Friday, September 25, 2009

On Goverment in Art and Education

Every Wednesday evening I co-host a philosophy discussion group in the apartment above my store. If anyone wants to partake, feel free to contact me if you want more info. Anyway, the topic yesterday was whether artist have a responsibility to create morally uplifing art. The politically mixed group was largely in agreement that, while it might be nice to produce morally uplifting art, it should in no way be promoted by government. Examples of Nazi propaganda art were enough to convince us all that government should not play this role.

Anyway, being the provocateur that I am, I noted that many of us happily send our children to government schools and that we accept that one role of schools is to produce good citizens. Why do we recoil at a government role in art for the purpose of producing morally uplifting art but we accept or even embrace the role of government schools to "morally uplift" our children to become good citizens? If anything, a government role in the arts is less dangerous insofar as the audience includes grown adults less susceptible to propaganda while young children are largely defenseless against propoganda.


BradK said...

In an ideal situation, aren't your checks and balances for public schooling a locally elected school board to help shape that curriculum?

Denis Navratil said...

Brad, in your example we would still have government detirmining what it takes to be a good citizen. Granted, keeping it local is arguably better than getting orders from the federal government, but it doesn't really address the issue that I raised, that is, whether government should be in the business of raising "good citizens."

Downtown Brown said...

Actually Brad and Denis. In an ideal situation the Govt. would provide a voucher for each U.S. student to be used for educational purposes. The parents of the children could direct those funds towards the education they believe is the best for each child. It could be an all philosophy school, and all arts academy, and athletics, or even military focused academy; or a plethera of options in between. Different sized communities would offer greater assortments. People with similar needs may decide to relocate in certain areas that offer a specific experience.

Racine is actually the perfect size city to experiment with. We have lot's of school buildings many are empty. and we could offer REAL school choice right here in Racine, Caledonia, Mt. Pleasant.
It is true that initially the religious schools would attract students and would likely double or triple enrollments within the first 2-3 years of the program. but soon you will see experimental start-ups throughout our community. Capitalism and quality will determine which schools succeed or fail.

It's too late for my children to benefit, but it's not too late for the next generation of children in our city.

If we want to draw people, business and opportunity to our city we must create something better, and different. Racine's biggest challenge is our public schools reputation, Imagine a few years from now the perception of is Racine is how fantastic the educational opportunities are.
We can do this WITHOUT increasing taxes on citizens or businesses.

Anonymous said...

. . . but no government, union or friends and family consultants would make money, so forget it -

BradK said...


I re-read your initial post, and then my reply, and then your reply, and you are correct inasmuch as my reply didn't address your basic question. However, your re-statement of the question altered it as well.

Is the question "Should government be in the business of raising 'good citizens'" as you stated in your reply, or is the question you originally posed - "Why do we ... accept or even embrace the role of government schools to "morally uplift" our children to become good citizens"? I am not asking to be a pedantic or semantic prick, but I think they are two separate questions, one presuming that we do accept it - and digging for the reasons - and the other questioning if we even *should* accept it.

I think pursuing both philosophical points could make for interesting debate.

Denis Navratil said...

BradK, I was using "morally uplifting" and the pursuit of "good citizens" as interchangeable ideas. Arguably there are differences but I thought they were similar enough.

Denis Navratil said...

I should elaborate a bit BradK. With respect to the "uplifting art" and "good citizen" ideas, in both cases we were discussing whether the government should be involved in the attempt to shape us into better, more moral, people via art or education. It seems to me that the answer for most is no on the art question and yes on the education question. What I am seeking is an explanation as to why we view the government promotion of moral values differently when the medium is art versus education. If anyone out has an explanation for this seeming incongruity, I would love to hear it.

BradK said...

Hmm, I think Denis, I might not be the best debater in this case.

I don't have kids, but I know for example, my parents did not send me to school to learn morals on the path to being a "good citizen" - and I wouldn't expect that role to be on the school. I think that role is on the "homefront" as it were.

I learned where my moral compass pointed from my family, friends, church involvement and societal expectations (which is a whole different debate, I know).

I would not argue that schools and the education system on a whole has taken that on as a responsibility of their own, but it's not something I would expect of our education system (unless I deliberately enrolled into a parochial system with a charter to do just that). It's also something that - if or when I were to have kids - I would allow the public educational system to provide my children without significant guidance from home.

Again, sorry if I seemed pedantic earlier, I think I read into a couple of your posts too much and saw a difference that might be worth exploring.

The question of "why do we..." is the one I can't debate, because frankly, I don't expect that from a school. The question of "Should we..." I would debate on the same side as you, I believe, which would make for some awful boring back-and-forth to continually agree with each other.

With regard to the art question... I think my answer to the school question is consistent with your stated position on the art question.


Denis Navratil said...

BradK, thanks for your comments. As I see it, public schools are increasingly taking on the role of promoting "good citizens." Environmentalism, multi-culturalism, get-out-the-vote campaigns, anti-bullying campaigns, peace study, social justice study, tolerance, lobbying for $'s for public schools, involment in illegal immigration issues etc... are just some of the values being taught in the public schools. In each and every case I strongly suspect the schools are emphasizing a liberal take on these values. In a sense, public schools are promoting what I would consider the religion of secularism. You don't have a child now you say, but if and when you do, I hope you give some serious thought to the government religion your children will be taught in the public schools.

By the way, are you the BradK that I know from the 6th Street Theatre? If so, we should discuss some of this over a beer some time. Or join us tommorrow, Wednesday 6:30, for some philosophy talk in the apartment above my store.

BradK said...


You've busted me, it is in fact "that BradK"...

I would definitely enjoy having a beer and discussing all those wonderful things that make the world go 'round.... I'm *occasionally* (cough cough) seen at MOTS after work on Thursdays or Fridays, or just toss me an email and we'll plan something.

This week is not going to work for your Wed. night discussion, unfortunately, but I'd love to pop in sometime soon.