The Psychology and Philosophy of Education of Ayn Rand in The Comprachicos Essay
The Psychology and Philosophy of Education of Ayn Rand in The Comprachicos
Ayn Rand writes mainly about the status quo and what and who is to be blamed for such circumstances. She talks of a miseducation so ingenious that when one reads about it one simply gets baffled as he is forced to look into his own experiences from the home, to the school, to the Church and in the province or in the city. One can expect to see various parallelisms with how he is brought up and what he is usually told by his superiors.
The reason for these apparent similarities, I think is that aside from the ‘system’ that almost each person is forced into; there is something common in every one of us. This is what makes us man, Rand says, our capability to be rational. Rand believes that man is rational and that this characteristic is, by itself unyielding. It is a capacity that can be impaired and can be prevented to work at its best, as what the comprachicos do but it survives even in those who are the ‘exact concretization’ of the Nursery School ideal, the hippies.
Rationality is that which enables any man to; even with the worst education given to him feel that something is wrong because things appear blurred to him, that things must have clarity for it to appear blurred in the first place. It gives him an inkling perhaps or an intuition that something is not right around him and yet he still feels that ‘he has to make something somehow’. This is because of his rationality which naturally is the opposite of the fake, the submission, the uncertainty and the chaos. Man is rational because he has a mind.
For Rand, this mind is empty at birth as what John Locke holds to be Tabula Rasa. It does not have innate contents; it is on the other hand waiting to be written upon by the experiences to come. Rand says that it has the potential for awareness, with a conscious and a subconscious mind that he must learn to operate to be able to construct inferences about the perceptions he will make. Thus, one can easily see how important it is for every child to be given enough opportunity to develop this potential especially in the years of his life that it is most needed.
Rand stresses that it is in the first two years of a person’s life that what he is capable of learning is most significant both in the quantity and the degree of his curiosity about everything around him and the intensity of how he takes every detail seriously. When he reaches his third year, Rand says, his cognitive development is completed. He has acquired the things he need, what he has to do at this point is to use them. How he uses his cognitive tools will determine how well his conceptual ability will be when he grows older.
Hence, as early as the nursery level, educators should already start training the child’s mind. Rand holds that teachers should focus on the progress of his mind’s automization of conceptual knowledge. By this, he can then retain the knowledge gained in his consciousness and move on to new information so that gradually, he will learn to integrate the old and new inputs and thus establish relationships between them. This will guide the child in understanding the basic concept of time-continuity and in internalizing a projection of the future instead of acting on whatever he feels like doing in the moment.
If the simple idea of having something like tomorrow, or even later, and that what is done at the moment affects the time thereafter is introduced to the child, he will inevitably practice his rational faculty because he needs to look at all his choices and reason when he is choosing among the different alternatives. He needs to think and debate by himself what best could be done in the situation because the consequences of it would always have a lot of implications.
Rand postulates that if a child is given the chance to exercise his reason, being caught in an event where he has to make decisions will not be much of a hurdle for him. The important thing is not really for him to make what is in the older people’s opinion the right decision; but to let him, in all his capacity as a rational person and in all his limitations as a child have at least some disposition and not let him be governed by whims or emotions be it of himself, of another person or of the whole pack.
To have a disposition requires that one should have a firm ground to stand his beliefs on. This is why Rand tells us that it is wrong to place the children in an environment that would not help him be secured about an objective world, one that would only make him settle for the company of persons the same age as he is and of course do not know any better. What he needs, says Rand is cognitive guidance especially to acquaint him to the reality instead of making him adjust to a group of people he does not know and lose himself in the process.
In getting to know the reality, Rand talks of the Montessori Method which utilizes materials that are didactic thus very useful for child learning because it provides a solution that the child needs to discover by actively thinking of how to do it. Instructive materials, Rand moreover says introduces the child to a sense of order since it is directed to a right answer or a right way. During this stage, Rand says that a child can only identify objects around him and its characteristics as it appears to him. The child cannot comprehend its other properties like height, volume, color and so on.
This is why at this time, it is best to provide for the child special exercises of attending, observing, comparing and classifying. I have noted that while keeping the learning pace in gear with the child’s current stage, the four exercises mentioned also further develops his reasoning skills [especially comparing and classifying]. It is significant to note in my opinion how the previous knowledge learned leads to the knowledge learned later and how the knowledge learned later reinforces the knowledge learned earlier.
When the child is introduced to the reality and becomes more and more aware of his own self, Rand implies that the time for language, particularly speech comes. Interestingly, Rand says that language comes to fix by means of the exact words which the child’s mind acquired and this profoundly lets him find himself alike in the world. This is a start for him to have a sense of belongingness, an idea which is necessary as Rand says to be an active and intelligent explorer of the world. All learning involves a process of automizing, Rand has stated.
In forming, integrating and using concepts, Rand establishes that it involves the person’s will; it is volitional. How else better to bring out the will of the child in learning and thinking critically than to let him use practice his cognitive abilities especially in the age when he is most up and ready for it? Rand stresses that educators should not let this time pass because what could have been a joyful activity of enhancing his mind when the child is young will turn to be an extremely strenuous task when he gets older.
Rand also gives favor of understanding as a method of learning over memorizing. Understanding means to grasp the content and the essentials of a thing, an event or a concept, to establish relationships between these essentials and what was previously known in the past and most importantly, integrate it with other subjects. By understanding is how the child will learn reading, for instance. Rand mentions what she calls the ‘look-say’ method which is not merely focused on shape of the letters (which the child can reverse; i. e. b-d, m-w, etc.
) but more on their phonetic equivalent which encourages the child to think in abstractions; directing his attention to the sound of the letter and not the mere appearance of it. Memorization, Rand further holds, is appropriate only for the level of observation, when the child’s capacity to understand is not developed yet. Another method Rand despises is the Discussion Method. As implied, she prefers to have a teacher in the classroom to guide the students in learning about the subject and to not let them carry the learning process by their premature knowledge.
Besides the obvious fact that to learn is why they come to school in the first place, Rand prescribes that the teacher really teach what he expertly knows because to leave the deliberation to the students is to give them an illusion that they can know without being taught; that they can claim expertise without really learning. It is not possible to learn from this method because as Rand tells us, the students are clueless about that which is supposed to be lectured.
To employ this method, according to Rand is to give the false idea that any person’s opinion can be the right answer or that the right answer can be produced by a person who does not yet know anything about what is being talked about. This cannot be for the truth is independent of anyone’s mere whims and this, in turn is the reason why education is highly significant and relevant and must remain so by imparting on the students the knowledge and the skills necessary for his growth as a rational being.
I think that the reason why Rand says that this method is inappropriate for the students is because the mind prior to learning about the subject is, to say still immature. By this immaturity, they are driven to be hostile people, indulging them to the guilty habits of criticism instead of creativity for they mistakenly think that to demolish a bad argument is to construct a good one. We can see very clearly here how Rand takes it to be an awfully big mistake to leave students of any age unguided and left to themselves when they in fact need to learn and thus to be taught by a superior more knowledgeable than him.
To conclude, Rand takes the psychology and philosophy of Maria Montessori and John Locke in her basic idea of education. Her metaphysics on the one hand rests on the basic idea that there is an objective reality that the child will naturally belong to; in which he will find proper distinction between existence and consciousness. Her epistemology on the other hand lies on the thought that every person is born without knowledge but has the potential to exercise his rational capacity if given the due opportunities for development.
Moreover, it is best to develop a person’s cognitive skills when he is young not only because it is when he is most ready and willing to do so but also because for Rand, a purposeful and disciplined intelligence is the highest achievement possible to man. Implied then by her basic ideas derived from Montessori and Locke, Rand takes a common stance with the position of Perennialism.  Abigail Thea O. Canuto EDFD 201 (HZQ2)/ Thursdays, 5:30-8:30 P. M. 2003-31176 / MA TEG (K-2) Prof.
Muega / A Paper on ‘The Comprachicos’ II. Evaluating Ayn Rand’s Philosophy and Psychology of Education from the Standpoint of Pragmatism, Essentialism and Perennialism, Existentialism, Social Reconstructionism and Marxism As evaluated earlier, the philosophy and psychology of Ayn Rand with regards to education rests on the basic idea that man is rational; born with a Tabula Rasa mind that is to be filled with knowledge brought by experiences he will have in the world.
She also holds that cognitive training is best started as soon as possible, which is in the nursery level because it is when the child is most ready and willing to learn about the reality and that to delay, or even worse to provide what I may call a wrong education will greatly impede his reason which is his basic means of survival; his reason. Again, the wrong education that I interpret to be in Rand’s article is basically the Progressivist method and any classroom setup that leaves the child to the whims and immature ideas of the collective.
Pragmatism, especially that of John Dewey is just one of the various positions contended by Rand. Perhaps the most apparent distinctions that can be made between these two views is the way they regard reality and everything in it — human experience, ideas, truth and so on. On the one hand, Rand believes that reality is objective and unchanging and that the experience man derives from this reality is primarily for his own ends alone.
She does not think that what man learns from his environment should be directed towards the good of the society or any other person because to do so would be to surrender one’s own will and rationality. Rand says that to be rational is to refuse to act based on the collective’s demand and that this refusal makes him properly selfish. On the other hand, Pragmatism stresses that the reality is changing; what exists is an open universe of constant flux. This position believes that we cannot say that there are metaphysical absolutes because this assertion is unverifiable by human experience.
Instead of resting his ideas on an objective, unchanging reality, the Pragmatists prefer to give emphasis on being, work and action as opposed to ideas, spirit and thought, which are targeted to the betterment of the society; to solve its problems. It thus follows that Pragmatism proposes an epistemology that is conditioned by societal institutions. By this, this view is in favor of experimental learning wherein theories which are derived from experience are tested and applied and that which contributes and affects the society in the best way is perpetuated.
By extension, truth and morality then are not things that are absolute but are, respectively a tentative assertion based on the application of hypotheses to solving problems and values that arose from outcomes of human responses to varying situations. In evaluating Rand’s philosophy and psychology from the standpoint of the different positions through the use of my own interpretation, I deem it highly significant to first categorize where I think the latter’s ideas are coming from. Pragmatism, in my opinion does not choose the society over the individual.
I do not think that its intention is to diminish the value of the individual man in order to promote progress of the society. What I think it does rather is to try to bring together, as harmoniously as possible human beings in every community to work together for the good of the group not only for the group itself but also because the group inevitably affects the individual. The point of the matter for Pragmatists, in my opinion is that every person is a member of a group and what happens in that group affects the individual.
What best be done is to act and react based on what can be verified by human experience and to do so as freely as possible, unlimited by absolutes that act as constraints to the inquiry of every man. Therefore, Pragmatism would disagree with Rand in saying that the child should not be left to a group of other children and not to let him pursue activities based on his interests. This method is, on the contrary what best helps children in teaching them to be open to numerous possibilities that are discoverable by their minds through inquiry.
Moreover, to let children mingle with other people especially those of their own age introduces them to the nature of a democratic society; one that fosters virtues of sharing, of waiting and of cooperating which I think would come in very useful in establishing healthy relationships in adult life. Rather than what Rand says about this method as justifying the omnipotency of the pack, the Pragmatists would say that to be with other men is the natural state of every individual and to expose them to this nature would better prepare them for a productive and empathic existence with each other, mutually beneficial for each and every man.
Additionally, Rand’s method of cognitive training would, for Pragmatism limit that child’s capacity for free inquiry. Rather than the traditional way of teaching with the instructor merely imparting knowledge and skills, the Pragmatists are more inclined in an activity method which involves play, construction, nature-study and self-expression. These activities are I think formulated by the Pragmatists not for the reason of impeding the cognitive development of the child.
Contradictory, the activity method enhances not only the thinking ability but the capacity of this ability to speculate critically by firsthand experience, by concept-building, by getting acquainted with the environment and by doing all these through expressing the self. Pragmatism would thus see Rand’s general thought regarding education as imposing on the individual; limiting the child’s capacity of learning by himself through play which he enjoys in his young age and helps a lot in critical thinking by inquiry and living in harmony with others.
Finally, Rand says that the Pragmatists see the mere absorption of facts and values does not provide any social gain; in this I do not think that the latter would disagree. Conversely, the Pragmatists would not say that the activity method would make a child submit to the pack for what they promote is not submission but cooperation. The positions that are most similar to Rand’s thought on education, on the other hand are Essentialism and Perennialism.
I find these views as very similar to each other but to properly distinguish and outline their individual points is nevertheless significant to see how exactly Rand’s ideas are alike with them and determine where they would diverge from each other. Essentialism, from its name itself talks about basic education. It calls for a return to the essential subjects that have been proven to be useful in the past and are likely to be beneficial in the future. Essentialism says that such a return is needed because the modernization of education, by the relaxation of academic standards for widespread social promotion and by the dominant educational theories that are enfeebling are causing academic standards to fall.
Its orientation is thus very scholastic, holding that societal problems should not hinder academics. Essentialism deems it of high importance to transmit generative skills and intellectual disciplines that identify and perpetuate basic cultural elements. Hence, the teacher should exhibit high competence of the subject and of the task of bequeathing such knowledge to the students for the needed mastery in preparation for work and citizenship. All these, according to the Essentialists cannot be accomplished in a Progressivist classroom where the Whim rules, destabilizing the primary function of the school.
Rand’s theory of education perpetuates the idea of basic education by Essentialism. Because of the stance that Rand takes with regards to man as being rational and in need of cognitive training, she proposes a classroom setup where a teacher handles the class in his full capacity to pass on knowledge that the children came to the school to learn about. Conversely, Rand’s idea of a purposeful and disciplined use of intelligence is also in common ground with what Essentialism promotes; as it would be attained in an environment of systematic and sequential learning.
Interestingly, where one might tend to see Rand’s theory as alike with Essentialism is in her proclamation that the poor quality of man’s use of reason and the increasing frequencies and number of people engaging in violent behavior and drug use should be attributed to the educational system that has plagued human life for many years. However, I find it very remarkable that the precise aspect of the system that Rand is blaming for the status quo is different from what the Essentialists are talking about.
As discussed earlier, Essentialism is fighting against the Progressivist schools that cater to children’s whims because they destroy the academic function of the school, which is to impart basic skills and knowledge that are useful in the past and will likely be useful in the future. The justification of the preservation that the Essentialists are vying for is that they believe that such basic education is what is needed for a person to grow a responsible adult who will gear his capacity towards economic productivity and growth. This is where I find a separation between Rand and the Essentialists.
Rand criticizes Progressivism because it hinders the child from developing his capability to become a fully-functioning rational being by making him conform to the pack. She does not say anything about the society’s growth being impeded for in my opinion, it is not what she is most concerned about. The Essentialists, I think would find the curriculum and the method of teaching of Rand as those that would best encourage their thesis of preserving basic knowledge but they do not share her sentiments with regards to the rationality of man.
Furthermore, the Essentialists share Rand’s views in expressing that the declining education is to be held responsible for violence and drug abuse that are getting more rampant nowadays. I have observed, however that while Essentialism blamed the Progressivists’ permissivism to students thus leading them astray, Rand tells us that such malady in the lifestyle of people today is an evidence of their impaired rationality’s search for a higher reality or higher experience. The ideas of Rand and the Essentialist are indeed related but quite unlike each other.
They do not oppose each other but they nevertheless do not meet at the same point of the arguments. Perennialism, on the other hand promotes an education of man that upholds his potentialities; an education that is based on the universal characteristics of human nature. It goes further than Essentialism in promoting basic education; it does so in the name of rationality, that which, as Rand says defines us as human. Further, rationality is man’s highest attribute thus the cultivation of intellect is education’s highest goal.
Rand, as well as the Perennialists blame the social orientation of today’s education to the growing malaise in the situation of man. They both proclaim that when students are left to educational trends that lean towards mere whims and emotions of the students and mediocre educators, they are brought to internalize false notions of success and progress (i. e. emphasis on the society, premature vocational training, specific economic training) that contradicts their individuality; their nature to be objective.
This is the inevitable result of the elimination of the proper cultivation of intellectual abilities by means of acquainting them to an objective and universal reality, one that is in line with their existence and human nature, also objective and universal. The Perennialists would thus correspond Rand in the idea that a proper study of metaphysics would restore rationality. It is I believe the key point of their positions: that the reality in which we live in is universal and our human nature is unchanging as well.
To say then that rationality, which defines human nature, is constant implies that education should be fixed as well. Perennialism, like Rand also emphasizes that the students come to school because they wish to know that is why it is imperative for the teachers to be mature; competent and knowledgeable about the subject. They both talk about a classroom setup which is open not to the mercy of the whims and emotions of the students but to the development of their cognitive abilities in a structured manner thus avoiding the tendency to be anarchic or despotic.
The curriculum and the subject matter that they speak of are those that are systematic and sequential, thus both want to foster the basic skills in the younger years of the child to help him prepare for the disciplines he would need to study later. Moreover, the consciousness of the child should begin with his immediate environment and the idea that it is universal and objective before immersing him into a group in order for him to identify himself first as belonging in the reality thus achieving self-identity.
By extension, Perennialism together with Rand would find that when the child is older, he will not be driven to the physical sciences to escape questions of morality and other issues in the humanities. The Perennialists would I think agree with Rand that a symptom that a person’s rationality is in good condition is when he is asking and forming his own concepts of these kinds of problems. I have found thus that the general views of Rand and Perennialism are alike except on some orientation (not root or ground) in their positions.
Just to note, I have noticed that while Perennialism is usually associated with religion and the relationship of the individual to the universe and with God, Rand was a renowned atheist. This interestingly does not cause them to conflict with each other since they remain resolute on the universality of metaphysics and epistemology which is not affected with a belief or a disbelief in a higher being. Another position (or rather an inclination) that takes a totally different view of reality and human nature from Rand’s is I find, very fascinating to discuss.
I say so because I have realized that even though they are very distinct from each other, at some point they still manage to meet. Existentialism is well-known for its statement ‘existence precedes essence’. Human nature, for them is subjective and independent from any antecedent reality thus negating Rand’s idea of metaphysics as objective and universal.
For the existentialists, the freedom to choose is man’s highest attribute and not reason for if such is the case, then they cannot choose reason as a value. To be rational, thus is something for an individual to choose. This thesis is extended to the human purpose, which is also subjective for every person. One man can make and define his own purpose and his own alone; he is responsible for his every action that is derived from his freedom as a human being independent of the opinions of other people and on any reality that some may assume to exist before him.
The existentialists thus would not agree with Rand in saying that man should be introduced to an objective and unchanging reality because it limits him in constructing his own definition of his existence. They further, unlike Rand do not see any problem with seeing the individual as not only possessing abilities for rationality but also for irrationality, feelings, and affective characteristics. They claim to see a person in more varied terms because they do not believe that one can simply define him as just rational or just emotional and so on.
Human beings are to complex for this kind of definition, they say. The values, moral dispositions and the validity of knowledge for the Existentialists are thus to be determined by the individual. This is not to say, as Rand does that truth for instance becomes dependent on a collective group that the individual loses himself in conformity. Rather, what the Existentialists mean is that man’s determination of values, morality and knowledge validity stems from the recognition that human experience is subjective basically because of every person’s capability and freedom to choose.
Therefore, while Rand speculates that it is reason, impaired or properly developed that determines how a person lives his life, for the Existentialists it is the freedom to choose which never wavers regardless of the situation he is in. For both points of view however, though what they interpret to be the highest attribute of man (reason vs. freedom to choose) is rigid and unchanging, it can still be limited and impeded by a crucial factor.
That which harms human existence is one and the same thing for Rand and the existentialists: a societal orientation or the growth of a mass society. Both the Existentialists and Rand claim that the quality of human life is threatened because of the group that makes a student conform to it, thus preventing him to decide for his own and think in terms of his own liking. The general tendency of the Progressivist school, both for Rand and Existentialism is to be coercive on the student, alienating him if he expresses creativity and divergence from the norms.
However, because of the rigidity of human nature, both contend that the essence of being human survives even in the bleakest of moments. Rand, on the one hand does not coin the term ‘choose’ in saying that man’s rationality will find ways of alternative expression in later life (i. e. drug addiction, violent behavior). She instead expresses it in a way that means that a man does not really choose for his rationality to be expressed in whatever way; the way it expresses itself is dependent on the cognitive training he receives in the course of his academic life.
On the other hand, the Existentialists hold that his freedom to choose is the thing that lives on and even if he is oppressed and alienated, he can still choose to either conform, to submit or to revolt. With regard to the classroom setup and method of instruction, the Existentialists would find what Rand is proposing as prescriptive because they might interpret it as placing too much emphasis on the role of the teacher in imparting knowledge than letting the student discover for his own even when young.
The Existentialists, hence would find the main goal of education to be that of cultivating in the children the freedom to choose and awareness of this freedom. They would agree with Rand insofar as, perhaps, autonomy and emphasis on the self is concerned but they definitely denounce her idea of rationality as man’s basic essence for such an idea limits and prescribes the individual to, in my interpretation, act rationally. Another position that detects problems in the status quo is what is called Social Reconstructionism.
It talks of a cultural crisis, brought about by the growing population, conflicts between different cultures especially by discrimination, environmental pollution, violence and terrorism that threaten human existence. All these predicaments infiltrating human life, they say can be traced to the severing of human values from social and economic realities. What the Reconstructionists propose, from the name of the position itself is a reconstruction of personal and social experience to reform society.
The obvious implication of this thesis, of course is that culture and society is not universal, it continually grows with the direction of its growth depending on the time, place, people and the general circumstance of it. Conversely, human can refashion culture to fit and promote human development and growth. Social Reconstructionism would thus first and foremost denounce what Rand calls an ‘objective and universal reality’ because it believes that change is a necessary feature of human life.
The absence of change for them, I think is like a dead society; it is deprived of its potential for progress and betterment, all things in it obsolete and useless. The Reconstructionists would not support Rand in her theory that students should be encouraged to be selfish because he is rational and that to use one’s reason is by nature a selfish affair; rather, they would declare that there is no room for selfishness in any society at any time for how can progress be realized if men used their rationality for mere thinking and not much doing?
The solution, according to the Reconstructionists is not to eliminate or deny the process of change but to learn to cope with it. As they put it, change itself did not provoke crisis; crisis occurred when man was unprepared to cope with it. They would hence find Rand’s virtue of selfishness as dangerous because it discourages social cooperation, perhaps because it hurriedly concludes that to belong in a group is to conform to it, losing one’s individuality.
I do not think that the Reconstructionists have any problem with Rand’s assertion that man is rational and that it is what makes him human. On the other hand, what they would propose is that such rationality should be geared towards social progress for cognitive training for the sake of rationality only will not render any gain for society. Schools then should educate students with a deliberate purpose to inculcate in him a commitment to work for deliberate social reform and a planning attitude for cultural revision.
For them, there is nothing wrong with orienting students even when young, a sense of cooperation and the acknowledgement that reality is changing not only because it is the case but also because it is happening rapidly and to ignore or deny it would cause a lag between the moral consciousness and social organization and technological inventiveness. They do not propose mere conformity to the group but they also do not renounce that the society and culture is imposing on the individual.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 25 November 2016
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