilities are those abilities which an educational system is prepared to reward.

Thus we come full circle. People are educable to the extent a system of education is prepared to reward the abilities they possess. Thus to speak of educability as being a prerequisite to access to an educational system is to say that the reward structure of that educational system will determine who has access to it. This seems manifestly discriminatory in a morally objectionable way.

On the other hand, a system of education cannot maintain itself without access criteria for various levels of the system: these define what is in fact systematic about the education. What the educability, hedge seems to do is to acknowledge that no matter how diverse the educational environments offered, some people will not be admitted into them. Yet -- insinuates the ideology -- the system is not to be censured for this exclusion.

We arrive at a fundamental "contradiction": there is no system without exclusivity or, put contrapositively, there is no universal access without threatening systematicity. "Educability" celebrates systematicity without appearing to pejorate a "reasonable" universality. On the other hand, "equal opportunity" celebrates universality without strongly attacking the cultural bases of educability. This is the fundamental tension described by Green: the tension between providing an equal education to all as opposed to providing each person with an education best suited to the development of his or her fullest potential.

Conclusions: policy begets and is begotten by social contradiction

I have attempted to present and demonstrate the use of a theory of policy interpretation. Persistent vagueness in a formulation indicates a locus of contradiction, i.e., a conflict of opposing desires or forces which may be temporarily resolved to the advantage of one side or the other but which arises again to present a similar set of problematic options. "Vague" policy helps to manage such dilemmas. Good policy is "vague" for the reason that treaties and contracts are "vague": it is unwise theoretically to predecide possible conflicts before they arise, especially if they represent the struggle of good against good.

Not to be downplayed is the fact that policy is the voice of power. Vagueness stultifies challenge by softening importunity: a gentle word turneth away wrath. Lack of clarity -- i.e., clarity relative to some end -- forestalls use of the policy to legitimate "goal displacement" (recall Selznick). It lowers the visibility of power relations in an organization by depersonalizing the interests of power holders into an abstraction. Gouldner's hypothesis that low visibility of power relations affects the level of "acceptable behavior" is relevant here. Every organization rests on a social contradiction: the struggle between those in the organization with the power to reify their interests into policy and other power seekers in the organization whose energies are needed to implement policy. These issues, though interesting, are complex beyond the scope of this paper to deal with. Fully understanding policy requires understanding organizations as tools used by their members to pursue their own values. Such an approach tends to undercut the romantic -- but politically very useful -- illusion that organizations are "homes" or "superfamilies" or "brotherhoods" for whom and within whose company the sacrifice of our critical faculties and our readiness to struggle is a sacrifice well made.47

Conflict resolution requires discourse by which the chosen option is celebrated and the rejected one pejorated. We want to have our cake and eat it, too. When we choose to eat it, we celebrate the eating, suggesting that not doing so would have been somehow inappropriate. However, when we choose to save the next piece, we celebrate its saving and pejorate those who would have eaten it. For each alternative in the "contradiction" we generate a celebratory and pejorative "slogan" or policy formulation. The history of such generation is aptly described by Lindblom:

Policy is not made once and for all; it is made and remade endlessly Policymaking is a process of successive approximation to some desired objectives in which what is desired itself continues to change under reconsideration.... A wise policy-maker consequently expects that his policies will achieve only part of what he hopes and at the same time will produce unanticipated consequences he would have preferred to avoid.48
Social contradictions continue to generate this dialectic. But some are of a profundity that no organizational fine-tuning, no social change will erase. They inhere in our very natures as social beings living in a universe of scarcity. They reflect the epistemological limits of our species. As we saw in our examination of lifelong education, the most comprehensive system must, at some point, practice exclusivity. And the universality of any practice must undermine its systematic application. These are logical truths: they point to real contradictions, not mere Freirian metaphors for organizational infelicities. They inhere in our problematic states as policymakers, concept users of restricted knowledgability and conflicted moral commitment. Only gods and animals escape our dilemma.



1. B. Paul Komisar and James E. McClellan, "The Logic of Slogans," in Language and Concepts in Education, ed. B. Q Smith and Robert H. Ennis (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1961), a seminal work flawed by the strength of its dichotomy between generalizations which "imply" their particulars and slogans with which particulars become associated. However, what statements are supposed to "imply" constitutes a covert hypothesis about the speech habits of a community of speakers (i.e., speakers, not statements, imply and infer). It is probably empirically sounder to define a community of speakers in terms of the "implications" they will accept. Such a move may undercut armchair approaches to linguistic anthropology, but it does account for how slogans come to be associated with their particulars.

2. Charles E. Lindblom, "The Science of 'Muddling Through,"' Public Administration Review 19 (Spring 1959): 79-88.

3. G. R. Sell, A Handbook of Terminology for Classifying and Describing the Learning Activities of Adults (Denver: National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, 1978).

4. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Norton, 1981).

5. B. Paul Komisar, ''The Language of Education," in The Encyclopedia of Education, vol. 5, ed. L. C. Leighton (New York: Macmillan, 1971), 327-34.

6. Charles Perrow, Complex Organizations (Oakland, N.J.: Scott-Foresman, 1979), 58.

7. Thomas Green, Predicting the Behavior of the Educational System (Syracuse, N. Y: University of Syracuse Press, 1980).

8. See James J. March and Herbert A. Simon, Organizations (New York: Wiley, 1958), on sequential goal achievement. This book is important not only because it synopsizes previous work, but because it attempts to set up organization theory as a hypothetico-deductive system, thus making apparent both its strengths and its weaknesses.

9. Luther Gulick's work is synopsized in March and Simon, Organizations, 41. Also see Luther Gulick, "Notes on the Theory of Organization," in Classics of Public Administration, ed. Jay M. Shafritz and Albert C. Hyde (Oak Park, Ill.: Moore, 1978), 38-47.

10. Robert K. Merton in March and Simon, Organizations, 41. See also Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (New York: Harcourt, 1976); or Robert K. Merton, Sociological Ambivalence and Other Essays (New York: Free Press, 1976).

11. Phillip Selznick in March and Simon, Organizations, 43. See also Philip Selznick, "Foundations of the Theory of Organization," in Classics of Organization Theory, ed. Jay M. Shafritz and Phillip Whitbeck (Oak Park, Ill.: Moore, 1978), 84-95.

12. Alvin Ward Gouldner in March and Simon, Organizations, 45. See especially Alvin Ward Gouldner, Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press of Glencoe, 1954).

13. R. H. Dave, Lifelong Education and School Curriculum (Hamburg: UNESCO Institute for Education, 1973), used in Cross (see footnote 14 below).

14. K. Patricia Cross, Adults as Learners (San Francisco: Jossey-Eass, 1983).

15. Ibid., xiv.

16. John Dewey, Democracy and Education (New York: Macmillan, 1916).

17. B. F Skinner, Science and Human Behavior (New York: Free Press, 1953).

18. Cross, Adults as Learners, 258.

19. Randall Collins, "Some Comparative Principles of Educational Stratification:' Harvard Educational Review 47, no. 1 (1977): 1-27.

20. Cross, Adults as Learners, 54.

21. Green, Predicting the Behavior, 1980.

22. Cross, Adults as Learners, 201.

23. Freire, Pedagogy, 45.

24. Social "contradictions" are seldom contradictions in an obvious logical way. Rather, they are "mutually cost-enhancing objectives," MCEOs (awkwardly but concisely put). MCEOs are discovered empirically in contexts where people pursue goals and interfere with one another in the process. The connection - noted by Komisar and McClellan - between policy "slogans" and their particulars comes through experience in a given organization in the pursuit of MCEOs. Komisar's and McClellan's "generalizations" exist only where there is a sufficiently stable linguistic community to warrant deductions on the basis of "what the words mean." Such a community is less likely to occur in political (e.g., organizational) contexts than in scholarly ones.

25. Cross, Adults as Learners, 262.

26. But see Dennis Szilak, "Strings: A Critique of Systematic Education," Harvard Educational Review 46, no. 1 (1976): 54-75.

27. Edward T Hall, The Silent Language (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959).

28. Edward G. Rozycki "Values, Rationality and Pluralism: A Plea for Intolerance," Philosophy of Education 1979, ed. Jerrold R. Coombs (Champaign, Ill.: Philosophy of Education Society, 1979), 195-204.

29. Cross, Adults as Learners, 262.

30. Pamphlet Culture 20-2 of the Multicultural Educational Resource Information and Training Center (Philadelphia: Temple University, 1978), mimeograph, 6.

31. Alvin Ward Gouldner, "Cosmopolitans and Locals," in Shafritz and Whitbeck, Classics of Organization Theory, 245-51.

32. Seymore W. Itzkoff, Cultural Pluralism and American Education (Scranton, Pa.: American Textbook Co., 1970), 91.

33. Cross, Adults as Learners, 262.

34. John von Newman, "The Mathematician," in The World of Mathematics, vol. 4., ed. James R. Newman (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956), 2059.

35. Thomas S. Kuhn The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).

36. Edward G. Rozycki, Human Behavior: Measurement and Cause (Ed.D. diss., Temple University; Ann Arbor: Xerox University Microfilms, 1974).

37. B. 0. Smith, "Introduction" to Education and the Structure of Knowledge, Fifth Annual Phi Delta Kappa Symposium on Educational Research (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964), 3.

38. Cross, Adults as Learners, 262.

39. Ibid., 262.

40. Ibid., 262-63.

41. Ibid., 263.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid., 145-49.

44. Ibid., chap. 2.

45. In Stephen J. Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (New York: Norton, 1981), 190-91.

46. Green, Predicting the Behavior, 52.

47. See, for example, the comments by Albert Pondi on how dangerous James G. March's theory is in James G. March, How We Talk and How We Act: Administrative Theory and Administrative Life, Seventh David D. Henry Lecture (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1980).

48. Lindblom, "The Science of 'Muddling Through,' " 86.