Aristotle wrote, in the Politics, that “education should be one and the same for all…it should be public and not private.” He realized that people would always disagree on what ought to be stressed (the useful in life, virtue, or higher knowledge); but he said that “the training in things which are of common interest should be the same for all.” What was of common interest depended upon what he called the “constitution” prevailing; and the obligation of education was to cultivate the virtues of the good citizen is defined by that constitution. Given a democratic constitution, it would follow, education ought to cultivate the virtues and capacities associated with free inquiry, communication, and mutual regard. John Dewey, who saw the “idea of education as a freeing of individual capacity in a progressive growth directed to social aims,” also made it clear that any criterion for adequate education implies “a particular social ideal.” And then he went on: “A society which makes provision for participation in its good of all its members on equal terms and which secures flexible readjustment of its institutions through interaction of the different forms of associated life is in so far democratic. Such a society must have a type of education which gives individuals a personal interest in social relationships and control, and the habits of mind which secure social changes without introducing disorder.” Interaction, communication, conversation: these were the essentials; and Dewey was quite aware that public intervention of some sort would be required if the “democratic conception of education” were to be realized at all. To leave people to their own devices would mean that the privileged and energetic would take full advantage of the resources available; but, if arrangements were not deliberately made and opportunities were not provided, there would be no guarantee for the mass of children. The damage done to them would be irreparable; so would the damage to the social body itself. If a informed and articulate public is a necessity for a democratic society (and Dewey clearly believed it was), a lack of appropriate education for potential members of that public cannot but undermine democracy.
I want to mention still another view that places focal emphasis upon the creation of a public and the durability of a “common world.” Hannah Arendt, noting the American view that every child has an inalienable civic right to an education, wrote: “Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.” For her, people have to come together in a public space if, indeed, the common world is to be continued and renewed.