What is the purpose of government?
Should people follow their gut instincts or use the process of reason to make decisions?
Who should have liberty in our society?
Are people born as clean slates or are their characters decided from the time they’re born?
These are a few of the questions that occupied the notable writers of the “Enlightenment,” a flowering of new political ideas in 18th century Europe.
U-32’s Modern European History class recently studied this era.
Students wrote articles, made a short film, and crafted discussion questions relating these philosophers’ ideas to life at U-32, with the intent that they be used as learning tools in other classrooms around the school.
Philosopher John Locke was born in the United Kingdom in August of 1632. He was born to a Puritan family and placed in an elite school at an early age. By the time he was 20, he was a student and then a lecturer at Oxford. Apart from his contributions to modern philosophy, Locke is known for his studies in medicine and his advocacy for religious tolerance. He died in October of 1704 at 72 years old (1).
Locke defined the Social Contract as an unspoken agreement in which citizens gave up some rights to the government in return for safety and other benefits. Every day, millions of students around the globe drag themselves to school, partaking in a repetitive schedule and learning important and useful knowledge. All the while, they are in silent awareness of their unsaid contract; the arrangement where the students give up some of their privacy and natural rights in return for their safety at school. At the beginning of every year at U-32, students sign the student handbook agreement, stating that they agree to the rules and policies of the school. For example, students give up their right to privacy when entering the school. They allow their backpacks, lockers and themselves to be searched. They agree not to bring in weapons. All this, however, is so the government, (or U-32 administration, in this case) can ensure the protection of its citizens, or in this case students.
According to the handbook, “in order to provide a safe and orderly educational environment, U-32 retains the right to examine all property and to carry out searches or to seize the property of students while on school property or at school-related events. This policy applies to searches of students’ persons, possessions, desks, lockers, and vehicles by administrators” (4). But to protect the property rights that students have, the school says that “searches may be conducted only upon reasonable suspicion.” (4).
Locke believed that the role of authority was within the natural power of each man. As stated above, Locke thought that a community gave up some of their natural rights to a government because the government would be able to protect those rights better than any man could alone. He also believed that the appropriate role of government wasn’t too restricting – a government allowed humans to do well as individuals and societies, both spiritually and materially. For Locke, natural law was permanent and self-perpetuating. In U-32, students all have the power to make their own decisions but there are still rules that limit them. The administrators and teachers at U-32 work to protect students’ rights by making sure they are doing things safely and in an appropriate, orderly manner.
Locke presented a fairly optimistic view of humans’ natural state, believing that man is born “free and equal” (2). His State of Nature is a “place of inconvenient insecurity” (2) where man is aware that his possessions or life could be taken away at any moment, and cannot count on help or protection from others. According to Locke, all people are born with a clean slate and man is inherently good. A U-32 example of this equal and free natural state can be found in the senior lounge, where students coexist harmoniously and respectively without supervision.
Locke believed that reason is more reliable than intuition or faith. While Locke did believe that the word of God was very important, reason trumped all. As Locke said, “Whether it be a divine Revelation, or no, Reason must judge” (3). In other words, anything, even if it’s said to be divinely revealed, is not to be believed if it clashes with reason (3). In modern high school life, students use reason often. For instance, during a high school chemistry lab at U-32, students are doing experiments to collect data and then using that data to draw logical conclusions. Relying on this data is using reason, as opposed to intuition, to understand the world. Many labs, such as the ones pictured above, actually require that students write out their reasoning to show that they know how to use facts they’ve gathered to understand reality (or chemistry, in this case).
- What is the social contact and what aspect applies the most to our society?
- Is it worth giving up some natural rights for safety and security? Why or why not?
- Do you believe that everyone is “born with a clean slate”? What factors might influence this? Explain your reasoning.
- Locke believes that reason trumps intuition/emotion and faith, do you agree? Rank what is most important in the decision-making process and explain why.
- “John Locke.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2015. <http://www.history.com/topics/john-locke>
- Excerpts from Locke, J. Second Treatise of Civil Government. Print.
- Connolly, Patrick J. “John Locke (1632-1704).” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.
- Student handbook
Pierre Bayle, born in 1647, was a Calvinist philosopher who was best known for his stance on religious tolerance, freedom of expression, acceptance of opinions, and the concept of reason. He faced persecution by the Catholic church because of his strong opposition toward their religious intolerance.
ACCEPTING OTHER PERSPECTIVES:
Bayle believed in understanding the perspectives of both sides of an argument. Regardless of his personal stance on an issue, he thoroughly examined the legitimacy of others’ opinions on a given topic. Fishbowl debates, a common practice in many U-32 classrooms, challenge students to defend an opinion while listening to and respecting their peers’ opposing arguments.
According to Bayle, people are incapable of obtaining “true knowledge”– knowledge that is thorough and accurate about everything in the world. He said reason is useful for making conclusions about the world, but is unreliable when associated with much else. Due to reason’s untrustworthiness, Bayle believed that people must rely on experience alone to educate themselves. U-32 art classes offer hands-on experience and invite the students to explore a medium in whatever path they choose. Knowledge is not only gained through studying different artists and their processes, but through the creation of their own work.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH:
In addition to religious tolerance, Bayle was a strong advocate for freedom of speech, and challenged the idea of censorship throughout his life. U-32’s art, music, and theater departments allow students to express their emotions and opinions in an open and safe environment. Not only do these departments allow for creative expression, the school culture also encourages students to be who they want to be.
Middle Schoolers use Hobbes’ State of Nature to Justify Running to Lunch
Everyone wants to be the first to lunch, especially if it’s mac & cheese day at U-32, but when it involves kids hurting themselves the administration has something to say about it.
Middle schoolers at U-32 have always been rushing their way to lunch, but after injuring a senior, the administration have been looking at their actions more seriously.
Jody Emerson, an admin here at U-32, defends the injured senior, “I’ve always noticed the middle schoolers running amuck. That’s why I put Amy in the middle school to keep kids under control,” says Jody. “But after the injury to one of our seniors we have to review our system and ensure that it is enforced.”
However, on October 19, the kids took their acts to a new level. While running to lunch the kids ran right into a senior, knocking him down and breaking his leg. The senior has preferred to stay anonymous.
“I was just walking myself to B lunch and I hear from behind me this loud screaming and what sounded like elephants stampeding. The last thing I remember is being knocked into a wall and waking up in the hospital,” he said. “I was confused, scared, and I didn’t understand what exactly happened.”
The kids, however, wanted to defend their actions. “We’re kids, we’re chaotic. Our actions are justified. We learned in one of our classes about the philosopher Thomas Hobbes and his State of Nature. He believes that in man’s State of Nature, people are chaotic, selfish and act for themselves. We’re embracing this and the school has to respect our beliefs.”