Political and Civil Rights in the United States

By Thomas I. Emerson; David Haber | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
ACADEMIC FREEDOM

A. THE PRINCIPLES OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM

THEODORE M. GREENE -- THE FUNCTION OF THE SCHOOL IN A MODERN DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY 1

I

The "school," as one of our major institutions has a unique and all-important function to perform in a modern democratic society. To understand this function we must understand the relation of the school to other basic institutions in our society, the relation of a democratic society to the individuals who compose it, and the vital role of the prevailing ethos of a society.

Whatever may be the case, in claim and in actuality, in non- democratic societies, a democratic society is committed to the ultimate value of the individual person. The one and only proper function of its institutions is therefore to safeguard the rights and to promote the welfare of its citizens. It is essential that the people reserve ultimate political power to themselves, for only thus can they determine, in the long run, what institutions shall serve them and in what manner.

This control is important because the institutions of every society affect so profoundly the life of the individual citizen. Their multiple impact upon the individual is continuous, powerful and inescapable, for better or for worse. Native endowment and individual temperament are also, of course, important determinants of character and behavior; but the language we speak, the values we cherish, our motivations and attitudes, and our patterns of conduct are all profoundly influenced by our social institutions.

No less influential, though more intangible, is the prevailing ethos of a society. This ethos is hard to define generically and hard to describe in specific societies. It might be defined, but only roughly and inadequately, as the prevailing spirit or dominant temper of a society, reflecting its hierarchy of accepted values and the characteristic attitudes and motivations of most

____________________
1
Theodore M. Greene is Professor of Philosophy, Yale University. This essay has been written specially for this volume, but the author hopes to publish an expanded version of this material in book form in the not too distant future.

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